Archive for April, 2007

Phototropic Computing

April 26, 2007

Imagine a world in which virtualization technologies have freed workloads from their underlying hardware and applications can be shifted at will from machine to machine with little or no service interruption.

With thanks to Dave Douglas , now imagine an eco-friendly world in which workloads automatically jump between a series of geographically-separated, solar-powered datacenters. Racing across the planet, chasing the sun. Phototropic computing.

Technology@Sun Conference

April 26, 2007

Sun held its Technology@Sun conference this week at Chaminade in Santa Cruz, California. TAS brought together all of Sun’s Fellows, Distinguished Engineers, and Technical Directors for two days of technical presentations, discussions, and networking. As a member of the conference organizing committee, I was pleased with the event and, based on many comments, the attendees were as well.

[technology at sun conference photo]

Some of the highlights included:

Sunay Tripathi from Software and Rahoul Puri from Systems gave a joint talk on Neptune and Crossbow, which demonstrated nicely how as a systems company, Sun is able to deliver value through innovation and integration at all levels of our hardware and software stacks.

Richard McDougall spoke about virtualization, giving attendees a broad view of Sun’s virtualization technologies (hardware domains, Xen, Logical Domains (LDOMs), and Solaris Containers), how they relate to each other, and how our offerings compare with other available options.

Greg Papadopoulos, Sun CTO, and Mike Spain, Sun Chief Engineer, gave two excellent leadership talks. Greg’s focused more on future directions, while Mike’s focused on execution. Both of these are of course aspects of a successful strategy. My apologies for not having a photo of Mike Splain wearing the official badge of office of the Chief Engineer–a train engineer’s hat given to him by James Gosling. I had the wrong lens on my camera!

Automotive Puzzler: Conclusion

April 15, 2007

Conclusion, not resolution.

I recently posed an automotive puzzler, inviting readers to guess what was wrong with my RAV4. Unfortunately, the car’s “check engine” light came on two days before the service call and Toyota wanted $350 to replace the arcing spark plug cables before they would proceed to diagnose the original problem. Since my replacement vehicle is due in a few weeks, I declined service so we’ll never know what the problem was. Frustrating, since the check engine light had been going on and off for the last six months or more (reason never determined by Toyota, I though I heard today that some RAV4’s have this problem) and it is probably not at all related to the more interesting problem described in my earlier post.

For what it’s worth, when I initially described the problem in detail to the service person, he thought it might be a faulty coolant sensor interacting with a good sensor in a feedback loop. Said he’d seen something like this before.

Mozy versus Carbonite: Online Backups

April 11, 2007

I’ve been shopping for an online backup facility, a service that will back up the files on my laptop to a datacenter somewhere in the network, keeping them safe and encrypted. Both Mozy and Carbonite are working on Mac versions with Mozy’s currently in beta. Both currently offer Windows versions.

I haven’t yet made a decision. But I did learn something interesting I thought I’d share with others considering these or other, similar services.

As you shop for a backup service, pay attention to their policies limiting either how much data can be uploaded per day or how fast you can upload data to their site. Both Mozy and Carbonite have such throttles in place on their consumer versions with less stringent throttling available for their advanced or pro versions (Carbonite claims they will have an advanced version soon.)

Mozy limits uploads to 1 Mbit/second, which in practice is not the rate-limiting factor for many people since their uplinks run slower than this. Still, if you assume a usable 1 Mbit/second connection, it will take approximately 10 days to upload 100 GBytes of data.

Carbonite is more…interesting. They initially limit transfers to between 2-3 Gbytes per day. After the first 50 GBytes, Carbonite throttles the transfer rate to 500 MBytes per day. According to their estimates, transferring an initial 100 GByte backup would therefore take about 100 days. Ouch.

Goog-411 Experimental Voice Search

April 10, 2007

Google Labs has launched an experimental voice search facility called Goog-411 to make local-business search accessible over the phone. It works in the US and covers businesses only.

Google does not charge for either the lookup or for connecting you directly to the business, though regular phone charges may apply based on your telephone service provider. Dial 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) to try the service.

I’ve tried it several times and it generally worked very well, though in one instance when it couldn’t find an exact match for the business, it presented me with a truly bizarre list of alternate businesses that 1) were not in the city I had specified, 2) had names that sounded nothing at all like the business I was trying to call.

Listen carefully to Goog-411’s version of the liquid “beep beep beep” sound made by automated voice systems. It made me smile.

Automotive Puzzler

April 9, 2007

I’m having a very strange problem with my Toyota RAV4 and thought those of you who are automotively inclined might enjoy figuring this out. I have a service appointment on Wednesday and am pretty sure they will find the problem this time. Post your thoughts on the Comment page and we’ll see who comes closest to a correct diagnosis. Armchair mechanics, start your engines!

First, if I start the car and drive to work (40 miles) and then drive it home at the end of the day, I have no problems. However, if I drive the car until it is warmed up, turn off the engine for 15-30 minutes, and then restart it, that’s when I see the problem.

When I restart and idle the engine, within about two minutes the tachyometer will begin to register a small, oscillating change in engine RPM. The swings get wider and wider until the needle is moving regularly between about 500 and 750 RPM. Sometimes the swing is even wider. As the needle moves, the engine is making appropriately oscillating noises as well. If the headlights or dashboard lights are on, they are dimming and brightening in synchrony with everything else.

After a few minutes of this, the amplitude of the oscillations decreases slowly and the frequency increases until the idle is once again steady. I can now drive the car and will not have any problem unless I park and restart the car as above. This is 100% repeatable now that I’ve figured out the pattern.

If I drive the car immediately instead of waiting for the oscillations to begin and subside, then at some point the car will lose all acceleration. That is, pressing on the accelerator has no effect at all–the car will continue to slow until I pull over and let it do its crazy oscillations. Because this was so dangerous, I did take the car to the Toyota dealership, but at that point I hadn’t noticed the pattern and could only tell them I was seeing an intermittent loss of acceleration. They told me the car hadn’t registered any trouble codes and spent about three hours trying to reproduce the problem with no luck. Now that I can tell them how to reproduce the problem, they should be able to diagnose it.

Last item: Someone suggested bad gas so I did add some dry gas to the tank, but it had no effect.

So…what do you think?

ClusterTools 7 Released!

April 5, 2007

Sun released ClusterTools 7 today. CT7 includes the latest version of Sun’s MPI library, which is the first version to be based on the Open MPI open source code base. As active contributors to the Open MPI community, our MPI engineers have been working hard to reach this milestone–congratulations to the team!

CT7 supports both Solaris/SPARC and Solaris/x64 systems and includes support for Infiniband, TCP, and shared memory communications. A pre-built Myrinet MX communication module is also included as a convenience for interested customers. Support contracts for CT7 are available from Sun. ClusterTools 7 can be downloaded from here and user documentation is available here.

The Linux version of Open MPI is available directly from the Open MPI web site. Support for this version is available via community mailing lists.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, learn about MPI here.

Afocal photography: first attempts

April 2, 2007

While viewing birds with a telescope this weekend I decided to try some afocal imaging– shooting photographs through a telescope (or binocular, or microscope) objective. This is also called digiscoping. I hand held the camera (with its focus set at infinity) so the results are not great, but you can see the promise of the technique. The birds were about 150 yards away and the magnification was about 75X. The first shot shows several great blue herons in a rookery in Westwood, MA. The second is a shot of a different tree in the same rookery. The two small birds are kingfishers. If you look closely in the bottom nest, you can see a great horned owl looking over its shoulder at the rightmost kingfisher.

US Government loses its mind

April 1, 2007

The US government, specifically the Department of Commerce, lost its mind late last week when it announced a pilot program to grant naming rights to qualifying corporations for a small number of well-known government facilities frequented by tourists. Qualifying corporations will be allowed to rename these facilities in exchange for licensing fees to “defray maintenance costs and to foster a more modern, relevant vistor experience.”

We’ve all seen the controversies and outrage generated by the renaming of sports and entertainment complexes over the last several years. Monster Park, Fleet Center, Tweeter Center, to name a few. Check here on Wikipedia for a more comprehensive list. I can’t believe Commerce could possibly think the benefits of this program will outweigh the hue and cry it will generate.

Hoover Dam (above) was the very first facility “adopted” under the program, and by a foreign company, too. While this is admittedly a master stroke of sorts by the British vacuum manufacturer Dyson (Hoover is Dyson’s largest competitor), their press release (registration required) left me speechless. It was all I had feared and worse. One of their concept photos (below) from the release tells the story far better than any outraged rant on my part could.

The Department of Commerce’s really poor justification for all of this is here.