Out of Scope March/April 2010

I?m a Believer

Jill Tarter is something of a believer. She?s an astronomer who, according to a recent article in New Scientist, won a TED Prize last year. (TED is a nonprofit devoted to ?Ideas Worth Spreading.?) Winning a TED Prize gets you about $100,000 and a wish: ?One Wish to Change the World.?

Astronomer Jill?s wish was simple: ?I wish that you would empower earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.? So she and TED teamed up with the SETI Institute to create SETIQuest.org, which just went live. According to the New Scientist report, the SETIQuest site will ?make vast amounts of SETI data available to the public for the first time. It will also publish the SETI Institute?s signal-detection algorithm as open source code, inviting brilliant coders and amateur techies to make it even better.?

But you don?t have to be a coder or software developer to participate. With this new open access to SETI data, everyone can ?visually search the data for anything that looks suspiciously like something other than white noise. Should you spot something anomalous, alert the global community. If enough citizen scientists agree that something looks fishy, their collective concern will direct SETI?s telescopes to zoom in on the questionable patch of sky.? So start searching, earthlings!

Getting Personal

Since marketers first realized the power of the Web to make money, one of the most sought-after capabilities has been ?personalization.?

So it’s not surprising to read another release promising a new and better version of personalization. This time, however, the technology sounds interesting. It?s the Intelligent Digital Platform, a joint effort of Accenture Technology Labs and Procter & Gamble.

The release says the platform ?gives businesses the capability to move away from the one-size-fits-all Website now used to greet virtually all online viewers. At the same time, it provides the back-office data that can help the brand team achieve a desired outcome.?

Joshua Kahn, a developer at Accenture?s Labs, says the Intelligent Digital Platform uses ?technology that promises to change the very nature of how we interact online and the applications used by the Web.? He adds that it has the potential to ?dynamically change the Website to give visitors what they want to see, in a way they want to see it.?

Facebook Learns Hip Hop Language

The Register.com reports that Facebook has rewritten the popular and dynamic PHP code on which the mega-site runs. What?s most interesting about the new code, called HipHop, is that it?s a highly optimized but static version of C++.

In the article, reporter Gavin Clarke noted that this is quite a turn of events for the leading-edge social site, which was built on ?the new generation of scripting languages,? such as PHP. After all, C++ is no stranger to the corporate IT world. As Clarke wrote, ?C++ is traditionally associated with the reliable?but relatively unexciting?world of enterprise and server-side computing.?

To be sure, no one is ever going to confuse working on CRM or databases with the funky fun that can be had over at Facebook. But when you get to the crux of the change, it is, in fact, an enterprise IT issue. The reporter said that ?the company claimed it cut the CPU use on its servers by up to 50 percent, depending on the page, thanks to HipHop?s transformation of PHP.?

David Recordon, Facebook?s senior open programs manager, told The Register that this translates into ?cost savings, as the company can manage its existing server farms, while adding additional traffic to its service.? He added: ?We can scale the site in active users and face views and can get more from current hardware without buying more servers.?

But don?t think about trying HipHop out for your company?s site. Recordon noted that the language would only be of interest to a very small group of users running very large sites. So you?ll have to find some other relatively unexciting way to save your company money.