My other computer is a Cray

Fact: The annual ACM Gordon Bell Prize is about to be awarded at “SuperComputing 08” (or SC08) which takes place November 15-21 at the Austin Convention Center in Texas. The convention is “the” international conference for high-performance computing, networking, storage, and analysis. The Association for Computing Machinery makes the Bell award “to recognize outstanding achievement in high-performance computing,” in honor of Microsoft’s legendary Gordon Bell, one of the pioneers of supercomputing.

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“The Largest Social Network Ever Analyzed”

FACT: According to ComScore data cited in a story in Monday’s FInancial Times, “Facebook, the fast-growing social network, has taken a significant lead over MySpace in visitor numbers for the first time… Facebook attracted more than 123 million unique visitors in May, an increase of 162 per cent over the same period last year… That compared with 114.6 million unique visitors at MySpace, Facebook’s leading rival, whose traffic grew just 5 per cent during the same period… The findings mark the first time that Facebook, launched in 2004, has taken a significant lead in unique visitors, [and] come at a time of change inside Facebook, as the one-time upstart attempts to transform itself into a leading media company.

ANALYSIS:  This week several members of the Microsoft Institute met in Redmond with a visiting friend from government, and among other talks we had a very interesting discussion with Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft Research principal researcher and manager.  Eric’s well known for his work in artificial intelligence and currently serves as president of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI).

We talked about one of Eric’s recent projects for quite a while: “Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network,” a project which has been described by his co-author as “the largest social network ever analyzed.” 

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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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IARPA and the Virtual Long Tail

FACT: This week, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, an arm of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), launched its new unclassified website.  What’s there is initially fairly minimal, but they’ll be adding to the public information posted there regularly.

ANALYSIS:  I spent the week in Orlando, as a Keynote speaker at the IARPA “Incisive Analysis Conference.”  I’ll be writing a little more about the conference in the near future, as I saw some great demo’s and spoke to the principal investigators on many excellent and far-sighted advanced research projects sponsored by IARPA.  It was great to be there and to see so many old friends from the intelligence community, the national labs (PNNL, Sandia, Oak Ridge, Livermore), DoD, and innovative commercial R&D outfits.  Also, as the first IARPA conference since the organization’s launch, it was an opportunity to hear new director Lisa Porter communicate her vision and principles, which she did well and I’ll discuss those soon as well.  (She also kidded me about my efforts to make her a cultural phenomenon, but I blamed it on WIRED magazine.)

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IARPA’s First Director: Dr. Lisa Porter

Fact: IARPA has a new Director.

Analysis: The well-known DARPA (part of DoD) will now at last have a full-fledged intelligence-community counterpart. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity - prosaically called “IARPA” – was created last year, but has been stepping out slowly because [/opinion on] of lack of leadership [/opinion off], with only “interim” place-holder leaders.  Many of my friends who were recruited or absorbed into IARPA at the beginning, as it swallowed the old Disruptive Technologies Office for example, felt that the new org was spinning its wheels without traction, for lack of a strong and stable hand at the helm.  [Note also this recent post on IARPA.]

Today the Director of National Intelligence named Dr. Lisa Porter as IARPA’s first Director. She’s been at NASA, and before that DARPA itself.  She and I were at Stanford at around the same time, although hanging in different crowds – she working on her doctorate in Applied Physics while I was over doing the real heavy lifting in the hardest of all sciences, Political Science :-)  

I’ve never met her, unless I don’t recall from old DARPA visits, so I did a tiny bit of surfing to clip a few salient tidbits from her DARPA work.

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