Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center 

The Blog

Discover what’s happening at PSC on a daily basis—from technical updates from staffers
to research reports from users—the PSC blog has it all.

Casey’s Summer Draws to Its End

Posted in Team PSC

My last day is quickly approaching. As it draws nearer, I’ve come to a startling realization: I’m actually not looking forward to going back to school. This is odd for me; I’ve always been eager to get back to classes. I never thought the 9-5 life really suited me. Yet here I sit behind my desk at 2:20pm on a Tuesday and I feel oddly content.
            My first week or two at PSC were a bit intimidating (as I mentioned in my previous blog post). I was afraid that I’d fail, afraid that I’d realize a job in the tech field wasn’t for me, afraid that I had spent the last three years of my life devoted to something I would never enjoy. After settling in and finding my niche at PSC however, I stopped overthinking everything and I stopped being afraid.

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Blacklight: Bowing Out on a High Note

Written by Ken Chiacchia. Posted in Rivers of Data

PSC's UV system blacklightOne of the down sides to being a science writer is that, upon occasion, you ask epically stupid questions about fields you only partly understand. I had one of those moments recently in a meeting when PSC’s Sergiu Sanielevici noted that our Blacklight system was, five years after it became operational, still over-subscribed 5:1. I asked whether next year’s Bridges, with roughly 30 times the speed, 200 times the number of nodes and nine times the aggregate memory of Blacklight,* might be able to decrease that ratio.

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From Punched Cards to Petaflops

Written by Bob Stock & Sergiu Sanielevici. Posted in Team PSC

Today we’re having a bittersweet celebration at PSC:  a party in honor of Rich Raymond, our user services manager, who is retiring after 27 years of exceptional contributions to the high-performance computing community.  Before the party, PSC Associate Director Bob Stock sat down with Scientific Applications and User Support Group director Sergiu Sanielevici to reminisce about the joys of working with Rich.

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Mind The Gap: Modeling Synaptic Function

Posted in Quick Science

For centuries humans have been interested in the structure and, of course, the function of the brain. An average human brain weighs 3 lb and has a volume of around 1,200 cubic centimeters. Its function derives from 86 billion nerve cells, so called neurons, which are connected to each other in highly complex ways by structures called synapses. Since each neuron has around 10,000 synapses the brain contains trillions of these synaptic connections. To complicate matters further, as the brain is processing, storing, and erasing information it is constantly adding synapses, removing others, and strengthening or weakening the rest. Importantly, the neurons in the brain are not just haphazardly and randomly connected together. Rather, the brain is highly structured and compartmentalized functionally according to distinct roles such as vision or movement in ways that we don't understand very much at all (yet).

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Boot Camp Hybrid Competition Underway

Written by John Urbanic. Posted in Tech Nodes

Last year it was for a trophy, this year it is for real hardware. The XSEDE Summer Boot Camp has wrapped up its classes and the 2nd Annual Hybrid Computing Challenge is now off and running. Which of the 260 students from 12 sites will use the parallel programming techniques taught during the week to win the NVIDIA K40?

tesla k80 3qtr

NVIDIA's K40 GPU Accelerator 

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Is it really June?

Written by Robin Flaus Scibek. Posted in Bits & Bytes

Is anyone else having a hard time with the fact that 2015 seems to be flying by? For some reason I keep thinking it's April. I even went so far as to write "April" instead of "June" in the date section of a check yesterday.  I guess I need to come to terms with it though, because June is a busy month for us here at PSC, especially when it comes to education and training.


Klaus Shulten lecturing on Statistical Mechanics of Proteins to MMBios Workshop partcipants today.

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Striking a Match

Written by Ken Chiacchia. Posted in Quick Science

No names, but we just learned that a friend had to undergo an unexpected kidney transplant. With little warning time, it wouldn’t have been possible to find a live donor. But as transplants have become more routine—it’s odd that we can use that word to describe a lifesaving procedure that is nothing short of astonishing in its technical complexity—live donation has become increasingly popular.

Example organ exchange pool with three patient-donor pairs (di/pi, dj/pj and dk/pk) and one altruistic donor (a). Arrows denote movement of an organ.

Example of an organ exchange pool with three patient-donor pairs (d is a donor, p is a patient, a is an altruistic donor). Arrows show the movement of an organ.

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What Made Us Stronger?

Written by Ken Chiacchia. Posted in Quick Science

The author, with non-kin friends, atlatling. Image by Heather Houlahan.

About a year ago, a number of friends (few of whom are relatives) gathered at our place to enjoy a 21st century “farm party.” People pet the new lambs and kids; we enjoyed barbecued chickens that my wife Heather and I had raised the previous year (and stored in our freezer). Our dogs played the gracious hosts, mingling and entertaining—and if a hot dog fell where a dog could eat it, all the better. Those of legal age enjoyed beer, or partook of a batch of Heather’s black-raspberry daiquiris (virgin version available for the kids).

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Casey at the Bat: My First Three Weeks as an Intern

Posted in Team PSC

Casey Madden After a few cups of coffee to compensate for a night spent tossing and turning I began the walk to my new internship. I might have been cutting it close leaving my house at 8:45am, but nobody told me what time to come in so I gambled on 9:00am. I silently cursed myself for not emailing someone asking for an actual start time. What if I was supposed to come in at 8? Who comes in late on the first day? Am I already on the verge of being fired?  How did I even get this internship? All sorts of anxiety-laden thoughts flew threw my head, propelled by the inhumane amounts of coffee I had consumed.

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TCP/IP, ACKs, and You

Written by Chris Rapier. Posted in Tech Nodes

The Internet has become, to many people and in many ways, a utility that we depend on in many aspects of our daily lives. When we turn the taps in our kitchen, we expect water to come out. When we turn a switch, we expect the lights to come on. Likewise, when we plug in a cable or join a wireless network, we expect to be connected to the wider digital world. We rarely think about it except when it doesn’t work. The reason why we generally don’t have to think about it is because of the decades of research, engineering, and development of network infrastructure that have been undertaken. The end result of this work is that most people can access all of the Internet by just clicking on “Connect to Network.”  However, if we peel back this facade of simplicity we can see the underlying complexity that allows this information utility to work.

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Top 5 Reasons to Attend XSEDE15

Written by Robin Flaus Scibek. Posted in Bits & Bytes

With XSEDE15 just a little over two months away (can you even believe it's May already!), we polled PSC staffers who have gone to previous XSEDE conferences to get their thoughts on the conference.  They had a lot of great suggestions and we noticed some recurring themes. This led us to the top five reasons to attend XSEDE15, held this year in St Louis:


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PSC Networking Group is Reno-vated

Written by Deb Nigra. Posted in Team PSC

Seems like destiny. But even though Mr. and Mrs. Angeletti  chose Reno, the name of an algorithm to prevent network congestion as the middle name for their baby boy Rich, they couldn’t have known that he would grow up to be a network engineer. In fact Rich, PSC’s new senior network engineer, didn’t expect it himself.


PSC’s new senior network engineer, Rich Angeletti. 

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Claudico at the Bat

Written by Ken Chiacchia. Posted in Quick Science

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.—Casey at the Bat, Earnest Lawrence Thayer

There is rapidly diminishing joy around here. The math is building up, and it doesn’t look great.

“It’s common for a guy to be $200,000 up in Texas hold ’em and still lose,” said Doug Polk, the world’s number one ranked poker player, at the beginning of the “Brains vs. Artificial Inelligence” tournament at the Rivers Casino here in Pittsburgh. I’d held onto that throught through the end of play on Friday, April 24, when Claudico, CMU’s AI poker player, had been some 150 large in the hole against four of the planet’s top 10 poker players. Claudico even gave me a jolt of hope over the weekend, on Saturday regaining nearly $90,000 against the four players collectively (though still not overtaking the humans in the cumulative score).

Jason Les, Doug Polk, Bjorn Li, Dong Kim & Tuomas Sandholm

Poker pros Jason Les, Doug Polk, Bjorn Li, Dong Kim with CMU computer science professor, Tuomas Sandholm

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Data Jamming in Pittsburgh

Written by Cheryl Begandy. Posted in Rivers of Data

galaxy 2015 data jam bethel park social

What causes potholes?  How does fracking impact the quality of water? What is the ROI on a decision to enter college or the workforce after high school? What effect do economic policies have on actual economic growth?  How does the number of bars in an area impact the incidence of theft? Would starting the school day later improve the academic performance of high school students?

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