Friday Mar 21, 2008

Mepco Schlenk College Visit and a Moral Dilemma

I went on a trip to India recently. During that time, I got a chance to visit the college where I studied for four years to get my engineering degree. My professors were thrilled to see me. It was nice to get introduced as one of their best students to my wife. I gave a lecture to the computer science engineering students about the concepts of open source and the mutual benefits involved. I talked about opensolaris and about some of the technologies that are present there. The students were interested to know about Sun as a company, the way projects work at Sun, and about the culture. Overall, it was a rewarding experience for everyone. 
Mepco Schlenk Visit - 2008

It has been more than 10 years since I last visited the place. There are lot of changes in the college since last time. There are lot more courses offered now and therefore many new buildings have sprung up. It is good to see the college growing in this way. I got to visit the new mathematics lab. This lab is very interesting. The lab contains many puzzles, analytical problems, and tools to solve them in a practical manner. The lab is a very good idea.

Mepco Schlenk Engineering College is also known for its very strict rules and for its severe punishments for breaking the rules. The rules of the college have gotten stricter, since the time I studied there. A more recent rule in the college hostels is, a girl can leave the college hostel to go out, if and only if, one of the girl's parent is physically present with the girl. The stated purpose of its rule is to prevent dating and for the girl's protection. This rule does not exist for the boys in the college hostels.

The effect of this rule is that girls cannot go to technical conferences or present papers outside the college campus, unless a parent comes over to the college to take them there. This rule is discriminative based on sex. It is very sad and I can understand the frustrations of the students.

I did get a chance to talk to the Principal of the college and give my feedback, but  I think there is very little chance of this changing anytime soon.  All this puts me in the horns of a moral dilemma. Should I support my alma mater, share my experiences and help the students studying there ? Wouldn't it indirectly endorse the rules of the college ? If I do not ever go there because I do not like certain rules of the college, then who loses ? What is lost ? How does the voice of dissent get heard ? I do not know the answers.

Tuesday Oct 02, 2007

IEEE Cluster 2007 Conference

Ira and I attended the IEEE Cluster 2007 conference last month.  This conference was held at Austin, Texas from September 17-20. This was a technical conference with hands-on tutorials, paper presentations, poster sessions and panel discussions related to cluster computing.  Cluster computing means both high-performance cluster computing, and high-availability clustering in this conference.

 A poster paper that I co-authored, "CHAF - An Object Oriented Framework for Configuring Applications in a Clustered Environment" was accepted for the conference. This framework was implemented in Sun Cluster 3.2. I gave a live demonstration of this implementation on my laptop with a lab cluster at the back end. My session and demo were well received, to the extent that a Sun customer referred to it in his email to Sun later.Sun Cluster Manager Task Page

Andy Bechtolsheim gave the opening keynote, at the conference, on "Scaling to Petaflops". He talked about challenges of peta-scale, the opportunities and Sun's work in this area. He said that the primary challenge is memory speed scaling to meet the extra compute power delivered by the multiple cores.

 The two main topics that were the focus of the research papers and discussions, were multi-core and virtualization.  The panel discussion topic was multi-core computing, and the panelists were from IBM, Intel, UT Austin, nVIDIA and AMD. Prof. Steve Keckler used the phrase "termites, chainsaws and bulldozers" to refer to the different numbers of cores per chip, and it was clear by the end of the panel session that this phrase had caught on among the panelists and the audience!

 Ira and I also got an opportunity to visit Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Austin. This center is building a new supercomputer using Sun machines and the new Sun Magnum switch. It will be the largest supercomputer in the world when it becomes operational at the end of this year. It will have about 4000 nodes in the system. The whole site and the system was very impressive.

 The conference organizers had arranged a social outing with a barbecue dinner and live music (two live rock bands) at an Austin landmark restaurant, Stubbs. You might have seen their barbecue sauce in a local Safeway.

 One thought that stayed with me after the conference was from the closing keynote about "The Challenges and Rewards of Petascale Clusters", by Mark Seager from Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Mark Seager mentioned that different technologies that are in main stream today were present in the research community at least 20 years back. Some examples that he gave were garbage collection, virtual machines, and object oriented design. He stated that parallel programming was a technology that was not mainstream yet. I look forward to seeing Sun playing a big part in this.


About

Augustus Franklin Diraviam works for the Solaris Cluster engineering group at Sun Microsystems. He lives in the San Francisco bay area.

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