Category: narcissism

November 23, 2006

categories: press, narcissism
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And, still, an even stronger smell…

Last Saturday’s Washington Post had my mug on the front page of the business section. The full story is available online, but lacks the photos. (Fear not, they simply copied the image of me from the front page of this blog, so you aren’t missing anything.)

Anyhow, Alan Sipress describes me as:

… a 39-year-old with a strong, stubby jaw and even stronger opinions.

The title of this blog entry is my complete response.

On a more serious note, while I think it is a great article and one that I feel lucky to be a part of, I think the article goes just a hair too far in characterizing MSFT in a “new” versus “old” kind of way. Many of the most potent change agents within the company have been part of MSFT for over a decade. MSFT is also the most introspective and self-critical environment that I’ve ever worked in (I mean that in the best possible way). So while the article paints me as a sort of “rebel with a cause”, I am really but one of many people who are helping MSFT to grow in new directions and any implication of a “versus” is more on how we’ll change not if we’ll change.

March 13, 2006

categories: press, narcissism
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Microsoft Puts Profit on the Line With Web-Based Focus

Flake said Microsoft had a radical goal: to erase nearly all distinctions between the Internet and computing. "No one today thinks about how power gets through the lines to your home," he said. "But today we are very aware of the boundaries between our desktop computer and the Internet. We will see that boundary become invisible."The Los Angeles Times

The whole "software as a service" meme sometimes has the misfortune of carrying a connotation of conflict between purveyors of desktop software and web applications. I think this characterization obscures more important elements of how the industry is evolving.

More specifically, here's the end state that we want: wherever you are, on whatever device you are using, you can get to your stuff. You don't have to think about where your stuff is. It's just there. It's safe, secure, and accessible. You don't have to initiate a connection, there is nothing to download, nor do you have to keep track of what is where.

This is the scenario that I was trying to capture in the quote above. In this world, one of two things must be true: (1) either the master copy of your data is in the "cloud" and the local copy is a cached version, or (2) the master copy is on the device and the backup is in the "cloud".

The point is that the user shouldn't have to think about these distinctions. That's the real promise of "software as a service".

January 30, 2006

categories: press, narcissism
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Noted computer scientist leads Microsoft’s new Net unit

"To be perfectly blunt, we expect there to be things that we push out that will be very exciting, and things that we push out that are going to be very risky and may not work," Flake said in an interview last week, calling those types of risks necessary "to have rapid innovation" in the online world. ... "Microsoft, more concretely than anyone else, is at a crossroads, and I mean this in the best possible way," Flake said. "I like change, and I like being in the middle of change." Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Software Notebook

My favorite part of the whole article: a photo of me with my two dogs on the front of the business section. My least favorite: the silly start of the story which suggests some PR clampdown at MS concerning our Seadragon acquisition (we just didn't close in time for the release, that's all, and someone pushed out the wrong copy to the website).

January 25, 2006

categories: press, narcissism
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Microsoft Launches Live Labs

windows live logo

Quoting from the press release:

REDMOND, Wash. - Jan. 25, 2006 - Microsoft Corp. today announced the formation of Microsoft Live Labs, a research partnership between MSN and Microsoft Research. Under the leadership of Dr. Gary William Flake, noted industry technologist and Microsoft technical fellow, Live Labs will consist of a dedicated group of researchers from MSN and Microsoft Research that will work with researchers across Microsoft and the academic research community. Live Labs will provide consistency in vision, leadership and infrastructure as well as a nimble applied research environment that fosters rapid innovations.

We more or less announced the formation of Live Labs at MSN's Search Champs event, which means that a lot of bloggers got the story first. A snapshot of some of the coverage (and other items) includes:

The Live Labs website was rushed out the door in order to make the announcement, and it shows. Why did we announce if the site wasn't ready? The timing of the Ph.D. fellowships was tied to the academic year, so we either had to announce the launch of Live Labs a bit early or confuse people by announing a set of Ph.D. fellowships that were funded by an undefined entity. Either way was bad, but I think the early announcement was the lesser of evils.

September 5, 2005

categories: press, narcissism
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On the Frontier of Search

I must have talked for two hours with the journalist who wrote this article. It's a perfectly fine article, but I often cringe when I read my own quotes in the press. Here's an example of what I am talking about:

"Search will ultimately be as good as having 1,000 human experts who know your tastes scanning billions of documents within a split second," says Gary Flake, one of just seven Distinguished Engineers at Microsoft, who are paid to think big thoughts. "It will model the human brain." Time Magazine

It's a little frustrating to have a couple of hours distilled down to a sound bite, but so it goes. The issue, here, is that I would never argue that we would literally try to model the human brain in order to make web search better. Anyone working on such models does so in the pursuit of understanding human cognition. That's a great goal, but not one that I am working on at all.

Instead, we are trying to make computers smarter so that they simulate human intelligence. I don't care if I make a computer smarter by simulating the brain, or through some other mechanism (perhaps completely unlike human cognition). I just want smarter computers.

So in the end, the quote makes my ends and means sound confused. Smarter computers for better web search is the ends for me, and brain simulation could be a possible means.

July 18, 2005

categories: narcissism, links
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ITConversations Podcast


ITConversations has posted a podcast of my "from the labs" talk at the O'Reilly ETech 2005 conference. At the time of this talk, Dr. Gary Flake was Director of Yahoo!s Research Lab, and he discusses the philosophy behind the Research Lab. He also demonstrates some of the new tools being developed a Yahoo!, including a collaborative prediction system (with prizes!) in which you can participate. The MP3 runs 17:25 and is 8mb in size.

And let me say, I really admire what ITConversations is doing. They provide a great service to the community, with nothing but support form the community. It's a sort of PBS for the Internet era.

Also, they plug my book on their site, which obviously pleases me.

June 18, 2005

categories: narcissism
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UMD CS Alumni Hall of Fame

UMD Logo

I am honored to have been one of the first two inductees (along with Chuck Dyer) into the alumni hall of fame of UMD's CS department, especially since UMD has as an alumnus at least one other Internet Grand Poobah*. Also, and this is the really funny part, I was actually such a screw up in the late eighties that UMD initially turned me down for admission. My future advisor vouched for me, and got the rejection reversed. Woo-hoo for string pulling irony!

Seriously, UMD has a fantastic CS program that, while well respected in the professional CS community, often doesn't get the props that it deserves from the business community.

*Dude, you have got to change that image on your page.

April 15, 2005

categories: narcissism
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Yahoo R&D Chief Joins MSN Search


In a major hiring coup, the MSN Search blog announced that Yahoo's head of Research and Development, Dr.Gary William Flake has now joined MSN. According to Oshoma Momoh, General Manager, MSN Search, Dr.Flake will be 'responsible for bridging the innovation happening between Microsoft Research and MSN and for setting the technology vision and future direction of the MSN portal, web search, desktop search and monetization engine.' Dr.Flake is also the first person to be directly hired as a Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, an elite group that has Dave Cutler and Anders Hejlsberg among other luminaries.

When this news broke, I jumped into the discussion at Slashdot; here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Quixote: Yoda sez... Begin, the search engine wars has.

deutschemonte: Hmm... fallen to the dark side, young Flake has.

me: ROFL. Thanks, you made my week. I've always wanted to be the Darth Vader of the Internets, if just for a day.

The next exchange captures a little bit of the surrealism I felt when I discovered the current Slashdot story was about me:

Mr_Silver: I'm not really sure how this is news, people move from one organisation to a rival all the time (even the very senior people). I can only assume that it is on here because it has Microsoft in the title and gives the editors a chance to whip out the (frankly stupid) borg icon.

me: And here I thought that this morning's edition of slashdot had been personalized just for me!

Winning the Outstanding Accomplishments in Trolling Award:

Anonymous Coward: On what moral ground can one justify joining MS, knowing as we all know what a despicable, criminal company it is? Dr. Flake, you are a whore.

me: Me love you long time.

And finally, an extremely generous comment from WEFUNK:

Indeed. It's too bad that most of the comments have been cracks about his name or his new title.

Gary Flake's The Computational Beauty of Nature is a classic book that anyone interested or active in engineering or computer science should own and cherish. Not only is it the best introduction and overview to explore and link together a number of popular but often confused concepts, from Fractals and Chaos to Number Theory and Computer Science, it is a beautifully written and presented book itself - perhaps best compared in both subject matter and style to other classics like Douglas R. Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, or perhaps A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram - except that it is shorter and much more accessible for even the layperson to read.

I had no idea what he has been up to lately. That he had left NEC to join Overture and become head scientist for Yahoo! Labs and eventually over to MSN Search certainly seems to fit the billing of "News for Nerds. Stuff that Matters." better than most stories I read here. My thanks to the submitter and editor for posting this.

April 11, 2005

categories: press, narcissism
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Microsoft plucks search exec from Yahoo

Microsoft on Monday said it has hired away Gary Flake, a principal scientist at Yahoo Research Lab and former head of research at the Web portal's Overture Services division. Flake will set the "technology vision and future direction" for Microsoft's MSN portal, its Web search engine, its desktop search software and its paid search business, according to Microsoft spokeswoman Kathy Gill. CNET / NEWS.COM

And so began the next step in my professional life...

January 18, 2005

categories: writing, narcissism
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The Colours of Infinity

book cover

Self-organization, Self-regulation, and Self-similarity on the Fractal Web, Gary W. Flake and David M. Pennock. Appears in The Colours of Infinity, 2004 [ Amazon | Clearpress, UK ].

This popular science book celebrates the tenth anniversary of the cult classic documentary on fractals by the same name (Colours of Infinity) and the 80th birthday of Benoit Mandelbrot. The book updates the topic of fractals with a modern perspective, including contributions from Mandelbrot, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Prechter, Ian Stuart, and Michael Barsley.

Our chapter discusses fractal-like proterties and processes on the Web. The book includes a DVD of the complete original documentary, with soundtrack by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.

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