Recent grad Pratham Joshi works on image processing for the Hubble Space Telescope

Recent Bennington graduate Pratham Joshi did a Research Experience for Undergraduates this past summer at the Space Telescope Institute, working on processing images for the Hubble Space Telescope. Pratham concentrated his Bennington studies on Computing, Astronomy, and Mathematics. Here is what he did in his own words:

Pratham Joshi

Pratham Joshi presents his work at the Space Telescope Science Institute

For my REU at the Space Telescope Science Institute this summer, I worked on an Image Processing Pipeline for the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2). The Hubble Space Telescope is primarily known for its images of far out galaxies (especially the Hubble Deep Field) and the institute has a robust image processing pipeline for this. The problem is that a small subset of Hubble images are solar system images and this pipeline might not be the most well optimized tool for it. I thus worked with my mentor Alex Viana on an image processing pipeline specifically for moving target solar system body images.

The moving target pipeline (which is open source and can be obtained/forked from github here) consists of four major steps: Cosmic Ray rejection, Single Image drizzling, slicing and Image creation. It was written primarily in Python and uses MySQL for database. Different in-house and third-party tools were optimized and automated to connect these into our pipeline. I also did automated testing of the system and used it to generate processed images for various solar system objects. The images obtained from our pipeline will be used for the CosmoQuest Citizen Science Project (the results of which will in turn be used to further optimize our system) as well as be stored in the Hubble archive for use by scientists and researchers. There are also plans to use/extend the pipeline for use with the Hubble cameras as well as the James Webb Space Telescope.

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 Make Me Dangerous

This spring, I’m teaching an intensive introductory computer science class called “Make Me Dangerous,” where students learn computational thinking skills, Python programming, how to use Unix, and a variety of topics from the various nooks and crannies of the discipline.

Today was “hands-on hardware day (part I)” for the class, where students disassembled and explored a variety of computers and computing equipment.  Through this exercise, students became familiar with the various hardware components in a computer, and formulated some great questions on how computers work at a more fundamental level (for example, how the quartz crystal in the system clock oscillates at a given frequency, forming the main ‘heartbeat’ of the computer as it fetches and executes instructions for programs and the operating system).  We also looked at memory hierarchy, talked about how operating systems manage hardware resources, and discussed various evolutions in the hardware space.

Hardware we dissected included:  a Sun SPARCstation 5, a raspberry pi, a 300 baud modem, 3 dell desktops of various configurations, and an older dell laptop.

In addition, last week, the class went over to one of the the video studios in VAPA to take pictures in front of a green screen.  They then wrote Python programs to remove the green pixels, and replace them with an alternate background.  The class has been learning programming and computing using an approach called media computation, where students write programs to create and manipulate images, sounds and video while learning core concepts of programming.  It has been an interesting approach and has allowed for a lot of fun projects like green screen day!

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.

Andrew Blum’s TED Talk about TUBES

Thank you to everybody who came out for this past Friday’s Science Workshop talk!

As I mentioned during the Q&A in response to Todd Pykosz’s great question about Internet infrastructure, there is a very good book by Andrew Blum called “Tubes:  A Journey to the Center of the Internet” (review), and a corresponding TED Global talk he gave that discusses the physicality and monumentalism (or lack thereof) of Internet infrastructure.

Both the talk and the book are fascinating, and he will be speaking via Skype to my Computing Ecology class on 10/15 (which will be followed by a walking tour of Bennington’s Internet infrastructure, led by Ted Martin and…. Todd Pykosz(!) of Bennington’s IT department).  Participants from the class will be welcome to photographically and textually document the tour and infrastructure, some of which may end up being shared on this blog…

Anyway, enjoy the talk and the book. “Tubes” is on reserve at Crossett Library and available through the Bennington College Bookstore.


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.