Saturday, May 09, 2009

Where wizards try to be like those other wizards who stayed up late and changed things massively.

The Internet was first called ARPAnet after its funder, the Advanced Research Projects Agency. ARPAnet was a Pentagon project designed to help Defense Department funded programs around country, mostly at universities, talk to each other via their great big computer, the only kind of computers there were at the time--great big as in filling the basement of a university building. Computers were only owned by large entities.

ARPA, later called DARPA, D is for Defense, was a tiny agency in the Defense Department that aimed to fund truly new ideas fast and early.

"Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon has lots about ARPA because ARPA and it's attitude and it's ability to aim money fast and well is the origin of the Internet. A softy such as myself probably wouldn't like a lot of what ARPA funded, and they funded many things, but I surely like the Internet.

Starting more or less now, the Energy Department has ARPA-E, consciously named after and modeled after ARPA.

The idea is to fund, fast and early, energy technologies that will change everything for the better. They don't want to fund improvement--they want transformation. A sample of what they want in the way of change, long term, is they say you might state in your request for funding, how many million barrels of oil your technology will save per year when it's widely used, compared to a base year in the 1990's.

ARPA-E people do not want to fund technologies to that point--to the point of widespread use. They don't even want to fund demonstration projects. They are all about early.

They offer two kinds of funding, early and late, both of which are pretty early. Early funding aims to help you get your very new technology to the point where knowledgeable people can understand that it works and is good. Late funding aims to get a technology that is further along in development to the point that knowledgeable people with money will want to star making it be a product now.

ARPA-FOA rah, rah, rah. FOA means Funding Opportunity Annoucement and they have one for people to start applying between May 12, 2009 and June 2, 2009. Search Google for ARPA-FOA and look for the PDF file high on the list and there it is in all its forty-seven page glory.

Not kidding. I have low expectations of technical writing and government writing, and I was moved by this and interested almost all the way through.

Can they do it? Can $150 million spread in mostly $3 million to $5 million bits find the right places to be and help us to seriously get out of this mess?

That would be some forty-seven page poem if it work. Pray for peace by praying for ARPA-FOA, round one, to be an amazing success. May good intentions and smarts have also good luck and find the right wizards who have been staying up late and long working for energy and can now get a wise push from the government.