Saturday, March 28, 2009

Surreal Saturday: Molten Iron Throwing (YouTube via Neatorama)

Neatorama featured this video earlier this week of Chinese farmers who have -- for hundreds of years, apparently -- thrown molten iron against a big wall in lieu of launching fireworks for the lantern festival.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Mercyhurst Alum Named To Fed 100 List! (

Amanda Post, a graduate of Mercyhurst's Intel Studies program, was just named to the Fed 100 list -- Federal Computer Week's list of the top 100 people who contributed to technological innovation in the federal government over the last year.

This is a pretty big deal. The list of the other recipients this year includes CIO's, Admirals and other high ranking technical professionals from across the entire federal government. Amanda is an intel analyst working for SRA and her achievement is all the more remarkable as she only graduated two years ago!

Congratulations to Amanda for her well deserved award!

P.S. For pictures of the event, including one of Amanda looking very poised with her boss on one side and the CEO of SRA on the other, go here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gargoyle 0.1: Imagining The Mobile Intelligence Analyst's Workspace (YouTube)

"Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset...Nothing looks stupider; these get-ups are the modern day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society...The payoff for this self-imposed ostracism is that you can be in the Metaverse all the time, and gather intelligence all the time."

-- Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash (1992), page 123-124.

I have been thinking about some technology trends and how they are likely to impact the intelligence analyst's workspace recently. The vision that seems to dominate right now is what I will call the Minority Report version. There has been a good bit of progress with this model of the workspace and it appears to be on track to enter more-or-less mass use in the private sector in the near future.

The problem with this vision, in my mind, is that it continues to assume an analyst that will be largely stationary. Stationary does not appear to be the way the world is going, however. To me, a sleeker (less geeky) version of the Gargoyle option is much more appealing.

The MIT Media Lab recently demo-ed their Sixth Sense technology at the TED conference (See video below) which is moving in the direction I am talking about.

This is pretty cool stuff but it seems to require the user to attend to the output of the device in a very complete way. In other words, while you are engaged with the device, there is not much else you can do.

While I am not a big believer in the idea of multi-tasking (the ability to do two or more things at once with equal levels of efficiency), I do believe that you may be able to optimally allocate attention. The devices that seem to do this best currently are heads-up or head mounted displays.

These devices are well known to fighter pilots but they are also becoming a standard feature in high performance cars. There even appears to be an iPhone ap that does the trick on the cheap (for a more frightening version of what this means, imagine the implications of this video in heavy traffic on the Beltway). They are mostly for information display, however. In order for such a device to be useful to an analyst, it would have to be capable of robust levels of interactivity.

Surprisingly, there are a number of head mounted displays that allow a user to interact with a computer. Even the low end of the market can be hacked to make a workable Gargoyle interface (if not for daily use, then at least for experimentation purposes).

I put together the video below to give you sense of what such a low end system might look like built with components on the market right now. I didn't have a lot of time, and the overall quality of the video is pretty bad, but it should give you an idea of what I think it would take to get a working prototype up and running and where I think the engineering challenges are for the future of the concept.

The point of all this is that it is not a far-out, futuristic concept anymore. I am not a very tech-savvy guy and if I can build anything resembling a working model of a mobile workstation, then it can't be very far off.

Technology brings challenges as well as benefits, however. If we are not just going to dump this stuff on the analysts of the future, it seems to make some sense to start figuring out now how best to configure the hardware and the software in such a way that it is not merely more technology for technology's sake.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Advanced Analytic Techniques -- The Blog! (

Yes, Advanced Analytic Techniques now has a blog. And you can all join in!

I am teaching a graduate seminar in Advanced Analytic Techniques this term. The core of the course is a series of student projects that hyperfocus on the application of a particular analytic technique (such as patent analysis or social network analysis) to a discrete topic (such as the political situation in Turkey or the future of oil and gas exploration in the Caspian Sea). The best of these projects wind up in The Analyst's Cookbook.

Each week, however, in addition to diving deep into these individual techniques and topics, we also work as a group to come to some conclusions about a number of other techniques. In preparation, each of the students selects, reads and summarizes two articles on whichever technique is under the microscope for the week.

They then post these summaries and links to the full text of the articles on our Advanced Analytic Techniques blog. Each Wednesday, we sit down and have a discussion about the readings. We also run a short exercise using the technique. From the combination of discussion and exercise, we try to answer four questions:

  • How do we define this technique?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of this technique?
  • How do you do this technique (Step by step)?
  • What was our experience like when we tried to apply this technique?
Once we think we have pretty good answers to these questions, we post what we have developed to the blog in order to capture our collective thinking on the technique in question.

Obviously, this only serves to familiarize the students with the technique under consideration. The blog format, however, permits us to open this series of exercises up to practitioners, academics and intel studies students at other institutions for comment and additional insights -- which is what I am doing with this post.

Last week we took a look at SWOT and this week we are examining Dialectics/The Socratic Method (summaries of the articles are posted now but the synthesis post will be up late this afternoon).

Don't hesitate to jump in!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Must Read Report On Recent Cyberwar Attacks (

Jeff Carr (who blogs at IntelFusion and runs GreyLogic) released his most recent report on the evolving state of cyberwar late last week and it is a good one.

Focused primarily on three recent attacks, the report contains well-written, clear, evidence-based findings. Jeff's report goes beyond just the technical findings, however, and pulls the strings together in a way that will be of high interest to the non-technical reader as well.

This is part 2 of the Grey Goose Project which uses an "open innovation intelligence model focusing on identifing and tracking Non-state hackers and the companies and governments that support them."

Non-governmental versions of both Part 1 and 2 of the Grey Goose Report are available online. The non-gvernmental versions focus on the findings and conclusions derived therefrom. The governmental versions contain much more of the concrete evidence on which those findings/conclusions are based. The Government version can be requested via e-mail from a government e-mail account. Jeff indicated that it will also be available on A-Space and Intellipedia.

(Full Disclosure: Jeff was kind enough to send an early copy of both reports for me to review prior to publication. I received no pay or compensation of any kind for providing feedback. I have no formal relationship with GreyLogic or Intelfusion other than Jeff's a friend and we both blog about the same kind of stuff.

Bottomline: The reports were good when I got them and Jeff has only made them better since.)