Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sun Sparc T4

Something about Oracle Sparc T4 doesn't roll off the tongue right so we shall stage a protest - long live Sun!

<steps off soap box, onto a smaller soap box>

The Sparc T4 was recently released, much to the delight of Sun, err, Oracle hardware users.  Interestingly, it has only half the number of cores as the T3 (8 instead of 16), but reaches almost twice the clock rate (3ghz instead of 1.67ghz) - all with the same number of threads per core (8).  With an upgrade from in-order to out-of-order execution (OOO, heh), and improved branch prediction the T4 is clearly targeted at single threaded performance.

In the age of scaling applications into the cloud it is still an open question whether the "sort of parallel" applications that would improve when moving from T3 to T4 are the future of the server market.  Certainly users that already are dependent upon sort-of-parallel applications, and are binary compatible, will want to upgrade.  But the NoSQL, MapReduce, and memcached movements are new versions of old programming tools with the non-scalable pieces removed.  They are used by newer tech companies that use their scale for competitive advantage (Google, Yahoo, Facebook) - which is another way of saying that they are the future.

On a side note, it is interesting that ArsTechnica no longer has the tried and true voice of Jon Stokes analyzing the latest processors (btw, if you want an insanely good book on computer architecture, get his).  Fingers crossed that he's just on vacation.  In either case, we at DailyCircuitry wish him the best of luck.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Larrabee 3 rumor

The list of things that are bigger in Texas just got, err, bigger.  Get out of the way Ranger, here comes a Stampede!  No longer content with "just" half a petaflop, University of Texas has upped the ante unveiling their plans for a 10 Petaflop supercomputer.  Interestingly, one fifth of the GFlops (an often misleading benchmark, but how could that matter?) will be provided by the dual processors (8C16T each) powering each server, while the other 80% will be provided by Knight's Corner (aka Larrabee 3) accelerator cards.  Until now, a select few researchers have had access to the predecessor of LRB3, known as Knight's Ferry (aka Larrabee 2).  Knight's Ferry is interesting in that it supports only single precision floating point, which is typical of graphics processors but atypical of the new GPGPU cards sold by Nvidia with which it will compete.

Love him or hate him, Charlie over at semiaccurate is at it again with a very interesting tidbit.  LRB3 is rumored to be binary incompatible with LRB2 (if you have a better reference than Charlie, please send it to me).  When not hating on Nvidia Charlie tends to be more accurate than "semi" would suggest, so this is an interesting development (well... he's also pretty accurate when hating, heh).  In the ensuing discussion, Exophase makes a good point that binary compatibility doesn't really matter for highly parallel software.  I tend to agree with this, since discussions between Cognitive Electronics and many different developers has also indicated that to be true.

Won't it be great when we can access a variety of different architectures in the cloud?  Benchmarking for pennies.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Google Circles vs Facebook

When I first joined facebook I was taken back by how incredibly impertinent the news in the news feed was.  I wrote a few long private messages to friends to try to catch up, but vowed to log on very infrequently for fear I would become addicted to it like some people I've heard about (I am easily addicted to video games, as my Diablo II hardcore sorceress's #1 USWEST ladder rank can attest, or could have in 2001, heh).

I had accrued some principled reasons for being anti-facebook.  Of course there are the privacy issues, but I especially disliked how an account can be revoked and there is very little one can do about it.  I also don't like how Chinese activists have had difficulty using names of their own choosing.  What I wanted most was a way of controlling what subset of friends would see certain posts.

I had told myself I would switch to whatever social network Google would come up with (since Buzz and Orkut did not seriously compete with facebook).  Google+ has now hit the scene and I have joined, read posts, and posted on it.

What I am most surprised by is how much I detest making the choice of who should see my post.  Is this post for friends, family, professional colleagues, or people that are only in a combination of those, or only a subset of those?  This is too much thinking, too much pressure for a post about how nice the weather in Palo Alto is (very).  Or how much better the Mexican food is (much much).  Or how much I enjoyed playing Red Dead Redemption with my uncle during my last visit to Southern California (a lot).

I find myself using facebook much more now.  I think Google+ has taught me that I do not want to think all that much about my social network postings.  I would rather spend 10 seconds writing a dumb musing instead of 2 minutes.  In fact, after spending 2 minutes thinking about it, I generally would just abandon the idea of posting... or log on to facebook to check if there are any posts I might troll, err, comment on.  If other people are like me then that does not spell good news for Google.

This reminds me of the "affordances" taught in the human-computer-interaction  course I took in college.  Every item has a use, or affordance.  To kids, trees are "for" climbing, stones are for throwing, and soccer balls are for kicking.  It was funny that this notion also extended to more nefarious purposes.  For example, the behavior of hooligans could be controlled by the material that covers an opening in a building.  The hooligans thought that windows were for breaking, and boards were for graffiti, even though windows can be graffitied and boards can be broken.

In my mind facebook is for posting musings, typically aimless but sometimes with a little bit of a point.  I can also see the importance of LinkedIn - people there would not be surprised to see a message that a contact is or plans to be out of work and is looking for something interesting.  LinkedIn is for work.

Google+ is trying to be whatever you want it to be at the moment.  It can be used for both facebook and LinkedIn types of posts.  If we do end up needing a toolbox to hold all of our tools, then Google+ has a bright future.  But we might only need a couple.  In support of this latter position, I'll finish by quoting Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino:

"Take these three items, some WD-40, a vice grip, and a roll of duct tape. Any man worth his salt can fix almost any problem with this stuff alone."