Jump’n Jack Flash

Live from SC08 -- from the fast, to the small, to the piano bar, Doug remembers most of it.

If you are reading this, chances are you are not at the Supercomputing show in Austin. I also have a bit of a dilemma. I wanted to provide a snapshot from the show for this weeks column, but the problem is, to get it posted in time, I have to have it
done by the end of the day Tuesday. I doubt I will have time to filter and digest all the news and announcements, so instead, I thought I would descend into the world of useless bogging and give you my personal experiences so far.

The first thing about SC is the overwhelming scale of it. There is so much news, everybody has a press release and a “latest and greatest” what ever. Which is great because I love this kind of stuff, but I have to deal with TML. It is common affliction with me. It can be contagious, so you have to careful. It also gets worse as the show progresses.

Never heard of TML? That is because you probably forgot. It usually sets in the second day of a trade show. It is brought on by standing on your feet all day, talking to people you see once a year, infrequent meals of trade show hot dogs, late nights, and beer. Yes, my friends I am talking about Trade show Memory Loss. Maybe you have experienced the symptoms. You recognize a face, because you have known that person for years, but when it comes time for the name it is either a complete blank or completely wrong. It gets worse. You may experience forgetting what you said in the first half of your sentence or forgetting the name of the company that had the hospitality party the night before.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, there is a cure, but I cannot recall it right now. I usually remember it some time around thanksgiving.

As promised, here are a few highlights. First, I lucked out this year. I’m helping out in the Appro booth and they have a Formula One car (F1) from Renault smack in the middle of their booth. Renault recently installed a 38 TFLOPS system from Appro in their new underground F1 CFD center. Seems they take that F1 racing pretty seriously over there.

Formula One car (F1) from Renault
Formula One car (F1) from Renault

Moving on, prior to the show I was wondering how the attendance would be this year in light of our current economic downturn. I am pleased to report that they set a new record with over 10,000 registered attendees. Last year the number was around 9000. The isles seemed full most of the day, so even with the wall street cave-in the HPC market seems to be thriving.

I’m also standing next a booth that is showcasing New Mexico computer technology. They are running a visualization of a ribosome (a vital component of all living cells) done by Kevin Y. Sanbonmatsu of Los Alamos National Lab. It is reportedly the largest molecular simulation done to date. As I watched it, I was amazed at the number of atoms in the simulation (2.64 million moving atoms). Truly amazing stuff. And, what is more amazing, this level of computing is all over the show floor. And, like Appro, they had real ribosomes in there booth as well, or was that a grad student.

Ribosome visualization
Ribosome visualization

The only other thing I can remember at this point was the Beowulf Bash. It turned out bigger than anyone expected. One estimate was that we had close to 400 people. My estimate was “this place is packed.” The party was held at Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar where two “professional” piano players played requests generally tried to embarrass certain members of the crowd. At one point, a microphone showed up in the hands of Walt Ligon, long time cluster maven, PVFS creator, cigar smoker, and what the audience was soon to find out, singer. Yes indeed, right there in downtown Austin amid a sea of computer super geeks, Jump’n Jack Flash never sounded so good. And, people think HPC is boring — It’s a gas.

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