Category Archives: Uncategorized

Intelligence¬≤ Debate – It’s Got To Be Nuclear – Initial Thoughts

I’ve just got back from the debate held by Intelligence¬≤ at the Royal Geographical Society in South Kensington.

The motion was simply – It’s got to be nuclear – although both sides agreed that the pro-nuclear camp were clear that they wanted both nuclear and renewables.

The pro arguments were pretty standard
* climate change is such a threat that we need all the tools available
* nuclear is not the threat it has been made out to be
* nuclear is the only power source that can make a dent in coal
* renewables (wind,wave,solar,tidal) can’t do base load

And the anti arguments boiled down to a few you may well have heard before

* nuclear is too expensive
* we can make do with efficiency and renewables
* nuclear vs renewables is a zero-zum game

I found both Mark Lynas and Malcolm Grimston to be entertaining and cogent. I haven’t had the pleasure of hearing Grimston before and was very impressed with his performance. He comes across as being both in command of the facts and genuinely likeable.

The part of the debate the will doubtless gain the most attention is Tom Burke’s shouty, hissy fit at Mark Lynas. In my experience accusing your opponents of being mean to you is never a good tactic. The boos from the audience would suggest that I’m not the only one that felt that.

I am in need of both food and sleep so I’ll leave you with the final vote:
For : 165
Against : 63
Undecided : 15

I’ll write us something more substantive tomorrow when I’ve had time to reflect on the actual arguments that were made rather than the superficialities.

More information at:

I Hate Dell, But Still Desire a Mini-9

Seriously Dell, do you not understand the concept of “out of stock”? I ordered my mini 9 on the 10th of February and got a nice email telling me the delivery date would be the on or before the 27th. Quite a wait, but the mini 9 is really popular and I desire it above all other netbooks.

Then I got an email on the 17th of February moving my delivery date back to the 5th of March. I was ill at the time so it made barely a dent in my virally inflicted misery.

Today I got an email cheerfully apologising for the unexpected demand and pushing my delivery date back to the 19th of March. I mean seriously, revising the delivery date the day before I was expecting to take delivery. Does that strike anyone else as professional? It’s the sort of behaviour I would expect out of a 419 scammer.

However, it’s bad form to make a decision when you are angry. Tomorrow in the clear light of day, if I can’t think of a good reason why Dell deserve my money I shall cancel the order and go and buy and Samsung NC-10.

Themes and SyntaxHighlighterPlus

After joining the modern world and finally moving the theme of my wordpress install to something other than one of the defaults I managed to find one I quite liked the look of. However after playing with it for a couple of days I realised that it had broken the excellent SyntaxHighlighter-Plus plugin.

Not a problem I thought, I’ll just find another theme that does work with the plug in. After about six or seven other themes that broke in exactly the same way it became clear that I would have to do a bit more digging. After much googling I finally found the answer buried in the comments of a blog post.

The long and the short of it is make sure that your theme calls
< ?php wp_footer(); ?>
before the end of < \body>. This is usually done in footer.php

After all that it turns out that SyntaxHighlighter Plus has a FAQ and this answer is contained therein. Doh!

I Laughed, I Cried

Godzilla and Beaker Investigate the Credit Crunch

Finance has never been the natural home of philosopher kings. It is instead the home of the rapacious vultures, dead eyed killers and Brooks Bros clad Nazgul – financiers, neither living nor dead. Two things have happened recently which have made the whole things worse. One, the old rather pissed boys who wore pinstripes and did business over five hour lunches with old, equally pissed, chums from Eton or Yale have slowly left. These guys were no good (see The Great Depression for example) but they were pissed which meant they weren’t that quick. Now they have been replaced with guys who are sober (at least during the day – at night they like to take coke and abuse strippers or the homeless), sharp as blades and twice as morality free. The second bad thing is that we have given them really powerful computers and bunch of maths PHDs who should be doing physics to run them.

Thoughts on .Astronomy

Having spent the afternoon at my desk sorting out my to-do list for tomorrow, the buzz from attending dotastronomy has almost worn off. The odd thing is, it felt more like LugRadioLive year one, rather than a scientific conference.

You might wonder what a biologist turned sysadmin was doing at an event themed around “Networked Astronomy and New Media”. I ended up there purely to network on behalf of my department. Expecting potential researchers to come to you is great, but nothing beats going out and talking to them on their home territory. However, it turned out to be a much more useful experience than that.

The conference broke down into several topics:

  • The basics of blogging and web2.0 tools
  • Using the internet for eduction and outreach
  • International Year of Astronomy
  • Robotic telescope networks and the Virtual Observatory

What really surprised my was how much of this was directly relevant to out work at ARCCA. Because we have a mission to expand the user-base of HPC at Cardiff we obviously have to be reaching out to non-specialist. I have every intention of trying to apply some of the ideas from this conference in my day job.

After Iain Steele’s talk briefly mentioned market-based assignment of telescope time the idea of a commodities market in telescope time, perhaps unfairly, became the event’s running joke. With the following lunch being spent working out all the best ways to game the market. I was particularly tickled by the thought of a consortium of astronomy bloggers disparaging the service of a particular telescope in order to artificially depress the price of it’s observing time.

To bring things back round to a more serious note Andy Lawrence’s talk on the Virtual Observatory contained much food for though. Everyone is facing the prospect of dealing with larger and larger datasets. Obviously the particle physicists are out in front, but even biological datasets start getting unwieldy when you start dealing with things like population-wide microarray surveys. The basic point being that manipulating and searching the data at the site it was captured is easier than trying to ship the entire dataset to the researchers home institution. Eventually the norm is probably going to be for compute facilities like ourselves to be hooked into systems like the VO so that computational analysis of the data in a distributed fashion becomes as easy as distributed search and filter.

The highlight of the show for me was to get to see Cardiff University’s new half-metre telescope. If any of the astronomers want a tour of the new supercomputer I’d be glad to return the favour.

In short .Astronomy was fantastic amounts of fun. I’m sure I will return to this topic in more detail when the talks start to appear on youtube and the conference proceedings come out.

Jobs and Prizes

Apparently we’ve made the shortlist of the British Computer Society 2008 IT Industry Awards. This is in the environmental category for our new compute cluster install.

In slightly less esoteric news work are advertising for two new posts at the Advanced Research Computing Division of Cardiff University. We are looking for:

Both these positions are co-funded by Bull Information Systems and will involve a significant amount of collaboration with them. On a personal note, I’ve found the Bull R&D team in France and the support team in the UK to be an absolute pleasure to work with. I would happily apply for one of these jobs except that: a) I hate people and b) I despise Fortran.

silly shell history meme

Yes I’m a sheep, I admit it.

[huw@w1199 ~]$ history|awk '{a[$2]++ } END{for(i in a){print a[i] " " i}}'|sort -rn|head
223 ./
101 rm
81 ls
73 ssh
61 ./
58 python
42 cd
40 pylint
38 sudo
28 ./

My desktop at work. No prizes for guessing what I’ve been working on recently.