Four Score and Seven Years Ago

Today, August 5, has a number of interesting anniversaries in the world of technology and government. In 1858 the first transatlantic telegraph cable was completed, allowing President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria to share congratulatory messages the following week. (Unfortunately within a month the cable had broken down for good.)  The first quasar (“quasi-stellar astronomical radio object”) was discovered on Aug. 5, 1962. And exactly one year later the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was signed on August 5, 1963, between the U.S., U.S.S.R., and Great Britain.

But one important date I’d like to commemorate was a bit different: eighty-seven years ago today, on August 5, 1923, my father was born, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Happy Birthday, Dad!

There’s a shorthand way of telling my father’s life-history which fits with the theme of technological advance: he graduated from college (his beloved N.C. State) as an early recipient of a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering; he worked for decades for a growing company interested in adopting new technologies to drive its business; and he capped his career as Corporate Vice President for Research and Development at a Fortune 300 company.

But that misses the fun he had along the way, and the close-up view he had of innovation. He was an early adopter, even before college. (I like to think I get that from him.)  So I thought I’d illustrate a couple of vignettes I’ve heard over the years of his interaction with computers along the way, simply to portray the thrust of radical change that has paced along during the course of one man’s life.

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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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A-Space Past and Future

This week marks the second anniversary of the first live internal demo of the intelligence community’s A-Space project, groundbreaking for the IC in its goal of collaborative use of social media across agency lines. Somewhere in Maryland, a remarkable government employee and friend named Mike Wertheimer should pause and quietly celebrate the fruition of his early evangelism for it.

I was still a government employee then, but wrote about the effort at the time here on Shepherd’s Pi (“A-Space: Top-secret social networking“). It makes me chuckle to remember back to those days when it was still mostly unheard-of for IC employees to blog openly on the public web about current technology projects. Now you can’t shut ’em up! 🙂

It made sense, I thought, to set down a few notes at the time for several reasons: Continue reading

Para Bellum Web

Tim O'Reilly, Ray Ozzie

Tim O’Reilly created a bit of a stir last night in the tech world by writing a thoughtful essay entitled “The War for the Web.” He’ll be expanding on his thoughts in his keynote address today at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York. From the essay, here’s the core argument:

“[W]e’ve grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we’ve been readying ourselves for one dominant social network. But what happens when a company with one of these natural monopolies uses it to gain dominance in other, adjacent areas? I’ve been watching with a mixture of admiration and alarm as Google has taken their dominance in search and used it to take control of other, adjacent data-driven applications.

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. [emphasis added] Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

… P.S. One prediction: Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

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Navigating Indoors Without GPS

Here’s a nifty demo of a very small piece of software, that could find daily use for large numbers of people in any large enterprise, or any shopper in a mall – anywhere someone’s wandering in a large building or complex looking for a specific office, conference room, storefront, or location – especially indoors where GPS is of no use.

It’s called GoMap, and I think it could have great applicability for government complexes, which have lots of rabbit-warren hallways, lots of constantly-reassigned workers, and lots of visitors.

I missed GoMap’s first public unveiling today because I’m on the east coast this week, mostly for the Cybersecurity “Leap Ahead” conference in Arlington Virginia which wrapped up today; I will write about the conference separately.

But that meant I had to miss the bar-camp-style WinMoDevCamp today on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. There was a lot of buzz around this DevCamp, and there’ll be others in 6 more cities soon (Austin, London, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Toronto) as developers gear up for the upcoming release of the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system.  You can get registration information about the future events at the main WinMoDevCamp site (props to Todd Bishop on his TechFlash blog for highlighting the series).

The GoMap prototype makes innovative location-aware use of Microsoft Tag and TagReader (the high-capacity color barcodes developed by Microsoft Research), to solve the problem of having no GPS capability indoors  – check out the short video.

WinMoDevCamp is an indication that there’s a real explosion of app development going on in the Windows Mobile world, to match the equally exciting iPhone app and Android app activity. There’s been a feeling in Microsoft that our best advantages are the large installed base through third-party WinMo phone manufacturers, plus Microsoft’s long experience nurturing app developers on other platforms (.Net as a good example).  But I personally think that superior innovation is going to be the battleground, and we’re well positioned for that as well, with a lot of exciting things emerging from Microsoft Research and different advanced development labs in product groups. GoMap’s one example.

Not sure of the timeline for GoMap, but you can use TagReader right now, without the GoMap piece. It’s a free download on the Tag webpage, or you can get it on any mobile phone (yes, even the exploding iPhone) at http://gettag.mobi.

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Amazon and Microsoft Intersect in the Cloud

So today Werner Vogels, the much admired CTO of Amazon, has a post over at “All Things Distributed” which directly exemplifies his blog’s subtitle (“building scalable and robust distributed systems“).  The post is “Expanding the Cloud” and describes today’s announcement that Microsoft Windows Server is available on Amazon EC2. As he sums it up, “We can now run the majority of popular software systems in the cloud.”

This means two things.  First, we were able to con cajole convince Amazon essentially to host a beta test for something big, which will indubitably become much, much bigger.

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When Intelligence Officers Get Social…

Today (and on-and-off this week) I’m attending the Intelligence Community’s “Enterprise 2.0: WIRE and ICES Conference,” up at the Kossiakoff Center at JHU/APL in Maryland, with its focus this year on social software and social networking – not the same thing, of course.

Acronym explanation, with some new ones tossed in:

  • WIRE = CIA’s World Intelligence Review, a very nifty Web 2.0-style classified news site now available on JWICS and SIPRNET.
  • ICES = Intelligence Community’s Enterprise Services group. 
  • And of course, JHU/APL = Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab.

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