Surely, you don’t expect this to be science?

easVisiting the EAS 2015 trade show in Göteborg last week made me reflect back on Supercomputing ‘95 in San Diego that I visited as part of the Swedish council for high-performance computing. There were large similarities: Byers, vendors and users getting together for a show of spectacularly large and expensive high-tech machines and also watch curiously to see what buyer is talking closely to what seller – although during SC95, the machines were supercomputers, not carousels and roller coasters. Both trade shows featured fast-driving cars or airplanes – the movie and gaming industry have a long tradition of using computing power, although at SC95, the cars or airplanes were likely to be accompanied by a visualization of the flow, e.g. in a numerical windtunnel.

The EAS ice sculpture in the entrance to the opening reception at Liseberg reminded also me of similar sculpture at a Cray party. During that party the guests wore blinking buttons showing the new hypercube T3E architecture – and in the EAS opening reception, the participants wore Liseberg rabbit ears.

Although there are many similarities, there are also differences that can probably be ascribed to the different characters of the relations to their user bases, but also to different relations to science, technology and education.

Conference tracks

IMG_20151006_154910 Both the EAS15 and SC95 had conference tracks running in parallel with the trade show, although the Supercomputing conferences offered a more massively parallel program than the 2-3 parallel activites offered during EAS15 (the sound of arcade games and a karaoke machine  mixing with seminar presentations for one of the conference rooms was unique for EAS15).

Old fridge magnet from SC95At the SC95, vendors showed off their newest machines, the most recent benchmark results for well-defined calculational tasks were presented, computational scientists presented results as well as grand challenges being studied. At the same time, there was a strong educational program at SC95, both with tutorials introducing various aspects of supercomputing, but also presentations of outreach projects allowing school classes to experience the wow-factor of using a CRAY, although their calculations, themselves were simple. It was also the very early days of the WWW, and teachers were starting to publishing their favourite lessons on-line, as presented in one of the many parallel sessions.

I really think that a more varied EAS conference program, could attract coaster enthusiasts who are also specialists in many different fields, including natural, social, medical and engineering sciences. I would have loved to see sessions (and maybe also literature on display) inviting me to learn more e.g. about new sensor technologies, new materials, methods of non-destructive testing, effects on the human body and different forms of school activities.  Inviting submissions of abstracts on interdisciplinary aspects, as well as highly specialized topics, would raise the general awareness of the wide knowledge base involved and possibly lead to fruitful collaborations around joint interests.

Can it be approached scientifically?

During the early days of the council for high-performance computing, a fellow committee member challenged me (unintentionally), expressing that “Surely, you don’t expect these decisions to be scientific?!”. Being a non-supercomputer-user in the committee, I suffered from the “impostor syndrom” (although I wasn’t aware of the term at the time). I struggled to find questions that could be investigated to help me understand the benefits of using the CRAY available at the National Supercomputing Centre, as opposed to the HP workstations we had exclusive access to in our research group. An interest in queues remain with me since that time, with a published paper about Turnaround Times in a Supercomputing Centre (Int. J. Supercomputing Applications and High Performance Computing, 9:4, p 312-314, 1995).IMG_20151006_145800
During the EAS15 in Gothenburg, Pieter Cornelis presented part of his research, including his thesis work “Attraction accountability – predicting the unpredictable? “The inspiring talk demonstrated that with carefully researched questions, data collection and analysis, even such a seemingly elusive topic as the return on investments of amusement rides can be made into a quantitative science. If my highlight from the trade show floor, was the VRcoaster, that uses fast computing to bring virtual reality to real roller coasters, this presentation in a session about “measuring success” was my absolute highlight of the EAS conference program.


One thought on “Surely, you don’t expect this to be science?

  1. Pingback: Roller coaster realities | Research, Rabbits and Roller Coasters

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