Monday, November 23, 2020

Video: Powered Parachute Floating by the Cabin

Pretty cool video of someone having a nice sunset float in the sky over Lake Travis.  Taken November 21, 2020.

Video: Felling an Oak Tree at My Cabin

Here is a video of me having fun with my chain saw.  This is one of the several trees we took down around my cabin to make way for new construction.  Luckily I still have lots of good oaks remaining on the lot.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Computer Architecture: Efficient Micro Parallel Synchronization Mechanisms

I have often wondered why modern computer instruction set architectures do not have more efficient parallel synchronization mechanisms.  Current mainstream microprocessor designs currently support two types of parallelism.

  • Very fine grain
    • Hardware based implicit instruction level
    • Implemented via advanced pipeline register renaming.
    • Synchronization delays on the order of a single cycle.
  • Very course grain
    • Software based explicit thread synchronization primitives
    • Implemented via atomic memory instructions.
    • Synchronization delays on the order of thousands of cycles or more.
With CPU clock frequencies beginning to plateau it may be time to revisit architectural synchronization models as a method to continue improving overall program performance.  If we have any bright PHD candidates reading this fishing for a dissertation topic, please consider this.

I would like to see an efficient software visible instruction level synchronization mechanism.  For example, something like a 'Queue Register'.  Some existing IO registers track read and write state.  I'm thinking some general purpose registers could similarly be architected for managing data flow synchronization at the register data level.  Such registers could essentially stall the execution pipeline on reads until a write to that register has occurred.  So the register effectively acts as a 'data queue'.  This would enable software control of fine grain parallelism, opening up potentially more real parallelism than relying on hardware to extract parallelism from an inherently sequential programming model.

Implementation Details: 

Since all compute state needs to be visible in order to stop, save, and later restart a process, status bits will also need to track the read/write data state of each queue register.  CPU pipelines could be redesigned to key off of these explicit reg data states, instead of implicit internal hardware states.  Just like current hardware threads swap in whichever thread has data ready, these new threads could work the same way.  The primary difference being the data ready state is now software architecturally visible.

Further note that these hardware queue registers are effectively thread state ready registers, analogous to ready state flags in operating system thread schedulers.  Since these ready flags are intended for micro data level parallelism, they should be closely aligned to the real register thread state supported by the hardware, as opposed to some arbitrary virtual state that relies on time slicing and swapping threads in and out of hardware.  While time slicing is theoretically possible it would blow up performance by 10000 times, entirely defeating the advantage of micro level parallelism.

So there is a different mind set when programming this level of parallelism.  This type of parallelism should have some awareness of the number of hardware threads efficiently supported by hardware, as opposed to some very course grain parallelism that has little concern about real hardware thread counts.  The implication is that this level of coding is more appropriate for hand coded assembly or for compilers.
Food for thought.



Politics: The Political Divide (Urban verses Rural)

The 2020 US presidential election is over and it looks like Joe Biden will be replacing Donald Trump as the next US president.  From what I've gathered from the talking heads on network TV and the internet there is a lot of angst about our deeply divided country.  Some even talk about doing away with the Electoral College.  

When I look at the electoral results map it is blindingly painfully obvious that conservative red districts are rural, and liberal blue districts are urban.  This makes perfect sense to me so I don't get why this is so hard for the major media talking heads to understand.  A rural farmer living on a 100 acre farm by absolute necessity has to be far more self sufficient and independent than a desk jockey living in a high rise condo in a large metropolis.  Duh.  This ain't rocket science. 

If you live on a rural farm, and someone is breaking into your house in the middle of the night, you don't hide in the closet and dial 911, you grab your gun and deal with it.  Waiting an hour for the sheriff to arrive is not an option, especially if you have family.  

When you're plowing your field and your tractor breaks down you get your toolbox and start diagnosing what is wrong.  Why ?  Because waiting a week for a repairmen is not an option for your crop schedule or your wallet.

Global warming ?  That is concerning, but more concerning right now for the working rural poor are their bleeding knuckles and what their family is going to eat tonight.

So can we please stop demonizing the working rural poor who voted for less federal bureaucracy and more job security in their lives ?  Donald Trump may be a self serving ass, but that doesn't mean he is always wrong.  Let's not forget there is a reason he got elected for his first term.

And regarding the Electoral College, this is the mechanism that the framers of the constitution came up with to balance out the rural state needs with the urban population focused house of representatives.  Anyone who talks about scrapping the Electoral College without some other mechanism to represent the working rural poor is risking disenfranchising the working rural poor.  That is self serving, oppressive, and potentially grounds for civil war, so uh, probably not a good idea.

So please remember, we don't all live in high rise urban condos and have high paying jobs.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The McLaughlin Group

I miss John McLaughlin.

John McLaughlin brought together opinions from both the left and right in one show in an intelligent, informative, and entertaining fashion.  It seems every news show I watch now is hopelessly partisan and panders to one side or the other.  Listening to just one side of an issue not only impairs your judgement, it can harm your mental health and depress you.  It is literally how brain washing is done.

I notice that the show has recently rebooted on You tube with a new host.

This show has potential, but is not yet as good as the original.  Please keep bringing in new smart faces for both sides of current topics.  Hopefully some new leading personalities will develop.  

Make no mistake.  Both the left and right have have done plenty of evil before and will do so again if left unchecked.  If you don't present both sides of current issues, you are part of the problem, not the solution.  And if you're really cool (like John) you can even make it entertaining.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

AI: Artificial Intelligence

A few thoughts on AI and the future

The Promise of AI
Make a list of the worst problems in the world.  Imagine what would happen if you brought some super intelligence to that problem.  It makes me think the future may really get better.  Fascinating.  For example:
  • Big Problems to solve
    • Poverty 
      • Poverty is a big hard problem that intersects human social behavior, population, and natural resources.  It is important to realize that poverty can never be solved 100 %.  Humans have free will.  The most that can be accomplished is to enable and encourage able and willing persons to help themselves.   Think along the lines of an available Personal Virtual Advisor for every person born.  Even though we can't save those who don't want help, getting good advice from a trusted personal advisor would be a dramatic improvement over the current situation in the world today.  Today countless children are born into homes with parents who are ill equipped to offer any sound advice about important life decisions.  A super smart personal advisor could make a giant difference in poverty and general quality of life for many currently disadvantaged persons.
    • Effective Government Policy
    • Diagnostic medicine
    • Others ?

Beyond solving problems a super intelligence could push forward new technologies

  • New technologies
    • Artificial human organs
      • Want to live to 200 years or more ?
    • Artificial super strength human limbs
      • Want to run 30 miles an hour ?
      • Want to pick up a 400 pound box ?
    • Computer to human brain interfaces
      • Just think 'hey Google' to access any information in the world.
    • Artificial super vision or hearing
      • Want a better look at that stranger 100 yards away ?
      • Want to hear that conversation 100 yards away ?
    • Artificial human wings
      • Please please please yes.
      • I really want to be able to fly like a bird with wings I can flap.
    • Energy technologies
    • Spaceship design and propulsion
    • Personalized education
    • Others ?
The Danger of AI 

As some blockbuster movies have shown and some public figures have agreed, the dangers of AI are real.  It is naive to think that we can contain an intelligence 1000 times smarter than any human.  Maybe when AIs are twice as smart as us they will still have empathy for us like we do for apes.  But when they get to be 1000 times as smart as us humans will be like insects to them.  Also be aware they will be able to learn in seconds what takes us years to learn via our biological brains.  So given sufficient memory and compute processors they could learn in minutes what mankind has taken thousands of years to learn.
  • AI is more dangerous than nuclear energy
    • As such we need to think very carefully about how to proceed, particularly as the computational power of new computers approaches the human brain.  Regulating the computational / memory capacity of new computers may in fact be the key to safe forward progress.  
  • Open Source AI
    • Given the importance and danger of AI, making the source code open is important.
    • It seems to me web browsers are pushing the envelope on AI technology.  Many people routinely type questions into Google now to get answers for all manner of questions.  It seems to me we need more / better open source web browsers.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

I'm Retired

Effective August 28th 2020, I am officially retired from corporate life.  I worked for 35 plus years, mostly for various semiconductor companies in Austin Texas.  I split that time alternating between working on instruction set simulators, and core design verification, most recently at AMD.  While I'm grateful for the paycheck these last several years, I have to say I'm happy to have the politics of large corporate America now behind me.

Going forward I expect to spend my time doing three things:

  1. Rebuilding my retirement cabin.  This will be a near term focus as I don't have the energy I had when I was younger for such physical activity, so the sooner the better.  Also the sooner I get it done the sooner I can enjoy it. 
  2. Traveling.  After the pandemic is behind us, and the weather is pleasant (probably next spring) I plan to buy a new van and drive a big loop around the country.  I tend to get bored quickly when I travel but do enjoy some sightseeing particularly when I am doing the driving and can control the pace and schedule.  I've made a smaller loop to the West coast before in my current van and enjoyed it.  I've traveled some in the past, including internationally, but have yet to the see the northwest and northeast corners of the US.  So this seems like a good time to make that long drive.  Anybody have any suggestions ?  From a scenic point of view I especially like the Rocky mountains, but I have already seen them multiple times.  I've also seen the Grand Canyon.  I have yet to see Meteor Crater in Arizona, so that is on my list for this trip. 
  3. RISCV.  As I indicated in a previous post, I'm a fan of this architecture, both technically and politically.  I think this will do for computer architecture, what Linux did for Operating Systems.  So as a way of continuing to exercise my mind, and potentially supplement my retirement income, I hope to make a few contributions here to help push this technology forward...