The National Center for Supercomputing Applications is located at the University of Illinois, a short flight via commuter jet from Chicago O’Hare airport. I was there for three days and three nights this week, attending the Reconfigurable Systems Summer Institute, a small conference and series of workshops on FPGA-based computing. I listening to talks with exciting titles like “Dynamic Load Balancing of Quantum Monte Carlo Spectrum Estimation: a Case Study”.
Well, okay… So I made that one up.
Overheard during the cocktail hour:
“Von Neumann screwed everything up by having this handful of vacuum tubes and wondering what in hell he could do with them. Nobody gets it; an instruction-based processor only emulates actual computation…”
Uber-nerd debates at the no-host bar. And not a jukebox in sight to drown out the racket.
There were some very good papers. I particularly liked this one by Olaf Storaasli of Oak Ridge Labs, and Dave Strenski of Cray. Good, hard data on FPGA acceleration for scientific applications and a good overview of why FPGAs have such compelling acceleration potential. (See also Strenski’s earlier article on the subject).
By Thursday afternoon I was reconfigurabled-out, but nonetheless feeling more optimistic about the prospects for FPGAs in accelerated computing. I drove to a shopping mall outside of town for an air-conditioned stroll and an “impulsive” purchase of a pair of comfy shoes. After doing the mall thing, I wandered through a nearby big-box bookstore and decided to buy a marked-down copy of “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens. (Clerk: You need a bag for that? Me: Only if you think someone will shoot me for having it.)
Sometime during the afternoon, perhaps while driving away from the bookstore and after noticing an above average number of Jesus-fish emblems on the backs of cars (that book had some seriously bad karma), I had a flashback to a shirt I remembered seeing, featuring the slogan What Would Joan Jett Do?
She’d put another dime in the jukebox, baby
That slogan has stuck in my head ever since, like some catchy ad jingle lodged in amongst all the other mental detritus.
Anyway, I decided to go to the airport early and check in. Good thing: the storm that passed through on Tuesday was wreaking havoc elsewhere, so the flight schedules throughout the east and mid-west were a mess. The check-in agent said all flights were delayed, but because I was at the airport more than two hours early she could get me on another flight to O’Hare so I could make my connection. I dashed out to the gate, waited another half hour for that plane to arrive and made it to Chicago with time to spare.
Lots of time, as it turned out. I went to gate H8 to wait for my delayed flight. There was quite a crowd, some of them looking a bit anxious. I imagined that some of the passengers had probably been moved to this flight from other delayed or canceled flights, and perhaps some had tight international connections to make in Seattle.
Near the gate area I noticed a group of people dressed in torn black denim, ratty T-shirts and with various chains and studs adorning their bodies. Three of them were older men, 60+ years, with tanned and wrinkled skin. Two others, younger and paler, looked like bad-movie caricatures of rock-and-roll roadies. Near them stood a woman of indeterminate age, thin but muscular, also in a torn black T-shirt and black jeans. She looked familiar but I didn’t think much of it until I boarded the flight. I passed slowly through the First Class section on my way to the cheap seats, waiting for people in front of me to stow their bags and sit down. I caught the woman’s eyes briefly while going past. On the plane and close up, her face looked somewhere to the north of 40 years old. Naw, I thought, it couldn’t be. That would be just Too Weird.
Hours later I was at the Sea-Tac airport waiting for my bags at the carousel. The aging punks were there too, looking worn out while waiting for their gear to come through. She was standing alone near a pedestal doing some stretches and yawning. She had put on a hoodie sweatshirt. When one of their beat-up instrument cases passed me on the conveyor I read the labels plastered on the sides. Well I’ll be darned, I thought.
They all said Blackhearts.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts