[Beowulf] A cluster of Arduinos

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Thu Jan 12 13:10:24 EST 2012

-----Original Message-----
From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On Behalf Of Ellis H. Wilson III
Sent: Thursday, January 12, 2012 9:26 AM
To: beowulf at beowulf.org
Subject: Re: [Beowulf] A cluster of Arduinos

On 01/12/2012 10:21 AM, Vincent Diepeveen wrote:
> On Jan 12, 2012, at 4:10 PM, Lux, Jim (337C) wrote:
>> This is exactly the population you want to hit.  Bring in 100 
>> advanced high school (grade 11-12 in US) students.  Have them all use 
>> cheap hardware to do a cluster.  Some fraction will think, "this is 
>> kind of cool, maybe I should major in CS instead of X"  Some fraction 
>> will think,
> Your example here will just take care a big number of students don't 
> want to have to do anything with those studies, as there is a few lame 
> nerds there who toy with equipment that's factor 50k slower (adding to 
> the factor 500 the object oriented slowdown of factor 100)  than what 
> they have at home, and it can do nothing useful.
> But in this specific case you'll just scare away students and the real 
> clever ones will get total desinterested as you are busy with lame 
> duck speed type cpu's.

You have made it abundantly clear you aren't interested in enrolling in such a course.  Thanks for your comments.

On a related note, as I was thinking about 'lame duck' education, I remembered that I took an undergraduate machine learning course in which we designed players for connect-four, which would compete using recently learned techniques against other students in the class.  Despite that particular game being a solved one, we all had a blast and got quite competitive trying to beat each other out using the recently acquired skills.  I would encourage Jim to do something similar once the basics of cluster administration are done -- perhaps a mini SC Cluster Competition would be a neat application for the Arduinos?

Ooohh.. that sounds *very* cool..  

A bunch of slow processors.
A simple problem to solve (e.g. 3D tic-tac-toe) for which there might even be published parallel approaches
The challenge is effectively using the limited system, warts and all.

The RaspberryPI might be a better vehicle, if it hits the price/availability targets: Comparable to Arduinos in price, but a bit more sophisticated and less contrived.

We've been talking about what kind of software competitions JPL could run as a recruiting tool at Universities, and that's along those lines.  Hmm... I wonder if they'd be willing to spend recruiting funds on that?  (probably not.. we're all poor this fiscal year)

And, on the undergrad education thing... At UCLA, I had to write stuff in MIXAL to run on a simulated MIX machine and complained mightily to the TAs, who just pointed to the sacred texts of Knuth, rather than giving an intelligent response as to why we didn't do something like work in PDP-11 ASM or System/360 BAL. (UCLA at the time had a monster 360, but I don't know that they had many 11s, and realistically, BAL is not something I'd inflict on 2nd quarter first year students.   We were a PL/I or PL/C shop in the first couple years' classes for the most part, although there were people doing Algol)

OTOH, I suspect was an atypical incoming student for 1977.

 I had, the previous year, done the Pascal courses at UCSD with p-machines running on LSI-11s as well as the Pascal system on the big Burroughs B6700, which uses a form of ALGOL as the machine language and is a stack machine to boot (how cool is that? Burroughs always did have cool machines.. Hey, they built ILLIAC IV). I had also done some ASM stuff on an 11/20 under RT-11.    I guess that's characteristic of the differences in philosophy between different CS departments  (UCSD was heading more in the direction of Software Engineering being part of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, while UCLA it was part of the Math department.  Little did I know, as a cybernetics major, what the difference was: It sure as heck isn't manifested in the course catalog, at least in a form that a incoming student could discern.  Going back now, I could probably look at catalogs from the various universities of the era and divine their philosophies, but that's clearly 2020 hindsight
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