I have joined the rat race!

Postby Acolyte on Fri Nov 12, 2004 11:39 am

I'm not getting old. I am old.

My line of work isn't particularly though. It's just a reflection of how computer power is used and how that's changed. It took some of the fastest computers available to process the paltry amount of telemetry from Apollo. Nowadays we process the telemetry from a constellation of 5 complex communications satellites with about 20,000 measurands each on a network of machines that are mostly over 5 years old and that, even if they could run Windows, would choke on Counterstrike.

(I'm nowhere near old enough to have worked on Apollo. I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon when I was 6 years old. That was just a prominent example.)
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Postby Clem on Fri Nov 12, 2004 2:42 pm

So, your job is facilitating communication with things beyond the Earth. You'r Grey Jack!
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Postby Mirober on Wed Nov 17, 2004 1:58 am

Acolyte wrote:Ancient machines aren't necessarily evil. (It also depends on what you're calling ancient.) I do most of my work on >5 year old Alpha VMS boxes.


Right now, we're on VAX boxes; I'm not positive, but I think they're from the late eighties. We're in the process of porting everything over to the "new" Alphas now (which, apparently, I'm going to be involved in; be afeared, be very afeared).

They still do what we bought them to do, so we've had no reason to upgrade for a while now. Similar line of work too. Funny how aerospace doesn't need the latest and greatest hardware anymore.


Mm. To paraphrase one of my Professors: We don't need more computing power to run military, business, or educational applications; we need it so that video game characters can blow the sh*t out of each other.
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Postby Acolyte on Wed Nov 17, 2004 8:50 am

Still on VAXen? Yeesh. You'll love the Alpha though. They're really nifty 64-bit processors, especially considering when they were made.

They're certainly nothing to be afraid of. Unix geeks tend to run down VMS because they think it's needlessly arcane and complex. Truth is they're just unfamliar with it, and I can assure you that *nix looks the same from the other side of the fence. Perhaps you need to recite the Litany Against Ph34r:

I must not ph34r. Ph34r is the 5k1llz-killer. Ph34r is the little-h4x0r that makes me pwn3d. I will allow my ph34r to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn my inner 1 to see its p1ng. And when the ph34r is gone, there will be z1p. Only l33t will remain.
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Postby Seafog the 3rd on Thu Nov 18, 2004 11:47 pm

ACK, l33t. :P And how old are you Acolyte? Early 40's? I wasn't born yet when man last walked on the moon. I'm 29, and waiting rather impatiently for a permanently manned moonbase.

Hmmm, I'll dispute your Prof on the military and business apps part of that. Hell, simulation (the video game characters bit) has always been huge in military apps, all the way back to flight simulators. You can even see mechanical versions in the movie Apollo 13 (awesome movie BTW). And the importance of data awareness and manipulation in the military is going through a massive skyrocket in importance. It was always extremely important, but the ability to have it in real time is huge, bigger then huge. Aerospace is just INCREDIBLY stingy on bandwidth and doesn't need the big boxen to deal with the resulting data transmissions. You use the big boxen for other, slightly more secondary, concerns. Like the other kinds of simulations. Business' uses things like data mining, and if I'm not mistaken are the biggest consumers of computer hardware. Am I wrong? Now that I think about it, I'm probably preaching to the choir.

What are VAXs and ALPHAs? When were they made?

So what is that sketch anyway Matt? She looks like shes got an air of competence about her, as well as panty straps from the more 'interesting' types of underwear. Not a combination I was expecting (from you anyway).
'Never appeal to a man's 'better nature'. He may not have one. Invoking his self-intrest gives you more leverage.' -Lazarus Long
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Postby Mirober on Fri Nov 19, 2004 3:10 am

Seafog the 3rd wrote:Hmmm, I'll dispute your Prof on the military and business apps part of that.


Actually, what he said was indeed that the majority of computing power is for simulations, which he happened to lump video games under. Like I said, paraphrasing (and more likely than not misremembering).


What are VAXs and ALPHAs? When were they made?


Wikipedia's entries for
VAXen and

Alphas. VAX come from the seventies and eighties, Alphas from the early nineties. Alpha's (if I understand correctly) were some of the first computers to use a 64-bit architecture (something I'm apparently going to become intimately familiar with, as I help in porting the 32-bit code from the VAXen).

So what is that sketch anyway Matt? She looks like shes got an air of competence about her, as well as panty straps from the more 'interesting' types of underwear. Not a combination I was expecting (from you anyway).


That would be my favorite were-raven gun-bunny assasin, Tsukuri (one of Morrigan's goons).
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Postby Acolyte on Fri Nov 19, 2004 8:52 am

Seafog the 3rd wrote:ACK, l33t. :P And how old are you Acolyte? Early 40's? I wasn't born yet when man last walked on the moon. I'm 29, and waiting rather impatiently for a permanently manned moonbase.

I've been waiting longer. Yes, I'm 41. A bit old to still be an acolyte, but some of us are slow learners, I suppose.

Mirober wrote:Alpha's (if I understand correctly) were some of the first computers to use a 64-bit architecture (something I'm apparently going to become intimately familiar with, as I help in porting the 32-bit code from the VAXen).


They were more like one of the first 64-bit microprocessors. There were earlier ones in the mainframe world. I used to work on a CDC Cyber... um... 960 I think, which was a few years older. Funny thing about that machine is that if you were using the older NOS instead of the latest and greatest NOS/VE operating system, the upper 4 bits of each word were locked off which left you with the same 60 bit word as on older Cybers.

You will note 60 is not divisible by 8. We used octal, and 6-bit bytes. Yes, that was a bit limiting, but it was close to I was used to at the time. The mainframe my college had for us to work on was a DECSystem-10, which had a 36-bit word. This was the early 80's. The college had a VAX, but it was for research only. If you weren't a grad student with a thesis to complete there was no way you were going to get an account on it. Hell, the only reason I had a timeshareing account on the DEC-10 was because I was a CS major. Eveyone else had to drop their cards in the bin and pray.

Alphas were actually being made until just about a year ago or so. Following a lawsuit a lot of that tech got licensed to Intel, which used it in the Opteron. Screwed it up along the way of course, but that has a lot to do with why HP (which bought out Compaq, which bought out DEC) is porting VMS to the Opteron, and why Compaq/HP chose to terminate the line at this time.

Our own VAX to Alpha conversion effort was about 10 years ago now, and I don't remember what the major issues were. Some system calls behaved differently. There were alignment issues. You had to twiddle the linker differently to get Fortran commons and C globals to map onto each other properly. You have to be careful when reading in binary floating-point zeroes from files written by the VAX. (Alpha has this amazing FPP, but it's real cranky about floating point numbers not in canonical form that the VAX would just deal with.) Other than that, I think it went pretty smoothly. C ints still default to 32 bits, as do Fortran INTEGERs, so we didn't have much of that kind of thing to deal with. There's even a compiler that lets you run VAX MACRO on the Alpha with minimal tweaking. It was still an effort: when you're moving a couple of million lines of code from one platform to another even issues that are relatively rare can crop up with some frequency.

Geez, listen to me. I ought to have a beard and suspenders. Well, I've got the beard anyway...
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