Apart from what I could infer from the title, SC11, The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis, that it was being held in a city that I had already been to once before (and had gained some familiarity, with at least parts of it) as part of The Great American Road Trip with dear friend Nils Stenvig (@UPBeaches), that the city had more than its fair share of friendly & familiar faces and that the event would offer the first of opportunities to put a face to many a names that I had known & interacted with for many years, I knew little about SC11 and of what I wanted from it.
Ironically enough, I happened to be reading The Winning Spirit: 16 Timeless Principles That Drive Performance Excellence (by Joe Montana an Tom Mitchell) en route to Seattle and the very first principle that this book talks about is, hmmm, knowing what you want! Working full steam until literally the eleventh hour prior to starting the journey, miscalculating the time of flight, not eating enough to survive the long flight without fatigue & headache, not making an effort to comprehend how big this conference really was & its schedule, failing to make a detailed & extensive list of talks/sessions to attend, failing to take printed & bound copies of our user guides (that would have saved $$ and valuable time), … were just some clear indicators of lack of individual preparation from my end. And would you know, Principle #1: Know What You Want is the first chapter in the very first section called Individual Preparation in the aforementioned book!
And what can I say about SC11? Mind blowing would only begin to describe my overall impression of the organization and content of this congregation of Information Technologists, Teachers, Trainers, Educators, Scientists, Students, Industrialists, Governmentalists, Policy Makers, etc. interested in High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis and their role in our (everyday) life.
Amount of emphasis showed on education was first of the eye openers: interactions with well known educators [Rubin Landau, Norman Chonacky, Henry Neeman and more] and few members of Partnership for Integration of Computation into Undergraduate Physics (PICUP) not only raised some eye brows but also provided a much needed validation for the methods & syllabus I had developed (and still have been developing) for teaching computational methods in Michigan Tech. Friendly chatter with folks from NASA helped me find more material to make my syllabus a bit more interesting.
Other notable attractions included: meeting an old friend Walter Nadler and an acquaintance, Gary Johnson (@GaMiJo; I had met him in Germany many moons ago and learned that the Education program in this conference was his brainchild, when he served as the conference chair in 1993) ; putting face to name (Philip Papadopoulos, Rick Wagner, Steven Jones and several other Rockers); making new acquaintances (Gaurav Sharma from MathWorks, Gergana Slavova from Intel, Lloyd Arrowood and more); visiting several hundreds of vendors and exhibitors; interacting with students participating in cluster competition; learning the history of technology and SC, through their well advertised posters; being in presence of computing technology at its finest frontiers and so on.
By far the most indelible memory had to be a series of chats I had with an elderly lady named Eta – about 80+ years old, look alike of my grandma and still working as an event staff at the Washington State Convention Center. It was her second time being part of SC festivities, she told me and as good fortune would have it, I repeatedly ran into her several days in a row gaining familiarity and topics of discussion soon started to grow beyond the initial how do I get to that room, how do I get to this conference area?. Probably during the last chat on the last day of the conference, she heard me whine and groan about some missed opportunities and put things in a perspective that my numb skull of a brain had failed to grasp:
I envy you and the kids of your age. I have been lucky enough to have seen a lot of technology in my life but envy you all young ones for still having the opportunity to witness & experience a whole lot of technology than I ever will. So, be grateful to what lies ahead and make the most of those opportunities as they come by!
I will forever be grateful to my dear friends – Eric The Iron Man Winder, Ryan I Climb Mountains For Fun Jones, Betsy George, Lindsey Dixon, Ryan Bunger, Elizabeth The Proud Alaskan Quinley – for driving how many ever miles & hours to come and hang out, and the ever so friendly staff of every business establishment (food or otherwise) for making the long stay in Seattle seem not so long.
Returning home was slightly more eventful than the westward journey – flight turning back after 2/3rds of the way to Houghton from Chicago, running into yet another old friend in the airport, spending an extra night in the Windy City and boarding what seemed like a private jet the next day!
Knowing what I know now about this nerd fest of a conference, I’ll be grateful to almost everything life brings my way and hope I’ll prepare better for its next edition in Salt Lake City in 2012. May be even make Joe Montana proud of my individual preparation and of my knowledge of what I want!