ARM CPUs and Research Software on Macs

There’s some great discussion in the comments section of the article The Case for ARM-Based Macs – TidBITS. Several of the commenters put their finger on one of the issues I haven’t seen much if any discussion about:

In the past fifteen years, a lot of developers have moved to Mac because it provides an X86+unix environment, which is a huge boon when developing software which will eventually deploy to a cloud environment, where Linux on X86 is king. The differences between BSD and Linux notwithstanding, this has made the Mac the machine of choice for a huge community of web and open source developers. We can even use tools like VMware, Virtualbox, Docker, and Kubernetes to mimic our target deployment environments.

This is definitely the case across the sciences, including several areas that overlap with my own work. Being able to install and run various bioinformatics tools and/or image analysis packages locally has allowed me to get a better handle on how these tools work. I presume that an architecture change to ARM-based CPUs will still permit most of these tools to work, but there will almost certainly be a transition cost to recompile and optimize for the new platform. The article Re-engine, Not Re-imagine by Brendan Shanks, puts an optimistic spin on the move, essentially arguing that it can and will be invisible to users. Maybe that’s the time I should look more closely at moving some of these tasks off my local machines and into something like CyVerse or some other cluster-for-hire. As a learner though, I’m hesitant to do this because it introduces another layer of abstraction that I’ve found to have its own problems.

Update: This week’s ATP touches on this concern, about whether a processor change would mean a major disruption to Unix-based programs and tools for science, although they focused on other (non-science) Unix command line tools. Their discussion reminded me that the PowerPC to Intel transition also happened in the Mac OS X era, meaning that many such programs had to be recompiled for the new Intel CPUs, and eventually they were. They also mentioned that many Unix command line programs already run on ARM chips, such as on the Raspberry Pi. So things in active development that are open-source likely will make the move fairly quickly.

Brewing Beer

This time we get into a brief overview of beer brewing from grain, including a bit about malting, mashing, boiling, and fermenting, along with the critical role of groundwater pH in driving the invention of the major beer styles.

Pitfalls of real-time, remote teaching

Daniel Stanford, writing back in March about videoconferencing as a way to re-create the classroom experience:

We like the idea of being able to see and hear our students while interacting with them in real time just like we do when teaching face to face. But there are two key factors that make this approach problematic.

Daniel Stanford, Director of Faculty Development and Technology Innovation at DePaul University’s Center for Teaching and Learning
Bandwidth Immediacy Matrix (Stanford’s name for this, same source as link above)

Stanford goes on to describe some of the pitfalls of holding class in real-time but remotely. He does a great job of plotting the various tools along the axes of immediacy and bandwidth. Worth a read as we debrief and take stock of the spring and prepare for fall classes.

Wheat

Wheat was one of the first crops to be domesticated and is one of the most important food crops for humans today. Let’s talk a little bit about where modern wheat came from and how it’s changed from its wild ancestors.

Maize

Maize (or corn) is one of the most productive crop plants, having been domesticated from a humble, branching grass in southern Mexico with just a few seeds per branch into a powerhouse of productivity. Hear more about where maize comes from, where it’s used, and how it does what it does in this episode.

Seeds

The vast majority of human calories comes from seeds. In this episode we hear about the 3 main parts of every seed and where those calories come from.

Apples

Apples were probably the first tree crop to be domesticated, with evidence suggesting this happened over 8000 years ago in modern-day Kazakhstan. In this episode we also learn about self-incompatibility and grafting, two ideas that allow us to grow the kinds of apples we love to eat.

Chocolate

Chocolate is delicious, with over 600 volatile flavor compounds and a smooth, creamy feel in the mouth that melts exactly at body temperature. Let’s talk a little bit about where chocolate comes from and what makes it so special.

Coffee

If there’s a single plant product that I could not live without, it might be coffee. Let’s take a quick look at where this magical drink comes from and some of the factors that make it what it is.