Archive for November, 2009

You Put Your HPC Cluster in a…WHAT??

November 19, 2009

Judging from a quick look at the survey results from this weekend’s Sun HPC Consortium meeting in Portland, Oregon, Marc Parizeau‘s talk was a favorite with both customers and Sun employees.

Marc is Deputy Director of CLUMEQ and a professor at Université Laval in Québec City. His talk, Colossus: A cool HPC tower! [PDF, 10MB], describes with many photos how a 1960s era Van de Graaff generator facility was turned into an innovative, state of the art, supercomputing installation featuring Sun Constellation hardware. Very much worth a look.

A nicely-produced CLUMEQ / Constellation video that describes the creation of this computing facility is also available on YouTube.

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Climate Modeling: How much computing required to run a Century Experiment?

November 18, 2009

Henry Tufo from NCAR and CU-Boulder spoke this weekend at the Sun HPC Consortium meeting here in Portland, OR. As part of his talk, More than a Big Machine: Why We Need Multiple Breakthroughs to Tackle Cloud Resolving Climate [PDF], he estimated the number of floating-point operations (FLOPs) needed to compute a climate model over a one-century time scale with a 1 km atmosphere model.

His answer was the highlight of the Consortium for me: A Century Experiment requires about a mole of FLOPs. 🙂


Thank you, Google

November 13, 2009

I’m at Logan Airport waiting for my flight to O’Hare and then to Portland, Oregon for Sun’s HPC Consortium this weekend and SC09 next week.

Google is sponsoring free wifi access at Logan through January 15th, which is how I’m able to write this blog entry — I would not usually pay the usual $10 fee since my flight is leaving in only an hour.

After clicking through the landing page to access the Internet, I was redirected to a Give Back site that lets me make a donation to either Engineers Without Borders USA, One Economy Corporation, or Climate Savers Computing. Even better, Google will match any donation I choose to make.

I wanted to make a donation, but I didn’t. Why? Because making the donation requires I create a Google Checkout account. I have a Paypal account already and I’m trying to reduce my credit card exposure on the web whenever possible, so I opted not to sign up.

Uh, Do You Offer Express Shipping?

November 12, 2009

On November 3rd, I received an email congratulations about my upcoming 20th anniversary with Sun (for those keeping score at home, the 20 includes some credit for time at Thinking Machines prior to our arrival at Sun) and an invitation to select a commemorative gift of my choice. My immediate thought was that I should place the order immediately, given all the current craziness and future uncertainties. My recognition award arrived via FedEx yesterday. Parrot not included.

(Wondering what’s in the box?)

Apple of My Eye

November 11, 2009

Once again, I am delighted by Apple’s customer service.

After having many problems with my original Macbook Pro, which Apple eventually replaced, my system has been stable and problem-free for quite awhile. Until my screen started losing pixels about a month ago.

Every other vertical line on the display became light grey, making it nearly impossible to read the screen. The problem briefly appeared and then disappeared about a month ago, but it happened again last week and stayed broken for over 12 hours despite reboots, PRAM/NVRAM resets, and SMC resets. I made the problem go away eventually by scheduling a Genius appointment at my local Apple store — the display spontaneously started working again within an hour of making the appointment. But of course! However, not trusting the machine and needing it for an upcoming business trip, I decided to keep my appointment at the Apple store.

Without being able to actually see the problem at the store, the Genius couldn’t make an absolute diagnosis, but we both felt the MBP’s display was probably flaky. This conclusion was partly influenced by the fact that when I ran the system in dual screen mode, the problem was only visible on the built-in LCD — the external monitor did not show the problem. While there still might be a logic board(*) or other problem, I felt comfortable enough to request that the screen (actually, the clamshell assembly — the top part of the laptop, including the cables that run from the clamshell to various locations on the motherboard) be replaced. Since the MBP was no longer covered by AppleCare, I was going to have to pay for this repair myself.

I learned Apple has two repair programs. I could either opt to have the machine shipped to an Apple repair depot and expect to receive the machine in 7-10 days, shipped directly to my house, or I could have the machine repaired at the Apple store and it would likely be ready the next day if the parts were available. The depot option has a fixed price — about $300 regardless of what the problem is or what parts need to be replaced. The in-store option is generally more expensive since you pay for the required parts and for labor. In my case, the in-store option would cost about $600 or twice as much as the depot option. What to do? I needed to work on my presentation for an upcoming conference and would be leaving for that conference in seven days. The depot might ship my machine back earlier than 7-10 days, but I’d be taking a risk.

Because I was able to make arrangements to use another laptop, I decided to opt for the cheaper depot option and wait the 7-10 days. Imagine my surprise when I got a call the next afternoon informing me that my repair had been completed. Apple had opted to do the repair in their store and they honored the depot rate I had been quoted. How cool is that?

So far, I’ve not had a recurrence of the problem. As a side benefit, this new display is much more evenly illuminated than the old one so even in the unlikely event the problem turns out to be something else, my machine has a nice, new LCD display that to me is worth the $300 I’ve paid so far. Not that I expect the problem to recur, of course.

(*) If you have this problem with your machine, look carefully at the cursor. Does it seem to “float above” the bad display or is it also affected by the dropped vertical lines? Noticing this can help diagnose the problem, since an unaffected cursor means it is more likely that the problem is either at the logic board or earlier, while an affected cursor pushes the diagnosis more towards the screen/clamshell.

NEOSUG at Boston University TONIGHT!

November 11, 2009

The New England OpenSolaris User Group is holding its first meeting at Boston University this evening, hosted by the BU Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering. It is open anyone interested in learning more about OpenSolaris — both students and professionals are welcome. This first meeting features three talks: What’s So Cool About OpenSolaris Anyway, OpenSolaris: Clusters and Clouds from your Laptop, and OpenSolaris as a Research and Teaching Tool.

The meeting runs from 6-9pm tonight (Wed, Nov 11th, 2009) at the BU Photonics Center Building. Follow this link for directions, full agenda details, etc. If you think you’ll be coming, please RSVP so we have a rough headcount for food.

See you there — I’m bringing the pizza!

Patagonia: The Department of Redundancy Department

November 10, 2009

I recently received an email promotion from Patagonia, the upscale purveyor of adventure clothing and gear, which invited me to visit one of their stores in person (how quaint) and enter their 2009 Holiday Giveaway. Reading the first paragraph of the official rules, I began to wonder if the typical Patagonia customer has landed on their head once too often while adventuring and the company therefore feels it needs to cater specifically to this demographic. Here is what I read:

OFFICIAL RULES PATAGONIA HOLIDAY 2009 GIVEAWAY

BUYING WILL NOT HELP YOU WIN. NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR ODDS OF WINNING. Your chances of winning without making a purchase are the same as the chances of someone winning who purchases something.