Apple, Google, NASA, and the Rainbow connection

Roger Penrose's Silicon Valley crash pad


When Sir Roger Penrose visited Silicon Valley this spring, he stopped off at Google, NASA, and the Rainbow Mansion. But he spent most of his time at Rainbow, Silicon Valley's answer to the 17th-century French salon.

Penrose — the English mathematical physicist renowned for his work on general relativity and cosmology — gave a talk in the Rainbow library, touching on black holes, Hawking radiation, and the unitarity principle. And he spent the night in a Rainbow guest room, leaving plenty time for the lighter side of theoretical physics.

That evening, Penrose and his hosts watched Contact, the 1997 film based on the Carl Sagan bestseller, in which Jodie Foster discovers intelligent life beyond earth. "One of the central plot points is that the protagonist goes through a worm hole," says David Weekly, a former Rainbow Mansion resident and the founder of online collaboration start-up PBWorks. "I heard some soft chuckles on the couch next to me."

Rainbow Mansion is a place, a house in Cupertino, California, not far from Apple headquarters. But it's also a community, a kind of science and tech society. It was founded four years ago by current NASA chief technology officer Chris Kemp and four other Young NASA Turks, and it soon embraced other like-minded locals, from former Google senior product manager Jessica Ewing to Sebastian Stadil, CEO of open source cloud computing startup Scalr and the founder of the Silicon Valley Cloud Computing Group, to various other Googlers and, yes, a few members of Steve Jobs' top secret Apple army.

Rainbow Mansion

Rainbow

The mansion has a communal library, and every few weeks, it hosts what residents call, yes, a salon. The last was entitled: "This house believes that in the future the benefits of openness will outweigh those of privacy." The next: "This house believes that Nationalism is an Infantile Disease." Guest speakers range from Penrose to Lawrence Lessig to Steve Wozniak. One Rainbow founder — Will Marshall, who worked on the NASA LCROSS project, the mission that discovered water on the moon — counted Penrose as a PhD adviser.

Rainbow was founded out of necessity. In 2006, several new NASA employees needed a place to live, and communal living was the cheapest option. It's a common story in Silicon Valley, where rents are high and house prices are higher. But this story is a bit different — if only because the people are different.

In 2006, Pete Worden took charge of NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, and he made a point of bringing in fresh blood. "It was a time of change at NASA," Chris Kemp tells The Reg. "[Worden] was intent on bringing in some folks that had different backgrounds and diverse views on space policy." As a college intern at SGI in the 90s, Kemp had worked at a field center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. But he'd also made a name in the dot.com world, serving a chief architect of that late 90s icon Classmates.com.

It was Kemp who eventually negotiated NASA's partnership with Google, which led to the online image services Google Moon and Google Mars — and saw Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and CEO Eric Schmidt use AMES as their own private airport. Later, he founded Nebula — the NASA IT infrastructure cloud, designed to host web services across NASA and various other parts of the federal government — and this spring, after serving as CTO at Ames, he assumed the same role for all of NASA.

Will Marshall was hired by NASA at about the same time as Kemp, and the two spearheaded the creation of Rainbow. Kemp wrote the first check. Originally, all the residents worked for NASA, and most were PhDs who knew each other from past lives.

"We're all connected by friendships that go back many years, mostly back to our days as undergrads and various space-centric conferences," says Kemp. "But none of us had lived in Silicon Valley before, and the one thing we could agree on is that it was really expensive to live here, so we wanted to find a place where we could figure things out together. But it actually turned into something more."


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022