It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Systemic Inefficiency

Some fool shut down a power substation that among other customers services the Pickle was hit. Hence Ranger and Lonestar, our supercomputers, which were out of full service yesterday. Interestingly, backup power kept the building going. Those of us privileged to breathe the same air as the world's largest computer (this month anyway) who were not actually typing at a login node didn't notice.

The fool was duly electrocuted, but posterity will find this story of interest mostly because after his critical burns the poor fool was shipped to a hospital 80 miles a way in San Antonio, according to the brief news account.

I suppose there is a burn unit somewhere in Austin. I wonder whether his prognosis improved by this transshipment. I wonder how much energy was expended.

I suspect this all has something to do with money. Shifting responsibility from the wealthier community (Austin/Travis) to the poorer one (San Antonio/Bexar) is not to my way of thinking an obvious benefit. Putting the idiot's life at additional risk (which, by treating him at all rather than shooting him, we presume we care about), and expending a lot of energy sending an ambulance 80 miles down the road at speed and 80 miles back at leisure makes no obvious sense to me. At what gasoline pricing does the perverse motivational structure that this story implies break down? Are we just going to be sticking Bexar County with an even larger bill next summer when gasoline is up to $4?


Chuck said...

Modern burns units are fairly specialized. You may not have one.

Michael Tobis said...

It seems you are right. According to another news story he was taken to a local hospital (Brackenridge) first.

I'll take this down soon. I just had the sorry picture that this was the nearest ER they could take him to. Glad this was a false alarm.

jules said...

That's an interesting story of priorities. Here, if the local electricity fails, we may all be working in the dark, but the previously world's fastest computer (the Earth Simulator) will keep on running. Well it may not be true, but the director once told me that the ES had it's own special electricity line to a particular power station - I suppose that's so that the lights don't go dim in Yokohama when it is trying to execute James' code.

Michael Tobis said...

There was obviously an intention to keep running which partially failed.

I don't think there is intentionally emergency backup to our offices. Not sure I'll ever figure out what happened in detail but let me reassure you our comfort is not seen to be as important as the computer's.

EliRabett said...

It said Brooke Army Medical. They deal with some bad burn cases from the military.

Michael Tobis said...

Yup. I was wrong. Turns out there are no major burn units in Austin.