Slate of the Union Day

Today is “Slate of the Union” day, when the two most charismatic individuals in recent American history go on stage and attempt to reclaim mantles as innovators. I’ll leave aside the fellow with lower poll numbers for now (President Obama). More eyes in the tech world will be watching as Steve Jobs makes his newest product announcement, the Apple tablet/Tabloid/iSlate thing iPad (it’s official).

Back in the late 1980s I worked for the legendary “Mayor of Silicon Valley” Tom McEnery (he was actually the mayor of San Jose), and we did many joint projects with Apple, particularly with CEO John Sculley, a great guy.

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Birth of Cool (Cuil) – History Repeating Itself?

Fact: Cuil reaped the whirlwind of the media buzz it craved today.  As CNET put it, “Google challenger Cuil launched last night in a blaze of glory. And it went down in a ball of flames. Immediately after launch, the criticism started to pile on: results were incomplete, weird, and missing.”

Analysis:  For several months I’ve had running an RSS feed along the right-hand side of the ol’ blogspace here, entitled “Who’s Talking about ‘the next Google.’”  Ha ha - the RSS feed pulls from a Google News query.

Well, if you judge by the echo chamber hungry for positive tech news amid a down market, you might think “the next Google” has emerged: the birth of Cuil.  (Extra credit if you’re a Miles Davis jazz fan, by the way.)  I may retire the crown, or at least the RSS feed.  Here’s some of the global attention:

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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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SecDef Blasts Air Force on ISR

FACT: U.S. military use of airborne drones (UAVs) dawned at the turn of the millenium, with nearly 100 vehicles in use before the Sept. 11 2001 attacks. By the end of that year the number had doubled, with the majority in use in Afghanistan. Today, according to a speech today by Sec. of Defense Bob Gates, “We now have more than 5,000 UAVs, a 25-fold increase since 2001.”

ANALYSIS: The Gates speech today, to an Air Force audience, is being covered mostly with a focus on his “harsh criticism” of that service. For example, CNN’s headline was “Defense Secretary Scolds Air Force for War Effort,” or Fox News “Gates Says Air Force Must Step Up Efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan.”  And there was plenty of raw material for the tough stories, including CNN’s inclusion of the Gates soundbite that getting the Air Force to send more surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft to Iraq and Afghanistan has been “like pulling teeth.”

Others (like a Reuters story) struck a less frenzied tone, including more depth about his proposals going forward, and the Defense Department’s actual plans for improved acquisition and use of Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR. I’d encourage you to read the full transcript (get it here).  (By the way, here’s some background on ISR and its variants.)

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New Report on Homeland Security’s S&T Directorate

Fact: “The Directorate of Science and Technology is the primary organization for research and development (R&D) in the Department of Homeland Security. With a budget of $830.3 million in FY2008, it conducts R&D in several laboratories of its own [and] funds R&D conducted by industry, the Department of Energy national laboratories, other government agencies, and universities.”

Analysis: The quote above comes from my hot-off-the-press copy of the new Congressional Research Service report (a pdf version here) on the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. Bottom line: CRS notes that “Congress and others have been highly critical of the directorate’s performance. Although recent management changes have somewhat muted this criticism, fundamental issues remain.” 

By the way, you’ll get a special bonus for reading to the end of this post, derived from an obscure footnote in the report.

The report is being reported in short-hand in the Beltway technology media, as criticizing DHS S&T for not being receptive to industry.  “DHS Directorate Elusive, CRS Report States,” is the headline in Federal Computer Week. The sister pub WashingtonTechnology has the same story with a different head: “CRS: DHS Directorate Lacks Collaborative Spirit.”  And yes, the report does detail the poor job DHS does at providing an open door to new ideas and technologies from the private sector.

But there’s a lot more in the report and it deserves more thoughtful reading & reporting, as it goes into some detail into the difficulties in bringing powerful and effective new technical and scientific approaches to bear for homeland defense and the war on terror.

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