Existential risk simulator: throw asteroids at the Earth

Paul Raven @ 16-12-2010

Had a bad week? Or just simply looking for a way to kill time at work as the year winds down? How about simulating asteroid collisions with the Earth? [via Space.com]

Just to get the disappointment up front: you don’t get a Hollywood CGI rendering of your imaginary impact (though there is a sort of intro video of a rock falling into the gravity well that runs while the calculations are being done, a bit like a cut-scene from Bruce Willis Saves The Planet While Wearing a Grubby Wifebeater Vest: The Computer Game or something). But what you do get is a list of statistical stuff: energy released in impact, crater size, thermal radiation, that sort of thing.

So, a pretty decent tool for doing the worldbuilding due diligence on your apocalypse novel… or simply exercising your inner misanthrope (fluffy white lap-cat and hammy accent optional).

Fly Simulator

Paul Raven @ 04-08-2009

house flyProof, if such were needed, that science is awesome and strange in equal measure: have you ever wondered how the hell flies can so effectively dodge your every effort to swat them? Sure you have – but you don’t have a lab full of stuff that you could use to find out the answer. The biologists at the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology do, however, so they’ve built a flight simulator and wired it into the brain of an immobilised blowfly.

As the fly responded to virtual objects flying around it, the scientists used a fluorescent microscope to watch how its brain processed the images. Compared to people, who can distinguish a maximum of 25 discrete images per second, blowflies are visual virtuosos: They can sense up to 100 separate images per second and respond fast enough to change their flight direction.

No mention of any progress on discovering why flies, despite their incredible visual acuity, spend hours battering themselves against a closed window when there’s an open one right next to it… [image by dafydd359]

Los Alamos’ Roadrunner supercomputer breaks petaflop barrier

Paul Raven @ 09-06-2008

Roadrunner petaflop supercomputerLos Alamos, New Mexico is now home to the aptly-named Roadrunner supercomputer. [image from linked NYT article]

Built by IBM computer scientists using hundreds of Cell microprocessors – hardware originally developed for games consoles, and which power the Playstation 3 – Roadrunner will be used to run simulations of exploding nuclear warheads, although the US military are giving it a run at more pleasant tasks like climate simulation before it settles down to its grim career. [via SlashDot]

Roadrunner clocks in at 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second – that’s nearly twice the speed of IBM’s own Blue Gene/L supercomputer, the previous champion. To put that into perspective, the NYT article equates a petaflop as follows:

“… if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.”

So, yeah – pretty fast.

Ender’s Game, here we come

Jeremy Eades @ 21-12-2007

The military and video games have had a long history together, going back to flight simulators before WWII.  Of course, there’s been America’s Army, but that was a recruitment tool, a way to gloss over the downsides of the Army, namely the permanency of death and having to follow orders.

So where are our “Nintendo soldiers”?  Turns out they’re currently working on a suitable training simulation for the US Army.  Heck, there’s even a trade magazine devoted to these simulators.

The question isn’t “what are these simulators?”, but “what are they not?”  Well, they’re not going to teach you how to shoot and they won’t get you buff.  What they will do is provide tactics lessons in a classroom environment that can then be put to use on the training grounds.  For more info on the what and why, check out this essay by a training games company, and this paper from the National Defense University.  They’re not just random commercial games slapped together, but designed from the ground up to meet training demands.

I’ve played FPS games online since the good ol’ days of Doom II.  And with some of the squad-based ones simple tactics can make or break your game.  Me?  I charge in and promptly die.  And then proceed to do it again.

(via DailyTech)  (image from renato guerra)