Perceptions v. Objective Reality

Posted on December 15, 2008 No Comments

User Interface Matters by Colleen Dick:

the earliest Hewlett Packard programmable calculators in the early 80’s. When engaging in lengthy number crunching, the calculator would print “crunching” (or processing, or something) on the display, and every few seconds it would add a dot, so the user would know something was happening.

HP engineers discovered that if they completely decoupled the display while serious crunching was going on, they could make the computations run 30-40% faster. Naturally they assumed the users would appreciate such a significant speed increase, so on their next revision, they just shut the screen down on lengthy computations.

Users complained about the slowdown! These are HP early adopters, mind you, mostly “rational” scientists and engineers. Remember, when objectively measured, the computations were measurably and significantly faster when the screen was decoupled!

In subjective time, the computations seemed slower without the feedback, even though in objective time we know they were faster.

There are times when objective improvement is most important, but there are also plenty of times when subjective improvement is more important. Often this difference is ignored.

Related: Packaging Improves Foot “Taste”The Psychology of Too Much Choice

New Supercomputer for Science Research

Posted on November 17, 2008 1 Comment

photo of Jaguar Supercomputer

“Jaguar is one of science’s newest and most formidable tools for advancement in science and engineering,” said Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, DOE.s Under Secretary for Science. The new capability will be added to resources available to science and engineering researchers in the USA.

80 percent of the Leadership Computing Facility resources are allocated through the United States Department of Energy’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, a competitively selected, peer reviewed process open to researchers from universities, industry, government and non-profit organizations. Scientists and engineers at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are finding an increasing variety of uses for the Cray XT system. A recent report identified 10 breakthroughs in U.S. computational science during the past year. Six of the breakthroughs involved research conducted with the Jaguar supercomputer, including a first-of-its-kind simulation of combustion processes that will be used to design more efficient automobile engines. Read the computational science report. Read full press release.

ORNL’s Jaguar fastest computer for science research

Jaguar will be used for studies of global climate change, as well as development of alternative energy sources and other types of scientific problem-solving that previously could not be attempted.

Zacharia said ORNL’s Jaguar was upgraded by adding 200 Cray XT5 cabinets – loaded with AMD quadcore processors and Cray SeaStar interconnects – to the computer’s existing 84 Cray XT4 cabinets. The combined machine resulted in the new standard for computational science.

The peak operating speed is apparently just below that of Los Alamos National Laboratory’s IBM Roadrunner system, which is designed for 1.7 petaflops. But the Jaguar reportedly has triple the memory of Roadrunner and much broader research potential.

Because the Jaguar has come online sooner than expected, Zacharia said an alert was sent to top U.S. scientists inviting them to apply for early access to the Oak Ridge computer. Their scientific proposals will be reviewed on an accelerated timetable, he said.

The peak capability of 1.64 petaflops is attributed to 1.384 petaflops from the new Cray XT5, combined with 0.266 petaflops from the existing Cray XT4 system, Zacharia said.

How fast is a quadrillion calculations per second? “One way to understand the speed is by analogy,” Zacharia said recently. “It would take the entire population of the Earth (more than 6 billion people), each of us working a handheld calculator at the rate of one second per calculation, more than 460 years to do what Jaguar at a quadrillion can do in one day.”

Related: National Center for Computational Sciences at ORNL site on Jaguar (photo from here) – Open Science Computer GridDonald Knuth, Computer ScientistSaving FermilabNew Approach Builds Better Proteins Inside a ComputerDoes the Data Deluge Make the Scientific Method Obsolete?

Babbage Difference Engine In Lego

Posted on March 31, 2008 1 Comment

Building A Calculating Machine Using Lego Pieces by Andrew Carol

Before the day of computers and pocket calculators all mathematics was done by hand. Great effort was expended to compose trigonometric and logarithmic tables for navigation, scientific investigation, and engineering purposes. The larger efforts involved rooms of semi skilled people, called ‘computers’, capable of doing reliable arithmetic who would be under the direction of a skilled mathematician.

In the mid-19th century, people began to design machines to automate this error prone process. Many machines of various designs were eventually built but, the most advanced and famous of these was not. The Babbage Difference Engine.

Because of engineering issues as well as political and personal conflict the Babbage Difference engines construction had to wait until 1991 when the Science Museum in London decided to build the Babbage Difference Engine No.2 for an exhibit on the history of computers.

Babbage’s design could evaluate 7th order polynomials to 31 digits of accuracy. I set out to build a working Difference Engine using standard LEGO parts which could compute 2nd or 3rd order polynomials to 3 or 4 digits. I have built two generations of Difference Engines and am designing the third version now.

Related: Rubick’s Cube Solving Lego Mindstorms RobotLego Autopilot Project UpdateOpen Source for LEGO MindstormsDonald Knuth, Computer Scientist

Ancient Greek Technology 1,000 Years Early

Posted on November 29, 2006 3 Comments

Antikythera Mechanism - Ancient Greece

Ancient Moon ‘computer’ revisited

Although its origins are uncertain, the new studies of the inscriptions suggest it would have been constructed around 100-150 BC…

Writing in Nature, the team says that the mechanism was “technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards”.

the Moon sometimes moves slightly faster in the sky than at others because of the satellite’s elliptic orbit. To overcome this, the designer of the calculator used a “pin-and-slot” mechanism to connect two gear-wheels that introduced the necessary variations.

“When you see it your jaw just drops and you think: ‘bloody hell, that’s clever’. It’s a brilliant technical design,” said Professor Mike Edmunds.

Larger image via Hellenic Ministry of Culture

Related: An Ancient Computer Surprises ScientistsHigh tech helps solve mystery of ancient calculator

Japan Project X: Innovators Documentaries

Posted on September 24, 2006 2 Comments

Project X is a popular Japanese TV documentary that examines historically successful companies and the engineers that made them successful – and more.

Japan in stew over recalls:

Perhaps only in Japan could a television series like Project X have become one of the most popular TV shows. No, it isn’t a science fiction thriller. It’s about product quality.

More specifically, it’s about a bunch of corporate engineers who invented the handheld calculators and ink-jet printers that helped turn this nation into an industrial powerhouse.

MIT Sloan Japan club on Project X

Searching on the web I see that Japanese embassies have made them available overseas but I can’t find them online. I did find this list of the episodes: Project X: Innovators. Maybe Japan will copy a recent move by the White House and post the videos online.

Related: Recalls at Toyota and SonyGoogle Tech Webcasts