New BITS from Intel

February 25, 2011

Intel has announced the availability of a new BIOS Implementation Test Suite (or BITS), a bootable environment that runs before the loading  of an operating system (such as Linux or Windows), and allows testing of a machine’s BIOS and its initialization of Intel processors and hardware.

BITS can verify your BIOS against many Intel recommendations.  In addition, BITS includes Intel’s official reference code as provided to BIOS, which you can use to override your BIOS’s hardware initialization with a known-good configuration, and then boot an OS.

BITS is, essentially, a modified GRUB2 boot loader, which adds many commands to probe and manipulate the hardware configuration.

The current version of BITS focuses primarily on CPU configuration and power management. BITS supplies general tests and functionality for all Intel x86 platforms, as well as additional specific support for Intel® processors based on the microarchitecture code name Nehalem and newer, which includes Intel Core i7, i5, and i3 desktop and mobile processors, and corresponding Intel Xeon server processors.

It can be installed to a bootable USB drive; instructions for setting it up are contained in the package, which can be downloaded here (ZIP’d archive).  Source code is included.


Turing’s Patterns in Nature

February 25, 2011

The “Wired Science” blog at the Wired site has an interesting small slideshow of images related to the mathematician Alan Turing’s only paper on biology.  The paper, “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” [PDF], was published in 1952, in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. Series B, and shows how patterns, such as spots, stripes, and spirals, can be generated from a uniform initial state by a reduction-diffusion process.  As Turing was careful to say (from the abstract), the paper did not propose any new biological mechanisms, but suggested how the process of development might account for the variety seen in nature.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss a possible mechanism by which the genes of a zygote may determine the anatomical structure of the resulting organism. The theory does not make any new hypotheses; it merely suggests that certain well-known physical laws are sufficient to account for many of the facts.

Although I have read a good deal of Turing”s work in computer science (as we now call it), I had not run across this paper before.  It is a great example of the originality of Turing’s work.


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