Bad News for the Pithy

Just my luck. Right when I start to push out the pithy quotes, Reader’s Digest announces that it is filing for bankruptcy. I remember the days when everyone would recite the newest pearls from their “Quotable Quotes” column.

My little gems, such as they are, came in two recent interviews, both on the subject of semantic computing and the semantic web. The subject matter in each is somewhat similar – I wasn’t asked so much about future work that Microsoft is doing, but for assessments of different approaches in semantic computing past and present, and where the field is heading.

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Three cool new projects in Microsoft Research

[April Fool’s Edition]   I haven’t blogged in a little while – been a little busy – so I’ll make up for it with a burst of three cool new things coming out of the inventive lab work at Microsoft Research – improving Twitter, computer performance, and mobile phones.

MegaNano: New High-End Camera for Cellphones

Many people are dissatisfied with the fuzzy quality of photos taken with their built-in cellphone cameras. So Microsoft will be rolling out this summer the most advanced built-in mobile phone-cam on the market, based on a fantastic prototype now in final user testing at Microsoft Research’s Beijing lab.

MegaNanoDubbed the “MegaNano,” the sylish but diminutive camera boasts 72 megapixel resolution and a shutter-speed setting range from 0.003 seconds all the way up to seven hours.

The itty-bitty MegaNano will be launched simultaneously with the new Microsoft Mobile Apps Store, bundled with a nice selection of jackets and outerware with specially reinforced pouch-pockets and backpacks designed to hold the tiny device. 

I know you’ll want one. One beta-tester says, “It’s so small yet so powerful!  I have to remind myself sometimes that the weight on my shoulders is actually a tiny camera!”

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Laughing with the Geeks

The funny geeks who read StackOverflow have been posting their “favorite programmer cartoons” for the past 2 days, quite amusing.  I remember several of these being anonymously passed around to make a point or two against Dilbert-style “management” when I was at DIA 🙂

There’s more where this came from:

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Finally, a Candidate to Love

Click to watch the latest political phenomenonSaw this twittering by, now going very viral: watch here to see the latest political phenomenon.

Contributions gladly accepted…

(The back-story here is spelled out in a WIRED blog from a couple of weeks ago, which I just got around to reading. It’s an ingenious combination of viral marketing, campaign-news saturation, and the easily manipulable egocentricity of people like me. And you. We put the “you” in “youTube.”)

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Sales Guy vs Web Dude

The website where I first saw this video wrote, “This would be funny if it weren’t so true.”  No – it’s funny because it’s so true!  Yes, even in government IT settings.

The video’s here; adolescent language warning, a la South Park. If you don’t get the jokes, just reboot your system. 3 times.

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Spellcheck only goes so far…

fail owned pwned pictures

Technology is often only as good as the human using it 🙂

More funny “fail” pictures at FAIL Blog

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Best Joke by a Supreme Court Justice

FACT: Chief Justice John Roberts said in a speech on Friday that he will increase the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court from two a day to three during the coming term beginning in October, according to an AP account of his speech. Roberts says that if the busier fall schedule lightens the caseload by next spring, he may be able to cut back then. 

ANALYSIS: When Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005, some Court observers wondered whether the younger Chief would begin burdening his colleagues with more work, increasing the Court’s caseload by granting more cases.  Now it looks like he may attack the issue in a slightly different way, hoping to cut a swath through the caseload issue with a burst of activity but not necessarily more cases overall.

Friday, the affable Roberts pointed out that the increase to three arguments each court day might put a strain on the Solicitor General’s Office, since it saddles the burden of arguing the federal government’s side in most of the cases.  But Roberts also pointed out that it’ll mean more work for the journalists who cover the Court – a small but tenacious crowd who like to pass judgment on the Court and its performance regularly.  Roberts then joked: “After careful reflection, I decided I didn’t care.”

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At Craigslist, “Traffic just keeps going up…”

Back in 1994-96 I was working for the Mayor of San Francisco (Frank Jordan, “the one before Willie Brown” as one friend persisted in calling him), and among other projects I was working on policies to nurture and promote the emerging  Internet economy, particularly the slowly burgeoning culture of Web startups – at times it seemed like the center of the universe was around South Park in the city’s South of Market neighborhood.  For the Mayor’s ’95 re-election campaign we put up one of the first political campaign websites, winning an award from “Campaigns & Elections” magazine. 

One of the cool people I worked with on innovative ideas for the nascent Web back then was Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist. Like many people in San Francisco, I remember when using Craigslist was synonymous with “finding local S.F. stuff,” and have watched with delighted awe as the site (nonprofit empire!) has grown over the years.  The model absolutely rocks, in its simplicity, consistent innovation, and its universality.

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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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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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