Archive for December, 2008

Make Your Own Snowflakes

December 19, 2008

Sitting here south of Boston in the midst of a hefty New England snowstorm (8″ so far, more on the way) I’ve found this Make-a-Flake site a fun distraction. Using a very intuitive interface, you cut up a piece of folded virtual paper which the program then unfolds to reveal the paper snowflake you have created. Don’t like it? Keep cutting. Like it? Print out a cutting plan or contribute it to the gallery. Download the cutting plan for any of the gallery flakes–some are extremely cool.

Here are two of my snowflakes…followed by two nice ones from the gallery.

Definitely worth a look.


Amazon: Ship(ment) of Fools?

December 18, 2008

I realize Amazon is, like its namesake, a high-volume operation. And I realize this can lead to some seemingly bizarre behavior in the quest to streamline operations. Even so, the amount of sheer waste of materials I’ve seen in some recent shipments boggles the mind.

Today my wife received a medium-sized box that included forty linear feet of inflated plastic packaging material to fill the mostly empty box and prevent the (unbreakable items) from moving around during shipment.

Yesterday, I received a box that was roughly 12″ X 4″ X 9.5″ or about 456 cubic inches. Inside was one hard-plastic, unbreakable object that was 0.75″ X 1.75″ X 1″ or about 1.3 cubic inches. By volume about 0.3% that of the box. This could easily have been sent in a padded envelope, but instead a sizeable cardboard box and additional plastic packaging material were all wasted to ship this item.

Yes, everything is recyclable, but that does not make this practice acceptable. Especially when one considers the volume of Amazon’s operations worldwide.

Beta Testers Wanted: Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2

December 18, 2008

A busy day for fresh HPC bits, apparently…

The Sun Grid Engine team is looking for experienced SGE users interested in taking their latest Update release for a test drive. The Update includes bug fixes, but also some new features as well. Two features in particular caught my eye: a new GUI-based installer and optimizations to support very large Linux clusters (think TACC Ranger.)

Full details are below in the official call for beta testers. The beta program will run until February 2nd, 2009. Look no further for something to do during the upcoming holiday season. 🙂

Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 Beta (SGE 6.2u2beta) Program

This README contains important information about the targeted audience of this beta release, new functionality, the duration of this SGE beta program and your possibilities to get support and provide feedback.

  1. Audience of this beta program
  2. Duration of the beta program and release date
  3. New functionality delivered with this release
  4. Installing SGE 6.2u2beta in parallel to a production cluster
  5. Beta program feedback and evaluation support
  1. Audience of this beta program

    This Beta is intended for users who already have experience with the Sun Grid Engine software or DRM (Distributed Resource Management) systems of other vendors. This beta adds new features to the SGE 6.2 software. Users new to DRM systems or users who are seeking a production ready release should use the Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 1 (SGE 6.2u1) release which is available from here.

    For the shipping SGE 6.2u1 release we are offering a free 30 day evaluation email support.

  2. Duration of the Beta program and release date

    This beta program lasts until Monday, February 2, 2009. The final release of Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 is planned for March 2009.

  3. New functionality delivered with this release

    Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 (SGE 6.2u2) is a feature update release for SGE 6.2 which adds the following new functionality to the product:

    • a GUI based installer helping new users to more easily install the software. It complements the existing CLI based installation routine.
    • new support for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Microsoft Windows Vista (Enterprise and Ultimate Edition), Windows Server 2003R2 and Windows Server 2008.
    • a client and server side Job Submission Verifier (JSV) allows an administrator to control, enforce and adjust jobs requests, including job rejection. JSV scripts can be written in any scripting language, e.g. Unix shells, Perl or TCL.
    • consumable resource attributes can now be requested per job. This makes resource requests for parallel jobs much easier to define, especially when using slot ranges.
    • on Linux, the use of the ‘jemalloc’ malloc library improves performance and reduces memory requirements.
    • the use of the poll(2) system call instead of select(2) on Linux systems improves scalability of qmaster in extremely huge clusters.
  4. Installing SGE 6.2u2 in parallel to a production cluster

    Like with every SGE release it is safe to install multiple Grid Engine clusters running multiple versions in parallel if all of the following settings are different:

    • directory
    • ports (environment variables) for qmaster and execution daemons
    • unique “cluster name” – from SGE 6.2 the cluster name is appended to the name of the system wide startup scripts
    • group id range (“gid_range”)

    Starting with SGE 6.2 the Accounting and Reporting Console (ARCo) accepts reporting data from multiple Sun Grid Engine clusters. Following the installation directions for ARCo and using a unique cluster name for this beta release there is no risk of losing or mixing reporting data from multiple SGE clusters.

  5. Beta Program Feedback and Evaluation Support

    We welcome your feedback and questions on this Beta. Weask you to restrict your questions to this Beta release only. If you need general evaluation support for the Sun Grid Engine software please subscribe to the free evaluation support by downloading and using the shipping version of SGE 6.2 Update 1.

    The following email aliases are available:

Fresh Bits: InfiniBand Updates for Solaris 10

December 18, 2008

Fresh InfiniBand bits for Solaris 10 Update 6 have just been announced by the IB Engineering Team:

The Sun InfiniBand Team is pleased to announce the availability of the Solaris InfiniBand Updates 2.1. This comprises updates to the previously available Solaris InfiniBand Updates 2. InfiniBand Updates 2 has been removed from the current download pages. (Previous versions of InfiniBand Updates need to be carefully matched to the OS Update versions that they apply to.)

The primary deliverable of Solaris InfiniBand Updates 2.1 is a set of updates of the Solaris driver supporting HCAs based on Mellanox’s 4th generation silicon, ConnectX. These updates include the fixes that have been added to the driver since its original delivery, and functionality in this driver is equivalent to what was delivered as part of OpenSolaris 2008.11. In addition, there continues to be a cxflash utility that allows Solaris users to update firmware on the ConnectX HCAs. This utility is only to be used for ConnectX HCAs.

Other updates include:

  • uDAPL InfiniBand service provider library for Solaris (compatible with Sun HPC ClusterTools MPI)
  • Tavor and Arbel/memfree drivers that are compatible with new interfaces in the uDAPL library
  • Documentation (README and man pages)
  • A renamed flash utility for Tavor-, Arbel memfull, Arbel memfree, and Sinai based HCAs. Instead of “fwflash” this utility is rename “ihflash” to avoid possible namespace conflicts with a general firmware flashing utility in Solaris

All are compatible with Solaris 10 10/08 (Solaris 10, Update 6), for both SPARC and X86.

You can download the package from the “Sun Downloads” A-Z page by visiting and scrolling down or searching for the link for “Solaris InfiniBand (IB) Updates 2.1” or alternatively use this link.

Please read the README before installing the updates. This contains both installation instructions and other information you will need to know before running this product.

Please note again that this Update package is for use on Solaris 10/08 (Solaris 10, Update 6) only. A version of the Hermon driver has also been integrated into Update 7 and will be available with that Update’s release.

Congratulations to the Solaris IB Hermon project team and the extended IB team for their efforts in making this product available!

Moonshot, Baby

December 13, 2008

The Moon is a perigee now–its time of closest approach to the Earth. I took this shot with a Canon 50D and a 500mm f4 IS lens with 1.4x teleconverter using autofocus, mirror lockup, and a cable release. Exposure was f/8, 1/250, ISO 100.

Ocarina: My Favorite iPhone App

December 12, 2008

Ocarina by Smule is the best iPhone app I’ve bought to date. It is 1) fun, 2) extremely innovative, 3) a cool demonstration app to show your friends, and 4) fun! An absolute steal at 99 cents.

This is Ocarina’s main screen:

You hold your iPhone horizontally and blow gently into the microphone. As you “cover” and “uncover” the fingering holes on the ocarina you create different notes. For the musically challenged like me, there is an extensive set of community-contributed fingering diagrams for music of all kinds in the Ocarina Share Your Score forum. Here, for example, is the diagram for “Amazing Grace”:

This by itself would qualify Ocarina as my favorite iPhone app, but Smule has taken this expereince one step further by giving you the chance to listen to other people playing their iPhone ocarinas and they’ve done so in a beautiful way:

You can zoom and spin the globe, watching and listening as others’ compositions ascend, spiralling into space. Perhaps it is the quality of the sound–I’m not sure, but something in this invokes in me a profound sense of both loneliness and community at the same time. If you try it, I think you will see what I mean.

One last practical detail before you start playing. As Eric informed me, it turns out Ocarina uncovered a bug in Apple’s multi-touch display that causes some combination of finger touches to not register reliably on the Ocarina, which can be quite frustrating. To work around the problem, Smule has implemented an alternate layout for the fingering holes, which you can enable from the preferences screen. See below:

You can also ground the iPhone in a variety of creative ways to avoid the problem. All the weird details are here.

A Quantum of Solaris

December 10, 2008

We emitted our latest wad of Solaris goodness today with the official release of OpenSolaris 2008.11. Lest you think engineering used a partially undenary nomenclature for the release name, rest assured the bits were in fact done and ready to go in November. The official announcement was delayed slightly due to other proximate product announcements.

I’ve been running 2008.11 for several weeks, having taken part in the internal testing cycles at Sun. I found and reported several mostly minor problems, but have generally found the 2008.11 experience to be quite good. The Live CD boot and install to disk all worked smoothly within VirtualBox, our free desktop virtualization product, on my MacBook Pro. With VirtualBox extensions installed, I can use 2008.11 in fullscreen mode and with mouse integration enabled.

While my primary interest in OpenSolaris is as a substrate on which we are building a full, integrated HPC software stack I can’t help but note a few generally cool things about this release.

First is Time Slider. Yes, okay, Apple did it first with Time Machine. But try THIS with Time Machine: I turned on Time Slider and then immediately deleted a file from my Desktop without first doing any kind of back up. I then recovered the file using the TS slider on a File Browser window. This works because Time Slider is built on top of ZFS, which uses copy-on-write for safety and which is also used to implement an immediate snapshot facility. I was able to recover my file because when it was deleted (meaning “when the metadata representing the directory in which the file was located was changed”), the metadata was copied, modified and then written. But with snapshots enabled by Time Slider, the old metadata is retained as well, making it possible to slide back in time and recover deleted or altered files by revisiting the state of the file system at any earlier time. Nifty.

My second pick is perhaps somewhat esoteric, but I thought it was cool: managing boot environments with OpenSolaris. I think much of this was available in 2008.05, but it is new to me, so I’ve included it. In any case, managing multiple boot environments has been completely demystified as you can see in this article. Yet another admin burden removed through use of ZFS. For full documentation on boot environments, go here.

We’ve also made significant progress supporting Suspend/Resume, which is frankly an absolute requirement for any bare-metal OS one might run on a laptop. For me it isn’t so important because I run OpenSolaris as a guest OS in VirtualBox. For those doing bare metal installations, this page details the requirements and limitations of the current Suspend/Resume support in 2008.11.

Putting my HPC hat back on for this last item, I note that a prototype release of the Automated Installer (AI) Project has been included in 2008.11. AI is basically the Jumpstart replacement for OpenSolaris–the mechanism that will be used to install OpenSolaris onto servers, including large numbers of servers hence my interest from an HPC perspective. For more information on AI, check out the design documents or, better, install the SUNWinstalladm-tools package using the Package Manager and then read the installadm man page. Full installation details are here. AI is still a work in process so feel free to pitch in if this area interests you: all of the action happens on the Caiman mailing list, which you can subscribe to here.