Archive for November, 2006

Sun Not Selected for HPCS Phase III: My Thoughts

November 22, 2006

DARPA announced yesterday [PDF] that IBM and Cray have been selected to proceed to Phase III of their High Productivitiy Computing Systems (HPCS) program. Sun will not receive funding for Phase III. While this is understandably a big disappointment to the many Sun people who have worked on Phase I and Phase II of the program, in my own view this is a net positive for Sun. And I don’t think that’s just sour grapes.

Sun did a lot of very creative, future-looking work as part of our Phase II work. We’ve learned a great deal about productivity for HPC, and have generated some very interesting and relevant technologies. I don’t think we are going to throw all of that away simply because we didn’t win funding for Phase III. Instead, we are now free to pick and choose from our new toolbox and incorporate the most appropriate technologies at our own pace into our future products. I believe that execution flexibility will yield a better result for Sun and for our HPC customers in the long term.

Does this lack of HPCS funding mean Sun is no longer committed to HPC? No. Does it mean Sun will not be playing in the high-end, at PetaFLOPs scale? No. In fact, systems of this size built from more commodity-oriented approaches will likely be deployed earlier than the HPCS program’s milestones. And I expect Sun will play a leading role in this space.

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Toyota Service

November 22, 2006

I’m in the midst of a Toyota service experience, and so far, so good.

I took my RAV4 down to the local Jiffy Lube yesterday for an oil change and discovered two things. First, that the hood would not unlatch, and second, that the vehicle was leaking some sort of fluid at a noticeable rate. Noticeable, that is, when the helpful Jiffy Lube employee pointed it out for which I’m very thankful.

Jiffy Lube sent me on my way since they could do nothing for me. Luckily, I was on the Automile–a stretch of Rt. 1 south of Boston famous for having a car dealership for pretty much every make of car on the market. The Toyota dealership was just a mile or so down the road (the Automile these days stretches for considerably more than a mile.)

I had to wait about two hours for a diagnosis, which isn’t great, but they were busy and I dropped in unannounced, so I’m certainly not complaining.

They got the hood latch unjammed without a problem. The fluid was transmission fluid. There’s a leak in the pan and the hoses are all rotted out. Yesterday, they were inituially hopeful they could get the parts for today, but found that one of the parts wasn’t even in the country and would have to be ordered. They told me they’d have a better idea on Monday how long it would take to get the repair done.

This morning, I received eight email messages from Toyota, each titled SPECIAL ORDER PART ARRIVED. So far, they’ve received:

  • TO35106-32032 PAN SUB-ASSY, TRANSA 1
  • TO32922-42010 TUBE, OIL COOLER, OU 1
  • TO35168-33020 GASKET, TRANSAXLE OI 1
  • TO32921-42010 TUBE, OIL COOLER, IN 1
  • TO32901-32060 ELBOW SUB-ASSY, OIL 1
  • TO90467-A0012 CLIP 4
  • TO90445-17096 HOSE 2
  • TO90301-10189 RING, O 2

The remaining part is on back-order. While it’s frustrating to not have the vehicle, I do appreciate the email notifications as a way of keeping me informed about forward progress.

Danvers Chemical Explosion

November 22, 2006

The explosion early this morning in Danvers was at a chemical plant owned by CAI that makes inks, not a propane facility as was initially reported on the national news. Thankfully, there have been only injuries reported and no deaths despite the fact that over 30 buildings were destroyed or damaged.

A woman called into one of the local news shows to describe her experiences. She was in Salem, an adjacent town, babysitting her nephews. She said she was awoken just before 3am by the biggest noise she’d ever heard. Her bed was shaking and she thought initially it was an earthquake. She said she was very frightened and couldn’t get through to the police to find out what had happened. Outside she and a neighbor saw a large, mushroom-shaped cloud of very black smoke rising into the air. She said she wondered if they had been bombed. They got in the car (she didn’t mention whether she had the nephews with her or not)…and then the story went in a direction I wasn’t expecting at all.

The next thing I hear is that she got to the site so quickly that she was able to get a really good view of what was going on. WHAT? Hello? You are woken up by an enormous explosion, you see a mushroom cloud of smoke shooting into the air, you are responsible for watching over several children—AND YOU DRIVE TO GROUND ZERO?

New Logan Runway Opens on Thanksgiving Day

November 20, 2006

After some thirty years of controversy, a new runway is scheduled to open at Boston’s Logan airport this Thursday. Runway 14/32 is 5000 feet long and is suitable for small jets and props, which should allow the FAA to free capacity on other runways by shunting smaller planes to this new runway.

When it’s operational, that is.

Under agreements to limit noise for South Shore residents, the runway will only be used when the wind blows out of the northwest and only when it exceeds 10 knots. According to the FAA, current capacity reductions due to wind from the northwest occur frequently enough at Logan that this new runway should deliver material improvements to throughput.

The above is based, for the most part, on this article.

Marmottan Museum (Paris)

November 17, 2006

While packing to fly home tomorrow, I just found an old brochure in my bag left over from a vacation my wife and I took to Paris with my parents a few years ago. It’s a brochure for the Marmottan Museum, one my favorite places from that trip.

The museum is known for three reasons: its collection of Empire furniture, art, etc., its collection of medieval sculpture, and, finally, its Monet collection. The museum has 150 Monets, donated by the artist’s son. I saw the Monet show several years ago at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I enjoyed it, but it did not affect me the way the Marmottan did.

The main lower level of the museum has a floorplan in the shape of a keyhole: a long rectangular space that ends in a circular area. As I walked down the rectanglar space, the curved wall at the end began to come into view. As I stepped forward to view the entire circular space, I was stunned by the beauty of the display. In front of me was a wide, sweeping view of a series of the Giverny Nymphéas with such rich colors and patterns that it took my breath away. All I could do was sit and look. It was absolutely marvelous.

The museum is located at 2 rue Louis Boilly 75016 Paris. Next time you are in Paris, do check it out. You will not be disappointed.

Tampa Bay Sunset

November 17, 2006

I’m flying home to Providence from Tampa tomorrow morning now that Supercomputing ’06 is over. I hope to blog today’s two panels at some point–both were excellent. The first explored whether FPGAs might be the basis of the next big thing in HPC. The second was a very thoughtful and thought provoking discussion of the impact of multi-core processors on HPC.

In the meantime, a sunset shot to close this trip…

Multi-Core Processing for Dummies

November 17, 2006

AMD gave away this booklet at their Supercomputing ’06 booth. It’s a marketing blurb and not a technical document, but it does cover the basics of the value proposition at a high level. I have a few copies if anyone (at Sun) is interested in taking a look.

In Your Face!

November 17, 2006

I mentioned in an earlier post that researchers from the University of Houston gave a talk this past weekend at Sun’s HPC Consortium meeting in Florida about remote sensing of a person’s physiological and mental state. I didn’t realize at the time that these technologies would be demo’ed in the Sun booth at Supercomputing ’06.

I tried the infrared imaging first. There are three pieces of information that can be derived from analysis of infrared video. First, if your carotid artery (side of neck) can be imaged over time, your pulse rate can be determined. Second, if your nostrils can be imaged, then your breathing rate can be detected. I was surprised how strong and easily detected this signal is: the nostrils turn black when inhaling and red/orange when exhaling–like two lighthouse flashing in the distance. And, third, your stress level can be assessed by monitoring the temperature of the proximal regions of your eye sockets.


Me: Inhaling and apparently a little stressed though it’s hard to tell with the cool shades

Another demo used two cameras and a flash to capture stereo images of show attendees. The two views are used to compute facial 3D geometry and create a polygon model. Once the face has been modeled, a database is searched to find matches with earlier scans. I was impressed with how fast this ran and with how accurate it was. One thing did seem to confuse it though: reflections on my glasses prevented good imaging near my eyes and usually resulted in a search failure. You can see a little of the reflection effect below.


Polygonal Man

MPI Engineers Gone Wild

November 16, 2006

Two engineers from Sun’s MPI engineering team are here in Tampa at Supercomputing ’06, primarily to staff our ClusterTools demo station and talk with customers. In addition, though, Rolf Vandevaart sat on a panel session on Monday at our HPC Aces training meeting which was held after our Sun HPC Consortium meeting at the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort.


Rolf at the ClusterTools demo station

Don Kerr gave a talk in the booth theatre about the history of Sun’s involvement with MPI over the last 10 years, including a good description of our current involvement as active, contributing members of the Open MPI open source effort. It’s difficult doing talks in a show booth, but Don did a great job.


Don discussing Sun’s involvement in open standards and Open MPI

Imagine my surprise when I returned to our booth yesterday afternoon and found Don moving up from live presentations to the world of video interviews. He was lit by bright lights, surrounded by a camera and sound crew, and looked to be having a great time as he was taped for an internal Sun piece on Supercomputing.



MIT Exploring Wireless Power Delivery

November 15, 2006

Wouldn’t it be nice if our mobile devices could all be recharged wirelessly? Researchers at MIT are revisiting some of Nikola Tesla‘s thinking about wireless power. Read about it here.