Sunday, May 31, 2009


I was to have a mellow evening dining with friends and catching a movie. We strolled by the grounds and saw a few folks playing volleyball. An old instinct drew us into the game.

Man, am I happy or am I happy to play today's game?

There was this center guy called Yagna who immediately knew the right rhythm (kinda hard because volleyball is a team sport that requires you know the rhythm of the setter and the spiker)and was setting the ball so nicely I ended with 90% of my hits converted to points and not even a single block. Mercurial was the word. I blazed through most of the opposite court. Missed a few but that only added the determination to get them right which made it sweet.

Baselines, corners,straight dips, forceful body shots and finally on-the-line-ones. Its almost like my X grade when we won our school finals. Everything in me came together as if they were mocking time (in its failure to make its impact)

Its always like this. When you least expect it, there you come into a certain flow for which you are ready to pay a billion dollars but it comes on its own and leaves on its own. No one knows how to make it fly on demand.

The sound of willow thwacking leather, the golf ball kissed by the iron, the sweet spot vibrations in the racket, the melody of rubber communicating with the ping pong ball, the thud of a pool ball rolling into its hole and the sound of a spike leaving your hand all have in common one thing: the music of your flow. It eerily borders on the divine ecstasy when you seem invincible and practically limited by only by your speed and depth of imagination.

We play for hours to feel that for a minute. Keep Playing!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sane Advice and Good Lessons

I wanted to keep this for future reference (hence the content and not the link)


I’ve been an engineer for a while now, and have done a lot of things, but nothing else that I’ve done as an engineer has been as rewarding as building SiCortex with John Mucci and Jud Leonard. We started in a basement office and built the organization to 70+ employees and a growing number of installed systems.

SiCortex closed down engineering operations today, reducing staff to a support team that will service the installed systems.

While SiCortex’ demise will no doubt be attributed to everything from the alignment of the stars to the deplorable state of education in modern America, I’d rather write about the positive side. The SiCortex experiment demonstrated some things pretty clearly:

First, it is possible for a small company to compete in the computer systems business. There are some who will say that nobody can compete against “commodity manufacturers.” Ignore them: they are either shills for “commodity manufacturers” or they just don’t understand the landscape. There are only two true commodities in the computer business: DRAMs and wafer area. Everybody pretty much pays the same price for DRAMs. Wafer area is what you make of it. If you insist on building giant 100W chips, life will be tough. But if you use the silicon wafer area for something new, different, and efficient, a market will open up to you.

“Commodity” is a codeword for “x86” in much of the industry. In seven years of talking to end users and system purchasers, the non-x86 nature of the machine rarely presented much of an obstacle. In a large part of the high performance technical market the customers either own their own codes or build their software infrastructure from community owned sources. Yes there are a few major ISV codes, but -- surprisingly -- the available market outside of those areas is quite large (many billions of dollars). And if the architecture is attractive and there is sufficient market opportunity, ISVs will port codes (often for a fee.) SiCortex didn’t fail because of the x86 instruction set. There were a few prospects that shied away because of instruction set issues, but these were few and far between.

The SiCortex vision of making affordable high performance communications a primary focus of a dense cluster design created a new kind of cluster that couldn’t be created by the PC manufacturers. As a result, there are some places where SiCortex clusters are extremely well suited to the computing task. The SiCortex architecture was able to gain a foothold in power constrained applications (where either cooling capacity or electricity costs are primary concerns) and in applications whose run time is dominated by the cost of inter-node communications. The primary liability in the first generation product was its relatively weak memory bandwidth per processor. The engineering team was addressing that problem in the Gen II system that was under development until very recently.

Second, it is possible for a very small group of people to do amazing things and have fun while they at the same time. The first generation SiCortex systems were designed and assembled by a team of fewer than 40 engineers. The software team was tiny by system company standards. The chip team was fewer than 25 people. Chips done at the “commodity” manufacturers have more than 25 managers working on a project. During the first generation development at SiCortex there were no managers who didn’t have some other “non management” task. And it was fun. Even a bad day working in a team where everybody was dedicated to reaching the goal was more fun than working for BigCo.

Third, there is a need in the computer industry for more ventures like SiCortex. My greatest fear is that somebody else will go out and try to raise money from the Venture Capital market and be turned away with comments like “SiCortex tried to compete and they failed: so will you.” That is baloney. SiCortex failed for the same reasons lots of businesses fail: they ran out of money. The reasons had nothing to do with the product concept and everything to do with the execution and timing: May of 2009 is not a good time to be raising money: success takes a mix of luck, skill, and determination that just didn’t come together this time around.

The fact is, innovation carries with it a risk of failure. Large organizations may be incapable of creating an environment for genuine risk taking. The reward system makes chasing small market segments unappealing, and ambitious competent managers and leaders hear the message: aim for the big wins with giant market opportunities. Unfortunately this has led to an industry where uniformity is the dominant theme. But there are lots of computing tasks that don’t look anything like Excel or a video game. The industry needs daring experiments. They fill in the gaps left by the uniform copy-exact giants.

Companies like SiCortex pose no real threat to the BigCos of the world. But they can serve as an irritant: a reminder that the dominant model may not hold the ultimate answer. When SiCortex started, nobody was talking about power efficiency in high performance technical computing: the assumption was that BigCo was doing about as well as could be done. Now system vendors are engaged in a competition to see who can make the most outrageous claim to green-ness. (My favorite: turning down the fan speed so the chips run hotter but less power is spent on turning fans. That’s what passes for daring innovation at BigCo.)

I’d like to thank every one of my colleagues at SiCortex, and especially those who I recruited to the effort. Your faith in the vision, your good humor, your devotion to the cause, and your support through all the challenging times has been a gift to me. For those who are leaving SiCortex today, thank you. For those who are staying to support the ongoing efforts, thank you.

I am also grateful to all the SiCortex spouses, SOs, and families. The late hours, the screwed up vacation plans, the lost weekends, they were the price of admission. Thank you for all that you put up with.

And thank you, investors both big and small. Along with the major shareholders -- Flagship, Polaris, Prism, JK&B, and Chevron, there were angels and other stockholders who had faith in the vision and courage enough to put money behind it. The VC investors bucked a trend back in 2002 when most of the big money was saying that innovation in the computer industry was over. We showed them that it was not.

As an engineer, I’d spent most of my career before SiCortex far removed from the sales force. Working with the SiCortex sales team has been wonderful. For you technical geeks out there, if you get an opportunity to work with real sales people -- do it. Not only will you learn more about your own product, you’ll learn a lot about how people make the crucial buying decision. Sales folks are a special breed -- no, they are a whole collection of special breeds -- and the good ones work in a landscape that is as far removed from spreadsheets and mathematical models as ballroom dancing is from hardware design.

And for the customers, prospects, technical hosts, conference organizers, workshop coordinators, journalists, students, and educators who offered hospitality, advice, and encouragement, thank you. The last few years have been tremendous fun and often very enlightening. I owe a special debt of gratitude to the folks in the seismic exploration business who patiently explained the peculiar nature of their very interesting computational problems.

And of course, thank you to every manager, decision maker, geek, and visionary who made the decision to buy a SiCortex system. Thank you for your faith in the product and your willingness to join in our experiment.

SiCortex has been an interesting ride. There is still an opportunity for a buyer to come along, and I hope someone does. The current generation product still has a great deal of untapped promise -- only recently it has shown us some new tricks. The next generation builds on the concepts from the first. Whether SiCortex builds it, or some ambitious and determined new venture gets created somewhere, there is lots more to do in the computer industry beyond duct-taping desktop PCs together and turning off the lights to keep the bulbs from getting hot.

Primary takeaway: I’m glad I walked away from a perfectly good job with a very large company back in 2002 -- for all the bumps in the road, SiCortex was far more than an interesting ride, it was a thrill and a joy.

Dream a dream. Chase a vision. Build something. Repeat.

---Matt Reilly

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Fold on Myself

I went to a party where some distant relatives and other assorted league members were present. This was my introduction despite being on this side of earth decade. Some were visitors from India.
They saw me, measuring me in almost every which way. An old woman comes and asks

"Are you Ramani's Son?"
"Yes, Ma'm"
"I know. You have your mothers' look, I can tell by the nose"
"I am glad"

Then her husband slowly walked by. I was chatting with him earlier on subjects like elections,etc

"But you know, he seems to carry his father's intellect"

Their daughter in law who doesnt seem to know/like my parents joins the circle to finish

"But you have to give him that his charm is altogether his own"

I smile staring vacantly in the space thinking how long anyone tied me back to the family

Then their american daughter joins this crowd

"I dont know. You are just weird"

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Man

If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

All throughout my childhood I cherished tis poem but never knew why. I always wondered what kind of a 'man' would this definition be for..I have had 60 varied descriptions ranging from those hormonal descriptions  to that of one who respects those unwieldy abstractions of yore :-)

I finally have stumbled upon a living example of one such person. The funny thing is that when I broached this ancillary subject with him he seemed to feel that he has travelled so far from his home and thought many thoughts but all that remained was that he has grown old and lost his hair to which I counter with the  following immortal lines

   When old age shall this generation waste, 
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st, 
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all 
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

I may sound prejudiced when describing this man to you but every moment I have spent with him so far, has only affirmed the same belief and more.. He taught me  (unknowingly of course like Drona to Ekalavya) that being a man doesnt mean the macho thing (as we believed in our teens) or the extrasensitive doormat (as we believed in old age)...There's a fine line line that gentlemen seeking stripes know where to draw the line..has to be always fair and only bend the rules when they seem unjust or beyond reason..that there exists a balance for contradictory constraints that only one has to be creative in finding the solution..and many more things that canot be described in words here in this verbal dispatch.
Learn of the little nautilus to sail, Spread the thin oar, and catch the driving gale. 

Monday, May 11, 2009


One alternative definition of a good friend can be as follows (I discovered this week!) :

One who makes you struggle with your own belief systems and helps you make progress in understanding your own possibilities and limitations

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Once I drove a fellow to the golden gate bridge on his visit here and we drove on it to reach the other end where he wanted to take a picture. Of course, it was foggy and when we saw around we could see nothing. I was like "I Swear, the bridge was there when we drove through it, not sure what happened in the aftermath"

Consider the random walk concept which was postulated as follows:

If a drunkard begins at a lamp post and takes N steps of equal length in random directions, how far will the drunkard be from the lamp post?

The typical analyses concede that it will be proportional to sqrt(N). However if you were to place a pretty woman on one side, the answer would be proportional to "N" steps. (imagine n and sqrt(n) to be stock prices and you'll clearly understand why one is preferable over the other). The difference in the two versions is the presence of a vision :-)

Bottomline: The trick is this: Keep your eye on the ball even if the ball isnt always visible.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Topological Concern

If you allow me to indulge a bit in comparitive mythology the following is very entertain:

Dyaus Pitar --> Zeus Pater --> Jupiter