Problem's with Nate Silver's book The Signal and the Noise   11 August 2013

I was bothered by this passage about the Bluefire supercomputer in chapter 4:

The supercomputer labs at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, literally produce their own weather. They are hot: the 77 trillion calculations that the IBM Bluefire supercomputer makes every second generate a substantial amount of radiant energy. They are windy: all that heat must be cooled, lest the nation’s ability to forecast its weather be placed into jeopardy, and so a series of high-pressure fans blast oxygen on the computers at all times. And they are noisy: the fans are loud enough that hearing protection is standard operating equipment.

The emphasis is mine. I wondered why would they circulate a flammable gas around it. Why not something inert? So I started googling and it turns out the computer is water cooled:

The trick to that energy efficiency is water, Andersen said. Bluefire is cooled by copper pipes carrying chilly liquid — not the energy-intensive air-conditioning units more common in recent years. http://www.denverpost.com/ci_9199410

A technician insulates the incoming chilled-water and outgoing warm-water pipes for bluefire’s unique cooling system. The chilled-water system terminates at the heat exhangers in the bottom of each cabinet, or frame. A separate liquid cooling loop regulates the internal temperature in each of bluefire’s 11 frames. The heat exchanger regulates the fluid temperature, keeping it low enough to cool the chips and warm enough to avoid condensation inside the system. https://www2.ucar.edu/news/bluefire-supercomputer-multimedia-gallery

Even more irritating is that Silver adapted the chapter into a piece for the Times that covers the same topic, but is correct:

The I.B.M. Bluefire supercomputer in the basement of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is so large that it essentially creates its own weather. The 77 trillion calculations that Bluefire makes each second, in its mass of blinking lights and coaxial cable, generate so much radiant energy that it requires a liquid cooling system. The room where Bluefire resides is as drafty as a minor-league hockey rink, and it’s loud enough that hearing protection is suggested. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/magazine/the-weatherman-is-not-a-moron.html

Just a strange error that made me much less trusting of the rest of the book. I went searching to see if he’d published an errata and found this page on someone else’s blog where people have been posting problems.

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