Archive for March, 2008

US Continental Security

March 13, 2008

General Victor Renuart’s testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee is a fun read — as it ties together all aspects of “continental security” and puts them into perspective. He oversees both the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) which has been in existence since the Cold War to protect against airborne threats (missiles, airplanes, etc) and the US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) which was created in 2002 after the 9/11 attacks for all aspects of homeland security and incident repsonse. Some bits of trivia from the testimony… NORAD and USNORTHCOM monitor 12-20 potentially dangerous incidents everyday and there are over 17,000 manmade objects orbiting the earth in space and thousands more they cannot track.

Three important trends for homeland security emerge from his testimony:

  1.  Building up capability and preparation for WMD incident response is the #1 priority for USNORTHCOM – note this is not prevention. They prepare to deal with the 15 National Planning Scenarios.

  2. There is a long list of domestic incidents that USNORTHCOM has responded last year (Katrina, California wildfires, drug smuggling, etc.

  3. Working in conjunction with both state/local governments and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the USNORTHCOM will be relied upon for delivering and coordinating all domestic disaster response for major natural incidents, man-made accidents, and hostile attacks – they are in charge of the national guard and will call on the Army/Marines as necessary. This includes Army’s CBRNE. (The letters CBRNE stand for the five mission elements of the 20th Support Command: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives.)

Advertisements

Corporate risks + rewards of breakthrough R&D

March 10, 2008

Corning’s Biggest Bet Yet? Diesel-Filter Technologies
By SARA SILVER, March 7, 2008; Page B1, Wall Street Journal

Corning, which went public in 1945 and has a market capitalization of about $36 billion, has survived — and often thrived — in recent decades by following a playbook that Wall Street and corporate America deems outmoded. While companies like Xerox Corp. scaled back long-term research, Corning stuck with the old formula, preferring to develop novel technologies than buy them from start-ups.

An investment 25 years ago has turned Corning into the world’s largest maker of liquid-crystal-display glass used in flat-panel TVs and computers. But another wager, which made it the biggest producer of optical fiber during the 1990s, almost sank the company when the tech boom turned into a bust.

Corning Inc. has survived for 157 years by betting big on new technologies, from ruby-colored railroad signals to fiber-optic cable to flat-panel TVs. And now the glass and ceramics manufacturer is making its biggest research bet ever.

Under pressure to find its next hit, the company has spent half a billion dollars — its biggest wager yet — that tougher regulations in the U.S., Europe and Japan will boost demand for its emissions filters for diesel cars and trucks.

“This is the biggest cash hole we’ve ever been in,” says Corning President Peter Volanakis.

In Erwin, a few miles from the company’s headquarters in Corning, the glassmaker is spending $300 million to expand its research labs. There, some 1,700 scientists work on hundreds of speculative projects, from next-generation lasers to optical sensors that could speed the discovery of drugs.

Corning’s roots go back to 1851, when Amory Houghton, a 38-year-old merchant, bought a stake in a small glass company, Cate & Phillips. For most of Corning’s history, a Houghton was either chairman or chief executive. Even today, Corning, population 12,000, is very much a company town. The original Houghton family mansion, still used for company meetings, overlooks the quaint downtown, which is punctuated by a white tower from one of Corning’s original glass factories. Most senior managers have spent their entire careers at Corning.

“Culturally, they’re not afraid to invest and lose money for many years,” says UBS analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos. “That style is not American any more.”

Corning also goes against the grain in manufacturing. While it has joined the pack in moving most of its production overseas, it eschews outsourcing and continues to own and operate the 50 factories that churn out thousands of its different products.

Corning argues that retaining control of research and manufacturing is both a competitive advantage and a form of risk management. Its strategy is to keep an array of products in the pipeline and, once a market develops, to build factories to quickly produce in volumes that keep rivals from gaining traction.

But because Corning often depends heavily on a single product line for most of its profit — 92% of last year’s $2.2 billion profit came from its flat-panel-display business — it is vulnerable to downturns. Even small movements in consumer demand for or pricing of its LCD-based products can cause gyrations in its stock price. During the dot-com meltdown when the market for fiber-optic cable crashed, Corning was brought to the brink of bankruptcy and by 2003 was forced to lay off half of its workers. Today it has 25,000 employees.

Trust in students + lessons tailored to their needs leads to results in education

March 8, 2008

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart? By ELLEN GAMERMAN, February 29, 2008; Page W1, Wall Street Journal

“…by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers…

The academic prowess of Finland’s students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country’s secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students.

In addition to the article, also see the video linked from the WSJ website. The international comparison/test was for 15 year olds in math, science, and reading skills. The video explains that Finnish students don’t start school until age 7 allowing them to play, be free, and develop emotionally for a longer time than their American counterparts who start first grade at age 5.