Thursday, May 22, 2008

CUDA Shouda Woulda

Nvidia is known as the leading graphic chip (GPU) company. Their chips are in high performance PCs and video game cards. The complexity of a GPU surpassed the Intel Pentium processor several years ago. Today's Intel chips have two cores soon going to four. Nvidia GeForce8 GPUs have 128 stream processor cores running at clock rates exceeding 1GHZ. Nvidia has recently created an open programming environment to allow 3rd party development for new applications. This platform, named CUDA, for Compute Unified Device Architecture, is available for free from the Nvidia website accompanied by with numerous application notes and benchmarks.

CUDA solutions will soon move into the SuperComputer domain like approaches based on IBM Cell, Intel Pentium and AMD Operon. IBM expects to regain the spot of the Top 500 when they attain PetaFlop performance on LinPack benchmarks in the next few days. (One peta equals a quadrillion, or one million billion). According to EE Times, May 12, 2008, the IBM solution is based on 12,000 Processors and consumes 4MegaWatts.

Stanford has a program for configuring a compute cloud from individual PS3s (like the SETI program). These solutions offer a potentially higher parallelism (think of 1 million Sony PS3 crunching the same problem), but inter-node communication is limited to DSL/Cable Modem bandwidths. The IBM supercomputer bandwidth is ~1 billion times higher.

The next milestone after Peta is Exa, one billion billion floating point calculations per second. That threshold could be reach in four years. It would be like everybody on the planet using a Pentium CoreDuo computer to crunch the same problem. How about World Peace for a start?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Aunt Theo

My Great Aunt Theo passed away in her sleep last week at age 101. She moved to Key West during WWII and lived in a little home on Love Lane for 55 years. My wife and I visited her in the spring of 2000 and found her busy working on her tax return. She was "sharp as a tack" at 93 and had a clear goal to reach 100. She was a single woman her entire life, twice losing a fiance to illness. For the last four years, she rode a custom-built recumbent bike around the neighborhood, including the day before her death. Cycling is in my genes.

Monday, May 19, 2008

My Mama is for Obama

My mother voted Republican for 52 years. Dewey, Ike, Ike, Nixon, Goldwater, Nixon, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, G.H.W. Bush, and Dole. In 2000, she abstained from Bush Jr's election. My mother is a multi-generation Texan, while the Bush's are blue-bloods from Connecticut. G.H.W Bush was a successful Texas oilman, and that counts for a lot in the Permian Basin of West Texas. But junior (or as the late Molly Ivins nicknamed him, Shrub) "failed or was bailed" out of every oil deal he touched. In fact, Shrub's first buy low - sell high business success was a part ownership in the Texas Rangers baseball team. His second such success was winning the Governorship of Texas, after which he immediately began his long march to Washington - against the wishes of his father. Turns out that older brother Jeb was supposed to inherit that mantle. But Jeb was down in Florida working so hard to turn around the state budget and economy that he let his little bro' stake out the party high ground.

After watching Bush steal the election from Gore (ironically with help from Jeb) my mother turned Democrat in 2004 to vote for Kerry. Now she looks forward to a country led by a man who actually understands and respects the U.S. Constitution. A man who won't start and never-end a war for a short-term blip in his polls. A man who actually knows what "The Google" does to make money. That man is Barack OBama.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Global Good, Bad and Ugly

The Good
Energy Technology. Guess what? There may be a lot of oil left in N. America that is cost effective to extract at $125 barrel. Real break-thoughs in alternative energy are yet to come.

Food Technology. Ethanol sucks - It sucks do-gooders into believing they're making a difference; It sucks wheat and grain fields into more corn that won't be eaten which sucks food right out of people's mouths, and more of your paycheck out of your pocket. Genetic engineering can produce more food and turn inedible plant life into energy-rich ethanol fodder. Time for the food-Luddites to take a pass.

Meteorology. Today's kids might grow up to solve global warming (or cooling) with engineering solutions on a global scale.

Biotechnology. If only the FDA would get out of the way of progress.

Internet Technology. As the virtual world gets smaller, reason and human rights tend to rise.

The Bad
Overpopulation - the rain forests are being converted to coal so poor people can get eat for another week. The seas are over-fished and the coastlines of many countries are polluted with fish farms. People produce people faster than Mother Earth can feed them. There are simply too many people on the planet. Population control must be a human priority or Mother Nature will sort it out the hard way. As George Carlin once joked - "We don't need to save the Earth. Mother isn't going anywhere. It's people that are going away.

Global warming. Buying a smaller plastic water bottle isn't going to do shit to slow down global warming. Short-term we need weather, and socio-economic predictions so we can being to adapt to inevitable changes.

Petroleum. Someday it will be as costly as Extra Virgin Olive oil. The transition will suck, but the world will be better off after the addiction is over.

Health. Cancer is essentially undefeated 35 years after Nixon started a war on it. Drug resistant pathogens kill more young Americans than the war in Iraq. Animal-to-human crossover virus's like H5N1, didn't go away, continue to kill people in Southeast Asia, and continue to threaten global pandemics.

God, or rather human interpretation of what God wants. Does God dislike birth control so he'll have more souls in Heaven? Does Allah really want Islamic Jihad to kill all the infidels? And what about the the 1400 year-old religious battle between the Shia and Sunni?. Francis Crick, the Nobel prize winning biologist who discovered DNA, once remarked that 10,000 years from now humans will look back on all religion as a joke. I doubt we can wait that long.

The ugly.
Asteroids, cataclysmic volcanoes, earthquakes. Who said there were any guarantees?


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

web-to-tv 3.0

WebTV, founded in 1995 and later acquired by Microsoft, was the first attempt at bringing web media to the television. As described in PC World "getting the Web to display on a typical TV in 1995 was like watching an elephant tap-dance--you were amazed not that it could do it well but that it could do it at all. With the WebTV, Web pages looked horsey, some media formats didn't work at all, and using the remote control to hop from link to link was excruciating."

Today's Web-To-TV solutions are more robust though limitations in control persist. Do people want to stream the PC to their TV - or do you just want to turn on the TV and easily search, select and share web media with your family and friends? How do you type in a URL with a one button remote? Which hardware solution / media restriction do you want to live with? Is YouTube really worth watching on your 54" 1080p display?

A byline in the Financial Times today offered an interesting definition - Web 2.0 is a world dominated by user-generated content, while Web 3.0 will be a world where professional content dominates. The Web-To-TV evolution is poised to make the same transition - from today's YouTube cats-on-a-treadmill to professional actors, lights, camera and action - all on your big screen TV in full HD. Now where did I put I put the remote?


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Play Hard

It is one of life's ironies that when you are little, you wish to grow up, but when you are old, you often wish to be a child again. In Diane Ackerman's book, Deep Play, she discusses the pursuit of "positive brainwashing" to purge oneself of “cynicism, preconceptions - the technical and cultural biases we build over a lifetime” - in effect, to return to innocence through intense detachment.

RAAM is the ultimate opportunity for Deep Play.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

what you get is what you see

Here's a simple rule of thumb for watching web media: If the content was created with a cellphone or laptop camera quality camera, then it is best viewed on a cellphone or laptop display. If the content is produced in a studio with HD camera & sound capture, then it is best viewed on an HDTV with multi-channel sound.
To date 99% of the media available on the web is produced by the viewers, i.e. user generated video. But how do want to view web media produced by professional actors in studios?
Vote and see how the crowd votes

Friday, May 2, 2008

The last unexplored country in semiconductor land

I have been involved with semiconductors for 35 years. In college I fabricated solar cells and laser diodes on one inch wafers. I started my career at Texas Instruments during the conversion from three inch MOS wafers to four inches. Minimum feature size was 5um (or 5000 nanometers). The 16K DRAM was struggling to reach cost effective yield and the 64K would prove to be an opportunity for TI to bury a hundred million dollars in the West Texas sand, before moving the entire project to Japan.
Today the train known as Moore's Law, has dropped most of it's cars. After Intel, TI, TSMC, & UMC there aren't many fabs that can afford to travel down the line to 45nm, 32nm or 22nm. There really is a point where quantum effects say "Stop, Backup, Find some other way to compute". Molecular/genetic solutions may provide the next "quantum" leap in compute power but you need to be majoring in biochemistry if you want that career path. In the meantime, architecture may be the last not-fully-explored territory left in this business.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Someday every TV will be online

In 15 years, broadcast television will only be useful for high-profile live events like the Super Bowl, awards shows and programs like “American Idol, Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, said during a keynote interview at the TelevisionWeek Upfront Summit in New York.

I think he's too pessimistic. Web-to-TV will happen in 10 years, and American Idol certainly won't last that long (one can only pray). The web will subsume regular TV broadcasting for 95% of what people watch. Of course the "pipes" must get bigger - and they will; the consumer electronic industry must integrate internet access and embedded browser-player functionality into television sets - and they will; and users will need new techniques for finding content in an infinite span of long-tail channels - and they will.