Archive for November, 2005

Goodbye and Good Riddance

November 30, 2005

Today marks the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season. Mother Nature has fired her parting shot with the emergence of tropical storm Epsilon today. Thanks, Mom.

This chart from the National Climate Data Center (NCDC), which includes a preliminary (and outdated) 2005 summary, says it all. Red marks hurricanes, blue marks named storms. The hurricane count should be 7 and the named storm count was, I believe, 26.

Check this page for a nicely done and detailed retrospective on the entire hurricane season.

And if you are thinking of buying some beachfront property, you may find the following NCDC graphic interesting. It shows all of the hurricane landfalls in the continental US from 1950-2004.

Come Kick Some Butt

November 28, 2005

I work in Sun’s SPARC Platform Software Group. We have a wide set of responsibilities, including the development of platform-specific firmware, service processor software, fault management and system management components, to name several. And if you’ve been poking around on and wondered about the hypervisor, yeah, we do that, too. We are also very involved in the bring-up of new SPARC chips. Like Niagara. And you may have heard of ROCK. Very cool and innovative technologies.

We are hiring and looking for some really strong, motivated technical people who really want to kick some butt and have fun doing it. Follow the links below for full details on some of our positions and drop me a note at joshua.simons (at) if you are qualified and interested.


Member of Technical staff, Burlington MA or Bay Area CA
Member of Technical Staff, California

Solaris kernel development:

Member of Technical Staff, California or Texas
Member of Technical Staff, California or Texas

Dead Birds

November 24, 2005

We live in the woods south of Boston. When the sun is just so, birds see a reflection of the woods in our windows and fly straight into the glass. Usually breaking their necks.

We’ve hung ribbons on the outside of our windows and they help, but we recently discovered WindowAlert static-cling decals and they work at least as well and look much better.

Any Statue of a Chicken

November 23, 2005

It’s time to see just how well connected the blogosphere is. If you are a well-connected blogger, I need your help.

Since December of 1991, I have been looking unsuccessfully for an English word whose definition is “any statue of a chicken.” I was set on this quest by my friend David Gingold, with whom I was working at Thinking Machines Corporation in Cambridge, MA. The hunt has cooled considerably over the years, but I’m still quite vexed.

It’s all Andre Previn‘s fault, actually. In 1991, he published his book No Minor Chords — My Days in Hollywood. The book was reviewed by Peter Schickele in the New York Times Review of Books on December 1st, 1991. The concluding section of Mr. Schickele’s review is reproduced here:

“No Minor Chords” does have one near-fatal flaw. Describing a game of Dictionary…at Mike Nichol’s house, Mr. Previn recalls: “Mike blew an entire round one night by being totally unable to read with a straight face that the meaning of the given word was ‘any statue of a chicken.’ He was weeping with laughter, and the fact that this definition turned out to be the true one did not help.” It’s a good story but what was the word? Good god, I mean, some of us have to know. Perhaps Mr Previn’s sin of omission can be corrected in a future edition of this otherwise molto entertaining book.

Well, David and I are two of those people who have to know. I’ve tried reverse dictionaries, art books, online searches, electronic dictionary searches, and writing to both MM. Previn and Schickele. To no avail.

Please help me get this monkey off my back.

A Hard Place to Live

November 19, 2005

[concrete, wa]

[Note the buildings included for scale.]

Concrete, WA

Name aside, perhaps not a hard place to live at all. You can visit the town web site for some photos and history. And ponder the reasoning behind the town’s series of names since 1871: Minnehaha, Baker, Cement City, and, as of 1909, Concrete.

While I was fueling up at the local gas station, another car pulled in for gas. Amazingly, the car was absolutely out of fuel—the driver could not get the car restarted once he’d stopped. He was trying to start the car because he’d pulled in with the pump on the wrong side, away from his fuel cap. Bummer.

Maybe Concrete is a hard place after all.

Supercomputing Photos

November 16, 2005

I end my coverage with a few photos from the conference, the week-end HPC Consortium meeting, and from the social events held before and during the conference.

One final comment about the stay in Seattle. I was hugely impressed by both our customers’ dedication to spending their entire weekends with Sun at our HPC Consortium meeting and by the energy and commitment of all of the Sun attendees. By the time Monday came and the conference started, many of us were already exhausted by the pace.

[Dieter an Mey]

Dieter an Mey from RWTH Aachen presenting code optimization results

[Ruud van de Pas]

Sun code optimization guru, Ruud van de Paas

[Jonas, Len, Harvey]

An international Sun crew: Jonas Edberg (Sweden), Len Wisniewski (US), and Harvey Richardson (Scotland)

[Hanxi, Rich]

Sun employees Hanxi Chen and Rich Brueckner (Mr. Sun Booth Guy, among other roles!)

[photonics demo]

Gotta have some Geek. HPCS Photonics demo in the booth–cool stuff!

[Terry Dontje]

Terry Dontje, Senior Staff Engineer on Sun’s ClusterTools project (MPI)


Downtown Seattle from the Space Needle, location of the joint Sun-CISCO-Engenio party

Supercomputing Press Coverage

November 16, 2005

Sun got some excellent press coverage of our Supercomputing ’05 presence in the Nov 16th, Seattle Times. A nice photo on the front page of the business section and some ink in the accompanying article about the conference. Our own Rich Bruekner is quoted.

The photo is below. The article is here.

[seattle times photo]

Bill Gates Keynote Supercomputing ’05

November 15, 2005

I just sat through the first half of Bill Gates’ opening keynote speech here in Seattle at Supercomputing ’05. Here is my summary of the insightful things Mr. Gates shared with us on his topic, The Future of Computing in the Sciences.

[this space intentionally left blank]

Cleaning up with Ajax

November 13, 2005

Hagan Rivers, of Two Rivers Consulting, gave a talk on Ajax and Web 2.0 at last week’s meeting of Boston CHI (the Boston-area chapter of the ACM SIG on Computer-Human Interaction.)

She is an excellent speaker and I found the Ajax section particularly exciting and the Web 2.0 piece less so. Probably because I feel Ajax is the early embodiment of something important, while Web 2.0 is a squishier concept–more an attitude than anything else.

So, what did learn? First, Ajax is what is enabling some of the new style of web interfaces that have started popping up. Panning by clicking and dragging in Google Maps, for example. Netflix is starting to incorporate Ajax into its interface. Web interfaces are starting to act more like desktop interfaces.

Second, I learned that Ajax really isn’t new technology: it’s a new name applied to an aggregation of several technologies. At its most basic, it is Asynchronous Javascript and XML. See the slide deck (below) for a more precise list of the technologies involved. What Ajax enables is asynchonous communication between the client and server sides of a web application. Old, page-oriented style of interface: User mucks locally with forms, etc., and then presses Submit which then might cause the server to generate new html for the client. New, Ajax-oriented style of interface: The client-side Ajax engine and the server have the ability to cooperatively and constantly update the application’s web interface without explicit actions from the user. It’s much closer to the kind of interface interactions that have been available for a long time in the desktop world.

So why is it exciting? If Ajax merely helps web apps move closer to what’s already available for apps on the desktop, what is the big deal? The big deal is that you can now see an inkling of a future in which desktop operating systems and applications don’t matter anymore. The browser really begins to be capable of becoming the future desktop replacement. And, while Ajax might not be exactly the right solution in the end, you can see the shape of where we are headed.

A desktop born of open standards and based on open standards. Applications that live in the network–applications and data that are accessible from everywhere. Looking out a few years, I see a broad and promising vista (with a small ‘v’) where a good, solid, standards-compliant browser is all you’ll need to access your applications.

Hagan’s slides and supporting video clips are here.

Sun HPC Consortium, Afternoon II

November 13, 2005

This is the final set of customer talks from the Sun HPC Consortium meeting in Seattle. About 150 Sun customers and numerous Sun employees have spent long days this weekend sharing information about customer experiences and needs on the one hand and information about Sun products and product futures on the other. All of this in advance the Supercomputing ’05 conference proper, which kicks off officially tomorrow.

Phil Williams, University of Nottingham, UK

Dr. Phil Williams, an EPSRC Advanced Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham gave a talk titled Science and Performance at Nottingham. His talk was paired with a presentation by Michael Rudgyard of Streamline Computing. I’ve combined by notes from these talks here.

Phil presented some background information on Nottingham, including the fact that they have campuses in Malaysia and China, in addition to their multiple locations in the UK.

In their recent, large cluster procurement, Nottingham was looking for a partner who could deliver the most equipment for their budget. In addition to delivering a large cluster, the partner needed also to be able to deliver smaller, scaled down “clones” of this system for use at multiple locations within the University.

Phil mentioned how surprised they were when some of the vendors responded to the procurement proposal by showing up at their required technology demonstration sessions with sales people who were completely unable to answer technical questions from Nottingham personnel. [Amazing that anyone serious about being in HPC would not know that these customers are technically very savvy and should be engaged by people who can speak to them about their issues at a technical level.]

Seven vendors responded to their procurement request and six were invited to bid. The seventh, whose initial proposal exceeded the stated Nottingham budget by a factor of 2.5X, was not invited to the next level. Three vendors were selected to submit best and final offers and Sun was selected in September.

The Jupiter system, which was delivered in conjunction with Streamline Computing, consists of 1024 dual-processor v20z (Opteron) systems interconnected with Gigabit ethernet. The full system, which comprised 19 full racks, was built in Sun’s Linlithgow facility as were the 16 smaller, clone systems.

This system is now #109 on TOP500 list at 3.14 TFLOP with a 72% efficiency rating on LINPACK. It is currently Sun’s #1 system on the list and is the most efficient TOP500 gigabit installation in the TOP500.

Greg S. Johnson, Texas Advanced Computing Center, USA

Our final customer speaker of the event was Greg Johnson from the Texas Advanced Computing Center which is part of the University of Texas at Austin. His talk was titled Visualization at TACC.

TACC’s mission and passion is distributed visualization. In addition, they are distributed visualization partners in the Teragrid, which provides scalable high-end visualization resources to users across the US.

Greg outlined the goals of distributed visualization. The first is providing access to high performance visualization of a power that is well beyond that available at a typical researcher’s desktop. Second is location transparency of resources. And third is an improved end-user experience.

The challenges of distributed visualization were as follows. First, latency over the wide area network. Second, delivering quality of service at the user interface. And, third, WAN bandwidth (1280 pixels by 1024 pixels by 12 bytes/pixel by 24 frames/sec is about 360 MB/s uncompressed–can do much better with compression technology.) distrib viz challenges: latency (WAN and GPU readback)

Greg then described the overall architecture of the Sun Terascale Visualization System, which is the cornerstone of TACC’s distributed visualization strategy. It was developed in a collaborative effort between TACC and Sun.

The major components of the system are a Sun Fire 25K SMP with 64 UltraSPARC IV processors and 500 GB of memory. In addition, a large number of NVIDIA Quadro FX3000G cards, Myrinet, and 3DLabs U22 cards are used as well in associated systems.

The main takeaways from Greg were that modern networks permit the wide area routing of geometry and pixels at interactive rates and that the access models for visualization resources in the mainstream are shifting in the direction of those of HPC.