Wednesday, November 22, 2006

SuperComputing 2006 Retrospective

JFKBits is back from the ACM/IEEE Supercomputing 2006 Convention. I've submitted my expense report, written up my trip report, and started the follow-up process with contacts I made. Since they chased us from the exhibit hall floor as soon as it closed, and I was lodged at one of those too-expensive-to-give-free-Internet hotels, this blog didn't get the daily updates I would have liked. But here's a few moments from SC06.

Speaking of expense reports, my top expense many days was lunch. The slow yet pricey food service at the Convention center gave new meaning to the phrase "six dollar burger". I chuckled every time I stood in line, for my $10 cafeteria-quality burger-fries-coke meal, at the sign that read "Thanks to Microsoft for this food station", left over from the free reception on Monday night.

Best gaff: talking with a nice lady from the National Security Agency. My usual pattern in talking with people at our exhibit included asking where they worked and what they worked on. I knew with someone from NSA not to expect much of a detailed answer. But I didn't expect this:

Me: Ahh, the NSA. What do you work on out there? Because I have a friend who works for NSA in Security Enhanced Linux.

NSA Lady: (Brief pause) Oh yes, the SE Linux people work in another building. (Leaves it at that.)

It was only when I was reading from Applied Cryptography last night about how long it would take a certain number of computers to crack a message encrypted with a certain length key that I realized how absurd my inquiry was. I had asked an employee of the National Security Agency attending the premier supercomputing conference what she worked on. At least I feel a trifle more secure.

She did let me know there wasn't a chance that she would download any of our software from our web site, let alone install anything on a trial CD picked up at the conference.

There were a lot of other great people I met too. Three other interesting people were

  • CEO of the New Zealand Supercomputing Center. What's that? It's what you get after a prominent series of movies filmed in New Zealand pays for thousands of computers and then leaves them with nothing to work on.

  • A couple from Washington DC from a volunteer organization that helps pre-college young people in sometimes disadvantaged environments prepare for college. With supercomputers. I'm not joking -- they told me they had assembled a low-wattage Beowulf-type cluster for their kids to use, and were looking for donations of software to use on it.

  • An engineer with two young homeschooled daughters. He told me he had some spare compute power in his basement and was thinking of running an airflow simulation of a car in his spare time. I didn't tell him I someday hope to balance my checkbook in my spare time.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had cool videos of their rockets and cleanrooms. Another Japanese research lab was doing fluid flow analysis of how a baseball travels, and had set up a batting cage so you could hit, with a forced feedback bat, a projected virtual ball. Several 3D stereoscopic displays were set up, including one from Boston University that I thought looked like a giant shrimp (turns out to be something like magnetic field lines coming out of the earth).

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