Microsoft Research Reclaims Value of Pi

pi-techFACT: Educators in the state of Alabama are chafing as the state celebrates a dubious anniversary: today marks ten years since the Alabama state legislature voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159… to the “Biblical value” of 3.0.  Ramifications were felt across the state. 
Now, a team of Microsoft Research computer scientists have announced success in a groundbreaking effort to refactor the Biblical value, using modern high-performance computing hardware and machine-translation technologies on the original Old Testament texts.
  
ANALYSIS:  Looking back, an April 1998 issue of Science and Reason newsletter written by physicist Mark Boslough recounts the political and cultural battles which went behind the Alabama legislative change. The legislature of the “Yellowhammer State” justified the change by citing biblical injunction. As one supporter put it: “the Bible very clearly says in I Kings 7:23 that the altar font of Solomon’s Temple was ten cubits across and thirty cubits in diameter, and that it was round in compass.”

The use of “3.0” as the value of pi led to problems in schools, businesses, and local scientific pursuits, including a group of frustrated engineers at the NASA research facility in Huntsville.  According to NASA/Huntsville’s director of special projects “Dr.” Jim Simon (doctorate pending), “We had strayed from using our Microsoft software and instead had been trying to figure out how to use an advanced Google search platform, which was sold to us as a powerful Cloud Computing system.”

Unfortunately, that effort proved frustrating for the “rocket scientists” any time they used calculations involving pi, based on the Alabama-standard value of 3.0, mostly because they were under the mistaken impression that they were contractually barred from using Cloud Computing on any sunny days. Given the hospitable local weather that left them unable to use their computers for an average of 290 days each year.

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Media Says, IBM is Good for Government. Ah, Strike That….

FACT:  Federal Times, which was first to break the story, is reporting this afternoon that “IBM has been indefinitely suspended from doing business with federal agencies, according to a General Services Administration Web site.”

ANALYSIS: People accuse me of being too cynical.

I admit, I am something of the opposite of the great line from This is Spinal Tap, when the David St. Hubbins character says, in the random interview clips at the end of the movie, “I believe virtually everything I read, … and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human, than someone who doesn’t believe anything.”

I do have trouble believing things I hear and read from most mainstream sources at first blush. 

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From Microsoft’s Cloud – PopFly

I mentioned PopFly in my last post – many Web users are now beginning to appreciate how it enables the fun and ease of innovation for non-technical people. Go to www.popfly.com/ and set up your own account (free of course), and you’ll be able to create usable, powerful “tools” out of the Cloud, or with your own data. 

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A Roadmap for Innovation – from Center or the Edge?

Fact:   In marking its five-year anniversary earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security released a fact sheet touting the department’s accomplishments in that time, including “establish[ing] the Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) to provide a 24-hour watch, warning, and response operations center, which in 2007 issued over 200 actionable alerts on cyber security vulnerabilities or incidents. US-CERT developed the EINSTEIN intrusion detection program, which collects, analyzes, and shares computer security information across the federal civilian government. EINSTEIN is currently deployed at 15 federal agencies, including DHS, and plans are in place to expand the program to all federal departments and agencies.”

Analysis:  I’m not going to write, in this post at least, about US-CERT and EINSTEIN in particular. I will point out that some writers have been skeptical of “Big DHS” progress on cyber security up to now, and the anniversary was an occasion for much cynical commentary. 

cnet-news.jpgCharles Cooper in his popular Coop’s Corner blog on CNet wrote that “when it comes to network security, DHS appears to be more of a wet noodle than even its sharpest critics assumed… Talk with security consultants and former government officials involved with DHS and you come away wondering what these folks do all day.”

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The Future of Enterprise Computing – and Social Computing

I wrote the other day about how highly ranked the University of Virginia’s undergrad business school is (a close second in BusinessWeek’s annual ranking), and mentioned that one reason is the creative research and programs they sponsor.

In fact, thanks to UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, I enjoyed a great day recently exploring some of my favorite topics with leading experts.  I was an invited speaker at their one-day conference on The Future of Enterprise Computing on March 14th, presented by McIntire’s Center for the Management of Information Technology (CMIT).  It was a fascinating day….

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Top Undergrad Business Programs in the U.S.

FACT: In the recently-released annual BusinessWeek ranking of top undergraduate business programs, Wharton (the feeder program for UPenn’s better known Wharton MBA program) once again leads the field, and the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce again comes in second.  The Top 10 this year are:

1. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
2. University of Virginia (McIntire)
3. Notre Dame (Mendoza)
4. Cornell University
5. Emory University (Goizueta)
6. University of Michigan (Ross)
7. Brigham Young University (Marriott)
8. New York University (Stern)
9. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)
10. University of Texas-Austin (McCombs)

ANALYSIS: My alma-mater bias compels me to mention that “The big news this year is the University of Virginia,” as noted by Louis Lavelle, Business School editor for BusinessWeek, during an online chat outlining the results. “It really gained on Wharton. The ranking is based on an ‘index’ number, and the No. 1 school is always an index number of 100. Last year Virginia was way behind — it had an index number of 92.7. This year it was 99 — a virtual dead heat” for the top spot.

Oddly, my grad-school alma mater Stanford, which ranks high perennially on MBA program lists, has no undergraduate business school or program, so it’s missing from this list entirely. 

The big question is, what explains movement in the ranks?  What are some schools doing right, and some wrong?

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