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It is often hard to describe the importance of supercomputers.  We don’t touch them; the work they do often seems obscure and unimportant, like calculating the results of a galaxy collision billions of years in the future or understanding the Galaxy’s creation billions of years in the past. 

These are essential machines for scientists trying to make sense of our reality, but they don’t have any seem to impact most of us ever.  However, supercomputers also are used to analyze weather patterns and predict outcomes that save lives, both human and animal. 

And now, these machines are not just being used more aggressively for modeling but for creating ever more powerful AIs and focusing on fighting pandemics. 

So when you get a considerable performance jump with computers like IBM’s Summit (currently ranked #1 in the world) built with NVIDIA technology, it can have a significant impact. 

For instance, Summit is now used to analyze the Covid-19 virus (more to find things that can mitigate the symptoms or kill it than to create an anti-virus, which will require research not yet done). You have the potential to react more rapidly and more effectively prevent and mitigate natural and humanmade disasters. 

The El Capitan system announced this last week, which will be built by HPE and will also use AMD technology, would be 10x faster than Summit.  While it likely won’t be in time to help with Covid-19, at least not the current strain (apparently there are now two strains) but it could significantly reduce the time to a cure for the next one. 

Let’s talk Supercomputers this week and why the competition between them is likely the most essential competition when it comes to protecting against an existential race-ending the threat. 

Supercomputer performance is measured in FLOPs, which is floating-point operations per second. 

The ranking is kiloflops is 1,000 flops, megaflops is 1,000 kiloflops, gigaflops is 1,000 megaflops, Teraflops is 1,000 gigaflops, petaflops is 1,000 Teraflops, exaFLOPs is 1,000 petaflops. Then we have zettaflops and yottaFLOPS, which we’ll likely get to the next decade. 

Currently, the fastest supercomputer in the world has around 148 Petaflops. The proposed El Capitan system is 2,000 Petaflops or 2 Exaflops. This specification makes it potentially more than 10x more powerful than Summit, and it should drop into production next year. 

It is interesting to note there is another Supercomputer coming in 2023 that is going to the Argonne National Laboratory called Aurora, and it is around 1 Exaflop or 5x faster than Summit.  HPE/Cray will also build it, but instead of using AMD or NVIDIA technology, it will use Intel technology. 

By the way, I should note that Supercomputer rankings are not stable; for instance, in 2023, IBM’s Sierra was ranked #3, but in 2023, it moved to #2, suggesting a significant upgrade. 

By the way, the US isn’t the only country racing.  China is in this, and their Tianjin supercomputer, which came into service a few months back, is impressive and, while slower than Summit, it is within striking distance, and this suggests China likely has technology coming that can compete with Aurora and El Capitan as well. 

It is interesting that in the top 10 list, there are 3 IBM machines, two HPE/Cray machines, and one machine each from NRCPC, NUDT, Dell/EMC, Fujitsu, Lenovo, and Mellanox.  As far as the core technology, there are 6 Intel machines, 5 NVIDIA machines, and 4 Mellanox machines.  The El Capitan should not only put AMD in as number 1, but get them on the list. 

Supercomputers are used for nation-level efforts designed to move the race forward (like calculating how you’d get to Mars, mapping extreme weather events, and, most recently, curing the Covid-19 virus). 

Given we may owe our continued existence to supercomputers, this may be the most crucial race in the world.

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The Race For A Nimble Old Age

The Race for a Nimble Old Age SAR prof gets a Peter Paul award for robotic walking device

The graphic representation of a patient’s skeleton is generated by a special computer program in the lab of Cara Lewis (right), a SAR assistant professor of physical therapy. Photos by Vernon Doucette and Kalman Zabarsky

You were taught to read and write. You were taught to do arithmetic. But chances are, you taught yourself to walk. And quite possibly you got it all wrong. Sure, you get from point A to point B. But you might also be damaging your hips. As a result, you could be on track to needing a hip replacement someday, according to Cara Lewis, an expert on gait and the musculoskeletal causes of hip pain. Fortunately, she’s built a robotic device that can be used to teach both the healthy and the injured how to correct a hip-battering walk.

“My goal is to intervene early on, so that osteoarthritis doesn’t progress—or doesn’t even develop,” says the Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences assistant professor of physical therapy.

Lewis was honored last month for her research with one of four Peter T. Paul Career Development Professorships. Other honorees are Pietro Cottone (top, right), a School of Medicine assistant professor, who uses integrative molecular biological, pharmacological, quantitative, and behavioral methods to study the neurobiology of food intake, addiction, and stress; Simon Rabinovitch (middle, right), a College of Arts & Sciences assistant professor of modern Jewish history; and Delvon Parker (lower, right), a School of Management assistant professor of operations and technology management, whose main research interests include product modularity, supply chain management, and production system complexity.

The Peter Paul awards recognize outstanding young faculty within the first two years of their BU appointment, and provides $40,000 a year for three years in salary support and research funds. They were established in 2006 with a gift from entrepreneur, philanthropist, and BU trustee Peter T. Paul (GSM’71), president of the mortgage banking company Paul Financial, LLC, who gave the University $1.5 million to fund 10 professorships over five years.

“There are a lot of questions in physical therapy that we don’t know the answers to, like why one treatment works and another doesn’t,” says Lewis. “The Peter Paul professorship will give me more time and money to get the pilot data, so that I can compete for larger funding opportunities.”

Lewis’ research has convinced her that hip pain can’t be written off as a burden of old age, a sign of wear and tear. That wouldn’t explain the increasing number of young people, especially runners and other athletes, who are now being diagnosed with acetabular labral tears. A source of hip pain that has been recognized only recently, labral tears heighten the risk of developing arthritis in the hip earlier than expected, says Lewis.

The labrum is a ring of fibrocartilage attached to the rim of the acetabulum, the hip socket in which the femur sits. “The labrum is some of the tissue that helps add stability, similar to that in the shoulder,” she says.

The 20- and 30-somethings are the population to target. “If you change the way they’re walking now, you can change their pain after they already have a tear—or maybe change it before they get the tear,” she says. So “identifying the people who are at risk for the tear and changing their mechanics,” is the way to go.

But how do you change the mechanics of a person’s gait?

She built a robotic orthosis, a pneumatically powered exoskeleton consisting of a brace each for the waist and two legs. An orthosis is any device that supports or corrects limb or torso movement; splints and arch supports are orthoses.

“She’s in virgin territory,” says former Michigan colleague and kinesiology expert Dan Ferris. “She’s using an orthosis for motor retraining rather than for assistive technology. That’s what’s novel.”

In a newly built lab at Sargent College, where Lewis has been teaching since fall 2009, healthy subjects wear the orthosis while walking on a custom treadmill with two plates measuring force separately for the left foot and the right foot. Electrodes on their legs record their muscle activity. And they are covered in reflective markers monitored by several motion-capture cameras.

“The computer system picks up the marker positions and then can re-create a model of the skeleton,” she says. “From that we can tell differences in angles and figure out when we want to apply the robotic force, and how much.”

That means when subjects exhibit what Lewis calls “the lazy walk”—straining their hips by using them to swing one leg forward while the other leg lags far behind—she presses a button. Air from a large pressurized air tank bursts into the orthotic actuators and corrects their gait.

“It’ll start bringing your leg forward sooner,” Lewis says, “so it keeps you out of that bad position” more effectively than verbal direction does.

Then, “because I have such precise control over the timing and amount of assistance, I can wean people off of the bad position,” she says. “And then they can walk normally on the street.”

Currently the lab is doing research, not intervention. But Lewis envisions a time when this system is replicated in clinics all over. If you were recovering from a hip injury, you could visit a clinic regularly to work out on the treadmill until you’d trained yourself to walk better. Furthermore, she hopes, healthy people could use the orthosis to prevent a hip injury from happening.

No one can say whether this will work, because no one has ever tried it, says Ferris. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Lewis. “Most physical therapists—in fact, virtually all—do not have the level of technical understanding in terms of quantitative biomechanical analysis that she does,” Ferris says. “She has a unique background that’s going to really set her up for success regardless of what project she undertakes.”

Patrick Kennedy can be reached at [email protected].

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of Inside Sargent.

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How To Make A Business Continuity Plan For Covid

The COVID-19 pandemic has struck every major country around the globe. To flatten the coronavirus growth curve, governments around the world have imposed partial or total lockdowns in their cities and state. These unfavorable conditions have made running businesses a challenging task.

Companies have to take a proactive and predictive role to maintain business continuity. However, a study has revealed that around 73 percent of companies are not prepared for disaster recovery.

COVID-19 is testing businesses and how well they can perform under stressful conditions. If your company hasn’t formulated any business continuity plan, then you would already have realized its importance till now. However, it is never too late, and you can still prepare for an efficient strategy to ensure the flow of critical operations with minimal to zero disruptions.

In this article, we will discuss how you can prepare a business continuity plan for your organization, which you can implement during the COVID-19 crisis and pandemics in the future.

We will discuss How To Make A Business Continuity Plan

Put your employees first

While drafting a business continuity or contingency plan, you should put your employees first as their health safety is critical for your business to run essential services without any disruptions.

Ask your employees to curb the spread by following all the precautionary measures such as regularly washing their hands, covering faces with masks, etc.

Along with that, you should facilitate working from home for your employees. You should follow the best practices to implement work from home.

Communication is the most crucial aspect of running business services in a hassle-free manner. Your employees should feel connected while working from home, and it is equally essential to deliver continued customer support services.

Also read: 9 Best Cybersecurity Companies in the World

Identify critical services and service level agreements

The ultimate goal of a good business continuity plan is to ensure that critical services keep running during any pandemic or unfavorable situations when a significant portion of your workforce is not available.

Critical services can be defined as a set of time-bound operations or activities which may lead to business failure if not performed.

During this COVID-19 pandemic, you have to identify such critical services for your business and makeshift in policies to ensure smooth operations of these vital services.

Additionally, there might be services that you need to perform to meet the regulatory requirements.

For these types of services, you should take a legal and organizational point of view. In case there are any legal limitations, then you should include them in your action plan.

Analyze staffing requirements

The next step includes analyzing the staffing requirements for those identified critical services. Classify your employees based on various skill set levels and their dependencies on your critical operations. Maintain data that can help you at the time of the reallocation of resources across the organization.

Make an extensive plan of action

Prepare a plan of action that should have the details on how you will maintain the critical services during the coronavirus pandemic. Document the plan of work during the planning process, and it should include the following information:

Critical services that have to be maintained.

Key staff to keep running these essential business operations.

Legal requirements and service level agreements.

Communication strategy for your employees and company stakeholders.

Reporting information about service operations to top-level management.

Remote work monitoring system.

Decision-making process during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Documenting your business continuity plan

The final step in drafting your business continuity plan is to document your decisions and plan of action. This step should be done only when:

– You have identified business-critical services.

– Issues that might occur when service level agreements are changed.

– You have identified action plans for essential business services.

Testing and improvisations

Also read: Top 10 Business Intelligence Tools of 2023

Wrapping Up

COVID-19 pandemic has alerted companies around the world to have business continuity plans. A well-planned business continuity plan will ensure that your business keeps running smoothly and mitigate economic losses.

Race To Knowledge: Putting Project

“It builds a better workforce for us,” says Ralph Dobson, senior technical services engineer at the electric company. “What we’re trying to do is get students to understand more about electricity and what it’s like to work as a project team.” The work doesn’t involve “just the fun part” of getting ready for a race, he adds. The students do write-ups of their design, budgets, schedules, and work. “It’s just like a real job. The boss gives you so much to spend, and that’s all you can spend.”

Students from West Hawaii Explorations Academy, Hawaii’s first charter public high school, have competed in the race for four years — first as a school within a larger school in Kona on the Big Island and then as a separate institution headquartered on the grounds of the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii. In fact, the students’ enthusiasm for the interdisciplinary electric car race and a previous solar-car competition gave WHEA founder Bill Woerner the idea of starting a school devoted to project-based learning.

West Hawaii Explorations Academy student Quinn Keogh works under the guidance of volunteer mentor Bill McKown.

Credit: Edutopia

The Team to Beat

Credit: Edutopia

In 2001, WHEA students were returning to the race as the team to beat. The school’s team won the state championship in 2000, even with the handicap of making its own parts because of the limited stock in local hardware stores. Students built the frame out of rejected carbon-fiber sailboard masts, cut and welded pedals and T-joints, designed and built the steering system, and lashed aluminum rods together to build the car’s canopy.

The 2001 car — futuristically sleek, snug, and covered with an ironed-on fabric that took seven coats of bright red paint — was the result of months of work under the guidance of Bill McKown, a retired director of research and development at General Mills and a volunteer mentor at WHEA. Like other teams, WHEA’s received a basic kit from the Hawaii Electric Company that included a motor, a controller, a potentiometer, an emergency disconnect switch, a fuse, a contact, gears, a steering kit, and a brake kit.

The students buy their own batteries — two 12-volt batteries, in WHEA’s case — and put the car together. The work requires a range of academic applications. Students do math equations. They study electricity, aerodynamics, and the effect of weight and strength on car performance. But the student work doesn’t stop there. Extensive documentation is required of the design and building process, the business and community contacts, and money raised and spent. Total spending for the car is limited to $2,500. An oral presentation also is required based on questions picked at random, and students create a Web site.

Champions in 2000, the WHEA team finished fourth in 2001.

Credit: Edutopia

Real-World Lessons

Credit: Edutopia

Throughout, the young builders are doing what people in the real world do — bouncing ideas off one another, researching, trying proposals that sound good, failing occasionally, and then coming up with alternatives. Vehicles are judged on design, construction, safety, appearance, aerodynamic design, and use of recycled materials.

McKown says he believes the main benefit — aside from the fact that students will remember what they’re learning because they’re using that knowledge in a practical way — is that it gives them experience in completing a job on time. “A lot of people emerge into adulthood and have never had to complete a multidisciplinary project on time with all the uncertainties of making a device work,” says McKown. “Putting things together often requires a type of disciplined thinking that gives instant feedback on whether you can follow through to complete a job in a timely way.”

The car that completes the most laps wins. In 2001, that wasn’t to be for WHEA’s team. The car had some brake problems, and the school came in fourth. But the team vowed to return.

Diane Curtis is a veteran education writer and former editor for The George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Chevy’s Next Silverado Will Further Charge Up The Electric Pickup Race

Automakers around the world are readying their entries for the electric pickup truck race. The market is on-track to become one of the hottest spaces for electric vehicles in the coming years—it includes offerings from Ford (F-150 Lightning), GMC, Rivian (R1T), Tesla (Cybertruck), and more.

On Wednesday, Oct. 6, Chevrolet confirmed that it will debut the battery-powered version of its Silverado pickup truck at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2023. The event, held annually in Las Vegas, Nevada, is one of the world’s largest industry trade shows. GM CEO Mary Barra will take the stage in January to reveal the pickup in full, but for those who just can’t wait, a few key details have been revealed ahead of the event. Here’s what we know so far.

Most importantly, the pickup will be powered by GM’s all-new Ultium battery system. These stackable, pouch-style battery packs will underpin the automaker’s next-generation EVs across all of its brands, offering energy storage from 50 kilowatt-hours to 200 kWh. GM has previously said that the battery packs would allow for “up to 400 miles or more on a full charge”—the same figure which it gave for the Silverado. This could hint at the pickup having a battery around the same size as the Hummer EV.

[Related: The 2023 GMC electric Hummer looks a lot different than you might expect]

The Silverado will be manufactured at GM’s Factory Zero plant (formerly the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center) alongside the Hummer EV and the unnamed GMC electric pickup.

Another interesting feature is the truck’s fixed-glass roof. The optional see-through ceiling follows the recent uptick in all-glass roofs equipped on vehicles like on the Tesla Model 3 and Ford Mustang Mach-E. The Hummer EV also features a similar “Infinity Roof,” however, the Silverado’s option will be fixed in-place rather than removable like the Hummer’s glass.

In August, GM confirmed that the Silverado EV will feature up to 24-inch wheels, the largest to have ever been offered on a pickup from the factory. The truck will also feature available four-wheel steering, which, much like the Hummer EV’s system, can help navigate tight spaces by decreasing the turning radius and perhaps even moving the truck diagonally.

Mark Reuss, president of General Motors, set expectations during a press call earlier this week that its target customers for the EV version of the Silverado will be different from traditional pickup buyers. This could be a reason why the automaker chose CES to debut the pickup rather than a standalone event, but it may also hint at what GM expects the truck market to transform into as it shifts even more towards a luxury segment while retaining a significant amount of utility. The automaker has also confirmed the availability of a fleet version of the pickup, which is the workhorse variant found within the lineup and typically has the same underpinnings as the retail version, just more focused on capability and less about daily driving luxuries.

[Related: The Ford F-150 Lightning is an electric vehicle for truck lovers]

GM still has some secrets up its sleeve with the Silverado. And with recent announcements surrounding GM’s semi-autonomous driving features, the Silverado may be in the running to become a hit with future pickup buyers. The world will know more at CES in January when the truck is fully unveiled.

What The 1918 Flu Pandemic Can Teach Us About Covid

In some ways, an early 20th century event doesn’t provide a great analogue to how a modern disease might evolve. 100 years ago we didn’t have widespread air travel, nor did we have antibiotics, which can’t treat a virus but can help with the infections that often accompany respiratory diseases (and cause many of the deaths in a viral outbreak). 100 years ago, we didn’t even know what viruses were.

But one aspect of pandemics remains even a century later: non-pharmaceutical interventions. That’s the technical term for the non-medical precautions that governments and other organizations put in place to prevent the spread of an illness—in other words, social distancing measures. Closing schools and museums would be one non-pharmaceutical intervention. Implementing quarantines is another. And by looking at how the 1918 influenza progressed in various cities, we can see how the interventions they each took impacted the spread of the virus.

One classic example is the distinction between Philadelphia and St. Louis, as conveyed in a PNAS paper from 2007.

We can all learn from St. Louis Infographic by Sara Chodosh

On September 28, the flu had already been spreading across Philadelphia for at least 10 days—but the city went ahead with its Liberty Loan war-bonds parade anyway, in which roughly 200,000 people lined Broad Street. Cases took off just a few days later, and by the time the city took measures to fight back on October 3 it was already too late. Philly ended up with one of the deadliest flu outbreaks in any major American city.

St. Louis, in contrast, saw its first cases on October 5 and shut down most of the city two days later. In doing so they seem to have spared their citizens the worst of the disease.

This is an excellent case example, but of course it’s just one. To figure out whether that trend holds up, another research group looked across 43 cities in the continental US to examine whether early social distancing measures actually helped. And in a case of science confirming what is perhaps obvious based on common sense, they found that, yes, unequivocally, taking early precautionary interventions did help cities reduce deaths.

The peak death rate tended to be lower in places that acted early, whereas those that waited a week or more saw higher spikes. Of course, the data aren’t perfect—St. Paul, MN and Grand Rapids, MI both had very low peak death rates despite waiting weeks to implement any measures. Conversely, New York City started shutting down more than a week before the virus hit, yet still had a moderate spike in deaths. That’s perhaps no surprise given how densely packed NYC is compared to other American cities, and it could have been much worse.

But despite these anomalies, the trend still held: taking early action prevented deaths.

Taking action early really is effective Infographic by Sara Chodosh

Similarly, the earlier cities acted, the lower their total death counts were in general. Keeping peaks low likely kept health care systems from getting totally overwhelmed, and therefore enabled them to provide better care to each patient. The situation right now in Italy (and previously in China) exemplifies how quickly even a good system can get overrun, forcing health care providers to make tough decisions about who gets care and who doesn’t. A shortage of ventilators meant that patients who needed help breathing simply couldn’t get it. And in the US we’re likely to face even worse. An estimate from Johns Hopkins University stated that we’d likely need 740,000 ventilators to care for patients in a pandemic like the 1918 flu. We currently have 160,000, plus nearly another 9,000 in stockpile—not nearly enough to cover everyone.

We’re heading into tough times, in which we’ll have to make difficult decisions. The least we can do is try to learn from our past while we still have time to act.

Taking action early really is effective Infographic by Sara Chodosh

But the timing of early interventions doesn’t tell the whole story. Some cities, St. Louis included, implemented school closures and bans on public gatherings early, then released them as it seemed the danger was over. But the flu often rushed back as soon as interventions lifted. Denver and St. Louis both saw spikes in cases after they lifted their bans. None of the cities that kept their bans in place saw that second wave (really, a third wave—the fall of 1918 was already the second, deadlier wave in the pandemic).

Taking action early really is effective Infographic by Sara Chodosh

Our medical knowledge and typical way of life may have changed drastically in the last century, but the way viruses spread from person to person hasn’t—and neither has the effect of social distancing. Cities hoping to contain the spread of COVID-19 shouldn’t be waiting to implement those measures until it gets bad. By then, it’s probably too late.

Note: A previous version of the first chart incorrectly labeled the peak point on the line. That label has been removed.

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