Category Archives: Announcements

Fall 2013 Impressions

Following my habit of posting Before/After notes on my semesters, some impressions for Fall 2013 now that every class has met. I’m getting to the point where the bulk of coursework I can and would sign up for tends to be special topics courses, which is a very interesting, if sometimes strange, phenomenon.
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Replicating Reader Sharing with TTRSS and WordPress

I was shit-talking Google Plus’ utility as a replacement for Reader’s social features, and realized I think I actually can do at least as well with my existing infrastructure. I’m not immediately planning to switch, because Plus offers convenience and discovery for others, but I wanted to try it, so there will likely be some spurious posts appearing [and disappearing] shortly. I suspect most of my readership consumes their internet through a feed reader, so this post exists as documentation.

For the interested: TTRSS has a publish mechanism, which creates a custom RSS feed of any article you mark published, along with whatever note you have attached to it with the built in annotation system. It even allows for non-feed content to be shared. There are various WordPress plugins that can embed an RSS feed (HungryFeed,EmbedRSS) or import an RSS feed as a post type (FeedWordPress).
Embedding as custom posts gives both distinction and a comment system, and it is a universal interfaces (can read from web, subscribe via RSS ,etc.). There is even social discovery support built in should such a thing take off.

If this experiment works really well, I might even talk myself into using it before Google gives me another reason.

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Google is Getting Awfully Evil

TLDR; I no longer consider google trustworthy, Tiny Tiny RSS is a suitable, self hosted, replacement for Reader.

Until this week, Google had managed to convince me their services were trustworthy – more trustworthy than self-hosting – which is quite a feat , since I don’t tend to do well with faith in any context. Killing reader after it drained the rest of the RSS aggregator market took care of that illusion. Kicking the ad blockers out of the play store (on the same day) after Android had become the dominant species, and it no longer mattered that ad blockers are required to make the mobile web experience tolerable, and intentionally breaking Jabber federation later in the week just underscore the point.
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Spring 2013 Impressions

Since I’m in the habit of posting about classes I take at the beginning and end of the semester, and often find something interesting when I look at them later, some quick impressions for courses I’m involved in for the Spring 2013 semester.

Teaching: CS275: Discrete Mathematics
I did this last semester, but under a different primary instructor. I again have pretty much free reign over the recitation period for an hour a week, but this time I do get to do a little bit of new material instead of just examples, and the suggestions on this I should cover are shorter and less specific. I’m more comfortable with the material having done it recently, and my classes seem a little more lively, so it should be a little more fun this time around. That said, doing the same lesson twice back-to-back is slightly more demanding than with a gap, and it is very easy to forget what you did with each group. I’m balancing being a little less organized in the first section with tending to run out of time in the 2nd, so I think they’re getting similar coverage, although the second section is probably having more fun.

Taking: GS650: Preparing Future Faculty
This is a two credit hour, once a week evening course for graduate students who think they might end up in academia. I’m building up a pile of technology-related degrees, have a deep well of contempt for the tech industry, and like teaching, so that sounds right. It actually seems like it will be more useful to me than I expected, in addition to being mostly composed of reading the appropriate news streams, listening to experts talk, and reflecting on both, which is basically what I do with myself anyway.

Taking: LIN511: Introduction to Computational Linguistics
I can talk about how I’m taking this because I thought it would be good for me to look at the other kind of language tools, and how my interest in the cognitive science aspects of computer systems covers it, but I’m really just taking it because it sounded interesting, no one told me I couldn’t (and in fact all the appropriate people encouraged it), and why else have I ever done anything, ever? There is one other CS student in there, and about 34 mixed graduate and undergraduate linguistics students, so my perspective is certainly the minority perspective, although the instructor came to linguistics from computing (and is hilariously British). I came in expecting to need to self-teach a lot of linguistics material, but talking to my classmates, they seem to be having to work as much on the linguistics aspects as I am, and having trouble with the computer parts, so I guess I’m ahead? So far the bulk of the assigned material has been structured manipulation of character srings (Using DATR, which is basically a generic string class system implemented in an ancient dialect of Prolog…), which is for me mostly a good exercise in remembering the OO way that many CS folks view the world. It is interesting, and I’m not suffering, so we’ll call committing to this whim a good choice.

I’m also still not rid of my MS project. I’m deeply tired of it at this point. I’m working to arrange the thing I would like to be working on as a PhD while I continue to try to clear out the parts of the MS project that have never worked, hopefully it will be reasonably fast and graceful.

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Shapeoko: Part 1

My Shapeoko kit arrived from Inventables while I was away at SC.

I’ve been trying to build myself a small CNC milling machine since 2009, and contemplating it for longer than that. It became clear that my original design, however educational, was a dead end sometime last year. I’d been idly watching the Shapeoko project for some time as it had similar aspirations to my design, and a couple months ago I was in a particularly mechanical mood when I saw that a batch had reached enough buyers to be produced, so I bought in for a mechanical kit to mount my existing electronics on.

The Shapeoko community is really excellent, and the kit was designed to be flexible, so I’m starting off with some suggested modifications – I’m using NEMA23 motors instead of the usual NEMA17 on the X and Y axis, because I already had some nice Lin Engineering 130 oz-in NEMA23 motors and the frame can fit them. I’m configuring for dual Y motors, which give more even force across the Y axis, and routing my belts on the outside of the frame, since I needed to buy different hardware for the NEMA23 motors anyway and this particular modification is widely recommended.

There is a gallery to document my first round of assembly below the fold (captions don’t display properly in the RSS feed).
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I will be at SC12 November 10-16, with the of Kentucky exhibit in booth 631.

I will be posting pictures and impressions through at least one of my online presence mechanisms . I fully expect it to be weird this year with a bunch of the national labs pulled out due to travel restrictions, but it should be interesting.

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I picked up one of the $150 refurbished 32GB Touchpads in the last firesale on Sunday. It seems like HP has done their very best to get as many Touchpads into the hands of hackers as possible, so whether or not it is well supported by HP, the community will do something fun with it. Besides, a $150 ARM developement platform that will boot Android, various Linux chroots, AND let me play with WebOS was too appealing to pass up.
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SC’11 Lessons

I learned some really interesting things at SC this year, and now that I’ve had a day to process, I want to share. Many of these observations come from first or second hand conversations, or justifiable interpretations of press releases, so I don’t promise they are correct, but they are plausible, explanatory, and interesting. I apologize for the 1,000 word wall of text, but there is a lot of good stuff.

  • This is the big one: I’m pretty sure I understand the current long term architecture plan being pursued by Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. This plan signals the end of the current style of monolithic symmetric processor cores.
    They are all apparently pursuing designs with a small N of large integer units, coupled to M >> N SIMD engines.

    • Nvidia’s “Project Denver” is a successor/big sibling to Tegra design, and appears to be the beginning of a line with 2-8 64-bit (probably) ARM cores tightly integrated with a big honking GPU-like SIMD structure for FP. The stale press release about this stuff is kind of nauseating to read, but it looks like they’re betting the farm on that design.
    • Intel’s HPC efforts are going to be based on a lot of MIC (Many Integrated Cores, successor to the Larabee stuff) parts coupled with a few big cores like the current Xeons. The MIC chips are basically large numbers of super-Atoms: tiny, simple, dumb integer units attached to big SWAR (SIMD Within a Register) units focused on SSE/AVX performance. This is less speculative than most observations, they made a pretty good press push (This for example) on this idea.
      The ring interconnects and higher per-“thread” hardware complexity are probably not a good idea in the long run (IMHO), but having an integer unit for every big SWAR engine will be a major advantage in terms of programming environment and code generation. I suspect the more cautious approach is because Intel doesn’t want/can’t afford another Itanic, where the tools couldn’t generate good code for the programming model on their intended high-end part.
    • AMD’s two current products are stepping stones to a design similar to Nvida’s – Bulldozer is a design with some ridiculously powerful x86-64 integer units decoupled from a smaller number of shared FPUs. The APU (I haven’t heard the “Fusion” name in a while) designs are CPUs tightly coupled to GPU structures. The successor parts will be a hybrid of the two – a few big, bulldozer style integer units, with a large number wide next-gen GPU SIMD structures coupled to them.

    I think this is generally a good design direction, particularly with current directions in computing in mind, but it is going to make the compiler/concurrent programming world exciting for a while.

  • AMD appears to be gearing up to abandon a fifth generation of GPGPU products. CTM, CAL, Brook+, OpenCL on 4000 series cards have all been deprecated while still shipping, and indications are that OpenCL (and general driver) support for the current architecture (4-wide VLIW SIMDs, like in the 5- and 6- series) has been relegated to second-class citizen status, while they work on a next generation architecture. The rumor is the next gen parts will be 4 independent banks of SIMD engines instead of 4-wide VLIW SIMD engines, which should be both both nicer to program and generate code for and more similar to Nvidia.
  • Nvidia is going to open source their CUDA environment. One of the primary objections to CUDA in a lot of circles is reluctance to use a proprietary single-vendor programming environment (people who have been in super/scientific computing for long have all been burnt on that in the past), and the Integer+SIMD model is going to require that not be an issue. This is assembled from information from several places, including PGI, Nvidia, and various scientific compute facilities, much of it second hand or further, but it would make sense.
  • I still don’t exactly know what went down at Infiscale, but the impression that the Perceus community was abandoned by the company, the developers fled, and it was a bad scene seems to be correct. No one I know that was there seems to be talking, but they’re all on their way to other interesting things, especially Greg Kurtzer’s Warewulf3 project at LBL.
  • The dedicated high performance compute nodes in Amazon’s EC2 cloud are actually connected as a few large partitionable clusters, users just can’t (nominally, don’t need to) see and instrument the topology like they could with a normal cluster. This is from interpreting press releases, because the people manning Amazon’s booth really didn’t want to chat (and, in fact, were kind of dicks when we tried). This explains how they’ve been getting performance out of a loosely coupled cloud — which is to say they aren’t, they just have a huge cluster attached to their cloud that shares the interface.
  • The current hard drive production problems have given SSDs the opportunity they need to become first class citizens. Talking to OEMs, the wholesale cost per capacity on HDDs almost tripled, and the supply lines aren’t all that stable, so everyone is scrambling to make things work with mostly SSDs. I saw a lot of interesting new form factors for SSDs, and several flavors flash or battery backed “nonvolatile” DRAM floating about as well, so the nature of storing data-sets is changing.
  • I saw motherboards with 32 DIMM slots (mostly AMD Interlagos based) on the floor. I saw 32GB DIMMs on the floor. I saw some shared-memory systems with multiple Terabytes of RAM in them. The standard for high memory machines has roughly quadrupled in the last year or two.
  • The number of women (not booth babes, real technical people, especially younger ones) and educators on the show floor this year was way higher than in the past. This is very good for the field.

I think that covers most of the really good stuff coming off the floor this year, although I am still processing and may come up with some other insights when I’ve had more sleep and discussion.
Also, Pictures! WOO! (Still sorting and uploading the last batch at time of posting).

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Headed out to SC11 in Seattle, WA. for the week. Technical interest, travel complaints, booth hacks, advertising mockery, and schwag to follow.

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Google Plus

I’ve been playing with Google+ for the last couple days, and am finding it pretty interesting. To share some observations that will be tedious to anyone not interested in plus, UI design, and such geekery:
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