DorobekInsider: Welcome 2010 – what you may have missed while we were away

We’re all back to it today after a few weeks focusing on thing… well, other then work, right? Well, hard core work just hasn’t been the top priority. But we’re all back to it today — well, other then lawmakers on Capitol Hill, but…

While the past few weeks were quiet, there was news, so… here are the stories you may have missed while you had other priorities:

* The underwear bomber

Yes, on Christmas Eve, we learned a new word that I’m guessing will be part of our lexicon for some time: the underwear bomber. (I was flying over the holidays and didn’t notice any real difference, but… I was flying domestically. There were some nervous people in the security line who half jokingly said, ‘If we had to take our shoes off after the shoe bomber, what happens NOW?’


There has been a whole lot of criticism of the Homeland Security Department and the intelligence community — much of it very unfair. For example, I generally have great respect for CBS News’ Bob Schieffer, but I thought this was unfair:

The Truth on Government Spin
Bob Schieffer Says Press Conferences and Statements Aimed at Deflecting Criticism Do Nothing to Inspire Trust

NYT columnist David Brooks had my favorite column on this subject:

The God That Fails [NYT, 12.31.2009]

… History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates…

That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.

After Sept. 11, we Americans indulged our faith in the god of technocracy. We expanded the country’s information-gathering capacities so that the National Security Agency alone now gathers four times more data each day than is contained in the Library of Congress…

All this money and technology seems to have reduced the risk of future attack. But, of course, the system is bound to fail sometimes. Reality is unpredictable, and no amount of computer technology is going to change that. Bureaucracies are always blind because they convert the rich flow of personalities and events into crude notations that can be filed and collated. Human institutions are always going to miss crucial clues because the information in the universe is infinite and events do not conform to algorithmic regularity.

Resilient societies have a level-headed understanding of the risks inherent in this kind of warfare.

Read the full column here.

There clearly are issues, but the crazed, almost insane calls for “accountability” turns everything into a witch hunt. The fact is this is complex — and there are no easy answers. And it is a typical problem for government — it is what makes government so different then the private sector. In fact, we could present every bomber from flying — just shut down air flight. That isn’t happening, of course. And we’re not going to let everybody on planes. So it isn’t a choice between black or white. The question is what shade of gray is correct — and that can change minute by minute.

I’m still heartened that, in the end, it was the passengers and crew of the flight that shut him down. Remarkable work.

President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, interviewed on CNN’s State of the Union with John King on Sunday, noted that there were pieces of intelligence, but there was no smoking gun.

For our part on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief, we are going to try to find ways to actually help people connect dots — and it is, frankly, why I am so fascinated by these government 2.0 initiatives.

Today on Federal News Radio 1500 AM’s Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, we talk to David Stephenson, the president of Stephenson Strategies and a consultant who specializes in data. Recently, Stephenson and Eric Bonabeau wrote a paper for Homeland Security Affairs, the peer-reviewed online journal of the Naval Postgraduate School Center for Homeland Defense and Security, titled Expecting the Unexpected: The Need for a Networked Terrorism and Disaster Response Strategy. (Read the full paper in HTML here… or download the PDF here. Hear our conversation with Stephenson here.)

Bob Gourley, the former chief technology officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency and currently the CTO and founder of Crucial Point, also had an interesting post titled Are you thinking through system improvements after the Xmas Terror Attack?

* Long live… Twitter?

So says NYT media columnist David Carr in a story headlined Why Twitter Will Endure:

Like many newbies on Twitter, I vastly overestimated the importance of broadcasting on Twitter and after a while, I realized that I was not Moses and neither Twitter nor its users were wondering what I thought. Nearly a year in, I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice.

* GovLoop: The The Myth of the Turnaround Employee

GovLoop posted its top blog posts of the year. One I found fascinating was by Mario headlined The The Myth of the Turnaround Employee

Myth #1: Your top performers don’t need attention – they are already doing a great job.

Myth #2: Direct attention and mentoring is what under-performers need most.

Myth #3: Its my job to train and bring ALL on my team up to speed; even the bad ones.

Bonus Myth: The turnaround employee is really that good.

All untrue, he argues. Read the full post here.

* CIO of the year… Kundra

InformationWeek’s J. Nicholas Hoover writes: “The federal CIO is driving change within the government’s lumbering IT operations. A lengthy to-do list will test his ideas and power of persuasion.”

* My iPhone says I’m drunk

One of my favorite stories — and apps…

When Even Your Phone Tells You You’re Drunk, It’s Time to Call a Taxi [WSJ, 12.31.2009]
New Year’s Eve Will Test Technology’s Capacity to Stop the Young From Drinking and Driving

…State officials are trying new — and, they hope, hip — ways to reach out to the Twitter-iPhone-Facebook generation. Some safe-driving advocates fear the new strategies, often lighthearted in tone, will undermine the stern message that has been the gold-standard for years: Don’t ever drink and drive.

But state officials say they have to meet their target audience on its own turf…

In Colorado, the state Department of Transportation hosts an interactive Web site that shows partygoers where to park their cars safely overnight and points them to bars that hand out vouchers for free taxi rides.

But officials were looking for something more dynamic. When their marketing team, Webb PR, suggested an iPhone buzz-o-meter, they bit, spending $8,000 to develop the program.

In the month since its debut, the free app — which is designed to look like a slot machine — has been downloaded nearly 40,000 times from Apple’s online store, with a noticeable spike in traffic on Christmas Day.

The calculator comes with a disclaimer that it isn’t definitive: Impairment can vary greatly depending on how much drinkers have eaten, whether they are on medication and how much sleep they have had.

Still, based on the user’s input of weight, gender, hours drinking and a tally of beer, wine and liquor consumed, the calculator spits out a blood-alcohol content number that looks very precise — for example, 0.058%. It’s accompanied by a color-coded message: “No hangover expected,” printed in sober gray; “You’re buzzed!” in yellow; or, in cautionary red: “Don’t even think about it!…Designate a sober driver.”

In major Colorado cities, an added feature uses GPS technology to let the user call a cab with a tap of the phone.

Read the full story here.