Most readers know thta Tucson is home of one of the largest collections of world-renowned experts on IT storage. But what you may not know, is that Tucson is also the home of experts for optical sciences. This week, I was part of a delegation of IBMers invited on a tour of the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab [SOML].
SOML was built in 1990 underneath the football stadium at the University of Arizona. Why under the stadium? Their motivation was [Chicago Pile-1], the world's first nuclear reactor, built by Enrico Fermi under the football stadium at the University of Chicago.
We got to see all aspects of the process to develop the huge mirrors used in large telescopes. SOML did not always offer lab tours. Back in 1993, two dozen members of the Earth First! terrorist organization [attacked the lab with hammers and monkey wrenches to destroy and dismantle the mirror lab]. Now, security is tight to ensure no-one damages these mirrors, some of which fetch as much as $30 million dollars.
At other mirror labs, mirrors start as a large, heavy, flat piece of glass and then ground and polished to the correct parabolic curve. SOML created a new process that works a lot better, similar to making a [Pineapple Upside Down Cake]. For those who are not familiar with this cake, you arrange sliced pineapple rings on the bottom of the baking dish, then pour the liquid cake batter that fills in and around the pineapple slices, then bake.
The first step is creating a base of 1,690 hexoganal tubes made of Aluminum Silicate. These are like the pineapple rings in the cake. The tubes are bolted to the baking dish that is 8.4 meters wide. These tubes form the base of the [parabolic shape] that focuses starlight to a small focal point. The tubes are spaced with about an inch of space in between. The Aluminum silicate feels like clay.
Once the base is built, chunks of glass are placed on the surface. Rather then pouring on the cake mix of molten glass, these chunks will be melted in place. This isn't normal glass, but a special Boron Silicate glass that does not expand or contract much during changes in temperature, made by the [Ohara Corporation] in Japan.
The oven is then lowered onto the baking dish. Once the temperature reaches 700 degrees, the entire system is then rotated at 7 RPM. This allows the glass to melt and take its parabolic shape through [centrifugal force]. The people who run the oven are called "oven pilots", and they monitor the entire process to make sure nothing goes wrong.
This particular mirror is one of the two that will go into the [Large Binocular Telescope]. The mirror will be 36 inches thick at the edges, and 18 inches in the middle. If the glass cools down to quickly, it may crack or form crystals, so instead the oven is kept in place and the temperature lowered slowly over the course of a few months. This is called annealing.
Once a mirror has annealed, 24 suction cups are glued to the top surface to pull the mirror out of the baking dish. It is then tipped on its side so that all the bolts can be removed and the hexagonal tubes washed out, leaving behind a honey-combed effect on the bottom of the mirror. This means the mirror is 80 percent air, making it strong and lightweight.
The next step is grinding the surface with diamonds. In most cases, the process of spinning creates the correct shape so little grinding is required. However, for this mirror here for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope [LSST], about five tons of glass will be ground out of the center. This will actually have two parabolic curves, the outer curve is shallow, and the inner curve is deep. This will allow for the LSST to survey a wide area of space at a time.
Once the glass is ground to the right shape, it will be polished with Cerium Oxide, what is commonly known as Jeweler's Rouge. How smooth does it have to be? If this mirror were the size of the United States, there would be no bump higher than 2 inches tall!
Most mirrors are symmetrical, so the polishing can be done on a spinning platform, but this mirror is not. The Large Magellan Telescope will consist of seven mirrors, one in the middle that is symmetrical, and surrounded by six other mirrors that will all continue the parabolic shape in each direction. This is one of the outer mirrors, which means that each part of the polishing process will be controlled by computers to get exactly the curve required.
Here is a small scaled-down model of the Magellan Telescope. Each of the seven mirrors will be 8.4 meters wide. At this point, one person asked why all the mirrors were 8.4 meters wide. I joked that this was the size of the oven! It reminded me of [the story where newly-wed had to ask her grandmother why she cut the ends off the pot roast]. The actual reason was that the posts of the football stadium are 8.5 meters wide, so any mirror made inside the lab larger than that could not be removed easily for transportation.
The LMT will be installed on [Cerro Tololo] in Chile, where my father worked earlier in his career. Why Chile? Observatories need high altitude, dry climate and clear skies. That is why Arizona is home to many observatories, including Kitt Peak National Observatory and the Vatican Observatory on Mount Graham. Cerro Tololo in Chile is close to the equator and meets these requirements.
Once operational in 2020, it will gather 6 TB of images every evening. That got all of the IBMers on the tour very excited!
To verify the polishing is complete, it is put on three red stands and measured with a laser. Once the measurements are complete. The surface will be coated with aluminum to provide the reflective surface. You can't just paint the surface with a roller! Instead, the aluminum is vaporized and allowed to land on the surface of the mirror evenly, in a layer that is only three molecules thick. There is more aluminum in standard size beer can than on the surface of one of these 8.4 meter size mirrors!
So that was the tour. It took almost 2 hours. If you are ever in Tucson, consider contacting the SOML and arranging a tour for yourself. There is no other mirror lab like it!
The old adage applies "You can't please everyone. Presidents can't. Prostitutes can't. Nobody can." I am reminded of that as I fielded a variety of interesting comments and emails about, of all things, my choice of order of things in recent blog posts.
Certainly, there are times when the order of things matters greatly. In my now-infamous blog post [Sock Sock Shoe Shoe], I use a scene from a popular 1970's television show to explain why compression should be done before encryption.
In my case, I put things in the order that I felt made sense to me, but not everyone agrees. Here are three recent examples:
There you have it. I will gladly fix false or misleading information, but I am not going to re-arrange the order of things just to please some readers, only to have other readers complain that they liked it better in the original order. As always, feel free to comment on any of this in the section below.
I can't believe we got snow this week on Valentine's Day! It didn't last long on the ground here in Tucson, but there are still some white caps in our mountains. For those of you "trapped" by snow, or too much work, here are two upcoming events you can attend from your desk and computer!
I think both of these will be entertaining and informative. If you attend either, let me know what you think in the comments below.
Well, it's Tuesday again, and today I am announcing that we have a new IBM Storage blogger joining the Blogosphere: Raj Sharma!
Raj hails from Toronto, Canada and will be able to provide the Canadian perspective on all things Storage. I had the pleasure to meet Raj in person here in Tucson when him and dozens of his cohorts came down for a multi-customer briefing at the [IBM Executive Briefing Center] where I work.
It takes me 20-30 minutes to complete a crossword or Sudoku puzzle. I am in no hurry, and I find the process relaxing. But what if you were paid to complete a puzzle? In that case, finishing the puzzle sooner, in fewer minutes, means more money in your paycheck per hour worked! However, getting paid would mean that doing these puzzles may no longer be fun or relaxing.
The idea of converting a hobby into a revenue-generating activity is not new. Who wouldn't want to earn money doing something you were planning to do already? The television is full of commercial advertisements for credit cards where you can earn Double Miles or Cash Rewards just for spending money on things you were going to spend on anyways.
But is "earn" the right word? The merchants pay a percentage fee every time a patron uses a credit card, and the bank is just providing a marketing incentive in the form of a portion of those fees back to the consumer, to encourage more usage of their card versus other forms of payment. Sort of like "profit sharing".
I am almost fell out of my chair when I saw that [iPhone app Viggle rewards couch potatoes for watching television]. For those not familiar with American slang, the term couch potato refers to [a lazy person who does nothing but sit on the couch and watch television]. But you can't be called lazy if you are getting paid to do it, right?
(FTC Disclosure: I am a full-time employee and shareholder of the IBM Corporation. This blog post should not be considered an endorsement for anything. My opinions and writings are based on publicly available information and my own experiences doing freelance work prior to my employment at IBM. I have no hands-on experience with Amazon Mechanical Turk, neither as a worker nor requester, have not participated in TopCoder contests, nor have I used the Viggle app. I do not have any financial interest in Amazon, TopCoder, Viggle or any other third-party company mentioned on this blog post, nor has anyone paid me to mention their company names, brands or offerings.)
Here's how it works. You get the app on your phone, and register each television show as you watch it. You can watch the show live, or much later recorded on your Tivo. You watch the shows you were going to watch anyways, and just provide your demographics, all in the name of market research. You get two points per minute of watching, and after 7,500 points, you get a $5 gift card from retailers such as from retailers such as Burger King, Starbucks, Best Buy, Sephora, Fandango, and CVS drugstores. For the typical American, it would take about three weeks to watch that much television!
Of course, this is not the only way to earn money working from home. A reader asked me for my opinions of [Amazon Mechanical Turk]. While the other examples above are done for marketing purposes, Mechanical Turk can be used for a variety of other things. Up to now, the IT industry has regarded the Cloud as the delivery of computing as a service, with the infrastructure, hardware and software existing on internationally networked servers, effectively invisible to the end user. This model is now to being applied broadly to people.
Basically, Mechanical Turk acts as a marketplace, where employers post Human Intelligent Tasks (HITs) that workers can do. Most can be completed in minutes and you are paid pennies to do so. Some examples might help illustrate what a HIT looks like:
As a Mechanical Turk worker, you only work on the HITs you choose to work on, presumably those that interest you, and that you can do well and quickly. Workers can do this anytime, anywhere, such as 2:00am in the morning, at home, when you can't sleep or taking care of children. You can choose to work as much or as little as you like.
The employers--referred to as Mechanical Turk requesters--put money into their payroll accounts, load up their tasks, and hit publish. This gives them immediate access to a global, on-demand 24-by-7 workforce that can help complete thousands of HITs in minutes. These employers won't have to put an advertisement in the want ads and interview potential candidates, just to let them go later when the project is over.
Just like any other job, Mechanical Turk wages are reported to the IRS, and each person's work is evaluated for quality. In doing these tasks, you build up your "digital reputation" that will either prevent you or allow you to work on certain HITs. You can also take tests to reach Qualification levels to be eligible to work on HITs not available to everyone else.
Software engineers would have a hard time writing an Artificial Intelligence [AI] program to do these simple tasks, so being able to generate a HIT for something in the middle of a computer program might be the easiest way to get past a difficult part of an algorithm. Amusingly, Amazon describes this form of [crowdsourcing] as an artificial form of Artificial Intelligence!
While this approach may work for small, easily defined tasks, what about works that require a high amount of Human Intelligence, like storage software or hardware development?
When I was working for IBM as a software engineer in the 1980s and 1990s, it took us years to get a project done, using the traditional [Waterfall Model]. My job as a software architect was to estimate the thousands of lines of code (KLOC) a project would require, estimate the number of Person-Years (PY) it would take, and recommend the appropriate sized team. Back then, each engineer averaged only about 1,000 lines of software code per year, so KLOC and PY were often used interchangeably. Fellow IBM author Fred Brooks wrote an excellent book on the process called [The Mythical Man-Month].
The Waterfall model has the advantage that people only have to work a portion of the cycle on the project. In between, there was plenty of downtime to attend training, improve your skills, or take vacation. As our director Lynn Yates would often complain, "if they are only writing two lines of code in the morning, and two in the afternoon, why do they need time to rest?"
The Waterfall model was not perfect, and had its share of critics. One downside was that the clients didn't see anything until General Availability (GA), with a few getting a glimpse a few months earlier during our Early Support Program (ESP). By the time clients could tell us it was not what they wanted or expected, it was too late to change until the next release.
To address this concern, 17 software engineers wrote the now famous [Agile Manifesto]. The authors felt that collaboration, between the developers and with the clients, is critical to success. Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project. The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams. The result is an iterative approach that allows the client to see working prototypes early in the process, allowing last-minute changes to requirements to influence the final product.
Combining the Mechanical Turk concept with Agile programming methodology gives you what IBM calls an "Outcomes Model" approach. In the IBM research paper [Software Economies] (PDF, 5 pages), the authors argue that there are four fundamental principles needed for an "Outcomes Model" approach:
I was surprised to see that [the TopCoder Community is 390,593 strong], nearly the size of the entire IBM company. TopCoder is focused on computer programming and digital creation using the Outcomes Model approach. Rather than paying everyone for their work, however, the platform is designed around challenges and competitions, and the top players or contributors are rewarded with cash prizes.
Does it make sense for permanent IT staff to become freelancers in an international "talent cloud"? I can understand why large corporations would prefer [international employment contracts that help circumvent restrictive regulations of certain countries], but can they convince enough people to give up social security protection, guaranteed salary, paid vacations and sick leave, just to have some added freedom and flexibility? According to Matthew Ingram from GigaOM, [many people are choosing a freelance lifestyle].
As an innovative company, IBM constantly explores a variety of means and approaches to offer value to its clients and customers. These new approaches may have some distinct advantages not just for IBM and its shareholders, but also for its clients and the freelancers hired to work on these projects. The global marketplace is getting flatter, smaller and smarter. It will be interesting how this plays out. If the discussion above encourages you to hone your technical skills, perhaps that is motivation enough to get off the couch and stop watching so much television!