Southern Man

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Holiday Weekend Day 5

Sadly, it's almost over. A fine discussion at Sunday School this morning, an hour at the office, a little geocaching on the way home, and then an afternoon of grading and grading and more grading (mixed with more than a little 'net browsing and movie watching and game playing and frankly it's too damn cold and windy to be outside anyway). Then two more weeks of class, a week of finals, and semester number 49 (not counting summers) can be put to rest. Has it really been that many?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Weekend Day 4

The cold and rain did not deter Southern Man from running some errands in the morning, then coercing a friend to brave the weather and help him pick up a couple of geocaches (including one that had baffled him the day before, but we found it today). And on the way we encountered a cute girl who had managed to get her big 4x4 truck stuck in the mud but the mighty (but merely two-wheel-drive) Titan had no problem pulling her out.

Photo by Southern Man, after she'd knocked the stop sign down but before noticing us. We had her take a few pics of us in mid-rescue with Southern Man's camera as well; they were of her feet, of her fingers, and of empty sky. Go figure.

Then we headed back to Casa Southern Man for a few hours of Guitar Hero and then to a Sunday School class post-Thanksgiving feast. The Southern Man came home and sighed and got to work on the huge box of papers and exams he'd brought home to grade but ignored until now. Oh, well, Sprite and Triple Sec makes the grading go smoother...

Friday, November 25, 2011

Holiday Weekend Day 3

A lazy day spent doing a whole lot of nothing - relaxed at home in the morning, wandered out towards The Land (geocaching on the way) at eleven-ish, worked and played around out there until the threatened rains arrived, then came back into the city where no homework or exams were graded. That will have to get done sometime before Monday but today was not the day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Weekend Day 2

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Southern Man cannot list but a tiny fraction of all that he's thankful for.

So after a lazy morning Southern Man headed out for more geocaching, worked his way towards Wal-Mart (open on Thanksgiving!) for a veggie tray, cached his way towards 7-Eleven (open on Thanksgiving!), gassed up the car, cached his way towards Southern Parents, had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat, and cached his way back home where he relaxed and surfed the 'net and watched movies (Mr. and Mrs. Smith is in right now) and played video games and generally did nothing productive at all. The planned trip out to The Land didn't happen; perhaps tomorrow. And perhaps not. And he hopes you had a similarly unproductive day as well.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Holiday Weekend Day 1

Five glorious days with very little structure and few scheduled events. Now that's Southern Man's kind of holiday, as he is still decompressing from SC11. So, here's the schedule:
Today: doctor's appointment at 8:00, free the rest of the day.
Tomorrow: morning free, then lunch at Southern Parents and evening free.
Friday: nothing!
Saturday: free until mid-afternoon, then dinner with friends.
Sunday: Sunday School in the morning, then free for the rest of the day.
So after this morning's appointment Southern Man meandered home and did a little geocaching on the way and picked up a few groceries. And the afternoon developed into such a stunningly beautiful day - crisp and cool and clear skies and no wind - that Southern Man decided to head out to The Land but did so much 'caching along the way that it was dark when he arrived - where he stepped out of the truck and was greeted by a beautiful turquoise sky with Jupiter and Venus glittering like jewels overhead. It was a stunning sight and Southern Man just sat down in wonder for a while. The pond was dead calm and about thirty inches up, enough that the three-cinderblock-high dock pilings he'd finished at the water's edge a few weeks ago were now entirely submerged. Looks like he needs to go up one or two more.

And then Southern Man discovered that he'd forgotten the bag of food and supplies and faced a night without supper and a morning without breakfast. Not to mention that the entertainment options in the trailer are still pretty thin - a VCR (but no DVD player; that half of the VCR/DVD combo died a day after it went to the trailer) and a little TV, a portable AM/FM/CD player, and that's about it. And there was no dark chocolate at all in the trailer. So he piddled around for a while and then bowed to the inevitable and came back to the apartment and put that bag right in front of the door so after Thanksgiving lunch tomorrow he'll go back out properly supplied for a planned two-night stay. Sadly, the forecast calls for rain on those two days...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two To Remember

Southern Man notes with sorrow the passing of two fine people. One, a popular writer of fantasy and science fiction, is known to many across the world; the other, only to the many who knew and loved him.

Ann McCaffrey's fantasy books captivated the young Southern Man when he was first starting to explore those strange new worlds and even if he finds them a bit juvenile for his tastes today they (along with certain equally juvenile works of Asimov and Heinlein and many others) hold a special place in his heart. Southern Man met her once at a sci-fi convention; she was beautiful and charming and took a few moments to talk to a couple of starry-eyed teens and Southern Man has been a fan ever since. She will be missed but her work will live on.

As a young police officer HH stumbled across a certain couple from the nearby university "stargazing" in the park and sent them scurrying red-faced back to their dorms. Years later he and Southern Parents became fast friends and he (along with LF and RJ and a few others) formed the core of Southern Father's posse of friends. After retirement they were free to cause all manner of mischief, which they often did. As a locksmith no door was an obstacle to HH and he passed some of these skills (along with an impressive collection of master keys) to Southern Father. Widowed for many years, he was finally taken by age and disease. He was loved and he will be missed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

LittleFe Is Up And Running

I threatened Dr. S that I would publish this photo with this caption, so here it is...

LittleFe System Administrator At Work

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Supercomputing Conference Day 4

Today was a half-day at the conference, sort of - we dropped in on part of the plenary session then spent the rest of the morning checking in our laptops and exploring the exhibition hall one last time, where Southern Man took on IBM's Watson in Jeopardy! and after gaining a small opening lead got pretty much taken to school...

Dr. S hard at "work"

The three of us in one of the exhibition halls.

Southern Man vs Watson

...then we had to get back to the hotel, finish packing, and check out. But that left a couple of hours of freedom so after stashing our stuff in Dr. A's room (he stayed an extra day) Southern Man headed down to the waterfront for more geocaching...

One cache was at this statue of "Ivar Feeding The Seagulls"

Had lunch at the nearby Ivar's Seafood Bar where the seagulls got the leftover french fries

A few more finds put the final score at ten new smiley faces in Seattle.

So after a few hours of this it was time to head back to the hotel for a cab ride to the airport where LittleFe was three pounds overweight but the ticket agent let us check it for $25 anyway. We had burgers at the Runway Grill while waiting for our first flight, then were swept across two time zones in just a few hours to arrive home again.

Delta Airlines expresses their opinion of LittleFe.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Supercomputing Conference Day 3

The opening plenary session was right here in the Red Lion, which made for a lazy morning and an opportunity to hit another geocache...

...which was just outside this coffee shop and named in honor of a free local newspaper. Photo by another kind customer.

And with the LittleFe buildout behind us, this afternoon Southern Man went to a session on BCCD (the bootable-cluster software which manages the computer) and another on making effective use of our GP/GPU chips.

During that session a fellow SC11 geocacher made contact through email fishing for hints on that Gum Wall cache and we arranged to meet and do a little caching before the evening festivities. We headed out to the Seattle waterfront, picked up the Gum Wall, then did a few more out on the docks (in an unspoken competition between his GPS and Southern Man's iPad), then swung back by the aforementioned Seattle Weekly cache that he'd also tried for earlier and couldn't find. So Southern Man ended up looking pretty good tonight; usually he's the one looking for hints.

At a couple of caches with juc_cacher. Photos taken from his camera.

The main event tonight was the much-anticipated opening of the exhibitor hall. We were warned to pack light and leave plenty of room in our luggage for the immense mountain of swag that will be thrust upon us and this turned out to be prudent advice. Southern Man collected a fair number of bags and t-shirts and pens and such and generally had a great time. But by some tragic oversight Southern Man neglected to pull his two drink tickets out of the bundle of paperwork we were issued at registration but he is a resourceful fellow and managed to score not the designated two but three "free" adult beverages at the opening. Southern Man takes a perverse amount of pride in this accomplishment.

And then the other main event was the Beowulf Bash at the Seattle Aquarium with a live band and food and more drinks!

Yes, that poster is in with the fishes. Those Beowulf people are pretty crazy.

So Southern Man ate and drank and chatted and explored the aquarium and generally had a grand time until alcohol and exhaustion finally overcame him and he limped back home for a much-needed night's sleep.

And the next day as he was editing this post Southern Man googled for more info on the Bash and got this result...

That's right - five minutes after typing "Beowulf party" into the blog he's the fourth hit on Google. Epic Win!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Supercomputing Conference Day 2

Our SC11 sessions kicked off with talks about the Undergraduate Computational Engineering and Sciences (UCES) program finalists. Or, in other words, work by undergrads who are way smarter than Southern Man was at that age. One of the talks was by LittleFe guru Charlie Peck and he was followed by the ever-dynamic master of supercomputing Henry Neeman, which took us to lunchtime.

Now comes the real purpose of our trip. As Charlie pointed out in his talk, single-core is dead. In a year you won't be able to buy a single-core phone, much less a single-core computer. Thus, we should be teaching multicore programming from the outset. But teaching on a production supercomputer isn't easy - you submit your job, you wait ten minutes to ten hours, you get an email stating what you did wrong, and repeat until you figure things out. And you don't want to teach on a production machine anyway; it's too busy doing weather models and physics and chemistry. And on top of that production machines are high maintenance and are not quite as reliable as one would hope - our local supercomputer goes down all the time (usually with cooling problems; it sits under enough air conditioning for a small city and that's barely enough). And teachers should be teaching, not administering a computer. Thus, LittleFe - a portable, lightweight, low-maintenance mini-supercomputer designed for classroom teaching that you program just the way you would the real thing - and if you screw up, you can just reboot without a dozen production-machine scientists screaming and sending you hate mail.

Beginning by one of our assistants, who spent as much time juggling cameras as actually assisting. Not that we needed that much help...

Building the chassis. Photo by an assistant using Dr. S's camera.

Dr. S and Dr. A mounting the by Southern Man.

Done! Photo by an assistant using Dr.A's camera. It was about this time that Charlie came by and claimed that we were the first team in the history of LittleFe to do a buildout in jackets and ties.

LittleFe buildout assistant Mobeen manages the head node first by Southern Man.

All nodes up and running! Photo by Southern Man.

A little historical perspective: in the early 1990s the SX-3 was the fastest computer on the planet. LitteFe blows it away, costs less than $2500, and has wheels.

After the buildout we hauled the beast back to our hotel room and after a bit of rest Southern Man returned to the Gum Wall and found that damn cache! He'd also slipped out during a break and picked up one in an elevated park just a few minutes from the conference center. He's now three for three in Seattle and will try for a couple more before we have to leave.

Caching in Skyline Park. Photo by a kind stranger.

At the Gum Wall. Photo by one of a zillion passers-by. Pike Alley is a busy place!

And to celebrate our fine achievements the three of us enjoyed dinner and drinks at the Elephant and Castle...

That's right, we built a supercomputer today. Yeah, baby! Photo credit - our server.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Supercomputing Conference Day 1

SC11 is a huge conference - one of the largest technical conferences in the world, with over ten thousand in attendance - and our little "Education" section of three hundred or so is just a tiny part of the proceedings. But we're at the front end and have the facilities more or less to ourselves until Monday when the teeming hordes arrive.

The opening plenary session was dominated by Henry Neeman (who is the SC11 Education Chair and also manages the enormous-state-university top-500 supercomputer just down the road from Southern Man's school) and Bob Panoff (founder of Shodor and host of the parallel-thinking conference attended by Southern Man earlier this year), two of the smartest (and funniest) people on the planet. Henry in particular is famous for his turns of speech, generally known as "Henryisms." Both of them could do science stand-up comedy, and often do. The plenary session ended with a panel that included our very own Dr. S.

Dr. S holds the audience spellbound with his words of wisdom.

The next morning session was with Bob Panoff and was a refresher of the material covered at the aforementioned conference but it is always a pleasure to observe a master teacher like Bob in action. Then lunch (time was short so we hit a sandwich shop right there in the convention center) followed by a couple more sessions - Southern Man chose a pair on computational physics and physics demos in Java.

After the afternoon sessions was a de rigueur orientation session and then finally was the big reception with lots of food and drink. Southern Man managed to score a couple of free beers and was thus able to redeem his two drink tickets for tequila shots, which left him with a pleasant buzz. But he couldn't hold a candle to the students who somehow anticipated what tickets were to be used (they were just plain old Office Depot "Admit One" tickets) and brought an entire roll and were putting down a seemingly endless array of Long Island Iced Teas for which the bartender was demanding four tickets per. So much hilarity ensued and after a couple of hours of fun Southern Man ended up at a piano with a girl he'd met earlier and we entertained a small crowd with a little blues and jazz.

And then Southern Man headed out into the night to clear his head and picked up the geocache he'd tried for yesterday and tried for a second one at the famous Gum Wall in Post Alley but much to his disappointment had to give up. Another SC11 cacher had already posted a DNF on that one so Southern Man hopes to hit it again during daylight tomorrow and make the find. Tomorrow we're scheduled to build our LittleFe!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Supercomputing Conference Day 0

Today Southern Man and two fellow professors embark for Seattle and SC11, a three-and-a-half-day supercomputing conference. We'll return with a LittleFe cluster which we'll build on Monday afternoon. It's going to be fun, except for the unhappy forecast of 40 degrees and raining all week which may put a bit of a damper on geocaching.

Southern Man with his friend and mentor Dr. S at the airport. Photo taken by Dr. A at 11:11 on 11/11/11.

The trip was relatively uneventful as modern transportation technology swept us halfway across the country with its usual tedious efficiency. We ended up on the wrong shuttle from SeaTac and ended up taking a pricy cab ride into Seattle instead of the much less expensive light rail. We're staying at the Red Lion on 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle, which is very nice. Having traveled all day long we decided to treat ourselves to dinner and ended up at The Brooklyn, a very upscale eatery near the hotel. As is his habit, Southern Man sampled a local ale - a Laurelwood Pale Ale in this case - but didn't much care for it. However, his steak was excellent.

Dr. A, Southern Man, and Dr. S. Photo by a young man at the next table.

After dinner Southern Man made a try for a nearby geocache but didn't find it. Not to worry, there will be time for more geocaching later. But the conference schedule is pretty packed, starting at seven sharp tomorrow morning...


In a convergence of cosmic proportions it is both Veterans Day and Nigel Tufnel Day.

Our Veterans Go To Eleven!

Monday, November 07, 2011


OK, the earthquakes can stop any time now. Especially the earthquakes during the thunderstorms and tornado watches.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Workin' For The Weekend

After a routine workweek (well, there was a mild earthquake...actually a whole swarm of 'em) Southern Man was looking forward to getting out to The Land and making a little more progress on his endless list of projects and tasks and chores (which by the way he finds most relaxing so it's not really work at all). On Friday he lucked into a batch of free 55-gallon plastic drums on Craigslist and managed to nab a pickup-load of those - they are designated for future rainwater-recovery systems and water management in the future greenhouse - and ran those out and did a few odd jobs and grilled steak at the firepit for dinner and then today he spent the day on various chores (but not the painting and roofing that are at the top of the to-do list - much too windy for that!) and even made more progress on the future dock. Tomorrow is Sunday School and the weatherman says "not quite so windy tomorrow afternoon" so perhaps he'll get some shingles up and paint on tomorrow afternoon. And that's about it. The next excitement in Southern Man's life is late next week when he and two of his fellow professors head out to the SC11 conference in Seattle where we'll build a small cluster computer and bring it home for the kids to play with. And that will mark a personal first in Southern Man's traveling life - both coasts in a single semester. He's looking forward to a bit of geocaching and hopes to have time to make fun of the losers at Occupy Seattle.

[added later] And then we got an even bigger earthquake! How exciting! And so of course instead of running outside in panic everyone just got on FaceBook...