Stop by Tuesday for dinner or a drink with a great guy (and me)

I’m taking up my duties as a public-spirited citizen next week on Tuesday evening, by hosting a fun little fundraiser for my local Congressman – and if you’re going to be in Washington DC the evening of 10/27 I hope you’ll join me (click here for the invitation and details). It’ll be a fun evening; we’ll be at the ultra-cool Johnny’s Half-Shell on Capitol Hill after all.

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Google and Microsoft on Columbus Day

Click to enlargeToday is celebrated in the United States as Columbus Day. I happened to notice that my search engine of choice, at www.Live.com [ed. note: relaunched Bing as of Spring 2009], has a striking image (courtesy of Bettman Corbis archives), as you can see to the left.

As always with the new (improved!) Live Search, there are several hover spots on the page, with pop-up queries about the holiday, “sailing lessons,” Columbus’s trip to the Bahamas, and “the caravel,’ which turns out to be “a small, highly maneuverable, two- or three-masted lateen-rigged ship, created by the Portuguese and used also by them and by the Spanish for long voyages of exploration.”

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Twitter Says LHC Fires Up, Earth Stubbornly Refuses to End

Fact: This morning’s press release from CERN: “Geneva, 10 September 2008. The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.” (LHC background here.)

Analysis: Early this morning, Twitter alerted me that the Earth was still spinning. Below I explain how.

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Theory of the Fireball, Supercomputing, and other Los Alamos Tidbits

Back in the early ’90s when I was first dating Kathryn, now the lovely bride, we went on some awesome roadtrips, including many cross-country – great way to get to know someone.  At the time my brother was an Air Force pilot, flying the F-117 stealth fighter, so we once paid him a visit at Holloman AFB on a 10-day drive through the Southwest.  I’ll have to find and upload to Flickr the pictures he took of each of us sitting in its classified cockpit – surely a massive security violation which I lay entirely at his feet (lucky for him he’s retired from the Air Force now and flying for Delta). 

Sadly, the F-117 Night Hawk has also now been officially retired, replaced by the F-22 Raptor.

As much as that was a thrill, though, the highlight of that particular roadtrip was driving up to the Los Alamos plateau and spending some time touring around the Lab, the Museum, and the interesting little town that’s grown up around all that PhD talent in the middle of the high desert.

That lab’s on my mind because I’ve been thinking about supercomputing and the revolution it could undergo thanks to quantum computing. I’m in Santa Barbara visiting the “Station Q” research program in quantum computing, and will write more about quantum computing soon, since I’m actually beginning to understand it.

But as an interesting artifact in my preparatory reading, Microsoft’s John Manferdelli sent me a link to a Federation of Atomic Scientists archive of declassified Los Alamos National Lab technical reports and publications, from “the good old days” at Los Alamos.

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War is Virtual Hell

FACT: According to market research compiled by Microsoft, the global market for Modeling and Simulation (M&S) software/hardware platforms across all industries, including the defense industry, has hit $18 billion per year; the cumulative growth rate is estimated at 9.6% annually.

ANALYSIS:  The lovely wife and I have been lackadaisically house-hunting down in Virginia’s Northern Neck, the Athens of America and the cradle of our democracy. The Neck is the birthplace of George Washington, the Lee brothers (the revolutionary patriots about whom John Adams used the phrase, “This Band of Brothers,” among them Declaration of Independence signers Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee, not to mention their later nephew Robert E. Lee), James Monroe, John Ballentine, etc. etc. 

Anyway, recently we toured the historic 1859 house at Braehead, an 18-acre estate actually located within the Civil War battlefield in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The house is for sale, and while it’s likely overpriced (like everything else on the market these days) [this observation has been energetically and somewhat persuasively disputed by the listing agent, who read the post], but we enjoyed the tour.  I’ve posted many (too many) photos of our little tour here.  My interest in the house is the historic angle: it’s actually where Robert E. Lee visited and took breakfast on the morning of the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862, one of his successful efforts against U.S. forces.  Here’s an article about Braehead’s history and historic preservation.

It was in fact at Fredericksburg that Lee spoke the words which would sum up the entire war, nay all wars, as he witnessed thousands of Union soldiers falling in battle to Confederate guns on the hills above the Rappahannock River: “It is well that war is so terrible, lest we grow too fond of it.”  

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How to Run a State-of-the-Art Technology Program – Quietly

FACT: In the new movie “Iron Man,” defense-contracting billionaire and engineering genius Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) designs and builds a suit capable of individual flight (highly engineered control surfaces powered by an “arc-reactor” - it is Hollywood after all). During his first test flight, zooming straight up from Malibu and stressing the system to its max, he asks his onboard computer, “What’s the altitude record for the SR-71?” His computer responds back, “85,000 feet,” whereupon he zooms past that ceiling.

ANALYSIS: Funny moment, and excellent movie.  In its honor, below I’m going to give you access to a remarkable, recently declassified document describing one of America’s boldest Cold War technical achievements.  If you’ve ever run (or wanted to run) a high-tech company or program, like Tony Stark in the movie, you’ll appreciate the startling scope of the work – and if you’ve recently worked in DoD or the Intelligence Community you’ll marvel at how they did it “in the good old days.”

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Business Executives for National Security, and Dana Carvey?

Went to the big BENS gala last night (Business Executives for National Security) in downtown Washington, along with some Microsoft colleagues – the company was a sponsor – and several guests who fit right in with the rest of the crowd, military brass and IC muckety-mucks.  I first met BENS founder Stanley Weiss back in the late 1980s when he came to Silicon Valley to recruit support for the new group, “a nonpartisan business organization aiming to cut through ideological debates on national security issues.” 

The evening’s billed highlight was the awarding of the annual BENS Eisenhower Award to Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, who gave just a phenomenal speech (see Reuters and AP coverage today, and the full text here). I blogged a couple of days ago about his speech to the Heritage Foundation, which I read the text of, but seeing Gates deliver this speech really impressed me, to be honest. He comes across as sincerely dedicated to fixing some of the fundamental problems of DoD and the intelligence community (his career after all was at CIA and he is obviously a thoughtful critic of the DNI structure and “reforms”).  I sat there wondering whether Gates would be willing to continue at the Pentagon in the next Administration (odds are much higher of that with a McCain victory, obviously, and infinitesimal otherwise).

Brent Scowcroft introduced Gates with a warm and witty tribute, and it was nice to see him in person.  He told several jokes making fun of the Beltway culture, getting big laughs. Gates continued in kind at the beginning of his remarks, before he got serious - keep reading for one of Gates’s best jokes:

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