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Showing posts from October, 2010

Comparing HPC across China, USA and Europe

In my earlier blog post today on China announcing the world's faster supercomputer, I said I'd be back with more later on the comparisons with the USA, Europe and others. In this morning's blog, I made the point that the world's fastest supercomputer, in itself, is not world changing. But leading supercomputers, critically matched with appropriate expertise in programming and using them, togther with the vision to ensure use across basic research, industry and defence applications can indeed be strategically beneficial to a nation - including real economic impact.

There are plenty of reports and studies describing the strategic impact of HPC within a given organisation or at national levels (some are catalogued by IDC here), so let's take it as a premise for the following thoughts.

With this in mind, there are some comparisons to be made between the approaches to supercomputing across the USA, Europe and China.

The USA has long enjoyed near total dominance of the h…

Why does the China supercomputer matter to western governments?

There is a lot of fuss in the mainstream media (BBC, FT, CNET, even the Daily Mail!) the last few days about the world's fastest supercomputer being in China for the first time. And much ado on Twitter (me too - @hpcnotes).

But much of the mainstream reporting, twitter-fest, and blogging is missing the point I think. China deploying the world's fastest supercomputer is news (the fastest supercomputer has almost always been American for decades, with the occasional Japanese crown). But the machine alone is not the big news.

Imagine that China announced a new prototype passenger aircraft, half the cost of the latest Boeing or Airbus. It has 50% greater fuel efficiency too. And an order of magnitude greater predicted reliability statistics. That would be major news. Sure it uses a lot of US designed components too.

But what if China announced this new aircraft wasn't just a prototype. It was a commercially available product now. And they have the capacity to make lots of them…

Carbon Footprint

In these austere times I am always on the lookout for ways to reduce our expenditure without reducing our service to customers. NAG have just been awarded a matched funding grant from http://www.sustainableroutes.co.uk/ for £1000 to help us reduce our carbon footprint and we intend to use the grant (and some) to improve our video conferencing and cut down on some travelling costs and CO2 for meetings and training. Currently we are looking at some state of the art video conference equipment which we hope to start trialling with our Manchester office. There are some other useful tips and grants available on the Sustainable Routes website so I would recommend go taking a look.

Source-level debugging of Python in Emacs

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To help me track problems in Python code (yes, even sometimes in my own...) I usually rely on good-old print/trace debugging. Owing to Python's speed of interpretation and execution, this is a pretty convenient approach. Python does have its own interactive debugger though— pdb—for those odd occasions when it's desirable to poke about in a program while it's running. The debugging mode in Emacs even supports pdb by default, but there's a little snag: you probably don't have a pdb in your path, so M-x pdb will just fail. Solution? Add a pdb script to your path and make it executable
#!/bin/shpdb_path=`python -c "import pdb, sys; sys.stdout.write(pdb.__file__ + '\n')"`exec python ${pdb_path} "$@"

2010: A Retail Store Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” was the epic 1968 science fiction film that explored human evolution, technology and artificial intelligence with both realism (and surrealism) and remains one of the top films of all time. In it, two astronauts battle the computer HAL for control of their spaceship and for their lives while investigating a series of strange monoliths left from an earlier civilization. For many years and for many people, the film has been symbolic of our struggle to master, and not be mastered by, computers. Kubrick and his co-author Sir Arthur C. Clark were both brilliant and far ahead of their time. In many respects, they still are.


In 2010 we are certainly wrestling with computers that occasionally seem to get the better of us. In our world, computers are ubiquitous and the software behind them has a pervasive impact on our daily lives but hardly in the way Kubrick and Clark envisioned. Consider this absolutely mundane sequence of events, at least in t…