Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 13, 2005

New NASA Administrator

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:19 pm

If you follow these things, you know that NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe resigned in December to become chancellor of Lousiana State University (a position first held by William Tecumseh Sherman — did you know that?) .

On Friday, President Bush nominated Michael Griffin to be the next NASA Administrator. The MSNBC article describes him as “a rocket scientist with an M.B.A.” That’s true, but it’s also a bit like saying like Jesse Owens was “a runner who was part of the U.S. Olympic team” — which also true, but it leaves out certain critical and impressive facts, like the fact that he won a record-setting four gold medals.

Before taking his current job as head of the Space Department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, Griffin was President and CEO of In-Q-Tel, and before that he was Chief Engineer and the Associate Administrator for Exploration at NASA, and worked at JPL and several other places.

In my previous job, I worked on a project for NASA and once sort-of-met Michael Griffin (i.e., he and I spent the same day in a conference room with a couple of dozen other people, about half of whom were as well-known as he, and essentially all of whom were more well-known than I). I was extremely impressed — he was one of the few people with both a healthy respect for NASA’s exploration goals, and an appropriate (i.e., high) level of skepticism for some of the overly-enthusiastic proposals, predictions, and (especially) cost estimates of some of the dreamers and boosters within NASA (which is actually most of the people in just-below-top management there). Of course, an organization needs dreamers and boosters, but when it comes to actually putting those dreams into reality, they need a heavy dose of realism as well. Michael Griffin seemed like one of the few people who was both understanding of and sympathetic to the dreamers, but suitably skeptical of their grand proposals (and optimistic cost estimates). And he’s also, obviously, very smart.

I was sufficiently impressed with him at that meeting, that he was one of the two people (at the meeting) who I looked up on Google right afterwards. And of course, I found his biography equally (if not more) impressive. For example, remember that stuff about “with an M.B.A.”? here’s the full story from that biography:

Mike obtained his B.A. in Physics from the Johns Hopkins University, which he attended as the winner of a Maryland Senatorial Scholarship. He holds Master’s degrees in Aerospace Science from Catholic University, Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, Applied Physics from Johns Hopkins, Civil Engineering from George Washington University, and Business Administration from Loyola College of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.

By my count, that’s an M.B.A. plus four other master’s degrees — from four different universities, plus a Ph.D. — which was probably more work than all those master’s degrees put together. (And yes, a bachelor’s degree also.)

I have a suitable level of skepticism of the value of school records as indicators of people’s intelligence, but (1) I was impressed first and saw the degrees second, and (2) I’m still very impressed by someone who has (almost) twice as many academic degrees as I do. ;-)

I never thought I’d be in a position to be able to make a judgement on a prospective NASA administrator, but I am, and I think he is an excellent choice!

Afghanistan’s First Blog

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:22 pm

In July 2001, the Taliban government in Afghanistan banned access by Afghans to the Internet. The next month, they extended to ban to include foreigner present in Afghanistan (this got considerably more press).

Almost a year and a half after the U.S. liberation of Afghanistan from the Taliban, the new government restored access to the Internet and reclaimed the temporarily defunct “.af” top-level domain.

Now — as of last Tuesday — an Afghan named Waheed has started what he believes is Afghanistan’s first blog. And it most probably is.

Best of luck to Waheed — and to all Afghans to enjoy their freedom of speech from now on!

(Hat tip: Adam Greenwood.)

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