* Posts by Iain B. Findleton

11 posts • joined 4 Oct 2006

Ball lightning is all in the mind, say Austrian physicists

Iain B. Findleton

Ball lightning....

Being a professional meteorologist of some repute for more than 30 years, I confess to having always been skeptical of the phenomenon until I did observe a case. The incident was hardly as dramatic as some accounts, however, I did observe a rather large sphere of what appeared to be glowing lightning descend from a thunderhead that was across a lake from my location.

I personally speculate that the structure of the phenomenon is more likely to be associated with an ignited gas bubble of some kind rather than a strictly electrical phenomenon, however, not having ever seen any analytical reports on the actual objects, its just a personal theory. The main oddity that I recall was the rather ballistic trajectory of the ball, which I would normally have expected to be more congruent with thunderhead downdraft trajectories. There are a lot of basic physics questions associated with that latter observation, however, perhaps the intense magnetic or electro-static fields in play would account for the trajectory. In any event, it is clear that gravity was the dominating force in this case, which in my mind raises a question about how "intense" the magnetic field actually are. Certainly much less than 9.8m/sec*2, or the trajectory would not be ballistic, either that, or the ball was not electrical in nature.

As to the intense magnetic fields disturbing my brain to the extent that I imagined the incident, I can not credit that theory. My point of observation was some 4 miles from the thunderhead, or perhaps more, with a significant body of water between myself and the thunderhead.

While it is certainly true that the current discharge through the core of a thunderhead predicts a short lived but intense magnetic field associated with the motion of the electrons along the path of the lightning strike, I am not aware of any reports of strong magnetic phenomena associated with lightning. By strong magnetic phenomena I mean bicycles flying through the air, pots of soup jumping off the stove, or even metal cutlery leaving plates. Electromagnetic interference with radio communications is limited to the duration of the strikes themselves, while reports of ball lightning, and indeed the case I observed, have and had durations of many seconds.

Let's not forget that the existence of Neutercanes, a small severe ocean storm now thought to be the cause of many lost vessels in the "Bermuda Triangle" area, was unknown until satellite observations became available in the 1960s. Notwithstanding the research of the Austrians, the ball lightning phenomenon has been widely and consistently reported for centuries, and although not yet digitally documented, ascribing it to a psychic cause does not ring true to me.

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SGI spins up Cyclone HPC cloud

Iain B. Findleton

Rent a cloud....

The history of this strategy is somewhat interesting in that the time sharing business collapsed in the late 70s mainly because, in relative terms, hardware became cheap. Today its even more evident that computers themselves are essentially zero cost disposable items.

The old SGI did a miserable job of being an HPC supplier, and culturally, a pretty poor job of being a supplier of anything that needed any kind of support. As a major, long term customer of the old SGI I can attest to their iron monger attitude which, when they were the only game in town, worked, but as history has shown, led them to bankruptcy.

Now, the new SGI, essentially a marriage between a couple of iron mongers, is making HPC statements based on what, exactly? NUMA backed distributed memory arrays? 8 x 8 server blades? Please...... Any real HPC people will be smiling.....

Have they not realized that this kind of thing has become a do it yourself project? The only thing that I find more amusing is the services model. The culture of IBM is not present in either the old SGI nor the new one.

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Microsoft's IE 9, Silverlight 4 and the whiff of lock-in

Iain B. Findleton

Layers and layers

The last time I heard a story about a large software development effort that was depicted as a large number of layers upon layers it was delivered by a squad of hit men brought in to Control Data Corporation from Slumberger to rescue the company. Of course, at the time I realized that this was a far to unwieldy project for any organization to carry out, and as we all know, Control Data was shortly no more as a computer company. It sounds like Microsoft has reached the same state in its evolution, thankfully.

Cloud computing is pretty recent thinking in the popular computing press, but has been around for ages in the HPC arena. In spite of huge efforts by many players over decades now, not much beyond scheduled remote batch submission via ftp is in any way reliable, so its not very surprising that Microsoft and the other cloud band wagon types are having trouble getting something into the marketplace. All kinds of software can be, and has been produced, but nothing has happened to solve the unreliability issues associated with hardware, networks and local policy conflicts that are amplified by the use of many machines to implement the cloud.

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Early adopters bloodied by Ubuntu's Karmic Koala

Iain B. Findleton

Ubuntu 9.10

My own experience doing an upgrade from 9.04 to 9.10 on an HP tx2000 has been a pleasant experience. The only quasi-complaint I might voice is that the downloading of the upgrade packages took quite a while, however I presume that this was a load issue on the servers.

I was somewhat worried with the upgrade as I had had difficult issues with previous upgrade releases that failed or crashed, leaving some of my machines in need of clean installs from the CD. With 9.10, however, the process went smoothly and a reboot brought up 9.10 cleanly. Surprisingly, my touch screen worked out of the box, something I have been struggling with for some time with previous releases.

I think the new art work is a bit of a retrograde contribution, but everything else works fine, no crashes or freezes, nice new look, better fonts, clean experience.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/Design/graphics/icons/comment/thumb_up_32.png

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EU issues ultimatum on internet privacy

Iain B. Findleton

Who cares about phorm?

With the availability of things like the Winhelp2002 HOSTS file, who cares if ISPs want to packet sniff. Its easy to block access to all of the ad sites, and loads of other things using this HOSTS techniques, so they can target all the adds they want at me, I never see them.

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Nvidia blows out Moore’s Law with fresh Tesla

Iain B. Findleton

Not at all negative

Far from being negative about the NVidia product, I had occasion to touch on just last week. A truly fine looking box, although the PCIe cable was a bit intimidating. I would personally love to have one connected up to one of my personal machines, and I could probably even find a good use for it. Even the in-box card model is pretty nice sitting in a tower, and would certainly speed up some of the image processing stuff I do in my spare time.

No doubt about it, NVidia has done a good job of consumer appeal here, and I suspect a lot of single application small labs could make good use of them. Really massive deployments, however, would be pretty ugly looking and a cabling nightmare in the current product context. I would be surprised to see the arrival of a large super-computer configuration based on this thing in its current format.

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Iain B. Findleton

History repeats itself....

...not only when you flunk it.

There used to be a company called Floating Point Systems that did this kind of things for HPC applications way back when. They existed in a niche market for a while until the main stream HPC manufacturers produced machines that did not require knowledge of how to program a VLIW box and delivered better performance. In the mean time, the guy who started FPS drove around in a high end sports car watching his radar detector.

As I recall, similar efforts also had a brief flash of life as add in cards for the PC when it first came out. My thought is that this will be another short lived success.

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The terror dam of doom that looms over Boise, Idaho

Iain B. Findleton

Terror Risk Silliness

Our own Canadian Government security lunatics have disrupted the village life of a small town out in the wasteland of the lower St. Lawrence in a classic example of the current cover your ass approach to mythical threats. The want to block the village dock off with a fence to prevent jihadists from penetrating the North American security wall and carrying out devastating attacks. Well, this place is so far out in the bushes that any arriving jihadists would stand out simply by being not recognized as someone's cousin, brother, uncle or whatever. 8 months of the year you basically can't get there because of the snow and ice, and the rest of the time the bugs would pretty well finish off anyone not prepared for the local woods. Of course, the attitude of the Gov't is that we just can't be too careful, and besides, its a local make work project, just like the fences along the US borders.

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Rackable kicks Xeon 7000 chips into fresh, beefy server

Iain B. Findleton

Not that weak

I do believe that its 1 TB/drive times 8 drives.

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Vista sets 2007 land-speed record for copying and deleting

Iain B. Findleton

Vista Speed Records

Having just been forced to buy Vista (You can't get a laptop without it), it took me 6 hours to load the O/S and make disaster recovery DVDs. Why do the M$ gang get such delight at torturing their customers? The speed bug is likely the source of most of my agony, as is the ridiculous 11+ GB of O/S image that is Vista.

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'Upgrade' equals 'SOA-enabled'

Iain B. Findleton

Parallism's complexity

Much is made of the supposed complexity of software development for parallelism. It has been my experience, however, that the influence of traditional application development thinking and training is the main contributing factor to this myth. Ordinary human beings have no problem developing highly efficient implementations of parallel algorithms which suffer not from the prescriptions of Amdahl's Law, although admitedly do encounter scalability constraints associated with other factors, like managerial span of control and the limits of reliable communications using voice only.

Most, if not all, software that is available for the support of parallel applications is hopelessly tied to the intrinsic limits of computer hardware available in the marketplace over the past 40 odd years. As long as the problem of parallelism is viewed in such a context, the complexity of solutions will only increase.

My suggestion is that application developpers spend a few weeks in a day care for pre-schoolers and watch how they solve such problems as getting toys from a toy bin. Applying the lessons learned to a parallelism problem can result in rather amazing enhancements to applications.

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