Annual Reflections

Peter J. Denning


(Reflections for: 2004)

(Reflections for: 2005)

(Reflections for: 2006)

Reflections for 2007

For 33 Christmases, Dorothy and I have sent our little newsletter full of spoofs and wacky analyses, but little personal news. Read on for more personal news.

Both my daughters live and work in Long Island.  Anne, the elder, lives in Baldwin and commutes to Forest Hills for her work in an agency that helps autistic children.  She is board certified in behavior analysis. She and her husband Mike Schultz live on a small canal with access to the ocean.  Diana, the younger, and her husband Jack LaVolpe have their own house in East Rockaway. She teaches in elementary school. Their daughter, Ava, is now 18 months old.   That makes me a grandfather!

Dorothy and I have now completed five years on the faculty of Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey.  We are having a blast and have no plans to retire.  Some of our friends have retired, but we have not felt it is time to put our tools down.

Dorothy is a professor in the Department of Defense Analysis.  It is a multidisciplinary department with representatives from many fields including policy, sociology, ethics, counter-terrorism, special operations, information operations, and information technology.  The students are all officers in Special Operations; most have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She has designed several new courses -- about networks, trust, and influence, about cyber security, and about terrorist financing -- all of which have been very popular.

I've had a busy and productive year. Much of my technical focus this year has been on my book with Bob Dunham about innovation, with the tentative title Mastering the Mess: The Eight Foundation Practices of Innovation. We now have drafts of all 14 chapters and are starting to canvass for a publisher. We will be putting the finishing touches on the chapters in the first quarter of 2008. This book is scholarly to establish a rigorous framework. We may follow with a trade version later. We are also considering a book blog and web site, where we can stimulate discussion about the practices, find out how helpful they've been for others, and receive feedback to help improve the book. We think we have breakthrough material: no one else has shown what to practice to become a skilled innovator. (Learn more ... )

My second technical focus is the Great Principles of Computing Project. My colleague Craig Martell and I have drafted a framework for the computing field in terms of fundamental principles. This has not been done before. All prior descriptions of the field have focused on the technologies of computing. The framework has revealed that information processes occur in nature -- for example, in DNA transcription -- and thus computing is a science of the natural as well the artificial. Our course has been very successful and we plan a book as soon as I finish my innovation book. (Learn more ... )

The ACM surprised me in June by giving me a special award recognizing my 40 years of continuous volunteer service. They did not tell me beforehand that I would receive an award. (Learn more ... )

The innovation and great principles projects came together when I received an NSF Distinguished Education Fellow Award in August. With the NSF support, I will apply both bodies of work to the ongoing education crisis in computing. We are aiming to launch communities of interest in great principles and curriculum innovation through a series of NSF-supported workshops in 2008 and 2009. (Learn more ... )

While rummaging through a box of mementoes from high school, I discovered a newspaper article about my 1959 science fair prize. It takes some study of the photo to conclude that high school boy is me! (Learn more ... )

In October I was elected to the rank of Distinguished Professor. This rank is awarded to about 6% of the senior faculty who have been at the NPS for at least five years.

I continue to chair the Computer Science department. We have 24 tenure track faculty, 8 lecturers, and 18 research associates, and about 100 students as our majors. It's been a tough budget year as the Navy has been taxing all installations to pay for its share of the Iraq and Iran wars. We're also feeling some of the student enrollment decline as have others nationally.

I also continue to direct the Cebrowski Institute. The institute is dedicated to cross discipline research in innovation and information superiority.  In addition to our traditional areas of information security, mobile computing, irregular warfare, information operations, and hastily formed networks, we have expanded into a new area, global security and network science. This is becoming a very hot area because the experience of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that permanent solutions require diplomatic and political as well as military action. We have published articles on Hastily Formed Networks and two related topics, Infoglut, and Decision Making.

For 2008 , I am the Chair of our Faculty Council. My objective is to get the Council actively involved in helping the new Provost and President work deal with issues directly affecting the faculty.

Since 2001 I have three columns a year for the Communications of ACM on various topics for computing professionals.  Take a look.

I doubt that my 2008 will be such an active year. I've been thankful for good health, and clear mind, and incredibly supportive colleagues.

On the more personal side ... For the past twenty years, the Big Sur Marathon closes down Highway 1 along the Pacific Coast for a late April Sunday morning while 4000 runners run northbound to Carmel from a park 26.2 miles south, and another 700 Power Walkers hustle northward from mile 21 (and climb a total of 1500Õ).  It is a huge event, very well planned and executed.  In 2007, Dorothy and I walked in the Power Walk for our third year.  It was not hard to train for since we take 8-15 mile walks every weekend anyway.  I did not complete the walk this year due to an illness. We're signed up again this year, but I'm being slowed in my training by a knee sprain I sustained last September during a exceptionally fast (for me) power walk. The opportunity to walk up the Pacific Coast line is too good to miss.

Dorothy and I will celebrate 34 years of marriage in January 2008.  What a blast itÕs been!

Despite all my work to stay fit, I'm find that as I age injuries do not heal as quickly as they once did, and lesser insults are enough to cause new injuries. I'm thankful that I've been able to keep my health and fitness up, and I've had an awful lot of help doing that from family, friends, and health professionals.

There is one area where I'm falling behind modern standards: the iPhone. It is such a well designed instrument, and yet it provides functions that I simply don't care about and won't use. The main thing I want from my cell phone is talking to people. I don't send photos or instant messages, I don't sync to a online calendar, I don't download music, ring tones, videos, or GPS maps. The hands-free phones are all going brain-frying bluetooth, which is harder to set up in the car than a simple earphone, but the earphones are going out of style.

We are now well into our third year of living in our delightful Salinas house, overlooking a wilderness area.  We have two large guest rooms.  If youÕre anywhere near Monterey or Carmel, look us up!  We would be delighted to show you around, lend you our guest passes for the Aquarium, or just hang out with you for a while.