Posted in computers, Science-tech

The Father of Supercomputing – Tribute to Seymour Cray

American electrical engineer and supercomputer architect Seymour Cray was born September 28, 1925 in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin . His father was a civil engineer who fostered Cray’s interest in science and engineering. As early as the age of ten he was able to build a device out of Erector Set components that converted punched paper tape into Morse code signals. The basement of the family home was given over to the young Cray as a “laboratory”. Cray graduated from Chippewa Falls High School in 1943 before being drafted for World War II as a radio operator. He saw action in Europe, and then moved to the Pacific theatre where he worked on breaking Japanese naval codes. On his return to the United States he received a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1949. He also was awarded a M.Sc. in applied mathematics in 1951.

In 1951, Cray joined Engineering Research Associates (ERA) in Saint Paul, Minnesota. ERA worked with computer technology and a wide variety of basic engineering too and became an expert on digital computer technology, following his design work on the ERA 1103, the first commercially successful scientific computer.He remained at ERA when it was bought by Remington Rand and then Sperry Corporation in the early 1950s At the newly formed Sperry-Rand, ERA became the “scientific computing” arm of their UNIVAC division.. By 1960 he had completed the design of the CDC 1604, an improved low-cost ERA 1103 that had impressive performance for its price range. Cray also designed its “replacement”, the CDC 6600, which was the first commercial supercomputer,to outperform everything then available by a wide margin, and later released the 5-fold faster CDC 7600

in the middle of the 7600 project, A new Chippewa Lab was set up in his hometown although it does not seem to have delayed the project. After the 7600 shipped, he started development of its replacement, the CDC 8600. It was this project that finally ended his run of successes at CDC in 1972 and Although the 6600 and 7600 had been huge successes in the end, both projects had almost bankrupted the company, and Cray decided to start over fresh with the CDC STAR-100. After an ammicable split Cray he started Cray Research in a new laboratory on the same Chippewa property. After several years of development their first product was released in 1976 as the Cray-1 which easily beat almost every machine in terms of speed, including the STAR-100. In 1976 the first full system was sold to the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Eventually, well over 80 Cray-1s were sold, and the company was a huge success financially.

Next he worked on the Cray-2, while other teams delivered the two-processor Cray X-MP, which was another huge success and later the four-processor X-MP. When the Cray-2 was finally released after six years of development it was only marginally faster than the X-MP. In 1980 he started development on the Cray 3 which was fraught with difficulty, and Cray decided to spin off the Colorado Springs laboratory to form Cray Computer Corporation, taking the Cray-3 project with them, sadly The 500 MHz Cray-3 proved to be Cray’s second major failure. So Cray starting design of the Cray-4 which would run at 1 GHz and outpower other machines. Sadly In 1995 there had been no further sales of the Cray-3, and the ending of the Cold War made it unlikely anyone would buy enough Cray-4s to offer a return on the development funds. The company ran out of money and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy March 24, 1995.

Cray then set up a new company, SRC Computers, and started the design of his own massively parallel machine. The new design concentrated on communications and memory performance, the bottleneck that hampered many parallel designs. Design had just started when Cray sadly passed away on October 5, 1996 (age 71) of head and neck injuries suffered in a traffic collision on September 22, 1996. Cray underwent emergency surgery and had been hospitalized since the accident two weeks earlier. SRC Computers carried on development and now specializes in reconfigurable computing.

Posted in books

The Casual Vacancy by J.K.Rowling

I would like to read JK Rowling’s latest novel The Casual Vacancy, which goes on sale on 27th September 2012 and is already set to be a bestseller with many shops already reporting big pre-order demands. The novel is set in  a town called Pagford which is, seemingly, an English idyll, full of  the hanging baskets, the war memorial, the scrubbed cottages, cobbled market square and an ancient abbey.

However behind its tourist-friendly façade all is not as rosy as it seems and  Pagford turns out to be a hot-bed of seething antagonism, passion, duplicity, rampant snobbery, sexual frustration and ill-disguised racism, all of which become apparent after  the mysterious death of a Parish Councillor named Barry Fairbrother a man of “boundless generosity of spirit” whose death in his early 40s leaves a space on the parish council,

This soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest  war the town has yet seen as the forces of darkness, led by scheming Howard Mollison, the obese delicatessen owner, seize their chance to get on the Parish Council in order to push through their plans regarding  a nearby run-down housing estate named “The Fields”, and reassign it to the district council of the nearby city, Yarvil, thereby off-loading responsibility for its drug-addled inhabitants, and driving them out of the catchment area for Pagford’s nice primary school.

The 512-page Novel,  is described as a blackly comic, thought-provoking and constantly surprising’ comic tragedy, and the protagonist is a young woman with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who lives in  “The Fields”  , and gets mixed up with prostitution and heroin addiction, whose character was inspired and shaped by J.K Rowling’s own teenage battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and depression.

There also seems to be a bit of a fuss being made over on Amazon, regarding the fact that the Kindle Edition costs more than the Hardback, which at the moment seems to be overshadowing the book itself.

Posted in music

Tribute to Robert Palmer

The late, great Grammy Award-winning English singer-songwriter Robert Palmer sadly passed away in Paris, France, on 26th September 2003 at the age of 54. Born 19 January, 1949 in Batley, Yorkshire. He was known for his distinctive voice and the eclectic mix of musical styles on his albums, combining soul, jazz, rock, pop, reggae and blues. He found success both in his solo career and in the musical act Power Station, and had Top 10 songs in both the US and the UK.  His  memorable music videos  for the hits “Simply Irresistible” and “Addicted to Love”, which were directed by Terence Donovan feature  identically dressed dancing women with pale faces, dark eye makeup and bright red lipstick, which resembled the women in the art of Patrick Nagel and have since become  much-parodied. Sharp-suited, his involvement in the music industry commenced in the 1960s, & covers five decades.

He released his first album “Pressure Drop” in 1975, which mixed reggae and rock music. In 1978, he released Double Fun, a collection of Caribbean-influenced rock. Palmer’s next album 1979′s Secrets produced his second Top 20 single “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)”. During The 1980s  Palmer became even more popular with his next album Clues, which contained the singles “Looking for Clues” and “Some Guys Have All the Luck”. In April 1983 Pride was released, which featured a cover of The System’s “You Are In My System”.  Palmer also performed at Duran Duran’s charity concert at Aston Villa football ground where he became friends with members of Duran Duran which would spawn the supergroup Power Station, who had two hit singles “Some Like It Hot” and a cover of the T.Rex song “Get It On (Bang a Gong)”.

In 1985 Palmer recorded the album Riptide featuring the  single “Addicted to Love“ which garnered him the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance  in 1987.The album also contained The singles “Hyperactive!” and “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On”. In 1987 he released Heavy Nova and returned to experimenting, this time with bossa nova rhythms, heavy rock and white-soul balladeering. He repeated his previous success with the video of “Simply Irresistible“, again with a troupe of female “musicians”. The ballad “She Makes My Day” was also a hit. In 1989, he won a second Grammy for “Simply Irresistible” which was featured in the Tony Award winning musical Contact. Rolling Stone magazine voted Palmer the best-dressed rock star for 1990. The same year Palmer expanded his range even further for his next album, Don’t Explain, which featured the Bob Dylan penned single “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, in a collaboration with UB40. Marvin Gaye cover “Mercy Mercy Me”. Throughout the 1990s, Palmer ventured further into diverse material and his 1992 album Ridin’ High was a tribute to the Tin Pan Alley era.

Posted in books, films & DVD, Science-tech, Television

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s a tribute to Christopher Reeve

American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author & activist Christopher Reeve was born September 25, 1952. He achieved stardom for his acting achievements, in particular his motion-picture portrayal of the fictional superhero Superman. Reeve had been asked to audition for the leading role as Clark Kent/Superman in the big budget film, Superman: The Movie . A meeting between director Richard Donner, producer Ilya Salkind and Reeve was set in January 1977., Reeve was sent a 300-page script for the film. He accepted & was told that Marlon Brando was going to play Jor-El and Gene Hackman was going to play Lex Luthor. He based his portrayal of Clark Kent on Cary Grant in his role in Bringing Up Baby & felt that the new Superman ought to reflect a contemporary male image.

Although Reeve was a talented all-around athlete, portraying the role of Superman would be a stretch for him, but he was tall enough for the role & had the necessary blue eyes and handsome features. However, his physique was slim & he went through an intense two-month training regimen supervised by former British weightlifting champion David Prowse, (Darth Vader). Despite landing the role, Reeve was never a comic book fan, though he had watched Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves. The film was a worldwide hit & Reeve received positive reviews for his performance and even won a BAFTA Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles & became an instant international star on the basis of his first major movie role and also guest starred in Smallville, about Clark Kent/Superman’s childhood. He appeared as Doctor Virgil Swann, in two episodes titled “Rosetta” and “Legacy”, while his death was made known in the fourth season episode “Sacred”.

Reeve’s first role after 1978’s Superman was as Richard Collier in the 1980 romantic fantasy Somewhere in Time  which co-starred Jane Seymour . Sadly reviews savaged the film as overly sentimental & melodramatic, however thanks to screenings on cable networks and video rentals; its popularity began to grow   and it has since gone on to become something of a cult classic. Director Jean-Pierre Dorléac was also nominated for an Academy Award in Costume Design for the movie.In 1980 Reeves played the lead in the successful play The Front Page,as well as a disabled Vietnam veteran in the critically acclaimed Broadway play Fifth of July. In his research for the role, he was coached by an amputee on how to walk on artificial legs. After The Fifth of July, Reeve played a novice playwright opposite Michael Caine in Sidney Lumet’s film Deathtrap, Reeve was then offered the role of Basil Ransom in The Bostonians alongside Vanessa Redgrave. In 1984, Reeve appeared in The Aspern Papers with Vanessa Redgrave. He then played Tony in The Royal Family and the Count in Marriage of Figaro. In 1985, Reeve hosted the television documentary Dinosaur! having been Fascinated with dinosaurs since he was a kid. DC Comics also named Reeve as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great for his work on the Superman film series. In 1986 He starred opposite Morgan Freeman, in the film Street Smart, for which Freeman was nominated for his first Academy Award. The film also received excellent reviews.

Reeve  was very active and went sailing, scuba diving, skiing, aviation, windsurfing, cycling, gliding, parasailing, mountain climbing, Played baseball, tennis and went horse riding after learning to ride for the film Anna Karenina, he also built a sailboat, The Sea Angel, which he sailed from the Chesapeake to Nova Scotia. He was also a licensed pilot and flew solo across the Atlantic twice, & also raced his sailplane in his free time and joined The Tiger Club, a group of aviators who had served in the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain, who let him participate in mock dogfights in vintage World War I combat planes. He was approached by The producers of the film The Aviator to fly a Stearman in the film, Reeve readily accepted the role and did all of his stunts.  He also served as a board member for the Charles Lindbergh Fund, which promotes environmentally safe technologies, &  lent support to causes such as Amnesty International, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and People for the American Way. He joined the Environmental Air Force and was also awarded The Bernardo O’Higgins Order and the Obie Prize and the Annual Walter Brielh Human Rights Foundation award, for helping to save the lives of 77 Actors in Santiago during 1987. Reeve was a member of the Creative Coalition, an organization designed to teach celebrities how to speak knowledgeably about political issues. Reeve was an early member of the group, along with Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, and Blythe Danner. In 1990, Reeve starred in the Civil War film, The Rose and the Jackal, in which he played Allan Pinkerton, the head of President Lincoln’s new Secret Service, he was also offered the part of Lewis in The Remains of the Day and he unhesitatingly took the part. The film was deemed an instant classic and was nominated for eight Academy Awards. In 1994, Reeve was elected as a co-president of the Creative Coalition. Reeve was also asked by the Democratic Party to run for the United States Congress.  He also went to New Mexico to shoot Speechless (co-starring Michael Keaton). Shortly before his accident, Reeve played a paralyzed police officer in Above Suspicion. He research the role at a rehabilitation hospital and learned how to use a wheelchair to get in and out of cars. Reeve was then offered the lead in Kidnapped and also planned to direct a romantic comedy entitled Tell Me True until his life took An unexpected turn…


Not long after making these plans,  Reeve was invited to compete in the Commonwealth Dressage and Combined Training Association finals at the Commonwealth Park equestrian center in Culpeper, Virginia .  He took horse riding seriously and was intensely competitive with it and finished fourth out of 27 in the dressage, before walking his cross-country course. He was concerned about jumps sixteen and seventeen, but paid little attention to the third jump, which was a routine three-foot-three fence shaped like the letter ‘W’. Sadly during the event On May 27, 1995, Reeve’s horse refused to jump the 3rd fence and Reeve fell and sustained a cervical spinal injury that paralyzed him from the neck down. He had no recollection of the incident but landed headfirst on the other side of the fence. His helmet prevented any brain damage, but the impact of his 215-pound (98 kg) body hitting the ground shattered his first and second vertebrae which meant that his skull and spine were not connected. . When paramedics arrived he was taken to the local hospital, then flown by helicopter to the University of Virginia Medical Center. He had an operation to reattach his skull to his spine.

Reeve was taken to the Kessler Rehabilitation Center in West Orange, New Jersey. At the Institute, one of his aides was a Jamaican man named Glenn Miller, nicknamed Juice, who helped him learn how to get into the shower and how to use a powered wheelchair, which was activated by blowing air through a straw. Reeve had occupational therapy and physical therapy in rehab. In the therapy gym, Reeve worked on moving his trapezius muscle,  every day he would try to do better. The most difficult part of rehabilitation was respiratory therapy, the ammount of air Reeve could inhale had to be 750 ccs before getting off the artificial respirator could even be considered.  Initially, Reeve could hardly get above zero. By the end of October, he was able to get around 50 ccs. This inspired him, and he felt his natural competitive edge coming back. The next day, he went up to 450 ccs. He reached 560 ccs the day after, and by December 13, 1995, Reeve was able to breathe without a ventilator for 30 minutes.

In July 2003, Christopher Reeve’s continuing frustration with the pace of stem cell research in the U.S. led him to Israel,which was at the center of research in spinal cord injury, He was invited by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to seek out the best treatment for his condition. During his visit, Reeve called the experience “a privilege” and said, “Israel has very proactive rehab facilities, excellent medical schools and teaching hospitals, and an absolutely first-rate research infrastructure.” Throughout his intensive tour, Reeve visited ALYN Hospital, Weizmann Institute of Science, and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, among many other places. Israelis were very receptive to Reeve’s visit, calling him an inspiration to all and urging him to never give up hope.

Reeve left Kessler feeling deeply inspired by the other patients he had met. Because he was constantly being covered by the media, he realized that he could use his name to the benefit of everyone with spinal cord injuries. In 1996, he appeared at the Academy Awards to a long standing ovation and gave a speech about Hollywood’s duty to make movies that face the world’s most important issues head-on. He also hosted the Paralympics in Atlanta and spoke at the Democratic National Convention. He
traveled across the country to make speeches, he narrated the HBO film Without Pity: A Film About Abilities. The film won the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Informational Special.” He then acted in a small role in the film A Step Towards Tomorrow.Reeve was elected Chairman of the American Paralysis Association and Vice Chairman of the National Organization on Disability. He co-founded the Reeve-Irvine Research Center, which is now one of the leading spinal cord research centers in the world. He created the the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to speed up research through funding, and to use grants to improve the quality of the lives of people with disabilities. Reeve used his celebrity status for good causes.He lobbied on behalf of people with spinal-cord injuries and for human embryonic stem cell research, founding the Christopher Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center. Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, he visited terminally ill children. He joined the Board of Directors for the worldwide charity Save the Children. and has done more to promote research on spinal cord injury and other neurological disorders than any other person before or since.

In 1997, Reeve made his directorial debut with the HBO film In the Gloaming with Robert Sean Leonard, Glenn Close, Whoopi Goldberg, Bridget Fonda and David Strathairn. The film won four Cable Ace Awards and was nominated for five Emmy Awards including “Outstanding Director for a Miniseries or Special. In 1998, Reeve produced and starred in Rear Window, a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance. On April 25, 1998, Random House published Reeve’s autobiography, Still Me. The book spent eleven weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list and Reeve won a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. In 2000, he also began to regain some motor function, and was able to sense hot and cold temperatures on his body, and was also able to move his left index finger on command, Reeve also lobbied for expanded federal funding on embryonic stem cell research. In 2002, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Resource Center, a federal government facility created through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention non-compete grant, was opened in Short Hills, New Jersey. Its mission is to teach paralyzed people to live more independently.  In 2004, Reeve directed the A&E film The Brooke Ellison Story. The film is based on the true story of Brooke Ellison, the first quadriplegic to graduate from Harvard University  Reeve’s second book, Nothing is Impossible was also published, Reeve also directed the animated film Everyone’s Hero.

During his recovery He experienced a number of illnesses, including mononucleosis, malaria, and superior mesenteric artery syndrome. He also suffered from mastocytosis, a blood cell disorder and fought off a number of serious infections believed to have originated from bone marrow. He also had asthma and many allergies and More than once he had a severe reaction to a drug. In Kessler, he tried a drug named Sygen which helps reduce damage to the spinal cord. The drug caused him to go into anaphylactic shock and his heart stopped, He fell into a coma and was taken to Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. Eighteen hours later, on October 10, 2004, Reeve died of cardiac arrest at the age of 52. His doctor, John McDonald, believed that it was an adverse reaction to the antibiotic that caused his death. During the final days of his life, Reeve also urged California voters to vote yes on Proposition 71, which would establish the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, & allot $3 billion of state funds to stem cell research. A memorial service for Reeve was held at the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut, which his wife attended. Reeve was cremated & his ashes scattered. Proposition 71 was also approved less than one month after Reeve’s death.

Posted in films & DVD, Television

Fargo TV Series rumoured

I am a big fan of the 1996  Oscar-winning crime caper “Fargo” which was directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and starred Frances McDrmand as taciturn Police Chief Marge Gunderson, and it has recently been reported that they are developing a Television adaptation, which will continue the story of police chief Marge Gunderson, and will be in the one-hour episode format.

Fargo is a crime caper which focuses on Police Chief  Marge Gunderson, who is given the job of investigating a homicide after a local car dealer with money problems (William H Macy) hires two hilariously incompetent criminals (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife as part of a ransom scam. The film won best original screenplay and Frances McDormand was named best actress. The film was also nominated in a further five categories.

The film is set mostly in North Dakota, which is populated largely by the descendants of Scandinavian and German settlers. Gunderson is expected to once again be the main character in the TV series, which will be written and executive produced by Noah Hawley, creator of The Unusuals and My Generation. The Fargo TV show is part of studio MGM’s plan to adapt properties it owns for the small screen through MGM Television.

Posted in books

Doctor No by Ian Fleming

Some say Ian Fleming’s first half-dozen James Bond novels are far superior to those that followed – being more realistic, better plotted and altogether less fantastical, Having read them I can see what this person means. Casino Royale is arguably his best book, and when eventually it was filmed with Daniel Craig in 2006, it was unquestionably the closest the movie series has come to capturing the spirit of Fleming’s early work.

Back in 1962 The producers of the Bond movies chose to start off with the sixth novel, Dr No, at which point the tales had become increasingly baroque and the villains flamboyantly megalomaniacal. Dr No is a modest thriller with a tough, stylish hero of some charm doing his job without the assistance of elaborate ordnance or eye-popping gadgetry. He pursues women, but doesn’t attract them as if he possessed some magical power or irresistible magnetism. In his first star role, Sean Connery is confident but not arrogant, a man comfortable in a dinner jacket.

Doctor No starts after M dispatches Bond to Jamaica to look for a missing agent and his secretary who have both vanished under inexplicable circumstances, Bond suspects something is wrong and learns that the reclusive Dr Julius No could be connected with their disappearance. So he sets out to investigate but gets caught tresspassing and is imprisoned on Dr No’s private island, along with the exotic Honeychile Rider. Whilst imprisoned he discovers that Doctor No has a sinister plan which could threaten international security.

Most of what became standard ingredients in the series are here at the start – the opening credits with the familiar Bond theme accompanying the hero shooting straight into the camera lens, the outlandish villain with his plans of world domination, the Bond girls to be bedded and left to their fates, the cynical quips that accompany the deaths of foes, the imaginative touches & distinctive lair of the Bond villains, high-tech in its futuristic, scientific working area and Renaissance-princely in its domestic aspect.

There are other things also make Dr No affectionately memorable, two in particular. The first is our introduction to Bond at the gaming tables of the then fashionable nightclub Les Ambassadeurs in London, handling cards, lighting a cigarette and then telling us his name: “Bond, James Bond”. The other is a scene, improvised on the set, when Bond does a double take on seeing Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (recently stolen from London’s National Gallery) in Dr No’s palatial living room. It’s the funniest moment in any Bond picture and one of cinema’s great art jokes.

Posted in music

Muse – The Second Law

Muse’s latest album is called “The Second Law” and is named after the second law of thermodynamics, and as of Monday 24th September There is a live stream of the new album by Muse “The Second Law” on the Guardian Newspaper Website. I am a big fan of Muse, because they have always tried to develop their sound beyond that of the average rock group, and on the latest album, there are traces of dubstep bass amid the the band’s prog-fuelled stadium rock, as well as a soft-rock sound last heard on Queen’s A Kind of Magic and even a sampled foetal heartbeat taken from singer Bellamy’s then unborn son, there are other influences as wide-ranging as the Beach Boys to Fred Goodwin, the 12-bar blues to fatherhood. There are even some INXS and Electric Light Orchestra influences in there too. The first track from Muse’s sixth album “Unsustainable” hit the internet some time ago & The album’s first single is entitled “Madness”. The Guardian Newspaper will have a full review of the album later this week – plus an exclusive interview with the band in this Sunday’s Observer New Review. Unfortunately this stream does not appear to be available to users outside the UK, anyway I’ve had a listen and all the tracks sound great. Tracks on the album are:

Panic Station
Follow Me
Big Freeze
Save Me
Liquid State
The Second Law:Unsustainable
The Second Law: Isolated System