Toured National Petascale Computing Facility

Jackie and I got a tour of the NCSA’s National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois today, where they’re getting ready to install the Blue Waters supercomputer.

This picture shows just the power stations—all the space between these units will, over the next few months, be filled with rack after rack of water-cooled POWER7 modules. (A big part of the building houses cooling towers to dissipate that heat).

There are a couple of supercomputers already installed at the other end of the room, including the EcoG, designed and built by students to enter into a contest for energy-efficient supercomputers. (It took 3rd place overall , and was declared the “greenest self-built cluster.”)

It was build on ordinary commercial-grade racks, which turned out not to be quite strong enough to support all the hardware they were installing—you can see where they braced it with two-by-fours.

A week earlier, we’d attended a tour of the NCSA’s Data Visualization Lab, where we’d been treated to a bunch of 3D videos (shown on a very large, very high-res screen) produced on various supercomputers. It was pretty cool, but I didn’t get any photos worth sharing.

Because I’m a big geek about security and related topics, I was particularly interested in the facility’s secure entry. Employees need to swipe a proximity card and submit to an iris scan. Only after the cylinder closes behind them does it open in front—and it won’t do that if a weight sensor suggests that there’s more than one person in the cylinder.

Secure entry at the National Petascale Computing Facility

Those of us on the tour just walked in through a door next to the secure entryway.

New water amenity

Our new "water amenity."

I was trying to come up with a word to describe the degree of progress they’d made toward finishing the landscaping here. The dirt is there, so it isn’t landless-scaping, and the contours are in place so it isn’t land-scapelessing. With only one remaining word fragment to work with, all I could come up with is landscape-ingless.

(I blame English for using “landscaping” to refer to both the changes made to the land itself and to features like sculptures and plantings.)

Every since they first tried to sell the community on turning Scott Park into a detention pond by claiming that “anyplace else it would be considered a water amenity,” Jackie and I have been using the term “water amenity” for any feature constructed to deal with the runoff from development.

There’s nothing like calling your ditches, impoundments, detentions, and retention ponds “water amenities” to class up the joint.

Knitted Slugs

Slugs, originally uploaded by bradipo.

A couple years back, Steven expressed an interest in a slug stuffy, seeing as how its his totemic animal and all. Jackie knitted him a slug for his birthday. (Here’s a picture of Steven admiring his slug.)

The additional slugs she knitted sold pretty well, so she decided to knit some more this year. The three middle slugs (Pumpkin Slug, Blueberry Slug, and Quarry Slug) will be available for purchase at the Spinners and Weavers Guild Annual Show and Sale, coming up Friday and Saturday this week. (The first and last slugs are our household slugs.)

Creative Commons License
Slugs by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Shozo Sato at Japan House

Noted Zen artist Shozo Sato gave a talk on black ink painting and calligraphy at an open house for the Japan House on the University of Illinois campus.

It was a wide-ranging talk, starting with his own history at the University and at Japan House and his earlier work here with kabuki theater. Then he went on to talk about black ink (the same ink is used for painting and for calligraphy): how the blocks of ink are made, about how there are two colors of black ink (a slightly red warm black and a slightly blue cool black), and about how an electron microscopic image of the brush strokes of a piece of calligraphy looks distinctly different from a similar image of the artist’s signature (even though they’re made with the same ink, same brush, and by the same hand).

He talked about and demonstrated some painting techniques involving crumpling the paper—wadding it up to make random crinkles, and then painting the peaks of the crinkles to show a texture like a rocky surface, or folding it up and painting the edges of the folds to show a texture like clefts in a mountainside. (Then you can dampen the paper and the folds will relax.)

Calligraphy is going to be the topic of his next book, and he demonstrated that briefly. He showed us how to hold the brush (vertical, with the elbow high). Then, after pausing for a long moment, he quickly drew a few Japanese characters with bold strokes.

After just that one calligraphy example, he finished by talking about traditional Japanese and Chinese black ink painting. He showed us the basic brush strokes—thick-to-thick, thick-to-thin, and thin-thick-thin—and demonstrated how you can use them to draw a bamboo plant. (He even showed us an ancient Chinese secret: You can easily paint a leaf that goes behind the stem by masking the stem with another piece of paper as you paint.)

After the talk, he autographed copies of his new book Sumi-e: The Art of Japanese Ink Painting. (That page at Amazon has a video of Shozo Sato demonstrating black ink painting techniques.)

After the talk, walking through the Japanese tea garden, I wrote a haiku. In the original Esperanto it is:

La majstro staras
brosho en mano kaj jen!
Rapide skribas.

It doesn’t work quite as well in English. A literal translation would be:

The master stands
brush in hand and behold!
Rapidly writes.

It was a really interesting talk. I actually have a little Chinese black ink painting set—ink stick, grinding dish, brush, and a book of techniques. I think I’ll get it out and do a little painting.

Speaking on Esperanto

Our local group will give a brief presentation on Esperanto this evening. We’ll speak (in English) about the language itself, why you might want to learn it, and about the activities of our group. If you’re local, and interested in Esperanto, consider stopping by.

It’ll take place at 5:30 PM this evening (Thursday, August 26) in the Foreign Language Building on the University of Illinois campus. We’ll gather in the atrium, then move to some free room. (Campus organizations can’t reserve rooms until they get re-certified, which apparently you can’t do in advance.)

If you can’t make this meeting, we’ll be  doing a repeat Wednesday evening next week (September 1st).

And, in any case, if you want to learn Esperanto, join us Thursday evenings all semester for a free beginners class!

George Turner at V Picasso

We went to eat tapas and hear George Turner play at V Picasso this evening.

George is a great jazz guitarist. He’s been a local performer since coming to town to work on a Masters and now a PhD at the university. We first encountered him playing with his trio at the Iron Post a few years ago, and have made a point of going to hear him whenever we get a chance.

He played mostly jazz standards.  I’d heard most of them many times, but the only ones I recognized were “My Funny Valentine,” “Girl from Ipanima,” and “Moon River.” (I have an odd relationship with jazz standards. I’ve heard all of them, because my dad played them when I was a kid, but a lot of what my dad played were instrumentals, so I often don’t know the names of the songs.)

It was a good show, and good food. A pretty small crowd. He’s playing a couple more times this week and next, so if you like great jazz guitar in an intimate setting, check it out.

Backyard Chickens in Champaign

Backyard Chickens
Chickens at Creque Dam Farm in St. Croix

When I was looking for a house a few years ago, I only looked in Urbana. The main reason was that Champaign prohibits residents from keeping chickens, while Urbana allows it. As you can imagine, I was delighted to learn that the topic of legalizing chickens has come before the Champaign City Council.

I know a little about what it’s like to have chickens in the yard, from one summer when my parents got a flock of chicks and raised them up to fryer size. We didn’t keep them for eggs, but they were around for several months, and I was never bothered by noise, smell, or any of the other problems that backyard chickens are supposed to bring.

I’ve had eggs from free-range chickens—real free-range chickens, not the mockery of free-range allowed under USDA regulations. They’re not just better; they’re so much better as to not even be the same thing.

So, I’ve written to my city council representatives:

I was very pleased to see in the local paper that the topic of changing the law to allow Champaign residents to keep chickens has come before the council. I urge you to support this change.

One of the most important changes we need to make Champaign a more sustainable community is to stop viewing the household purely as a center of consumption: it needs to become a center of production as well. Allowing residents to raise chickens is a step in the right direction.

Many communities (including Urbana) allow residents to raise a modest number of chickens in their backyard. With a few sensible restrictions (no roosters, adequate space for each bird), there’s no reason that chickens can’t be kept in an ordinary backyard without adversely impacting neighbors.

I urge you to support such a change in the law.

The picture that illustrates this post was taken at the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farming Institute’s Creque Dam Farm, which I visited in August of 2008 and about which I wrote a piece for Wise Bread: Learn Techniques for Sustainable Living. I’d earlier written a piece for them on backyard chickens called Real Eggs.

Update to add: I got a quick response from Thomas Bruno, one of the at-large city council members. He described the process for getting an item considered by the city council and adds:

Get a science teacher involved or a scout troop and your chances of success will skyrocket.

So, I guess my next step is to get in touch with some of the other people mentioned in the article as pushing for a change in the law, and see if anyone knows a science teacher or a scoutmaster.

Second update: I found and linked to a great article on how to get your town to legalize backyard chickens.