Parallel Processing & Distributed Computing


Since Feb/Mar 2018, I’ve been working on a new phase of one of my old projects: Parachute, a modern toolchain for programming the Transputer, and a Transputer Emulator – cross-platform for Mac OSX, Windows 10 and Linux.

The Transputer architecture is interesting since it was one of the first microprocessors to support multitasking in silicon without needing an operating system to handle task switching. Its high level language, occam, was designed to facilitate safe concurrent programming. Conventional languages do not easily represent highly concurrent programs as their design assumes sequential execution. Java has a memory model and some facilities (monitors, locks, etc.) to make parallel programming possible, but is not inherently concurrent, and reasoning about concurrent code in Java is hard. occam was the first language to be designed to explicitly support concurrent (in addition to sequential) execution, automatically providing communication and synchronisation between concurrent processes. If you’ve used go, you’ll find occam familiar: it’s based on the same foundation.

My first goal is to get a version of eForth running on my emulator (as I’ve long wanted to understand Forth’s internals). The eForth that exists is a) untested by its author and b) only buildable on MASM 6, which is hard to obtain (legally). I’m trying to make this project as open and cross-platform as possible, so first I had to write a MASM-like macro assembler for the Transputer instruction set This is mostly done now, written in Scala, and just requires a little packaging work to run it on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows.

I’ve written up the history of this project at Parachute History, so won’t repeat myself here..

I’m not yet ready to release this, since it doesn’t build on Windows or Linux yet, and there are a few major elements missing. Getting it running on Windows will require a bit of porting; Linux should be a cinch.

Once I have a cross-platform build of the emulator, I intend to rewrite my host interface to be compatible with the standard iServer (what I have now is a homebrew experimental ‘getting started’ server).

There are quite a few instructions missing from my emulator – mostly the floating point subset, which will be a major undertaking.

The emulator handles all the instructions needed by eForth. eForth itself will need its I/O code modifying to work with an iServer.

Once eForth is running, I have plans for higher-level languages targetting the Transputer…

… but what I have now is:

… to be continued!

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Ah, the optimism of the 1st January!

As I reflected on 2018, it became apparent that ‘starting, not finishing’ is a big problem, chez M0CUV. My muse bestows plenty of interesting ideas, but some of them are a bit ambitious. I start, then things grind to a halt. This, coupled with chronic procrastination means a lot of churn, and a feeling of dissatisfaction, angst, and despair at not being able to find the time to do all this – or to prioritise better. A look back through the log shows a big gap of radio silence from June to October, a page of digital mode contacts, and not a single CW QSO throughout the whole year. On the software side, I hung up my own P2P stack after a baffling test failure wore me down. I do want to return to that.. However, I spent most of my hobby development time working on the Parachute project, which despite being really tricky, is going well. I never thought writing an assembler would be this hard. The devil is in the details.

So, after giving myself a good slap for a lacklustre radio year, 2019’s going to be goal-driven. Hopefully these goals are SMART (Specific/Stretching, Measurable/Meaningful, Agreed-upon/Achievable, Realistic/Rewarding and Time-based/Trackable). There are quite a few, and only the tech/radio-related ones are blogged about here. I’ve been using the Getting Things Done method for a while, and it stresses the importance of defining the Next Action on your activities..

So…

  • 1 blog post/month, at least. Progress updates on projects, etc.
  • 1 CW QSO/month, or 12 in the whole year. This’ll probably be really tough.
  • 1 QSLable QSO/month, or 12 in the whole year, any mode/band. FT8 makes this much easier!
  • Try to contact each month’s special callsign for the Bulgarian Saints award from Bulgarian Club Blagovestnik. I’ve already bagged January’s, LZ1354PM via SSB on 1st Jan 🙂
  • Take the next step on the magnetic loop project: build the frame, house the capacitor. I bought some wood and a food container for this yesterday.
  • Box up the 30m QCX transceiver properly – then use it.
  • Keep up with magazines as they arrive rather than building a pile of them.
  • Fix the current bizzare bug in the Transputer assembler – then ship the first release on Windows, macos and Ubuntu/Raspbian
  • Convert the Parachute Node server to use the IServer protocol – then write the IO code for eForth.
  • Build a web application with elm. I’m thinking of a web-front-end to WSJT-X, to allow me to operate remotely.

Let’s see how I get on…!