Way Ahead and Far Behind

Today’s Washington Post has a story on its front page: “Staff Finds White House in the Technological Dark Ages.”

Two years after launching the most technologically savvy presidential campaign in history, Obama officials ran smack into the constraints of the federal bureaucracy yesterday, encountering a jumble of disconnected phone lines, old computer software, and security regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts.”

“What does that mean in 21st-century terms? No Facebook to communicate with supporters. No outside e-mail log-ins. No instant messaging. Hard adjustments for a staff that helped sweep Obama to power through, among other things, relentless online social networking.”  -Washington Post

Some say that whoever has been responsible for information technology in the White House itself should be fired — but then perhaps the change of Administration just took care of that  :-) 

Overall, this situation is familiar to anyone who has worked in what I call “Big-G  IT” or the information technology of a federal government agency. I’ve argued about its challenges and sub-optimality before: see my previous pieces on “Roadmap for Innovation: From the Center to the Edge,” and more specifically “Puncturing Circles of Bureaucracy.”  In that latter piece back in March of 2008, I wrote about the “the defensive perimeters of overwhelming bureaucratic torpor,” and the frustrating reality within much of Big Government: “Federal employees have an entire complex of bizarrely-incented practices and career motivations, which make progress on technology innovation very difficult, not to mention general business-practice transformation as a whole.”

Here’s the truly frustrating, mind-bending part: it isn’t always true!  Other elements of the White House have cutting-edge, world-class technologies operating day in, day out.

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Libyan Strongman Ditches Government, Keeps Female Bodyguards

qaddafi-lion-of-the-desertWell, Muammar Qaddafi’s back in the news.  I know you were wondering what was up with him. After all, according to his Wikipedia bio the dashing desert prince is now the world’s longest-serving head of government (thanks, Fidel!).

The U.S. electorate may have just taken a turn to the left, with even George W. Bush sanctioning a massively larger role for government through the Wall Street bailout. But I was tipped today by an astute observer (she’s @krbstr on Twitter) that Qaddafi has announced a breathtakingly libertarian plan “to distribute the proceeds of oil wealth directly to the people and abolish government ministries,” according to a Financial Times story (“Qaddafi Debate Signals Change“). More below on the controversial proposal, but first a personal note.

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Wordy, by Wordle

Lazy Saturday, so a quick & easy retrospective post at a glance.  Here’s a “Wordle” look at my blog content going back over the past week. Click to enlarge.

You can use http://wordle.net to create a word-cloud of any content – a website (by URL) or a bucket of words you paste in. I realize word-clouds are nothing new… but I think they’re way underutilized in HCI.  Fun for political speech analysis; I can just imagine a newspaper front page that consisted of nothing but word-clouds from yesterday’s speeches by President Bush, Senators McCain and Obama, Biden or Palin, cabinet members, foreign officials, Osama’s latest video, and losing sports-team coaches.   “What’d they say?” Well, take a look.

Three Key Promotions in U.S. Intelligence

In the old days of Kremlinology, our side’s “Soviet analysts” (I was one as a kid, back in 1985-86) would pore over personnel lists and announcements of Politburo or Central Committee appointments, seeking clues to the direction of Party doctrine and intent. Military personnel promotions and reassignments were also studied closely to divine any insight into Soviet military policy.

There’s not a direct analogy to American military leadership promotions, but those lists are also studied intently, by peers and colleagues within the military branches, and also by experts throughout defense industry circles who can often decode Pentagon politics by watching who gets an extra star and who gets passed over.

Friday the U.S. Senate confirmed several key Army promotions, including three which I consider to be the most critical military intelligence positions in the nation. 

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