Sunday, May 28, 2006

Researchers Analyze HPC Potential of Cell Processor

Remember the days when a math coprocessor was something special and expensive. Soon a SIMD chip may play that role. In the near future, it looks like there are two very interesting possibilities, Cell+ and GRAPE-DR
Anyone have experience working with these or other SIMD architectures (maybe an old connection machine)?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

MIT and my SS#...

I just got a letter in the mail that says that MIT accidentally sent out my personal info (including SS#, birthday, address...) to 150 people on an MIT mailing list. They say they are sorry... but I'm pretty upset. "Sorry" isn't going to cut it if I end up the victim of identity fraud.

Why the heck do they have that stuff in some file that can accidentally get mailed around? I'm not a student or employee anymore... Also, what mailing list did they send it to exactly? I think I have a right to know (and no, saying that the mailing list is 150 people who are "mostly" members of the MIT community does not make me feel better)

Here's the press release that I found about it. I can't believe there isnt' more news about this... There doesn't even seem to be anything in the Tech about it either.

Mr. T with a Hasidic beard

Friday, May 05, 2006

NASA's in bad shape

This is obvious for those of us in astronomy, but for non-astro folks, it might have gone unnoticed. NASA's having some major problems now. Basically, the president decided NASA should shift towards preparing to send humans to the moon and Mars. While an Apollo-style charge might be cool, that only works if you have Apollo-style funding to go with it.

Also entering the picture is completeing the long overdue and long overbudget international space station. Evidently, the US made "international committments" that the higher ups feel that they must honor, even though the science plans for the space station have been so drastically reduced that the whole thing will basically be abandoned shortly after completing it. In order to complete it, we have to return the space shuttle to flight (yes, there was another flight, but it had foam problems again, so they're still working on getting it back to back to flight). Again, the irony is that the shuttle is now scheduled to be decommissioned not long after completeing the space station. The hope is that some new better launch vehicle (with the intent to be part of the Moon and Mars thing) will be avaliable shortly after retiring the shuttle. IMHO, the reality is that there will probably be a big gap when there's no US launch vehicle to send people to the space station. (Remember SkyLab, our first space station? It crashed back into Earth while we were developing the space shuttle.)

Of course, returning the space shuttle to flight, building the space station, building a new human launch vehicle, and sending people to the Moon and Mars takes big bucks. However, the president/Congress haven't provided those extra bucks. Once there was supposedly a "wall" separating the budgets for space missions and science, but apparently that idea has been abandoned. So NASA is trying to cover those costs (as well as things like a mission to service/deorbit Hubble and build the James Webb Space Telescope "on budget" (but using a revised budgetting standard that makes things seem like they cost more)) by cutting back on many things, including large space missions but also including small missions, the analysis of data from current/previous missions, and the funding to theoretical interpretation of the observations. Basically, NASA is trying to cover these expenses by cutting back on the astrophysicists who actually do the science that makes those missions worthwhile. Obviously, you have to cut _a lot_ of postdoc/graduate student stipends to cover the cost of building a new space ship to send to the Moon. But that's a big part of the strategy that NASA administrators are planning on!

As a result of this many astronomers are facing extremely severe budgets. Advisors who started graduate students on thesis projects are learning that already approved funding is being cut. The graduate students who have begun the long and complex training and begun their thesis projects are wondering how they'll get paid in the next year or two and if they should abandon their previous work and/or change career paths. Postdocs who have already been trained are seriously considering leaving the country and/or the field. To give you some idea of the scale "Already, 240 grants affecting 500 postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students have been terminated." (from the CNN link below), and from what we understand this is only the beginning. Other missions that were well along the way (some within a year of being launched) are being delayed by multiple years. In many cases, these delays will actually increase the mission costs, since you have to retain the key engineers the whole time and then rehire and retrain people to do the jobs of the people that you let go. And many missions are being descoped and delayed, or in some cases put in an holding pattern (wihtout funding) of unknown duration (seems a lot like "canceled" to the people working on those missions).

As a result of all this, astronomers are starting to complain loudly, even contacting politicans directly to complain about the decisions being made at NASA. Now the National Research Council has issued a report that will hopefully help scientists better argue for restore some sanity to the NASA budget.

Politicans: If you are going to give NASA specific goals (e.g., send humans to the Moon and Mars), then you must give NASA the funding to acheive those goals realistically without dramatically cutting the projects that the agency has already started and invested in. If you are going to give NASA a fixed budget, then let scientists tell NASA how best to spend that money to advance science. Scientists have estalished programs like the decadal reviews that communicate to policy makers the major projects that scientists think should be funded.

Study Finds Money Gap at NASA - New York Times

Report: NASA lacks science funds - CNN

NASA Watch (source of general NASA gossip)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Québec solidaire

So, has anyone heard of the new political party Québec solidaire? It purports to be a left-wing alternative advocating sovereignty. The Gazette, not exactly an unbiased paper but the only major English daily in the province, published this editorial pointing out that its position on sovereignty may turn off many of the progressive voters it would hope to attract. Indeed, I wonder whether it would have been smarter to have remained ambiguous on sovereignty, which nearly worked for the right-wing ADQ. That said, they did manage to get 22% of the vote in a recent by-election, not bad for a party that's only three months old.

Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Step 2 of every great scientific study is "grow a beard".

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Finally, practical research

Deconstructing Faculty Doors

"English professor James M. Lang, in his seminal 2004 essay on faculty office doors, ..."

Monday, May 01, 2006

For Science's Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap

NYT story about the refereeing process and it's shortcomings... For Science's Gatekeepers, a Credibility Gap. It should be noted that this article focuses on medical studies which have very different concerns and conflicts of interest than more basic science research (e.g., on planet formation).