Backbone Growth

Also from the New York Times, an interesting piece about how other countries are trying to build Internet backbone infrastructure to bypass the US. Even amongst our allies, there’s worry about how a US-dominated net would expose information:

“Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the United States have been reluctant to store client information in the U.S.,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. “There is an ongoing concern that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic that goes through U.S. switches.”

Surge Quarrel

The New York Times offers new details about how Bush decided on the five-brigade surge in Iraq. Interesting for what it reveals about the wrangling within the Army itself. The generals were deeply split.

Shuttle, Extended

Congressional sentiment in the wake of the Georgia/Russia incident is forcing NASA to reconsider the idea of shutting down the Space Shuttle program after 2010. But former Shuttle program boss Wayne Hale says logistics already make that a practical impossibility. NASA managers began shutting down the supply chain for parts four years ago and there’s no way to restart it:

You might think that simple things like bolts and screws, wire, filters, and gaskets could be bought off the shelf some where, but that thinking would merely prove how little you know about the shuttle.  The huge majority of supplies, consumable items, maintenance items, they are all specially made with unique and stringent processes and standards. 

Our shuttle history tells us that when we try to cut corners, trouble results.  Small, even apparently insignificant changes have caused big problems. 

It goes to show how short-sighted the Bush administration’s decision-making was, born out of pure cowardice following the Columbia accident.

China’s Stake

Robert Farley:

Territorial integrity is a value that Russia really shouldn’t have expected China to have a sense of humor about.

Read the whole thing.

The Grid’s the Thing

The New York Times identifies a key barrier to exploiting renewable energy: the fractured state of America’s transmission grid. Eventually, Congress may have to invoke its power to regulate interstate commerce to sort things out:

Politicians in Washington have long known about the grid’s limitations but have made scant headway in solving them. They are reluctant to trample the prerogatives of state governments, which have traditionally exercised authority over the grid and have little incentive to push improvements that would benefit neighboring states.

Andy Hertzfeld Speaks

O’Reilly News has a nice interview with the man who wrote the original Macintosh operating system. He works for Google these days and has an interesting perspective on what makes the companies tick:

One of the ways that they’re different has to do with essentially their trust of employees. Apple is very secretive within the company; people working on Macs don’t know anything about the new iPods, etc. Google is extremely open within the company; once you’re a Google employee you have access to just about every piece of information there is. So that’s a fairly striking difference. I would say Google is a little more bottom-up oriented. Even though the leaders of Google are brilliant and fantastic, they like having a lot of impetus with the individual contributors whereas Apple is not that way. It’s more like a master plan formulated by a single individual.

Long term, Google’s is the better approach. Maybe the peaks won’t be as great, but the troughs won’t be as deep either. I’m sure Apple could have done without the Jobs-less early 1990s.

Bell Labs Drops Basic Research

An icon retreats:

Alcatel-Lucent, the parent company of Bell Labs, is pulling out of basic science, material physics and semiconductor research and will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software.

A damn shame that is too, though truth be told Bell Labs has been in decline ever since the break-up of AT&T. But its research record is monumental and likely will never be matched by a single organization. And there’s likely a ripple effect up and down the research trade:

“Fundamental physics is absolutely crucial to computing,” says Mike Lubell, director of public affairs for the American Physical Society. “Say in the case of integrated circuits, there were many, many small steps that occurred along the way resulting from decades worth of work in matters of physics.”

Bell Labs was one of the last bastions of basic research within the corporate world, which over the past several decades has largely focused its R&D efforts on applied research — areas of study with more immediate prospects of paying off.

Without internally funded basic research, fundamental research has instead come to rely on academic and government-funded laboratories to do kind of long-term projects without immediate and obvious payback that Bell Labs used to historically do, says Lubell.

Research depends on linkages between different disciplines. The strength of Bell Labs was that basic and applied research lived under one roof. Universities can duplicate that, but that requires conscious effort on their part and the applied-research side of the house is often controversial if it’s funded by or linked to private industry. There’s always an English professor pissed off because he can’t get a grant to write another critique of Melville who will complain about it when others doing something more valuable can.

French Foreign Legion: Let the Afghans Do It

A French lieutenant colonel says Americans are shouldering too much of the counterinsurgency burden in Afghanistan and stunting the development of the Afghan army;

[US forces] generally make operational decision which, without the vigilance of the [Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams] can sideline the ANA from the decision-making process; these then risk being turned into auxiliaries to the US army. The OMLTs must ensure that the ANA maintains its role and progressively is weaned from its  dependence.

Hat tip: Aviation Week.

Putin: Americans Were in Combat Zone

Maybe. He says perhaps to influence the election to one candidate’s benefit. Take with a large grain of salt. Note also how he responds to the question late in this CNN interview about guaranteeing other border states against Russian attack.

UPDATE: See also this backgrounder from The Economist. Money quote:

After years of cultivating xenophobic sentiment and persuading Russians that they face an enemy, the Kremlin had prepared the population psychologically for war. That, says Boris Dubin, a sociologist, is why Russia’s propaganda fell on fertile ground. In the public mind, he claims, the cause of the war is to be found in “America’s expansionist plans and desire to establish control over Russia’s neighbours.”

Gustav Line

Via Galrahn, the Department of Defense at least is ready for Hurricane Gustav:

The command has activated four defense coordinating elements at the regional FEMA headquarters. The command provides unique DoD capabilities for disaster response. Rowe said three active-duty military installations have been designated as FEMA logistics points: Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Columbus Air Force Base, Miss.; and the Naval Air Station at Meridian, Miss. 

The 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Fort Drum, N.Y., is the quick-reaction force for the homeland. “They are provided with situational awareness and provided with prepare-to-deploy orders if needed,” Rowe said. 

In addition, Fleet Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., has given direction to three amphibious ships — the USS Bataan, the USS Nassau and the USS Ponce — to be prepared to sortie if needed. The command also has at its disposal additional communications, engineering, and aviation units.

Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll be needed: