Beowulf Questions

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Tue Jan 7 11:34:21 PST 2003

On 7 Jan 2003, Randall Jouett wrote:

> OK. I'll shut up and do my homework, Robert :^).
> I'll just answer a few more e-mails that were
> posted to the list (mainly to complete my thoughts),
> and then I'll be quiet and study :^). OTOH, one has
> to admit that at least a few of my remarks has stimulated
> list activity between members. Do I at least get a C+
> for my random-number idea? :^)

As a genuine professor, I award you with a C+ on the basis of noise,
effort, and (perhaps excessive:-) enthusiasm.  It's not a C- not so much
because of the random-number idea per se, but for creative thinking,
however wrong.

Now, also as an honest-to-god professor who has to start preparing to
"teach" tomorrow morning any minute now, I'll tell you what I'm going to
tell my new crop of students:  Spontaneous thought and
idea-kicking-around is indeed a component of learning, but:

  a) Nobody can teach you anything.  Not even me.  At best we can help
you learn, but even that will work only to the extent that you have made
YOURSELF ready by the application of the fundamental precepts of (self)

  b) You therefore must first learn to teach, to discipline, yourself.

  c) Teaching yourself, learning, discipline, is difficult (but
rewarding and fun!) work and a serious enterprise.  One important step
is to control the interior monologue and think through your ideas on
your own before offering them up -- a bit of sorting and filtering here
decreases the noise level of the communications channel and is generally
a good thing.  Another is to use YOUR time and study FIRST -- read up on
things, draw pictures, TRY to understand on your own.  Get to the point
of marginal frustration, stop, study, and try again to the point of
marginal frustration for a cycle or two.  Recognize that true satori is
always the result of, and satisfying to, the extent of this investment
of time.

In many cases, proper application of this ritual will lead one to a
steady stream of satori in this or any other discipline, especially if
one has a playground/cluster/computer to use for self-imposed
"homework".  It is, by the way, also useful should you wish to study
zen, history, mathematics, physics, a language.  ONLY WHERE IT HAS BEEN
TRIED AND APPLIED AND FAILS can the next step be fruitfully applied:

  d) When a problem refuses to resolve, a thorny concept fails to become
clear AFTER you've worked to the point of frustration several times,
THEN ask for help from a Perfect Master (where you can assume that this
list contains many PM's and a few bozos, where it has long been
established -- in the FAQ yet -- that I'm a bozo;-).  

At that point, with the ground fruitfully prepared by your efforts and
studies, Enlightenment can often be brought about with the proverbial
whack upon the head with a manual or a finger pointed at an Enter key.
Before that point, especially if the question has a trivial answer, you
are more likely to be whacked on the head with a sucker rod (read, e.g.
man syslogd) and told to RTFM.

Of course, I will summarize this tomorrow as: "If you don't read the
physics textbook like a bloody novel before you go to bed at night and
work on your impossibly difficult homework assignments with ritualistic
religious fervor, you ain't gonna learn Maxwell's Equations no matter
how brilliantly I lecture."  My continuing students have pretty much all
figured this out after a semester of abuse at my hands.  Now to torment
the incoming ones...;-)

> Thanks for all the great input, Robert. Much appreciated!

You are most welcome.  Enjoy learning about cluster computing,
especially in a hands-on way.


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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