Thursday, August 30, 2007

ComputerWorld and the Golden Nugget

Everyone in the technology fields has the opportunity to be buried under a deluge of free magazines. We have all been seduced into accepting just one more free subscription. Many of us receive enough of these to build an entire house or to fuel a stove through a long, hard winter. As you would expect of free publications, most of what they contain is shallow drivel that is just good enough to attract advertisers.

In this blizzard of worthless words there are a few pubs that are actually good. Every week I am pleased to receive ComputerWorld. I immediately head to the center of the magazine where "The Grill" column is hidden. They always have a quick interview with someone that I am genuinely interested in hearing from. Honestly, I do not look at anything else in the magazine. It is that one golden nugget that makes it worth getting the magazine.

What will you get in the "The Grill"?
Here is a Google list of Recent Interviews

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Large exercises employ a number of Opposing Force (OPFOR) role players, each of which usually has a single job. However, in expanding the availability of training systems and events to remote units, the number of OPFOR players will be a bottleneck on scalability. There are many activities in which a single person manages a number of tasks/scenarios. For example, a chess master can play dozens of challengers simultaneously and stock traders handle hundreds of orders from other traders. Is it possible to a talented OPFOR player to handle two, three, or more scenarios simultaneously? If he had a well designed simulation interface that did not impede such multi-tasking, could he effectively fight multiple missions at the same time? This is just one step in improving the efficiency of human operations in a simulation center.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Nvidia Tesla Supercomputer

Nvidia has released a “supercomputer” in three small form factors: (1) a PCI card that fits inside a desktop computer, (2) a deskside box that connects to a PC, and (3) a 1U server that fits in a rack. These machines are based on GPU graphics chips and the smallest provides 128 computing cores on a single card. These are vector processors which are very good at performing the same mathematical operation on large volumes of data – such as processing photo images or radar returns, computing fluid flow, or calculating line-of-site. Unfortunately, they are not the most efficient at processing logical code like that found in simulators. However, as the cost point for these machines comes down, they may brute force their way into being a useful solution for us.

Nvidia Tesla website

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sun Blackbox

Sun Microsystems has created a computing center inside of a 20 foot shipping container. This product is meant to be a portable IT center for oil companies, DHS/FEMA, commercial disaster recovery, portable on-demand computing. The container is completely sealed from the outside and connects to external power and cooling pumps (which could be contained in a second 20 foot shipping container). This could potentially provide all of the computing power for a training base in Kuwait or for a mobile Live/Virtual/Constructive training package.

The product incorporates standard computing capabilities. Its unique features are in the design for shock absorbency, separation from the elements, air flow, and power consumption.

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Injecting 3D worlds directly into the brain

Experiments are being done to allow blind people to see objects by directly simulating their brain. This is a new way to sense the world or to sense a 3D virtual world. Could variations of this technology be used to overlay information from a virtual world with a sighted person’s perception of the real world? This would be a more intense/intrusive method of achieving augmented reality. So a soldier at National Training Center would be able to see the 3D image of an opponent that exists only in a simulation – a new step in Live/Virtual interoperability. Of course the question is who would allow this to be done to them and would it be any better than augmented reality using half-reflective glasses?

BBC Article
Wired Article

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Simulation as the Preferred Form of Communication

Anthony Townsend at the Institute for the Future believes that “simulation will be an innate vocabulary for tomorrow's consumer, worker, soldier, and educator. They will see the world and describe it in terms of simulations in the same way that my parents used written essays and I use PowerPoint. It may well become their preferred mode of visualizing and interacting with data.”

To make this possible the simulation and gaming communities have to create simulation construction tools that are as readily accessible as PowerPoint. These must have: (1) ease of use, (2) ubiquity of access, and (3) affordable price. They must also have a data standard that is community generated (e.g. XML) or commercially driven (e.g. Microsoft Office document formats).

Recent business magazines are talking about the need for a standard 3D representation standard. Perhaps, the world needs the 3D interface in order to connect to a simulation tool. Simulation tools like GPSS/H and Arena are certainly powerful, but perhaps too abstract for the common user.

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Persistent Archive of Military Simulation Research and Experience

A great deal of the simulation technology that is created in defense is not captured in the form of journal articles. This means that a lot of knowledge is lost because it is not archived in a form that can be readily searched by others in the profession. The largest repository of articles on military simulation is on the SISO web site and the last time I checked there was no way to search across all of the conference contents.

In an effort to familiarize our simulation scientists and engineers with their options for publishing their work, we should create a panel session at a major conference like I/ITSEC composed of all of the Editors of the relevant journals in this area. They would present the goals of the journal and the methods for submitting to it to an audience that traditionally limits itself to conference presentations. An initial list of these journals is:
  • ACM Transactions on Modeling and Computer Simulation
  • Journal of Defense Modeling and Simulation
  • Simulation
  • Presence

Certainly there must be more.

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Sunday, August 5, 2007

Simulation Center Design

While visiting the 86th BWFX in Vermont it struck me that the layout and operation of the sim center is almost identical to the first big exercises that I participated in – Certain Caravan and Reforger 1992. There are hundreds of computers, miles of network cables, and hundreds of operators. In the last 15 years it does not appear that we have done anything to redesign the sim center for better efficiency. Most of the systems in the 2007 exercise were new and different from those of 1992, but the number of computers and operators is the same.

The sim center is like a factory that generates training stimulus. It is hard to imagine a factory that has not been significantly changed by automation in the last 15 years. I know the F-16 fighter factory where I began my career is still in the same building, but the layout and operations inside have changed considerably due to computer automation and increased parts outsourcing. There is probably an opportunity to redesign the sim center, eliminate many stations and functions, and make the system more efficient.

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Server-side Rendering - Sun and Nvidia

Sun has been working with Nvidia to create a capability to do both the computation and any associated rendering on the server side. Then they stream the screen image to the client device. This is significant switch from what we do with the DIS and HLA federations now. But Sun’s goal is to make it possible to experience rich 3D scenes on lightweight client devices because all of the rendering is done on the server. They are also working on a capability to use new graphic chips to render “Pixar quality” images in real-time for display in CAVE environments.

If Sun is successful then it is an indication that network bandwidth is becoming plentiful enough that we can change the model we have used for decades of creating very small data packets and doing all of the scene generation on the client side. This is valuable for customers who do not want to have to hold a powerful graphic machine in their hand (like a cellphone). Instead, customers will be able to see rich 3D worlds on very minimal computing clients, e.g. something that is capable of playing MP3 movies today. This brings down a significant commercial barrier. Even the cheapest cellphones and pocket PCs would be able to play a rich 3D game because the game would really be running and rendering on the server. It is hard to imagine a world in which bandwidth is that plentiful for the consumer. Probably it would be rolled out to industrial customers for limited applications and private bandwidth first. Their product name for this is TurboVNC.

On the military side, we would be able to tap into any scene that anyone in the training event is seeing. We could see it on a regular cellphone (if/when it becomes available through a cellular network) or a wireless pocket PC.

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Friday, August 3, 2007

Teraflop Computing in Your Palm

DARPA is looking to build embedded computers out of commercial graphics chips. Their target applications are small, hand-held devices like sensors (imagery, chem/bio, motion, acoustic, etc.). They would prefer to do the signal processing on the sensor device rather than downloading it to a processing center. Downloading requires lots of bandwidth and power to send the info. If the processing is on the sensor, then the transmitted information can be simplified to something like [ID, Target Type, Location, Velocity ... and other parameters]. This can go in short transmission bursts. If the processing is on the sensor, then the computer/chip has to be small, low cost, and low power. Reusing commercial chips is the best approach to get low cost because commercial customers will amortize the development costs. That is what led them to Nvidia chips.

The project looks forward to a day when the processing on the sensor is equal to a current supercomputer (Teraflops). Imagine a hand-held digital camera like something that you can get at Best Buy - but with 500Mpixels and a computer inside. Once the picture is taken the camera can process the image, extract the people in the picture, search a local database and identify the names of the people in the picture, their general location, and the season of the year. All of this could become metadata so that when the picture is posted to the web (like Flikr) the metadata explains what is in the picture and everyone on the net can search for pictures with specific characteristics. If the sensor also has a cellular net connection, the pictures can be uploaded in real-time.

What does this have to do with simulation and training?
IF such a computer in a handheld device existed, then you could run WARSIM or OneSAF on your own Palm Pilot-sized device. You could also hook up to everyone else who is running a simulation on their Palm Pilot, share scenarios, collaboratively train. It would be to modern simulation centers what Wikipedia has been to the Encyclopedia Britannica. It would allow the masses to create and run their own exercises. Like Wikipedia vs. Britannica, the sim center staff is going to immediately criticize this plan because it lacks the "experts". But if you have followed what has happened on Wikipedia you will have noticed that "the masses" have a lot of expertise and are quick to share it when a medium like Wikipedia is available.

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Say's Law

“The power of the Xerox copier did not lie in its capability to replace carbon paper and other existing copying technologies, but in its ability to perform services beyond the reach of those technologies. The 914 [copier] created a market for convenience copies that had previously not existed. Thirty copies of an existing document to share with a group of coworkers was not a need people knew they had before the invention of xerography. Since people couldn’t make thirty easily and inexpensively, no one articulated doing so as a ‘need’.

What we see operating in these cases of technology creating its own previously undreamed of uses is a variant of Say’s Law. Jean Baptiste Say, an early nineteenth century French economist, observed that in many situations, supply creates its own demand. People don’t know they want something until they see that they can have it; then they feel they can’t live without it.”

Reengineering the Corporation, Michael Hammer and James Champy, 1993.

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