Jon Gertner’s “The Idea Factory” tells an important story about the history of many of the communications and information technology underpinnings of our current era. More importantly, it explores (indirectly and eventually) a major question of what is needed to make large basic and applied research labs successful. I’m glad I read this book, but can’t say I necessarily enjoyed reading it. As such I’m struggling with whether to rate 3 or 4 stars … if Goodreads allowed 3.5, that’d be it.
Growing up very close to Bell Labs’ Holmdel NJ facility, I was attracted to this book because of the place the Labs occupied in our local culture. If you were bright, technically oriented, and wanted a well-paying job, Bell Labs was the place to strive for. The invention/discovery of radio astronomy at Crawford Hill added to the mystique. Read more
Pausing for a “work meets play” moment, thanks to stumbling across the cool interactive timeline tools at tiki-toki.com. To try out the new tool, I loaded up a database of NASA mission proposal competitions over the last 20 years, mostly in science and technology. The dry run is available here. (Or view a screencap here).
Last week I sliced the NASA procurement history up based on its deployment through its ten field Centers. Today, a slightly different take – tracking the end recipients. Well, to a point … NASA’s official procurement data only tracks the “prime contractor” recipients of awards (whether technical primes or support service contractors). In the actual aerospace industry, of course, the money then gets distributed through layers of subtier suppliers (subcontractors). That said – even tracking the primes over time is interesting. Read more
Today’s post is just a data rack-and-stack-and-dump; this time of fifty years of NASA annual procurement report data. (Add NASA to the long list of Federal agencies which report annual data, but do not trend it). As with many such data sets, a little graphic visualization often helps understand long term historical trends. Read more
Very little can be said to have been “good” about the brutal Alabama tornado outbreak of 27 April 2011. I was fortunate enough to come through unscathed both in body and property, inconvenienced only by five days without power. In a “glass half full” sort of way, five powerless days and public entreaties to stay out of the way of recovery efforts did have one upside: I got to catch up on quite a bit of reading. Below are some drive-by reviews of an odd assortment of pent up reading material. Read more
Despite current thrashing over the U.S. space program, the United States continues to lead the world in spending on civil space exploration. At rates of more than $18B per year, the expenditures dwarf its nearest competitors. Nonetheless, space continues to decline as a national investment priority, as measured by its share of the total government budget, and also by its share of Gross Domestic Product. Meanwhile, other countries are setting exploration at comparable – and even higher – priority.
Stumbling across this cool infographic from the New York Times, I was inspired to apply some of the same design principles to historical NASA budget data I’ve been keeping.
Long term budget planning is an interesting Federal dynamic. The battle between administration priorities and legislative branch priorities is starkly evident when executive branch hopes and dreams (or sometimes, nightmares) in five year budget plans are compared with the actual funds appropriated by Congress each year. Read more