Friday, April 25, 2008

Modu – The Core of a Mobile Phone

If you could take the mobile phone apart and then use the blocks to imbue another device with wireless communications capability, what would you call it? Try Modu which breaks the mobile phone down into its core components and makes wireless communications into a module that can be combined and reconfigured to work with a variety of devices.

Currently, users have one phone which they use for everything but there are times when a user could benefit from a phone customized to the activity – say a ruggedized phone for outdoor applications, or a business phone for the office, or a gaming phone for play. The Modu module can fit inside a larger case creating a customized phone for each application. The screen and battery are also adaptable to the application.

The unit weighs than less than 1.5 ounces and is smaller than an iPod Nano. You can see a video of the developers describing the modu on YouTube. The mobile phone is growing not only in subscribers but also in functionality. Breaking it down into a set of standard components positions itself for use in virtual instrumentation applications.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, April 18, 2008

OpenSolaris – Proprietary Code Moves to Open Source

In reading the news today we see users drawing up a petition to save Microsoft Windows XP which is scheduled to shop shipping in June of this year. Microsoft extended the deadline once already but it appears this time it may go for sure. Take a look at any open discussion forum on technical support and you’ll see numerous comments—sometimes tirades – against Microsoft’s Vista software. The incompatibilities, the increased hardware requirements, the reduced performance levels all raise the ire of the users to the point that they are circulating a petition which basically says “we don’t want Vista.” As the age of the internet moves forward, Microsoft increasingly looks anachronistic.

An alternative path is the one Sun took when it repositioned it’s Solaris OS from a proprietary system to an open source version. The Open Solaris Project takes a subset of the OS code and makes it available as a resource rather than an end-user product. Sun provides no support but let’s the community support itself.

The ultimate goal of Open Solaris is performance. From the mission statement to the tutorials, to the Wiki Open Solaris focuses on improving the performance of the OS in order to improve the performance of the measurement.

CERN also uses Sun Solaris and prefers it when the number of systems reaches a certain threshold. Sun Solaris typically runs on more reliable hardware where high availability of machines is required. You can read more about CERN’s Linux and Sun Solaris usage here.

As with most technologies the promise never quite reaches the initial hype surrounding it. With the web at our fingertips, the historical accuracy of many predictions can be examined. In this article the Year of Open Solaris was declared with great fanfare but the author wonders if it will really over take Linux. It hasn’t.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Large Synoptic Telescope – The GUI Challenge

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope is an 8.4 meter telescope aimed at covering the full sky view every three nights to capture supernovas and other faint but rapid action events in the night sky. You can see animation drawings of the telescope design here. The telescope is designed to survey a a wide view of the sky at once. The telescope uses a 3-mirror design and must capture and store 30 Terabytes of data every night. Construction will begin in 2010 with first light in 2015.

Sponsors of the telescope which is due to be built in Chile by 2014 include Google along with Brookhaven National Laboratory; Columbia University; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Johns Hopkins University; Stanford University; Princeton University; Pennsylvania State University; University of Arizona; University of California, Davis; University of California, Irvine; and the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the trends in large astronomy projects is the need for a user interface that can cope with the complexity of the system. In this paper the authors discuss the challenges coming up and highlight the user interface as one key area that needs a solution. LabVIEW brings user interface tools to the problem of a multi-level control system that other languages most notably C++ do not.

Best regards,
Hall T.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Scientific Linux – The Big Physics Community Linux of Choice

In the Big Physics community, Linux is quite popular. Having met with numerous groups, Linux almost always comes up as a topic of discussion and in many cases it’s part of their labs roadmap for rolling out control, test, and other systems. The first issue is cost. Microsoft Windows costs $100 or more for each computer and when you have hundreds of systems, it adds up to real money fast. The second issue is support. Some claim that almost any problem with Linux (seeking a driver, asking a technical question, etc.) can be found on Google since the Linux community is quite large.

To reduce redundancy and provide commonality, Fermilab and CERN have anointed a version of Linux as Scientific Linux.

The FAQ on the site talks about the foundation of Scientific Linux as the “Enterprise version” of Linux. I believe it’s based on a version of Red Hat Linux but the FAQ declines to mention it citing trademark restrictions.

As always the issue of support comes up since the community provides it rather than a particular vendor. Fermi Lab offered a Fermi Linux so the support users found with that version will probably be what they find with the Scientific Linux version.

A general history of Scientific Linux can be found here.

Best regards,
Hall T.