China dominates list of world’s top supercomputers

Photo taken on June 20, 2016 shows Sunway TaihuLight, a new Chinese supercomputer, in Wuxi, east China's Jiangsu Province. Xinhua/Li Xiang
WASHINGTON — Once again, China dominated a new list of the world’s fastest supercomputers, not only taking the top two seats, but also pulling ahead of the United States in the sheer number of systems being used.

According to a biannual ranking of the world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, called the Top500 published Monday, China’s Sunway TaihuLight maintains the lead as the No. 1 system for the fourth time, with a performance of 93.01 petaflops.

China’s Tianhe-2, or Milky Way-2, is still the No. 2 system at 33.86 petaflops. Intel chip-based Tianhe-2 had topped the list for three years until it was displaced in November 2015 by TaihuLight, which was built by entirely using processors designed and made in China.

The No. 3 is Switzerland’s Piz Daint, which is also the most powerful supercomputer in Europe. A new system in Japan, called Gyoukou, is the No. 4, pushing Titan, the top U.S system, to the No. 5.

“For the second time in a row there is no system from the U.S. under the TOP3,” Top500 said in a statement.

And that’s not all. The 50th edition of Top500 ranking also shows that China has overtaken the United States in the total number of ranked systems by a margin of 202 to 144. Just six months ago, the United States. led with 169 systems, and China with 159.

“It is the largest number of supercomputers China has ever claimed on the TOP500 ranking, with the U.S. presence shrinking to its lowest level since the list’s inception 25 years ago,” Top500 said.

“China now clearly shows a substantially larger number of installations than the United States.”

China has also overtaken the United States in aggregate performance as well. The Asian country now claims 35.3 percent of the TOP500 flops, with the United States at second place with 29.8 percent.

When it comes to companies making these systems, the U.S.-based Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has the lead in the number of installed supercomputers at 123, which represents nearly a quarter of all TOP500 systems.

China’s Lenovo followed HPE with 81 systems, down from 88 systems on the June list, and another Chinese company called Inspur jumped to the third position with 56 systems, up from the sixth place and 20 systems only six month ago.

Liu Jun, Inspur’s high performance computing (HPC) general manager, told Xinhua said China and its research institutes and companies have invested a lot in supporting HPC research, development and innovation.

“So China has improved greatly in its HPC competitiveness and performance,” he said. “In addition, the United States and Europe may have a more prolonged update cycle for their supercomputers.”

Liu cautioned that China’s overtaking of the United States in the total number of ranked systems didn’t make too much sense.

“We should be soberly aware that core technologies of the mainstream products on the HPC market, such as CPU and GPU, are now still being dominated and controlled by U.S. companies,” Liu said.

“China still lags far behind when compared with the U.S. and Europe and requires continuous efforts for further development,” Liu said.

Experts also predicted that Summit, a system currently being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, could dethrone China’s TaihuLight next year, when it comes to run with an expected performance of 200 petaflops.

Other systems in the top 10 included Sequoia, Trinity and Cori of the United States, as well as Oakforest-PACS and K computer of Japan.

Top500 said this is the first time that each of the top 10 supercomputers delivered more than 10 petaflops.
There are also 181 systems with performance higher than a petaflop — up from 138 six months ago, according to the list.

Taking a broader look, the combined performance of all 500 systems has grown to 845 petaflops, compared to 749 petaflops on the June list and 672 petaflops one year ago.

“Even though aggregate performance grew by nearly 100 petaflops, the relative increase is well below the list’s long-term historical trend,” the list said.

And the entry point in the latest rankings moved up to 548 teraflops, compared to 432 teraflops in June.

“The 548-teraflop system was in position 370 in the previous TOP500 list,” it said. “The turnover is in line with what has been observed over the last four years, but is much lower than previous levels.”

The Top500 list is considered one of the most authoritative rankings of the world’s supercomputers. It is compiled on the basis of the machines’ performance on the Linpack benchmark by experts from the United States and Germany.

Neutron star smashup 'transforms' our understanding of Universe

DISCOVERY. Samara Nissanke, Representative of the Virgo Interferometer, speaks during a presentation at the ESO speaks during a presentation at the ESO (European Southern Hemisphere) German headquarters in Garching near Munich, southern Germany, on October 16, 2017. Christof Stache/AFP

PARIS, France – For the first time, scientists have witnessed the cataclysmic crash of two ultra-dense neutron stars in a galaxy far away, and concluded that such impacts forged at least half the gold in the Universe.

Shockwaves and light flashes from the collision travelled some 130 million light-years to be captured by Earthly detectors on August 17, excited teams revealed at press conferences held around the globe on Monday as a dozen related science papers were published in top academic journals.

"We witnessed history unfolding in front of our eyes: two neutron stars drawing closer, closer... turning faster and faster around each other, then colliding and scattering debris all over the place," co-discoverer Benoit Mours of France's CNRS research institute told Agence France-Presse.

The groundbreaking observation solved a number of physics riddles and sent ripples of excitement through the scientific community.

Most jaw-dropping for many, the data finally revealed where much of the gold, platinum, uranium, mercury and other heavy elements in the Universe came from.

Telescopes saw evidence of newly-forged material in the fallout, the teams said – a source long suspected, now confirmed.

"It makes it quite clear that a significant fraction, maybe half, maybe more, of the heavy elements in the Universe are actually produced by this kind of collision," said physicist Patrick Sutton, a member of the US-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) which contributed to the find.

Neutron stars are the condensed, burnt-out cores that remain when massive stars run out of fuel, blow up, and die.

Typically about 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter, but with more mass than the Sun, they are highly radioactive and ultra-dense – a handful of material from one weighs as much as Mount Everest.

'Too beautiful'

It had been theorized that mergers of two such exotic bodies would create ripples in the fabric of space-time known as gravitational waves, as well as bright flashes of high-energy radiation called gamma ray bursts.

On August 17, detectors witnessed both phenomena, 1.7 seconds apart, coming from the same spot in the constellation of Hydra.

"It was clear to us within minutes that we had a binary neutron star detection," said David Shoemaker, another member of LIGO, which has detectors in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington.

"The signals were much too beautiful to be anything but that," he told Agence France-Presse.

The observation was the fruit of years of labor by thousands of scientists at more than 70 ground- and space-based observatories on all continents.

Along with LIGO, they include teams from Europe's Virgo gravitational wave detector in Italy, and a number of ground- and space-based telescopes including NASA's Hubble.

"This event marks a turning point in observational astronomy and will lead to a treasure trove of scientific results," said Bangalore Sathyaprakash from Cardiff University's School of Physics and Astronomy, recalling "the most exciting of my scientific life."

"It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the Universe," added France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation which funds LIGO.

The detection is another feather in the cap for German physicist Albert Einstein, who first predicted gravitational waves more than 100 years ago.

Something 'fundamental'

Three LIGO pioneers, Barry Barish, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss, were awarded the Nobel Physics Prize this month for the observation of gravitational waves, without which the latest discovery would not have been possible.

The ripples have been observed four times before now – the first time by LIGO in September 2015. All four were from mergers of black holes, which are even more violent than neutron star crashes, but emit no light.

The fifth and latest detection was accompanied by a gamma ray burst which scientists said came from nearer in the Universe and was less bright than expected.

"What this event is telling us is that there may be many more of these short gamma ray bursts going off nearby in the Universe than we expected," Sutton said – an exciting prospect for scientists hoping to uncover further secrets of the Universe.

Among other things, it is hoped that data from neutron star collisions will allow the definitive calculation of the rate at which the cosmos is expanding, which in turn will tell us how old it is and how much matter it contains.

"With these observations we are not just learning what happens when neutron stars collide, we're also learning something fundamental about the nature of the Universe," said Julie McEnery of the Fermi gamma ray space telescope project. –

Project Loon gets license to help bring back Puerto Rico cell signal

PUERTO RICO. A man installs a tarp over a damaged business roof in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Aibonito, Puerto Rico, September 29, 2017. File photo by Ricardo Arduengo/AFP 

MANILA, Philippines – The US Federal Communications Commission on Friday, October 6 (October 7, Manila time), granted Alphabet's Project Loon an experimental license for operations in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The license will allow them to deliver emergency LTE cellular reception via helium balloon.


Wired reported the FCC will allow them to fly 30 balloons in the two locales for a 6-month period, potentially replacing thousands of cellular phone towers taken offline by the hurricane.


Engadget added that it needed to integrate with a telecommunications partner's network in the Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to let the balloons provide voice and data service to a user's phone.

The balloons will float 20 kilometers above the earth, then relay communications between the ground stations of Alphabet, which would be connected to a local telecoms partner's network in the two areas, and the users' handsets. –



5 smart technologies a Filipino driver could use right now

On a Friday payday, the worst thing that could happen is to get stuck in standstill traffic as the flash floods rise. One minute it’s gutter deep, the next minute, you’re panicking that water will get in your car's exhaust pipe. Don’t you wish your car can transform into a boat once it senses flash floods – like a flood-proof Autobot?

Let’s admit it. Driving in the Philippines is not the most pleasant experience for anyone. (Side note: right now, we’re bracing for the 3-month-long Christmas rush. Crazy, isn’t it?) If the technology gods are listening, here’s what a Pinoy driver’s early Christmas list looks like.

1) Amphibious cars, jeeps, and trikes

Many innovative Filipinos have tried introducing amphibious vehicles in the market, some with retractable wheels; some powered by adjustable outriggers like boats. Here's a few of them: CROC of OPCENTEC, to Salamander of H2O Technologies, and Batangas State University’s jeepney called TOAD. The idea is simple: we need vehicles that could navigate properly both on land and in water due to floods, disasters, and that we’re simply an archipelagic country.

As is always the case, these innovations need support and funding to be produced commercially. As of now, most of them are prototypes.

2) Anti-theft vehicle tracker that works even when the engine is off

The Philippine National Police reported that at least 6,500 cars were stolen between July 2016 and June 2017. It went down from the last period’s 10,000 carnapping incidents. Many after sales company offer GPS tracking devices that allow you to track your vehicle, especially for rented ones.

Some even allow owners to shut down the engine of the stolen car – that is if the carnapper doesn’t find out that your car has a tracking device installed first. What would be a helpful technology is an anti-theft system that allows you to track your car even when the engine is off without draining your vehicle’s battery.

3) Night vision

Not all roads in the Philippines are well-lit. It is especially tricky if you happen to pass by strips of rice paddies when you’re going out of town. Drivers at night could easily get startled when a pedestrian or an animal crosses the street.

Luxury makers like Mercedes Benz, Aud, Cadillac, and BMW are equipped with passive night vision systems using advanced infrared sensors and smart algorithm able to detect and identify cars, humans, and even animals. These alert the driver ahead of time to avoid unfortunate accidents.

Ford is planning to introduce the technology in the next release of the Fiesta. Toyota, for its part, helped fund new research looking into improving night vision technology as inspired by nocturnal animals.

4) Car-to-car communication system

UV Express drivers in the city are like, “5-3 na dito. Copy?” “Dito naman sa 54, kilo na.” (Translation: “Traffic na dito.” “Dito naman sa EDSA okay na.”) They use this reliable radio communication system to inform other drivers in advance whether there’s a cop or a vehicular accident along their routes.

Wouldn’t it be better if vehicles are smart enough to communicate among themselves, sending data such as speed, location, brake and steering status, and direction via short-range radio? It’s like Waze but rather than crowdsourcing information, it’s automated. Many self-driving cars are already equipped with sensor systems that can send these types of information, but the range is limited.

5) An alternative to the traffic light system

Elsewhere in the globe, a yellow traffic light means you have to slow down and a red light means stop. In the Philippines, a yellow traffic light pushes the driver to cross the intersection faster, beating the red light most of the time. Just look at how many people die due to road crashes and reckless driving in the country. In 2014 alone, close to 9,000 were killed in road accidents, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are studying an alternative: a slot-based system based on mathematical modeling that would make sure the vehicles can get to the intersection smoothly at exactly the time that they have a slot. The key here is to keep the vehicles moving, even at a slower pace. –

NASA's $3.9-B Cassini spacecraft makes death plunge into Saturn

FINAL IMAGE. (L-R) Earl Maize, Cassini project manager, Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist and Julie Webster, spacecraft operations team manager hold a press conference over one of the final images from Cassini, an infrared image showing the spot where Cassini is believed to have entered Saturn's atmosphere, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, September 15, 2017. Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP 

TAMPA, USA – After 20 years in space, NASA's famed Cassini spacecraft made an intentional death plunge into Saturn on Friday, September 15, ending a storied mission that scientists say taught us nearly everything we know about Saturn today and transformed the way we think about life elsewhere in the solar system.

Cassini, an international project that cost $3.9 billion and included scientists from 27 nations, disintegrated as it dove into Saturn's atmosphere at a speed of 75,000 miles per hour (120,700 kilometers per hour).


Cassini's final contact with Earth came at 7:55 a.m. EDT (1155 GMT). Its descent into Saturn's atmosphere began 83 minutes earlier, some 870 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) from Earth.

"The spacecraft is gone," said Cassini program manager Earl Maize of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"Thanks, and farewell faithful explorer. But the legacy of Cassini has just begun," he told a press conference afterward.

"The effect Cassini has – and will have – on the future of planetary exploration will go on for decades."

Cassini's plunge into the ringed gas giant – the farthest planet visible from Earth with the naked eye – came after the spacecraft ran out of rocket fuel after a journey of some 4.9 billion miles (7.9 billion kilometers).

Its well-planned demise was designed to prevent any damage to Saturn's ocean-bearing moons Titan and Enceladus, which scientists want to keep pristine for future exploration because they may contain some form of life.

"There are international treaties that require that we can't just leave a derelict spacecraft in orbit around a planet like Saturn, which has prebiotic moons," said Maize. "Prebiotic" refers to the conditions or ingredients that can occur before life emerges.

Three other spacecraft have flown by Saturn – Pioneer 11 in 1979, followed by Voyager 1 and 2 in the 1980s.

But none has studied Saturn in such detail as Cassini, named after the French-Italian astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who discovered in the 17th century that Saturn had several moons and a gap between its rings.


"This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it's also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

"Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth."

Eerie, surprising discoveries

Cassini launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1997, then spent 7 years in transit followed by 13 years orbiting Saturn.

In that time, it discovered 6 more moons around Saturn, 3-dimensional structures towering above Saturn's rings, and a giant storm that raged across the planet for nearly a year.

The 22 by 13 foot (6.7 by 4 meter) spacecraft is also credited with discovering icy geysers erupting from Enceladus, and eerie hydrocarbon lakes made of ethane and methane on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.

In 2005, the Cassini orbiter released a lander called Huygens on Titan, marking the first and only such landing in the outer solar system, on a celestial body beyond the asteroid belt.

Huygens was a joint project of the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency and NASA.

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, said saying farewell to the spaceship felt like "losing a friend."

"For 13 years we have been running a marathon of scientific discovery," she added.

Eight of the spacecraft's 12 scientific instruments were still capturing data in Cassini's last moments as it flew more deeply into Saturn than ever, before disintegrating like a meteor.

"Who knows how many PhD theses might be in just those final seconds of data?" Spilker asked.

Already, some 4,000 scientific papers have been based on data from the mission, said Mathew Owens, professor of space physics at the University of Reading, in England.

"No doubt scientists will be analyzing the information from its final, one-way trip into Saturn's atmosphere for years to come," Owens said.

Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, described Cassini's fate as "not an end but really a beginning."

"The discoveries that Cassini has made over the past 13 years in orbit have rewritten the textbooks on Saturn, have discovered worlds that could be habitable and have guaranteed that we will return to that ringed world," he said.

NASA is currently considering proposals for the next mission to Saturn and expects to make an announcement about the finalists later this year, said NASA's planetary science division director Jim Green. –

The iPhone 8 reportedly swaps the home button for gesture controls

The folks over at Bloomberg got their hands on some images of the next iPhone as well as some information from people familiar with the new model. Some of the features confirmed in their report were already known or at least heavily suspected, but there are also some new details about how the phone will function without the home button.

As has been reported before, the images viewed by Bloomberg show that the iPhone 8 will have thin bezels and a larger screen than the iPhone 7. It's also going to have a facial recognition sensor that, along with the earpiece and front-facing camera, will be contained in a cutout at the top of the screen. Some other physical details include rounded edges for the screen, a longer power button, a glass front and back and stainless steel edges with antenna cuts on the corners. The app dock is also getting a redesign and looks a lot like the iPad iOS 11 dock, according to Bloomberg.

But one of the bigger changes -- the removal of the home button that's been a part of the phone for a decade -- comes with some tweaks to how users will access the features that the home button has brought them to in the past. Now, what was once the home button's function is going the way of the iPad and Apple's laptop trackpads. Gesture controls will now bring you to the main app grid and show you which apps are open. The bottom of the screen will host a software bar that can be dragged upwards to open the phone and also to get to the multitasking interface once the phone is unlocked.

The new iPhone is expected to launch on September 12th alongside the 7s and 7s Plus models.

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