Gheorghe Curelet-Balan Blog

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A software rocking star legend in town.

Bill Gates doesn't need any introduction. He is the living image of a dream coming true. And the University of Waterloo (UW) is part of his dream as around 500 UW alumni are working at Microsoft.

This should be enough to justify his second visit to UW in the last 2.5 years. But once his dream accomplished he is chasing another big dream: to help the poor of the world.

I read in the Stephen Manes and Paul Andrews' book: "Gates. How Microsoft's Mogul Reinvented an Industry and Made Himself the Richest Man in America" (page 15) that Bill carried a childhood rocking habit into adulthood and Microsoft.

He rocked the Waterloo Region last week when he talked to the young generation about the importance of software, innovation, the new computing frontiers of the next decade and the importance of his philantropy work at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Follow this link to watch the video recording of the lecture. Below I highlighted some of his ideas making references to the video in the approximate "(minute:second)" format.

After a short introduction[PDF] by UW President David Johnston, Bill Gates started his lecture by saying that UW is a special place, being in the top 3 universities from where Microsoft hires (4:18). Then, in order to connect with people, as he usually does in his presentations, he entertained the audience with a funny clip . This time, the clip was about his last day of work (6:20), in the wake of his retiring from Microsoft in July.

At (14:30) he starts talking about software as the best tool ever created, the birth by Microsoft of the software industry in 1975 and gives a short history of computing evolution till the beginning of the first digital decade, that is ending now. Globally there are 1 billion PCs, 2 billion cell phones (17:12) and 300 million broadband users.

The next digital decade will be phenomenal. Hardware inventions will not slow down (19:00) even though transistors reached their miniaturization limit. He expects that, unless there is a breakthrough, the current processor speed limit of 3-5GHz will stay with us for a while. The solution to this limit is multicore systems that create the need for software support for development of parallel code. Graphic displays will change dramatically so that any surface could be used to display information.

Another change factor will be in the way we interact with devices (21:00): natural user interfaces, touch, pen, tablet, whiteboard, speech, vision recognition. Office desk surface could become computational (24:40).

TV signals will be delivered over internet (29:20) changing the TV experience.

The progress in science relies now not only on math but on software too (31:00). The research in astronomy, genomics and malaria use computer simulation.

Funding the research activities is very important (33:08). The advances in computer science are the result of commercial and university investments. The huge success of Microsoft Research is a proof of this. Microsoft invests $6 billion per year into research. Governments need to be reached for funding research due to jobs creation and innovation effects. This are fun jobs, that are about changing the world and working with people.

The first part of the lecture ends with the story of how Microsoft is reaching out to scientists in other domains about their software needs (34:40) and the example of Harward brain research is given.

The second part of the lecture is about Bill Gates philantropy work. Here are some highlights:
- 39:40 the world population is divided in 3 tiers: rich, middle, poor. While the rich tier has a market voice driven by money, innovation is more important for the poor tier since they have no market voice. Therefore it is important to allocate research resources to solve the problems of the poor. The reality is opposite, as more research is done on baldness than on malaria.
- 44:00 technology could be used to help the poor
- 47:16 encourage the audience to get familiar with the situation of those people and try to help
- 47:50 get businesses involved to outreach poor (use creative capitalism).

Issues discussed during Q&A:
51:50 Microsoft willingness to invest in Canada
54:00 what's next in wireless networking?
57:40 Google and Apple execute now the best in innovation
60:40 the thing that surprised Bill Gates was the online advertising economics
65:30 education curricula
68:50 free internet
71:08 entrepreneurship in the big vs small companies
74:10 idea percolating process at Microsoft
76:20 how did he have the courage to start Microsoft?

On the same page cited in the above book we read how Bill was inspired by the "Century 21" technology vision of the 1962 World's Fair organized in Seattle. Who knows, maybe his talks will inspire the next generation to have the courage to dream big.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dreams come true!

A guy rides a bike powered by a rocket. Another one thinks that he should be ready to move and live on Mars just in case the life on Earth is menaced by a lost asteroid. A third guy enjoys and thrives on the technological space challenges. Another guy wants to be the "Ford" of space travel. These were only few of the second space revolution "players" in the Perimeter Institute's Michael Belfiore Rocketeers story.

Some of them are quite rich and could choose to live a comfortable and lavish life. What drives these guys? What they want? What all of them have in common?

No matter what are their motives they all are the same dream chassers as the previous visionaries, explorers, inventors, researchers, scientists, etc. They are "crazy" enough to come up with uncommon ideas and have the energy and perseverance to strongly believe in their dreams until they become true.

Each PI lecture gets me thinking even if I have time or not to share my thoughts with you. When I entered the WCI auditorium I had the feeling that it was like a rocket ready for a space travel aiming at a wonderful destination suggested on the auditorium's stage. In spite of bad weather adversities the PI ship of explorers of new horizons was almost full. Watch this video metaphor prologue about this lecture.

Michael made me thinking about the dream chasers when he started the lecture with the "crazy" idea of replacing bombs with people (in the top of the initial rockets) that initiated the first government sponsored space revolution.

Then, at the beginning of the second space revolution another "crazy" idea was born: that private sponsored space travel is possible. It was not only possible but its success came sooner than expected. Michael went through the story of the X Prize, then of the Canadian space traveling dreamer Brian Feeney (the da Vinci project initiator) and other projects and ideas to approach private space travel. He ended the lecture with the beautiful story of the latest and most practical project till now: the Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. It is hard to believe that this ship tries to solve the toughest problem of space travel: the safe reentry into the atmosphere.

The last video clip of the Virgin Galactic flight conveyed the dreaming feeling of weightlessness (confessed by those that lived it). It took the audience few moments to wake up. It was like a dream that you didn't want to end.

Dreams come true after all.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Agile Software Development full story on Waterloo Tech TV.

At last, the much expected Scott Ambler's Agile Software Development, The Full Story (about which I talked here) is posted on "". The nice video presentation was worth the waiting.

Here are my video notes (in approximate "minutes:seconds" format) of the first part of the video:

7:15 - Scott invites both traditional and agile communities to get thinking
7:55 - most of the traditional development is religious dogma based on assumptions that should be questioned
9:25 - many organizations suffer from the same problems
9:40 - observe what works and what doesn't
10:23 - Dr. Dobbs Journal surveys on what's really happening
11:30 - silo development is a challenge for agile community that makes the old mistakes of wheel reinventing. Look at the bigger picture.
12:40 - contents of the lecture
14:00 - be skeptic but open minded. Scott talks about things that works.
14:40 - we are in a mess today
15:21 - question the assumptions in the traditional world but be smart about it.

To be continued...

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