March 13th, 2010

Odd Lots

  • It happens all the time, but it's rare that we actually watch it happen: a comet falling into the Sun. (It's unclear to me what the brief tiny streaks are, since SOHO is a spacecraft and the image was not taken through Earth's atmosphere, where meteors would look like that. Meteors in the solar atmosphere?)
  • The SOHO spacecraft may also be shedding some light on why the recent solar minimum was so deep.
  • We've identified what may be a much better proxy for ancient climate: clam shells. Unlike tree growth rings, which may be affected by several factors like rainfall, sunlight, soil chemistry, and so on, clam shell growth (and the mix of isolotopes, particularly oxygen) seem very closely correlated to the temperature of the water in which the clam lived out its life.
  • Intel's Nehalen-based Gulftown CPU has been officially announced, with six 3.33 GHz cores and 32 nm traces connecting a boggling 1.2 billion transistors. They're calling it the Core I7-980X Extreme Edition, and it fits the LGA 1366 socket, which implies than it can be swapped in as an upgrade. (No confirmation on that yet.) You may be able to get an overclocked desktop system running all six cores at 4.3 GHz by April. And if that's not enough cores for you (four is way more than enough for me, if this past year's experience is any guide) we'll be seeing the eight-core Nehalen-EX (with 2.3 billion transistors) later this year, nominally for the server market.
  • I know, I know, AMD has its Magny-Cours 12-core Opteron server CPU, but the cores only run at 1.7 GHz--and more to the point, exist on two separate side-by-side six-core dies, which may be cheating a little. I'm sure they're very good chips, but sheesh! We still don't know how to do parallelism in general terms. Even AMD is puzzled, so they launched a contest titled, "What would you do with 48 cores?"
  • And if you don't believe me, open Windows Task Manager, click the Performance tab, and watch all your cores but one do nothing. To paraphrase George Carlin: What do cores do on their day off? They can't just lay around...that's their job!
  • Frank Glover put me on to an interesting hand-drawn animated movie that I hope to see fairly soon, if I can find anywhere playing it. (Distribution in the US is inexplicably a problem for them.) The Secret of Kells is about the Book of Kells, and (more intriguingly) is drawn in the style of medieval manuscript illumination. It took a few seconds watching the trailer to catch on, but eventually I had the feeling that I was watching manuscript illuminations come to life. Damned cool.
  • And 229 years ago today, Sir Frederick William Herschel first spotted Uranus.