Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Technical Conference at Providence, Rhode Island

Attending technical conference is always fun! It is time to find out what others in my field have been working on, it is time to showcase my own work - in person! It is also a time to meet old friends and a time to make new ones. Further more it is also usually the time to visit some new places, and time to indulge in fine wine and gourmet food. This May I went to Providence, Rhode Island for my favorite conference on industrial applications of computational mechanics.

Technical aspects

For industrial applications of computational mechanics, the work is about how to implement newly developed numerical algorithms in commercial codes for code developers, and it is about how to apply computational methods available in the commercial codes in real world problems.

So every time I attend the conference, I will attend advanced seminars before the conference either to learn what is new in the commercial code I use, or to learn how to make the code converges better for highly nonlinear problems. This year I learned "Leveraging the Latest Solver Technology for Challenging Static & Dynamic Applications". I was particular excited about new capabilities available in the code I use.

I usually present my work at the conference, but I had no paper this time. I did not submit a paper due to uncertainty of the travel. So the main focus for me this year was to learn, to see and to discuss. I attended all the general lecture presentations, and as many individual presentations as there were that I was interested in. I asked a lot of questions at the presentations I attended. In addition to get a feel of what my peers were doing, I also learned a couple of numeral tricks.

Trends in High Performance Computing (HPC) are of great interests to me. I further improved my understanding of cluster computing, especially limiting factors - such as memory band width - a concept I did not have before. The exciting GPGPU (general purpose graphic processing unit) is emerging as an likely future hardware for HPC.

Old friends, new friends

The conference is an excellent venue to meet friends in my field from around the country, and occasionally from overseas. It has become a reunion place of sort for some former employees from my previous employer - we jokingly call ourselves the alumni of the company. I also meet a lot of alumni from the University of my graduate school - most of which I did not know before. Common past, common association does make it easier for people to connect with each other.

Before the start of Monday's advanced seminars, I met an attendee who looked so familiar to me but I could not remember his name. "You look so familiar to me!" I started. "You too", he said. When I told him my name, he remembered me. We went to the same college, same department and we stayed in the same dormitory building for 3 years, he was one year my senior. It was nearly a quarter century ago that we saw each other last time. What a surprise!

I know quite a few people from the commercial code company, from local office managers, to code developers, product managers, to directors of different technologies, mainly through technical discussions. At the seminar "Leveraging the Latest Solver Technology for Challenging Static & Dynamic Applications", I asked a few intelligent questions, and made several relevant comments. The speaker, who is the director of solver technology at the code company, exchanged business cards with me afterwards and chatted with me. He and I happens to have a common friend, Mark.

Another group of people I know are from oil/gas industry. A few are actually from competitors - mostly casual acquaintances. I do strike a lasting friendship with Jonathan, whom I got to know 6 years ago from a training. He is an engineering analysis manager at a subsea equipment company. We since meet each other almost every year at the conference, we go out sightseeing together when there is time, we dine out together when there are no other scheduled activities. I call him my conference buddy.

Providence - a nice small city

I arrived at my hotel, Marriott Courtyard on Sunday for Monday's advanced training seminars. Around 6:30pm, I strolled out the hotel to look around. Marriott is right in the middle of the very small downtown of Providence, beautifully situated by the water place park. The park is centered around a river, surround by high rises, an oasis in the city. To its far east is a green hill with a white tower of a temple; to the north is the state capital. I walked around slowly to enjoy the quiet Sunday evening, camera in hand, taking pictures now and then. On the way back to my hotel, I met Jonathan and two other acquaintances. We had Fondue together at Melting Pot - exchanging information on what had happened since we met lat time while enjoying the food.

The conference ended noon time on Thursday. Since my flight was 7pm and Jonathan's was 5pm, we went to visit the famed Ivy League member - Brown University and had picnic at its old campus. The campus is small, beautiful; on a lawn, some students were sunbathing, some were reading, some were chatting - a very typical college campus. We also saw parents and their students walking around, apparently waiting for Sunday's commencement at Brown.

When it was time to leave, I drove Jonathan to the local airport and then drove to Boston for my direct flight home. Due to severe weather along the flight route, my flight was delayed about 2 hours. I arrived home after midnight. It is good to be home at any time.

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