Thursday, October 04, 2007

There and Back Again

... To Norman, Oklahoma, that is.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Oklahoma Supercomputing Symposium learning a lot. What is a "supercomputer"? According to one expert in the field, it is a computer that will execute an infinite loop in four seconds. [cue rim shot]. They excel at running parallel jobs -- jobs that can be broken up into smaller chunks and apportioned to different nodes in a cluster or different CPUs in a single machine. Or, if you have a user community that is willing to donate spare CPU time on their personal computers, you can have computers all over the world working on a particular problem. Seti@Home is one of the more successful attempts at harnessing an extremely large community together working on a common problem.

Parallel computing is conceptually very simple. A good analogy from my days as a database administrator is Girl Scout Cookies. You can send one Girl Scout out to sell to a community. It might take her a few days. Or you could send the whole troop out, each taking one block. The job is completed faster. The programming aspect on the other hand is pretty tedious.

It is a rapidly changing field, and we are approaching the theoretical limits of Moore's Law which has implications for just how fast supercomputers can get. Check out my earlier posting on Moore's Law which has some more information and links.

On a different note -- watch out for airport wireless connections. Both airports I encountered this trip advertised WiFi with secure SSID. No mention was made of cost, but anyone who has traveled knows that airports really sock it to you at every opportunity. In spite of the word "secure" there is nothing secure about this offering. The SSID is advertised, so when you fire up your laptop, its name will appear in the list of available networks. There was no WEP key (which wouldn't really make it secure, but it is better than nothing). Well, I gave it a try, and I actually got an ip address, so I launched my browser. Yup. The first screen asked me to provide a credit card number so I could be charged at the rate of $7.95/day. Riiiiiiiiiight. They mean $7.95 for the (hopefully short) time until you board your flight.

There has been a trend in the hotel industry, as well as some coffeeshops, to provide free wireless internet where before they charged and hourly or monthly rate. In my city there are a number of free access points, ranging from City Hall to the public library, and even to a few burger joints. It is a trend that I like to see, but don't kid yourself -- it is NOT as secure as being behind your home firewall. Just be careful where you click your mouse.

2 comments:

Michael Kruse said...

And always wash your internet hands after you use these wifis. Who knows what germs and viruses you might pick up.

BTW, did the alarm clock play Boomer Sooner to awake you in the morning.

Denis Hancock said...

I left my rubber gloves at home, so I resisted the urge.

The Sooners were just a bit subdued after being humiliated by Colorado. Of course that didn't stop them from predicting a win this weekend against Texas. We also heard from the director of the University of Texas computing facility who seemed to think Texas would prevail.

I just sat quietly and savored K-State's win over Texas. It may the the only bright spot this Fall...

And I let my cell phone wake me up to the lilting melody of the Star Wars Imperial March.