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June 9, 2010


Link of the Week - If it were my home

When centered on West Hartford, Connecticut, the oil spill stretches over seven U.S. states.
Image courtesy Miriam Boon, taken as a screenshot on 4 June 2010.

It isn’t easy to get perspective on a major disaster such as the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
But this week’s link of the week, “If it was my home,” can at least help us to understand the scale of the oil spill.
The website automatically detects your location, then superimposes an approximate image of the oil spill, based on NOAA data, centered on your location. On the website you can move the oil spill around by entering other locations, or by clicking the button, “Put it back in the gulf.”
By seeing how much familiar ground the oil spill would cover, you can get a better sense of the spill’s physical size.
Of course, the information displayed on this map is just the tip of the, ah, oil; much of the spill remains underwater.
It is

June 2, 2010


Link of the Week: the Virtual Goody Bag

Image courtesy SIENA

SIENA (the abbreviation for the Standards and Interoperability for eInfrastructure implemeNtation initiAtive) is an organization devoted to developing a roadmap that will identify trends in computing — such as the interplay between clouds and grid computing.
The European-based organization just had a workshop last night, in which they handed out a goody bag.
But theirs is different from most, in that instead of the usual memory sticks, their goodies are entirely virtual: links to electronic documenets, keynote videos, a summary presentation, the GridBriefing annual, and more.
Check out the Siena Virtual Goody Bag!

May 26, 2010

Link of the week - Why humans don't crash, but computers do

The hierarchical organization of the transcriptional regulatory network of bacterium E. Coli, left, shows a pyramidal structure compared to the Linux call graph, which has many more routines controlling few generic functions at the bottom. Image courtesy of Yale University.

If the human genome is our operating system, then what is it about it that prevents it from crashing as frequently as computer operating systems?
To answer that question, a team of bioinformatics researchers at Yale compared the transcriptional regulatory network of bacteria with the Linux call graph. According to the Yale press release:

The molecular networks in the bacteria are arranged in a pyramid, with a limited number of master regulatory genes at the top that control a broad base of specialized functions, which act independently. In contrast, the Linux operating system is organized more like an inverted pyramid, with many different top-level r

May 19, 2010


Link of the Week: The sound of science — electrons in your left ear, muons in your right

ATLAS — World’s largest musical instrument? Image courtesy CERN

On the iSGTW Nature Networks Forum the other day, reader Lily Asquith mentioned the “LHC Sounds” project, which just started this past January.
Intrigued, we found that there is a whole community of particle physicists, composers, software developers and artists, who are working together to convert raw data from the ATLAS detector into sound. It can be a useful scientific analysis technique . . . and the source of a cool new art form.
The LHC Sounds’ website explains how such ‘sonification’ is done. Essentially, software on ATLAS takes silicon detector hits and energy deposits — or ‘objects’ — and converts them into streams of ones and zeroes, which can then be rendered step-by-step into two or three columns of numbers, known as a &l

May 12, 2010


Link of the Week - Kudos for cloud programming

No, coding while in a plane does not count.
Cloud and moon image courtesy of Leonardini. Code added by iSGTW.

According to Technology Review, cloud programming is one of the top ten emerging technologies of 2010.
Do we mean cloud computing? Nope! Joseph Hellerstein, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, is working on a creating a cloud programming language called Bloom, which his team hopes to release in late 2010. They are also preparing a number of domain-specific demonstrations.
Erica Naone of Technology Review writes:
His big idea is to modify database programming languages so that they can be used to quickly build any sort of application in the cloud--social networks, communication tools, games, and more. Such languages have been refined over the years to hide the complexities of shuffling information in and out of large databases. If one could be made cloud-friendly, programmers could just think about t

May 5, 2010


Link of the Week: What are the odds?

Image courtesy Paddy Power

With the Large Hadron Collider started up, Paddy Power — Ireland’s largest online bookmaker — has started offering odds as to what the world’s largest machine will discover, and in what order.
The bookie is offering 11-to-10 odds that dark matter (no longer a dark horse candidate) will be found before black holes. And 8-to-1 odds that black holes will be first.
Dark energy sits at 12-to-1 odds.
And the site says that there is a 100-to-1 chance that the LHC will find God. Not the “god particle” — aka the Higg’s Boson —  but something bigger.
A spokesman for Paddy Power told the UK’s Daily Telegraph that “confirmation of God’s existence would have to be verified by scientists and given by an independent authority before any payouts were made, however.”

April 28, 2010

Link of the week - Did you know?

Image courtesy YouTube

At Sony’s Executive Conference a few months ago, they played this video to bring home the sense fo the rapid progress of information technology and the changes it wrought in our times.
It has since gone viral on YouTube.
The video starts with small tidbits of information, called “Did you know,” which mention, for instance, that “The top ten in-demand jobs in 2010 . . . did not exist in 2004.”
Or that “the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that people in school today will have been in between 10 and 14 jobs by age 38.”
Or that “the volume of unique new information we will generate this year (4 exabytes) is greater than produced in all of the past 5,000 years of human history.”
It also claims that the amount of new technical information doubles every two years — meaning that by the time someone enters the third year of a four-year technical program, half of what they l

April 21, 2010


Link of the Week: EGEE Screencasts on grid computing


Just in time for the User Forum at Uppsala, the Direct User Support group  produced some educational screencasts that answer common questions about the grid. They are available for viewing here on YouTube and at Vimeo.
Alternatively, you can download them directly to your laptop.
A few samples are
[1] Introduction to Grid Computing[2] Credential management[3] Job submission[4] Data management(An index of such “Use Cases” can be found here.)

April 14, 2010


Link of the week - Scientific Computing April-foolery

As usual, this year’s April 1 saw the web littered with pranks and jokes of varying quality. iSGTW scoured the web for the best April Fools stories related to science, computing, and scientific computing. Enjoy browsing the stories we found!
Story categories:

Cloud computing
Computer security
Information science
Science culture


Image courtesy of

Space Computing from
It’s the new cloud computing! Interplanetary file redundancy, WarpTravel CDN to speed up file transfers, and secure file deletion via black holes are just some of the advantages of Space Computing. Not to mention the option of warming other planets instead of our own! We also dug the gorgeous website design – even if FaceBook’s Mark Zuckerberg wants to redesign the page.
Amazon’s Quantum Compute Cloud, QC2
Using the “spooky action at a distance” pro

April 7, 2010

  Link of the Week: Ignobel At the last prize ceremony, Public Health Prize winner Dr. Elena Bodnar demonstrates her invention — a brassiere that, in an emergency, can be quickly converted into a pair of protective face masks, one for the brassiere wearer and one to be given to some needy bystander. She is assisted by actual, bona fideNobel laureates. From left to right:  Wolfgang Ketterle (2001, Nobel Prize in Physics, for work on Bose-Einstein condensates), Orhan Pamuk (2006,  Literature), and Paul Krugman (2008, Economics). Image courtesy Alexey Eliseev Sure, we’ve all heard about the Nobel Prizes, awarded for research in physics, medicine, peace, and other areas of study. But what about the Ignobels? Awarded every year at about the same time as their more illustrious counterpart, the “Iggies” are given for “Research which makes people laugh and then think.” Over the years, the Iggies have grown in acceptabiliy, if not respect

March 31, 2010

Link of the week - eScience and Google Summer of Code

This summer marks the sixth edition of Google Summer of Code. Around 1000 student programmers from around the world will be offered a $5000 stipend to work with one of 152 open source mentor organizations, creating a substantial body of new open source code.
Last week Google announced this year’s list of participating open source projects, and a number of them are closely tied with grids, clouds, or computer-assisted science.
Is your project missing from this list? Email us to have it added!
ASCEND – A software program for solving small to very large mathematical models, including non-linear equations, linear and non-linear optimization problems, and dynamic systems expressed in the form of differential/algebraic equations.
Encyclopedia of Life – A single portal providing information on all 1.9 million known species by aggregating data from thousands of sites using novel informatics tools. Sponsored by the Marine Biol

March 24, 2010

Blogs of the week - CMS and ATLAS event displays: not just pretty pictures

A CMS event display. Image courtesy of Symmetry Breaking.

Any Very Important Person who wanders through one of the Large Hadron Collider’s control rooms or worldwide remote operations centers is bound to be impressed. The equipment is state-of-the-art. There is a near-constant buzz of activity now that the LHC has started up again. And large monitors display very impressive, technical-looking visualizations of potential events as they are detected.
Unlike Monty Python’s machine that goes bing, however, these displays are rife with meaning. You just need a secret decoder blog post!
That’s what the Symmetry Breaking team has set out to do in a recent series of blog posts. The posts are particularly timely, given CERN's recent announcement of the first attempt at 7 TeV collisions on 30 March. Check them out, and you too can smile knowingly when you see an event display!
A CMS display An ATLAS

March 17, 2010


Statistics of the week - To lease or buy CPU-hours: that is the question

The cost per CPU-hour is based on a four-year project. More details on how these numbers were calculated is available via both the IEEE and USENIX papers.

Ever wonder if you should just outsource all your cyberinfrastructure needs to your friendly neighborhood cloud provider?
That’s exactly what Edward Walker is researching. So far, it looks like in most cases, the answer is “no.”
“The key take away in the article "The Real Cost of a CPU Hour" is that cluster utilization is a very important factor in determining if leasing from a cloud vendor, or purchasing your own cluster, is cheaper,” said Walker, who is the HPC software group leader at the Texas Advanced Computing Center.
“However, the USENIX ;login: article serves as a cautionary note: the performance that can be achieved in doing science on a cluster, optimized for doing high-performance computing, can be quit

March 10, 2010


Link of the Week: GridCast, live from Taipei

Gridcast bloggers take you live, behind the scenes at ISGC 2010. Image courtesy Gridcast

All this week, GridCast, the blog that takes you behind the scenes of some of the most exciting events in grid computing, will be coming to you live from Taipei in Taiwan, where we’re at  ISGC 2010.
This year ISGC (International Symposium on Grid Computing), organized by TWGrid, is focusing on data driven e-Science.
With plenty of use cases and scenarios there’ll be a lot to blog about!
We’ve put together a team of bloggers from around the world to bring you the latest news and views right from Taipei. From blog posts on sessions, to photos of speakers and videos of demos, you’ll feel like your right here with us!
So head on over to the GridCast website to check out what’s going on...
—Manisha Lalloo, GridTalk

February 24, 2010


Link: And the winner is . . .

Computer Engineer Barbie. Image courtesy Mattel

About a month ago, we ran a story in this space that mentioned the “Vote for your favorite Barbie career” contest, in which we noted that “computer engineer” was a nominee for the first time.We quipped that “if all 5,806 iSGTW readers voted, we could swing the Barbie election.”
Apparently, some of you took this to heart.
According to Mattel’s official Barbie vote website, the Popular Vote Winner is . . . Computer Engineer, whose outfit and accessories you can see at right.
The company’s press release says that to create an authentic look, “Barbie designers worked closely with the Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering to develop the wardrobe . . . Computer Engineer Barbie is geek chic.”
Preliminary responses from iSGTW readers ran the gamut. One wrote that “She looks cooler than most computer engineers

February 10, 2010


Link of the Week: A-Space (the MySpace for spies)

Image courtesy Vinicitrice, stock.exchng

Like everyone else, intelligence analysts find themselves working in closed compartments, in which sometimes the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. An analyst may be unaware that they have a counterpart, in another intelligence agency, working on a related problem, and that they could assist one another in solving a common goal.
How to overcome this?
With social networking.
Of a very specialized kind.
Enter A-Space, which one blogger described as the “MySpace for spies.”
Here, analysts can theoretically create trusted contacts with other analysts and post profiles that contain updated contact information and details of their areas of expertise. The analysts' areas of expertise may be further defined through text mining software that sifts through analyst e-mail.
According to Government Computer News: Based on Jive Software’s Social Business Sof

February 3, 2010

Blog post of the week - LOLCats get on the Grid

Could transmitting these inane yet adorable pictures be the future of large-scale data movement? Find out at our blog post of the week. Image courtesy of mikenmar

What do the LHC grid, LOLCats, and Avatar have in common? More than you might think, according to our blog post of the week.
It turns out that creating the three dimensional IMAX film required a tremendous amount of computational power. Special effects company Weta Digital used the combined power of seven supercomputers. The system is no slouch; it includes the computers ranked by as 193 through 197, 274, and 449. Together, they have nearly 40,000 processors. And the final cut of the film took up over 17 gigabytes per minute.
Agent Utah, a.k.a. science writer Calla Cofield, muses about the massive amounts of data being moved around the Internet in the form of movies, commercial sites, Google, and LOLCats:
“It's pretty amazing how fantastic we humans are at pr

January 27, 2010

Link - Vote for your favorite Barbie career

Click to enlarge. Photo courtesy Mattel

The makers of the popular Barbie doll are holding a contest, in which you can vote on what her next choice of career will be. As their ad puts it: “Barbie has had over 120 careers! What do you think her next job should be?”
This time, one of the choices is . . .  computer engineer.
And who knows, if all 5,806 iSGTW readers voted, we could swing the Barbie election.
Not sure what the outfit would look like, though.
(PS - The election results will be available on the Barbie website on February 12.)

January 20, 2010

Word of the week - Multithreading

A single-core machine multithreading is much like a good juggler: you may only be doing one thing at once, but you have to be really good at switching between balls or you’ll drop one! Image courtesy of Guillaume Riesen

Until recently, most computers had a single processor (CPU) which contained a single core. Computers could execute only one task at a time.
Then multi-threading came along. top500’s glossary of terms describes multithreading as:
A capability of a processor core to switch to another processing thread, i.e., a set of logically connected instructions that make up a (part of) a process. This capability is used when a process thread stalls, for instance because necessary data are not yet available. Switching to another thread that has instructions that can be executed will yield a better processing utilisation.
Not all CPUs can do multithreading, and not all applications follow the multithreading programming model. Both must be

January 13, 2010

Link of the Week - LarKC: The “Large Knowledge Collider”

Image courtesy LarKC 

The Large Knowledge Collider, or LarKC (pronounced ‘lark’), is part of a €10 million project to promote  “massive distributed incomplete reasoning.”
The goal is to go beyond the limited storage, querying and inference technology currently available, and enable semantic computing — in which data is given meaning (semantics) that  enables computers to look up and “reason” in response to, say, user searches. Or, in an example from Wikipedia — at the moment, a person can create a web page that lists items for sale. The HTML of this person’s catalog page can make simple, document-level assertions such as “this document’s title is ‘Widget Superstore,’ ” but there is no capability within the HTML itself to assert unambiguously that, for example, item number X586172 is an Acme Gizmo with a retail p

January 6, 2010

Link of the week - Climate Wizard

A screenshot of the Climate Wizard website.

Now anyone can play with climate models using an online tool called Climate Wizard.
Climate Wizard is an interactive website where visitors can browse maps of historical climate data and future predictions of temperature and precipitation.
“Climate Wizard does not simulate future climate. Rather, it analyzes General Circulation Models in a way that makes them more accessible to non-climate scientists,” said Evan Girvetz, a Senior Scientist with The Nature Conservancy Global Climate Change Program.
General Circulation Models are a type of mathematical model of the general circulation of a planetary atmosphere or ocean.
“The Climate Wizard takes climate projections from 16 GCMs, each of which are 3-dimensional databases of latitude, longitude, and time,” Girvetz said. “It analyzes each of them to determine the rate of change over time for each grid cell, then combines the maps of

December 16, 2009

Link of the week: GridCast at e-Science Oxford 2009

Attendees chat at the GridPP booth. Photo courtesy of Neason O'Neill, GridPP.

Last week saw computational scientists, technologists and researchers congregate at the Kassam Stadium, Oxford for the UK e-Science All Hands Meeting 2009 and the 5th IEEE International Conference on e-Science.
The conference was an opportunity for participants to share, discuss and advance the exciting research that has grown out of the e-Science programme as well as to highlight related activities from around the world.
Conversation and debate at the conference were lively but for those who missed out, the week's events were discussed and documented over at the GridCast blog.
Posts ranged from discussions on user engagement, classical art databases and, of course, the rainy British weather. As one of the key conference themes, there were many examples of e-science for the humanities, with the opening talk of the week given by Helen Bailey of the e-Dance p

December 9, 2009

Word of the week - Transparent

Image courtesy of ilco at stock.xchng.

All too often, common words take on new and unexpected meanings within a scientific or technical discipline. And to the uninitiated, this can be incredibly confusing.
The word ‘transparent’ is a great example of such a word. The most basic definition for transparent is ‘see-through.’ In other words, allowing light and information to pass through.
When journalists say that we should strive to be transparent, we mean that we should strive to provide readers with details on how we got our information and reached our conclusions.
In the computing world, however, the word takes on an entirely different meaning. In fact, you could say it takes on the opposite meaning.
When a developer says that a science gateway should be transparent, that means that the scientists who use the gateway should not need to know anything about how it works. Any black box system would be considered likewise ‘tran

November 25, 2009

Event of the week: D4Science World User Forum

Climate change will produce major shifts in the productivity of the world’s fisheries, with an average of 30–70% increase in high-latitude regions and a drop of up to 40% in the tropics. This will affect ocean food supply throughout the world, particularly in the tropics.
This image shows the change in maximum catch potential (percent change relative to 2005) from 2005 to 2055 in each ½ x ½ degree cell under one of the climate change scenarios described by this study. Image courtesy the Sea Around Us project. Click on map to enlarge.

There are several independant projects studying things such as climate change, the decline in the the world’s fisheries, and the effects upon our food supply — such as the map above from the Sea Around Us project.
But how do you bring all this source material together into one centralized, coordinated place? How can you produce computer-generated, reproducible rang

November 18, 2009

Acronym of the Week: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

How do you spell Recommended External Software for EGEE CommuniTies? Image of Aretha Franklin courtesy

Over the last year, the number of packages in the RESPECT program has nearly doubled. RESPECT (Recommended External Software for EGEE CommuniTies) publicizes software packages that work well with gLite middleware.
Why is this useful? It allows users to do more with the grid (providing additional functionality), helps users avoid “reinventing the wheel” by providing tools — schedulers or workflow mangers for example — that work for many situations, and it helps users port new applications to the grid faster.
Are you using RESPECT? The full list of RESPECT packages can be found on the EGEE Web site.
—Danielle Venton, EGEE