Tagged: computing

Outrunning a decimal point

By Nicholas_T on Flickr

Now, we’re all polite people here. So let’s be polite and talk about the weather. No wait! Don’t go! I mean, let’s really talk about the weather.

Now, aside from the extremes, most weather can be dealt with. Rain? Raincoat. Sun? T-shirt. Snow? Stay inside, what are you even thinking about, jeez.

What’s difficult to deal with is the unpredictability. It’s sunny now, but next week? That’s tricky. And you know what the kicker is? You can’t know the weather that far in advance. There is a theoretical limit to that of about a month. Anything beyond a week is tricky, but no matter what you do, how good our computers get, however many weather stations we have, how much we shake our fists at the clouds, we can’t get past a month.

Computer Magic

Image via CERN

Computer Magic at the LHC (Image via CERN)

At the Large Hadron Collider, two protons are accelerated to a fantastic speed and then smashed into each other. This piece of sub-atomic vandalism is not just for kicks. Scientists there are looking for the Higgs Boson, a particle that, if found, could help explain why some things are heavier than others. It looks like they might have found one last July, too.

Now these collisions are watched by all sorts of detectors. And each collision creates about 1Mb of data (if you had the first minute of a classic song stored as an mp3, that would be about 1Mb, to give you an idea). Which doesn’t sound like much! Except, and here’s where things get tricky, there are millions of collisions a second. Even if you’re reading this blog post on a high-end computer, your hard-drive would fill up within 30 seconds. And the LHC operates throughout the year, and will for years to come. Too much data is generated for anyone to possibly store, never mind sift through.

So when they designed the LHC they had a huge problem to solve – just how do you store and process that much information?