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Top 10 Takeaways From Seattle’s Engineering Summit: Electro-Active Wallpaper, Facebook Is Watching You, and Dendreon Detractors

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at its disposal. By analyzing the updates of its social network users, the company sees patterns in things like where people are getting laid off, where they live relative to their friends, and correlations between when they get drunk and when they say they have a hangover (the correlation is high, not surprisingly, and the incidence rate is highest around New Year’s). “This is pretty cool,” Chang said. Questions in social science and human behavior that were traditionally very hard to get at with surveys can now be answered by mining social networks. (Facebook is opening an engineering office in Seattle this summer.)

3. “The cloud may turn out to be an interim solution.”

That was Smarr talking about the fact that the “mass market” Internet cloud that’s used for things like Gmail simply doesn’t have the high-performance capacity or speed to handle big science data. So he sees organizations and businesses using a combination of a public cloud and a “fast private cloud” to get gigabyte-per-second access speeds. The whole field of private clouds is exploding, of course, as big companies figure out issues like compliance, security, and privacy for their customers. Interestingly, Smarr said California and Washington universities are currently testing a 10 gigabit-per-second “connected commercial data cloud” through Amazon Web Services, as an “experiment for big data.” (The network is called the Pacific Northwest Gigapop.)

2. Manned spaceflight is a complicated but crucial business.

I can’t begin to do justice to the discussion by Michael Griffin, the former NASA administrator, Ed Crawley from MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics, and Bonnie Dunbar, a former astronaut and CEO of the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Suffice to say that Griffin has some spectacular insights into running a large bureaucratic organization; Crawley thinks the technical issues in space travel are not as risky as the business issues. “We are entrusting human spaceflight over the next five years to commercial providers. They happen to be Russian,” Crawley said. “The eventual goal of human spaceflight should be to move towards exploring Mars.”

Meanwhile, Dunbar focused on the human side of spaceflight, which is something she knows, because she has actually spent time above Earth in a space shuttle. She talked about life support systems, the kinds of science experiments that can be done in orbit, and studies of astronaut health and the long-term effects of being in space. Griffin and Crawley disagreed sharply over … Next Page »

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