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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Microsoft and Google Look at the World Differently

I didn’t think I would have to write this same kind of observation twice within a year. But today, on D-Day, I notice yet again a striking difference between Google and Microsoft.  And in this case, one can almost read the evidence as a snub from Google to the United States, to the nations who united in sacrifice during World War II, and to President Obama on a day of his personal leadership in commemorating international war and peace.

I made a similar observation on Columbus Day, when Microsoft chose to honor Christopher Columbus and his explorations’ significance to American history and the world, while Google chose to honor – wait for it – Paddington Bear’s “birthday.” (See my post from then here.)

Today is of course D-Day, the 65th anniversary of a day in which over 2,000 American soldiers lost their lives, leading the way in the greatest military operation in the history of the world, as the initial landing to liberate Europe and the beginning of the end of the Nazi empire.

Google and Microsoft are two great American companies, which operate globally. Each has a public face to the world through signature online properties – their search engines. In Google’s case, that page at Google.com is their ne plus ultra public face, since they are at core a mighty search engine.

Take a look at the two pages today. Microsoft’s Bing search-engine uses its home page to commemorate D-Day, with a dramatic photograph of Normandy Beach today, and mouse-over popups providing historical highlights and links to more information on the battle’s signficance to World War II and to world history.

Bing D-Day

Google uses its home page to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the invention of the computer game Tetris.

Google Tetris

The mouse-over popup on the cutesy Google logo reads, “Celebrating 25 years of the Tetris effect – courtesy of Tetris LLC.”  (I suppose one could read that as, predictably, a coporate ad, right there on Google’s home page.)

Just as I noted on Columbus Day, this doesn’t appear to be a localization issue, or an issue of appealing to a global audience – both Microsoft and Google know my location, and in fact each is serving up a page targeted for me in the United States.

Don’t get me wrong: Tetris was an amusing and absorbing game. As a young guy I spent hours dropping the bars and shapes to fit into the rising pile below.

But at certain moments in life, you put aside childish things. Unless you’re trying to make some other kind of statement.

Note: I am a Microsoft employee. But this is not a Microsoft corporate blog, it’s my personal blog – and I’ve been known to tweak Microsoft here frequently as well.  This is my personal observation space.

I have to admit I am puzzled – and personally appalled – by the decision-making over at the Googleplex, and the statement they choose to send to the world.

President Obama is leading our delegation himself at Normandy Beach today, for the international event with other world leaders remembering a moment of global importance.  Self-evidently Eric Schmidt and the Google gang weren’t on board with that, and by their way of thinking saw something more significant to mark. 

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Friendships and Professional Relationships

FACT: The General Accounting Office has lifted a week-old ban imposed on IBM’s ability to win any new federal contracts (or work on new task orders for existing contracts).  But, according to ComputerWorld, “IBM still faces an investigation by the EPA as well as a federal grand jury probe over a bid for a contract at the agency in 2006.” The ban had been imposed because of significant problems in the process surrounding the $84 million Environmental Protection Agency contract, which the company lost last year. 

ANALYSIS: Now that the ban has been lifted, I am glad to relay the news — not only because I blogged about it when imposed but also because I admire IBM and its work for government. But the circumstances made me think about my own current set of relationships with former colleagues in the federal government.

According to the AP’s account of the agreement struck with IBM leading to the ban’s lifting, which I read in Enterprise Security Today, “Several IBM employees allegedly obtained protected information from an EPA employee, ‘which IBM officials knew was improperly acquired, and used the information during its negotiations to improve its chance of winning a contract,’ according to the agreement. Such an act violated federal procedures… IBM has placed five individuals on administrative leave pending its own internal investigation and any federal probe.”

I don’t have more to say about the issue per se, other than riffing on that human aspect of the affair to make a personal comment about my own experience since leaving the federal government’s payroll last December….

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