An Embarrassingly Exciting Discovery

17Jan11

Those of you who read this from the CS/Math/Engineering world will probably scoff, mutter something about damned kids being 10 years behind the times, and go and read something else.

And really, it won’t dampen my enthusiasm in the slightest.

My background is in Biology, particularly from a University that didn’t push computational biology, bioinformatics or anything like that particularly hard. I’ve been making up for lost time by making an earnest attempt at expanding the number of programming languages I know, my familiarity with research computing, etc., for three reasons really, touched on after the jump.

  • What’s the worst that happens, I never use it? In terms of a distraction from doing real work, it’s better more productive than the classic dissertation distractions of learning to bake the perfect lasagna, having a child, or learning French.
  • I’m a nerd. By god, I should be able to do Nerd Things ™.
  • It’s become clear that it might actually count as work. My particular approach to research involves a good deal of simulation (why prove, when you can just show it worked 100,000 times?), and for that, programming and processor power is…double-plus good.

So I finally got around to getting myself an account on the university’s research computing cluster, and mucking about with SSH. And it is, frankly, really, really fun. Took 0.21 seconds to generate a million random numbers from the truncated distribution I discussed below. I’m able to run the latest version of SAS without having to boot over to Windows, or launch Parallels, or inflict >2 Gig workings files on my poor little laptop. All from the reassuring white-on-blue glow of a Terminal application that, to a child of the 1980’s, screams Science!

But really, when it comes down to it, being able to run SAS over SSH on my Mac, and being able to submit SAS and Python-based code onto a cluster from an iPad while I sit in Starbucks is…pretty cool.

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