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It’s a wrap

Today is the 12th day of Christmas, and so Christmas at Sycamore House is officially packed away. I know a lot of people pack it away a lot sooner, but I am generally in no rush and like to keep up decorations for the full 12 days. Packing away Christmas is no small feat, and was about a two hour all hands on operation. All hands equals mine, Xandra’s and the boys off and on. Sam, having spent the night at a new friend’s house and stayed up much too late, was sound asleep through the whole process. Ogre and I have a deal. He helps me carry boxes up and down out of the attic, and then I am allowed to decorate to my heart’s content, as long as he does not have to be involved in the putting up or taking down. As a matter of fact, he ghosted himself through the process. As I had the kids go and fetch back decorations, candles and gee-gaws from around the house to pile up in the dining room t be sorted and packed, I could see that look of horror growing in his eyes. I calmly told him it would be fine, just disappear for an hour and a half and everything woudl be back to normal. And sure enough, after much sorting and packing in about an hour and a half we had all the boxes moved out into the garage. That was when I got the very nice surprise that Ogre had gone out in the garage and packed up all the tree parts into the new storage box I had bought. I had planned on having Sam do that when she woke up, but he was 2 steps ahead. It was really sweet of him.
Packing away Christmas is always a mixed emotion for me, By now, I am a little tired of the extra clutter and not having my normal room to look at, but I am still a bit enthralled with the sparkle and glimmer of the lights and shinies. When I was a child, we kept up all the Christmas decorations until my Sister’s Birthday- which is January 13, but by then we were just sick of them. I think it is a little better putting them away while they still have appeal, then getting them out again seems like much more fun.

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How to earn a loyal customer

Let me just say up front, GooSync rocks. They have now earned my loyalty for a very long time. Here is my story:

I love and live in Google calendars. I live a life that is complex to the point of being confusing. We have a blended household. Both my fiance and I are divorced with kids from previous marriages. Both of us have shared custody situations. I have two girls, he has two sons. Currently we are in a situation where Mon-Fri during the school year he lives in a house an hour away with his two sons and on the weekends, holidays and summers he is back here with me. This means that sometimes there are 6 people who live in this house I call home and sometimes it is just me. Because the members of our clan need to access our schedule from work, from several homes and sometimes from the road- we needed something more flexible than a paper calendar hanging on the wall ( although we still have some of those.. they have such cool pictures…). Both my fiance and I also wanted to be able to have reminders sent to our treos, to keep us in line and make sure no child got left behind. Google Calendars fit this very well. We set up a joint family calendar and began filling it up. It nicely sends text messages to my phone, but it would not sync. When my work life was more crazed and I was running around the plant all day long from meeting to meeting, I used to sync my calendar with Outlook for work( yes, Outlook sucks, but I have no control over what is used from email and calendaring at work- I work for a very large corporation) and only my work appointments were on my treo. But then work shifted, and I work from home more- and do meetings more by teleconference- sitting here in front of my computer which can nicely remind me itself. No need to go through the hoops and hassles of a bluetooth sync up several times a day ( my sync cord for my treo long ago shorted out and refused to work). Before long, I was just ignoring the calendar feature on my Treo. This irritated me some… I wanted an easy way to check my schedule on the go. Besides, having technology that almost works is a pet peeve of mine.

In the meantime, our online google calendar life exploded. My fiance and his ex have a calendar for working out visitation issues- I have read access on that one, as I manage most of the family schedule. I am active in several professional arenas and have meetings for MESA, PMI-CIC IT committee and some other activities. Having all these professional commitments on the BnG Clan calendar was cluttering it up and confusing kids.. so I set up a professional calendar that has my professional commitments only in it. Besides, if I get to the point where my consulting/writing/speech giving schedule continues to grow ( one could hope) I will need a calendar like this to share on a professional website. My daughters rotate between my home and their dad’s home.. so having their family stuff online is helpful to them. They are old enough now that I am working hard to get them to use this as a management tool. Hopefully they will be adding things themselves. But having things like my monthly book club, Curtain Call executive committee meetings and other items of the sort on the family calendar drives clutter that confuses them, as well as puts them at risk for kid learning curve screw ups. So all of my personal life appointments are on their own google calendar.
As time went on, I continued to test and trial new gizmos and services that would sync your google calendar- but they all only synced your main calendar. This is nice, but no longer sufficient in our world.

Then came GooSync. I discovered them a week or so before Christmas. Tested, loved it and imediately bought it so I could sync multiple google calendars and not just one. It was amazing! I could even use categories and have new appointments on my treo auto sync to different google calendars. Brilliant! This was what I had been looking for. Oh ! And look- I can sync with Outlook as well! Cool!! This is a stroke of brilliance. Finally I will be able to use my mobile device the way it was meant to. But wait… Crap. That outlook sync just took all my personal, intimate,family appointments and dumped them into outlook as well. Groan. Facepalm. This is bad. HeadDesk. I quickly cleaned up Outlook to delete them all and moved into the Holidays. OK, honestly I cleaned up most of them, but left some in..the less intimate ones that I did not care if work saw– time was short. No more time to play with syncing gizmos when Santa was about to arrive. But the whole thing was buzzing about in my head in a semi-random way and a couple of days ago, I got the chance to test again. “What if”, I thought, “I did a one way sync from Outlook to my handheld and then a bi directional sync from the handheld to google? Then I get the work appointments dumped into the handheld and the 2 way sync with google. I have no reason to add work appointments on the fly in the treo and then want them to sync with outlook any more… so this should work, right?

(Let me here interject a word of advice that I should have known well. Back up your calendars before experimenting)

Here is what I thought would happen:

Outlook overwrites to the Treo. Treo is now full of only Work Appointments. Bi directional sync via GooSync to google calendars. GooSync: hmm… you have a bunch of appointments in google not on your handheld- let me add those in for you. Result: my entire world schedule in the palm of my hand.

Here is what actually happens:

Outlook overwrites to the Treo. Treo is now full of only Work Appointments. Bi directional sync via GooSync to Google Calendars. GooSync: hmmm…. you have a bunch of appointments that were removed from your handheld.. here let me remove those from Google for you as well. Result: my entire world schedule, other than work? Deleted. Not just from my handheld, but from Google as well. The only things that remained were personal items that had gotten inserted into outlook before Christmas that I had not bothered to delete.

Now, is this normal behavior, or a remnant of the sync and delete in Outlook before Christmas? I do not know. I will not try it again to find out, either. I Twittered my despair. I IM’d my fiance my panic ( especially before he could go to check the calendar and be caught by surprise when things were GONE). This may not seem like a big deal, but it was a total of almost 1700 items. ( I told you I lead a busy and complicated life….). I wrote an email to tech support at GooSync that was really just a rant. I just needed to vent. I did not expect it to fix anything, really. A while later, I got a response ” no problem, we can restore from tape. Just please tell us when this happened and stop syncing in the meantime”.

Holy majoly. This was an unexpected benefit ( you can see I did not carefully read all the fine print). And you know what? They did. All of my messed up calendars have been restored. I am happy syncing again. And I came up with a new solution for getting all of everything onto my treo without risking deletions and cross contaminations. I created a new work calendar in Google. I use a free version of Syncmycal to do a one way dump of Outlook to that specific google calendar. I added the new google calendar to my list of calendars that my treo does a bi drectional sync with over the air.. and everything is in the palm of my hand again. Now that I am using my treo to manage life and events, I need to go back and re-look at RTM for my todo lists as well.

The guys at GooSync? As far as I am concerned- they rock. I will stick with them for a long time now.

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Supporting the Intellectual Life

I had recently written a post here, about how frustrated I am with the publish or perish cycle and how the focus on ROI by Granting organizations was shifting pure science from research to development.

The more it rattles in the back of my brain, the more it eats at me. It is not that development is a bad thing. Development has improved YouTube, so that more and more users can watch without having it crash. Development adds new features to AmieStreet, so that now I can send 10$ gifts to my friends ( I have a couple extra still– comment here if you are interested….). I am sure that development played a role in making the brand new Calphalon pots and pans I got for Christmas as amazing as they are. But without research, we soon stagnate and falter.

So how do we support researchers who want to do cool things, without creating another beaurocracy that slows them down? Since the Corporate mindset has invaded governments and the social ethos everywhere..( and with the recent move to block all but government sponsored video sites, I am now convinced this is even true in communist China), the current focus on ROI will prevent major funding agencies and large groups of people from supporting the sort of pure research that will take us to the next level.

At first, I thought- why not have a fund that is “Feed the Research”, instead of “Feed the Children“? People will donate 3.50$/month without thinking too much about it. Set it up in paypal and get the word out, you could actually fund something interesting. But then you need an oversight board- who decides what gets funded and based on what criteria? Oiy– back to large group mindset again. We already decided this was trouble. What about the model used by DonorsChoose, to fund small projects and the needs of teachers? Here the Teachers post what they need, donors get to choose who they want to fund and when all the money for a project is raised- voila! But these are small scale projects, and it is a whole lot easier to raise 500$ for classroom materials, than 500,000 for some seemingly whacky research project. Then there is Sellaband– a site where bands who want to record post music and fans who want them to record. Fans who like them invest in the band, until the band has raised enough( 50,000) to get a recording session. But here the fans are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts- they get profit sharing later– which take us back to the ROI issue.

I know there has to be a way to make this work, a way to fund pure research that will revolutionize our world over and over again. I am a child of the 60s and 70s SciFi, dang it.. I grew up on the Jetsons and I want my jetpacks and rocket cars 😉 How would you model this so that good research could thrive without the tentacles of profit and ROI strangling it?

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New Home

I am a long time blogger- I have had a blog on Livejournal for some time now, but in the last few months I have found myself more and more bumping up against the limits of what I could and could not do in my blog. This is a web 2.0 world, and I live it fully. I have a PalmOS Treo 700 that sends me messages for my schedule, from my kids, and from the world. I Twitter, Flickr, Meebo, Joost, Mozes, Hulu and Digg. I hang out on Facebook, LinkedIn, AmieStreet, Vox and YouTube. I love digital music and video and it is inherently entwined in who I am and what I do. I also get up and push away from my computer and interact directly with Mother Earth in a hands on fashion. I love to garden- both flower and veggie and in the summer my life is full of all things growing, and there is dirt under my nails. I love to dance- almost all forms but hardly ever have the time I want for it. I chase/shuffle/manage two teenage girls and have a partial live in fiance with two step sons. I am a gamer and love RPGs, and try to have massive gaming sessions a few times a year- at least.

I wanted my blog to reflect the interaction of pieces and parts of me, but the technical limits of LiveJournal were preventing me from doing that. So, with much thought and pondering and some little pain, I have decided to re-locate here and send a feed back there- at least for now. I also write other blogs, and if this works out and I can find an audience here, I may shift some of them here as well. So speak up, speak out and let me know you are here- you can also email or text message me directly- I take feedback in all forms.

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Blue collar computing: Overcoming high performance computing barriers

The two major barriers for companies wanting to use High Performance Computing (HPC) to solve complex problems are the cost of implementation and the difficulty of installing, maintaining, programming and using HPC systems.
While there is no question that multiprocessor parallel programming is very difficult (and getting more difficult with each leap forward made by hardware), it no longer needs to remain a barrier for companies who want to make use of these technologies.
No, we are not publishing “The Idiot’s Guide to HPC”, nor have I learned of any top secret government programs that successfully implement knowledge transfer. There are, however, resources available for manufacturers with challenging questions or simulations which could improve their processes. We will look at one approach in this article, with others to follow in future blog entries.
The Ohio Supercomputer Center is located in Columbus, OH and provides the networking backbone for all Ohio Public schools and supercomputing facilities for Ohio Higher Education. They are a state funded organization which also includes researchers and programmers. So what does the Ohio State public school computer infrastructure have to do with your manufacturing plant? The OSC has also built and is actively growing a program called “Blue Collar Computing.” This program allows industry to work with the OSC resources and utilizes their hardware and software for a fee. Since they are a state funded organization, businesses within Ohio get a discounted price, but the service is open and available to all.
There are a variety of services available to companies which can help give a business the leg up and over the barriers of cost and difficulty. Since they are providing services on a computing as utility basis, they are especially well suited for companies that have one time or infrequent problems they need to solve. A company can either bring in code they have purchased or written themselves and buy CPU cycles on the OSC hardware, or experts at the OSC can work with businesses on a project basis to develop new software which will then run on the OSC hardware. This solves some of the problems of learning curve, but even the COTS applications can be confusing and overwhelming to new users. With an understanding of this problem, the HPC community at large is moving toward building web portals, or easy to use desktop clients designed for a much more user friendly interface. OSC is no exception to this and are working with local industry consortia to find the general case problems that can be distilled into easy to use web based applications that use the power of Supercomputing on the backend to speed up processing. One example of this is a weld-simulation tool which is currently in production; they are also in the process of developing a material mix calculation tool for the polymer industry and a plant floor optimization simulation tool.
Not sure if parallel computing, clusters or HPC even makes sense for your business? The experts at OSC can work with you to analyze your problems, your code and even do test development and performance analysis before you make the commitment to investment. They have actively worked with industry in this way to bring their expert knowledge to the IT staff of businesses, leap frogging the decision making process for the businesses.
OSC is not the only state owned supercomputing center to work with industry, there are centers in other states currently engaged with industry. We will highlight the successes of these other centers in future blog entries, along with the recent partnership of national supercomputing centers with industry, for example through the DOE’s INCITE program.
Have a hard problem that you think would make a great application? Have concerns or excitement about government and industry partnerships? Questions about HPC? Comment and let us know what you think.

Nancy Glenn is a manufacturing solution design analyst and a contributor to InTech magazine.

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Life in HPC’s Fast Lane

By Nancy Glenn

How do you end up in Reno, Nev., when a chunk of the rest of the Manufacturing IT world is heading for Chicago?

I am sitting here in a lobby of the SC07 conference. That is SC, as in Super Computer, not South Carolina. Not the normal place to find a plant floor IT gal. Surrounded by computers with hundreds of CPUs, capable of many Teraflops of calculations, and IT folks who debate parallel processing algorithms between bites of conference pastry, you might wonder if I got lost on the way to the Rockwell Automation Fair. But the truth is, the use of High Performance Computing (HPC) has been growing in industry in the last few years. Not only is it used to speed up highly complex simulations, or to make Shrek render faster, it is also used by some businesses for Supply Chain Calculations. With such uses wedging the plant floor from both sides, it was inevitable it would leak down to the plant floor eventually. It has become so pervasive in industry that this year the SC committee added an entire track of talks and case study presentations on HPC in industry. From Boeing to Proctor & Gamble, folks in a range of industries are here talking about what does and doesn’t work.

So what is HPC, and how might it apply to your company? The answer is not as easy or clear as we might like. We will begin with some definitions and background, but that will be followed with a series of posts for those interested in following the HPC technology and learning more what other people are doing. We will try to look critically at what technology is available, what works and what doesn’t. What is still in development and what is production ready. Barriers for HPC, and models for overcoming those. And of course, how to meet ROI. Like anything else, this is a tool good for some problems, but not for others. Have a burning question or a topic you want to see tackled? Comment below, and we will either answer there (if it is brief) or roll it into a future blog post. We will also try to point out along the way where HPC just does not make sense. This is not about the cool, but about becoming leaner, faster, and more competitive. As a matter of fact, The U.S. Council on Competiveness has identified HPC as a critical factor in improving the flexibility and competiveness of businesses.

HPC is defined as any compute process that uses multiple processors in parallel. This could be a single muti-core machine, a cluster of single core machines, or huge multi CPU (potentially with muti core processors) computers that can compute hundreds of Teraflops. Problems that make sense to tackle in this way are ones that can be broken into small pieces, which are not interdependent and can be run in parallel, with the results collected and compiled in a final step. This could be many things from large data set sorting to digital image rendering. Many simulations are a good target for this sort of speed gain, as well as tasks as simple as histograming very large, complex data sets.

Typically, we think of HPC as requiring supercomputers—huge massive computers at the top of the class in size and speed. Computers like that are out of the price range of 99.999% of us, and silly even to consider. However, with recent technology advances, multi-processor computers can be purchased for under $2, 000. This puts them in almost anyone’s price range; now the biggest challenge is learning to program in ways that take advantage of the extra compute power. With tons of compute power at your fingertips, it becomes tempting to try to solve every problem by just throwing more compute power at it, but even at faster speeds, this consumes cycles of time—a precious commodity on the plant floor. We will try to look at how you ask the really good useful questions, and how you weed out the ones that will just waste time.

What’s hype and what’s not? Do the vendors really supply what they promise? These are all questions we will tackle as this blog moves forward. Let’s make it a community discussion: Be sure to comment, question, or tell us when you think we have missed the mark. If you are currently using HPC in any way, we would love to hear from you too. Be sure to comment or e-mail and let us know.

To get the ball rolling, you can contact me at mfghpc@gmail.com or you can just respond to this posting.

Nancy Glenn is a manufacturing solution design analyst and a contributor to InTech magazine.

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