Another Hardware Hackathon Win

Cheesy Fingers installed in a Facebook OpenCompute server

On June 19th, I traveled to Facebook headquarters to compete in the second OpenCompute hardware hackathon.  The team was comprised of Steve White, Dave Kaplin and Matt Gambardella of Nebula, as well as myself.  Our previous entry won the first hardware hackathon, and involved wireless server debugging (it was called Cheesy Fingers).  Since then, Cheesy Fingers has entered production, and we were even able to test it out in a Facebook server!

Our entry this time was a wireless server debugging aggregator – basically, a device that hooks up to our wireless mesh network and sends and receives data to and from the servers in a data center rack.  We built the device, codenamed “Big Cheese” on top of the popular Raspberry Pi single-board computer. Continue reading

Scenes from the Fall Poster Session

The hallways of Dickinson were abuzz with science students and faculty, along with friends and supporters from across the College, on Friday December 7 for the Fall Term Poster Session. The building was a hive of activity as students discussed their work, asked questions, and generally enjoyed the challenge of substantively engaging with each other and the broader community about their projects.

Faculty member David Edelman talks to students Katie Giarra and Marilee Goad about the Animal Physiology poster “The Effects of Serotonin on Aggression in Subordinate Crayfish” (photo: Julia Evanczuk)

Roughly thirty posters were presented by students from Physics I, Comparative Animal Physiology, and Foundations of Physical Science. These courses range from introductory to advanced levels and the nature of the work reflected this diversity, featuring experiments of students’ own design, literature reviews, laboratory measurements of physical phenomena, and investigations of alternative energy possibilities for the campus and beyond. Selections of posters from each class will be posted on this site in the near future.

Top: Emily Mikucki (’13) discusses her poster “Fitness Consequences Associated with Variation in Developmental Temperature in Cabbage Butterflies” with dance and environmental studies student, Kaya Lovestrand (’14). (photo: Betsy Sherman)
Middle: (left) Chemistry faculty member Janet Foley asks Evan Braun (’13) about his animal physiology research; (right) Evan’s poster “Survey of Worker Ant Plasticity as Mediated by Classical Conditioning” is displayed along with his subject ants in the foreground (both photos: Julia Evanczuk)
Middle: Caroline Barnhart (postbac ’13) describes her work on the impact resistance and force transmission of different helmet designs (photo: Julia Evanczuk)










Several students gave demonstrations to help explain or place their work in context. For example, Carl Johanson (below) arranged for a  live performance from Lance, a five-year old American Cream horse, a nearly extinct breed of draft horse, for his demonstration of “Horsepower, the Other Way of Getting Energy from Biomass.”

Foundations of Physical Science student Carl Johanson (’14) introduces Lance, an American Cream draft horse, to onlookers as part of his presentation on animal power. (photo: Mike Goldin)


Biology faculty member Amie McClellan discusses recent work from her lab with Computing faculty member Andrew Cencini and others. (photo: Betsy Sherman)

Honorary student (and actual faculty member) Amie McClellan, enjoying the last full week of her sabbatical, also presented a poster as a sort of trial run for her upcoming presentation “EMC2 Encodes a Putative Novel Hsp90 Co-chaperone in Saccharomyces cerevisiae“, co-authored with Tambu Kudze (’10), at the 2012 Annual Meeting of The American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) in San Francisco, CA.

photo: Mike Goldin



Finally, good food made the event even more enjoyable. Faculty and staff brought in homemade breads and dishes such as Vegetable Lo Mein and Beef Vindaloo, as well as delicious desserts for all to enjoy.


The view from the second floor. (photo: Mike Goldin)

Field Trip: MIT Flea Market

This past long weekend, some students and I took a field trip to the MIT Swapfest flea market. It was a fun trip and a great way to see all sorts of strange and interesting computer and electronic equipment, as well as get some great deals.

I hadn’t been to the MIT flea market in about 12 years, but it was still going strong, with hundreds of vendors selling their wares. The crowd generally tends to be quite friendly, and loves sharing stories and lore about the very rich and colorful world of computer science and engineering that has developed over the past 60 years or so in the greater Massachusetts area.

Vendors had everything from old tools, computers and computer parts of every type and variety, gigantic capacitors and other electronic components, 8-bit Nintendo cartridges, lab and test equipment, and even a model schooner made entirely out of beer can fragments. There was also one vendor who had a bunch of old cryptographic equipment from WWII (primarily different variations on the German Enigma machine).

Some of the more notable hauls by faculty and students were:

-2 oscilloscopes
-1 power supply
-1 guitar EFX pedal
-1 Sun SparcStation IPC
-1 Sun SparcStation 5
-1 bar code scanner

If you missed the trip this time around, don’t worry. The Swapfest starts up again on Sunday, April 21 2013, and I suspect we’ll make another trip in the Spring.

Cloud Control: An Open Source IPMI Library for Embedded Microcontrollers

Andrew Cencini here…  I’ll be giving this Friday’s Science Workshop talk in Dickinson 225 at 1pm on some work I did this summer as part of a secret project for Nebula, a cloud-computing startup in Palo Alto, CA.

During the workshop, I will introduce you to the problem space I have been working in with this project – data centers and cloud computing.  The work is part of what is expected to be a ‘disruptive’ technology in the space.  It was a very cool and inordinately challenging project, but one that I learned and gained a lot from.

This should be a cool talk, as it covers work that truly bridges the physical and virtual realms of computer science, and will have a real impact on what’s going on out there right now. I hope you can attend.

Update (JB): Great turnout today for Andrew’s talk – it was a fascinating firsthand account of the development of what promises to be a widely used tool in cloud computing and the management of data centers. Be sure to thank Andrew for the talk the next time you see him.