A Technical Computing revolution

Last week I enjoyed hosting a visit in Redmond from Chris Kemp, NASA’s new Chief Technology Officer for information technology. Our discussions were with folks from the Windows Azure cloud computing team, the high-performance computing and large-data folks, and our Extreme Computing Group. I smiled when Chris said he was a fan of the book Total Recall: How the E-Memory Revolution Will Change Everything, written by Microsoft’s Gordon Bell and colleague Jim Gemmell. (I wrote about their research projects in an earlier post, Total Recall for Public Servants.)

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Undercover Grrl Band Techno Rave

Friday I had an interesting meeting with Dawn Meyerriecks, who has just begun her new role as the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Acquisition and Technology. (Read the DNI’s statement on her appointment here in pdf, her bio here, and some reaction – all positive – here and here.)

Never mind what we actually were talking about, she asked me in so it isn’t appropriate to write about that. But to be honest I spent my drive home thinking about the atmospherics and significance of her holding that post in any case.  In a companion post later (“The Purple History of Intelink“) I’ll comment on the significance of her prior background in the Defense Department.

But more striking, right off the bat, is the fact that DNI Dennis Blair has an impressive number of women in high-ranking senior leadership positions. And it’s not just the number, but the particular positions they hold that I like: Dawn Meyerriecks is DDNI/A&T, Priscilla Guthrie is Assistant DNI and Chief Information Officer, Marilyn Vacca is Assistant DNI and Chief Financial Officer. Lisa Porter leads the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency IARPA (I’ve written about her before). Continue reading

Place your bets on research

No reason to sugarcoat the Microsoft quarterly financial report issued this afternoon: it reflected the bad news in the overall economy.  Revenue down, earnings down, profits down. 

What I did find most interesting was the silver lining as Business Week points out in its coverage. Like most of Wall Street apparently (MSFT stock rose in after-hours trading), Business Week was impressed with some of the positive steps taken by the company:

Maybe the most striking news is Microsoft’s crisp cost-cutting. Who knew this Midas of the computer industry knew how to scale back so well? In the quarter, administrative costs fell by more than $1 billion, from $2.3 billion to $913 million. And the company completed its first ever general layoff, of 5,000 people. The company did not cut into its R&D budget, however. Spending there rose from $2 billion to $2.2 billion.”

It’s that last point that I’m focusing on, as it demonstrates that the company is living up to CEO Ballmer’s pledge to increase our annual R&D spending – amid this deep recession – from $8 billion a year to over $9 billion.

At a time when most budgets are hurting, that’s quite an investment.  If you’d like to know what we’re getting for that, check out http://research.microsoft.com, or for the most up-to-date reports, use Twitter to follow @MSFTResearch – this week, the Twitter feed has focused on papers and demonstrations we’re presenting at the 18th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW2009).

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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 Three-Way Race, in Politics and Search

On the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries I’ve noticed a small but curious synchronicity, a sideways rhyming, between the Microsoft – Google – Yahoo elephant dance, and the back-and-forth among the top remaining candidates on the Republican and Democratic sides in the presidential primaries.

In graduate school I once wrote an 85-page study of “The Strategic Triangle: U.S., Soviet, and PRC Realignment during the 1970s.” Ah, the good old days of Henry Kissinger and grand-game geopolitics. But let’s stick to the more prosaic cage match dominating our politics right now.  Last week, John Edwards finally dropped out (or “suspended” his campaign, preserving some shred of pre-convention viability I suppose), and in doing so he refused to endorse either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Both campaigns said great things about Edwards *after* he left the race, of course, the better to woo his supporters.  But before he dropped out, while he was still showing up in debates, both Clinton and Obama (and their surrogates) showed quite a bit of peevish annoyance that the third-place fellow wasn’t giving up and tossing them his endorsement.

Similarly, Mike Huckabee is hanging on by a thread on the Republican side, to the great solace of John McCain and the fuming of Mitt Romney, the latter believing that Huckabee’s conservative supporters would line up with him in a binary choice between Romney and McCain. (Would that count as a Baptist-to-Mormon conversion?) Romney spent the weekend bashing Huckabee even more than his putative rival, McCain.  Triangulation and frustration boil over into a combustible mix, obviously.

The same combination appears to be brewing in the Googleplex, while investors and analysts dump on the once shiny GOOG, which tanked yet again today, dropping below $500. 

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A Quick Long-Term Analysis of GOOG, YHOO, MSFT

Fact: According to Forbes, writing after yesterday’s close of trading, “Unable to topple Google on its own, Microsoft is trying to force crippled rival Yahoo into a shotgun marriage, with a wager worth nearly $42 billion that the two companies together will have a better chance of tackling the Internet search leader…. Microsoft’s $31-per-share offer represented a 62 percent premium to Yahoo’s closing price late Thursday, although it’s below Yahoo’s 52-week high of $34.08 reached less than four months ago.”

Analysis: Most of the buzz about the Microsoft-Yahoo commentary yesterday was simply noise, bleating about the immediate impact (or not) on Google, as if the salience is a snapshot rendered in instantaneous who’s-up-who’s-down.  Yet I had a reader comment yesterday very perceptively on my post, saying “Whether the deal is timed well, overpriced or not, is for time to decide. Which may even take a couple of years!”

That got me to thinking about the value of these three companies over the long-term looking back.  Thanks to the web that’s easy to quantify, at least in terms of stock price; you can do it at MSN or on Yahoo Finance, but just for grins let’s do it at …

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