A Virtual Conference for a Volatile World

By Cathy Davidson

April 22, 2010

This week HASTAC (an acronym for Humanities, Arts, Sciences, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory or “haystack”), a network of networks now 4,500 strong, put on Virtual HASTAC, one of the first international all-virtual conferences to use just about all of the virtual technologies available to us in 2010. Given that a volcano in Iceland has now caused the greatest air traffic stoppage since 9/11 and that many predicted the H1N1 flu this past winter would do the same, HASTAC 2010: Grand Challenges and Global Opportunities could not have been more timely. If this cloud of volcanic ash does not go away soon, more and more conferences, business meetings, and other events will need to be scheduled virtually. HASTAC 2010 offers us an excellent preview of how it can happen.

First, it took planning. Our HASTAC team at the University of Illinois organized it all, in an exciting collaboration among many units including the Institute for Computing in the Humanities and Social Sciences (iCHASS) and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). That sounds like a lot of acronyms but what it adds up to is collaboration across all of the imaginable areas of an enormous university. Led by HASTAC Steering Committee member and one of our founders Kevin Franklin, the team in Illinois next sent out a call for papers and selected a full three-day conference roster of over fifty presentations, some of them prepared in advance and some of them performed “live” online. Needless to say, if we had had 150 or so presenters flying in from all over the world, plus the 400 conference registrants, a volcano in Iceland would have shut down the conference. I imagine a lot of well-made plans were scuttled this weekend for this very reason.

The one that HASTAC co-founder David Theo Goldberg and I gave, “The Future of Thinking,” started off the round of presentations. Here’s how we made it happen. David and I had an hour-long bicoastal conversation orchestrated while he sat against a backdrop of books in Irvine, CA, and I did the same at Duke University, and, using iCHAT, Sheryl Grant, of the University of North Carolina, interviewed us on topic of our book, The Future of Thinking (MIT Press, 2010). It turned into a surprisingly lively and live-feeling video conversation. Although none of us was in the same room when we taped it, it plays with the interactive quality of a face-to-face event — but at a fraction of the cost. The technology itself cost less than a hundred dollars. Since we wanted it to look professional, the expert videographers in each place and the excellent editors at the John Hope Franklin Center at Duke took additional care with the final product. They added logos and credits, adjusted the sound, and in other ways made it professional. If you add in all of the total labor costs, the video would still be less than $300.

If David, Sheryl, and I had met in the same place, stayed a day for the filming, and so forth, the technology costs would be the same, plus we would have lost three days in bicoastal travel, and we would have paid airfares, hotel costs, meals, and all the rest. The cost for just this one-hour presentation could well have come to over $2000. Magnify that by fifty presentations, some with as many as four or five presenters, coming from eight countries and the travel and housing costs of the whole conference, live, would have been upwards of $50,000, without a single speaker receiving an honorarium or the other costs of actual rooms, banquets, hospitality, and the rest. To add to the virtual bottom line, once the technology was put into place to host all of the videos made by the various participants, it is there, archived, and can be viewed by anyone, subsequently, who registers to the site. So far, 400 people have done so. That also means anyone can go back and watch again.

Topics at Virtual HASTAC represented our network’s interdisciplinary expansiveness. This is not a land of academic turf wars and dancing on the head of a minute disciplinary pin. At HASTAC, we eschew the petty academic infighting and we all contribute, voluntarily, to what we believe is the foundational message of the humanities: what it means to be human in the twenty-first century — including all the history that entails! HASTAC charges no dues and you can become a member simply by registering on the www.hastac.org Web site and you can begin blogging, suggesting ideas, and contributing today. HASTAC Central, located at Duke University, is a communications hub. You can announce your event on our calendar or tell us your news. HASTAC Scholars, 130 graduate and undergraduate students all over North America and beyond, are the “eyes and ears” of HASTAC reporting on events in their area. And the area is broadly and loosely defined.

At Virtual HASTAC, papers included technology ones that explained how specific technologies from tele-immersive environments to cloud computing function and what they can accomplish for you, in your intellectual life, in your community. Others talked about pedagogy and how it makes no sense to have a lot of toys and then teach in the same old way. Another was about restoring the world’s oldest copy of Homer’s great epic, The Iliad, that, for the last hundred years, has been disintegrating in an archive in Venice. Now it is not only being digitized but new visualization technologies help us see what is on the page but faded to the naked eye while “crowdsourcing” allows us to have many eyes look and interpret together. Another was about recreating digitally the archive of Soweto, 1976, a powerful historical moment lost in the tumult of political revolution.

There were art presentations, experimental films, and a concert. Mobile Voices, a project based in L.A., showed how it was using technology for literacy and social activism that extended from college students to Chicano/a day laborers. The Berkman Institute at Harvard organized a four-country panel (US, UK, Netherlands, Bulgaria) on matters of urgency, from the way data from the internet explodes traditional social sciences methodologies to an urgent protest against a UK bill that seriously limits internet and WiFi access.

Because it was virtual, the conference could be as expansive as HASTAC itself. Anyone could choose what to participate in, and what to ignore. And “participation” isn’t just watching. Alongside the videos, the developers of the still-beta technology Google Wave hosted an impressive, continuous three-day long Wave where anyone could engage in real-time chat, several different participants at a time, including from any where in the world. At the session David and I did on the “Future of Thinking,” I spent an hour online responding to in-depth responses to our prerecorded conversation, with follow-up questions, suggestions, and further thoughts offered by fifteen or twenty people who typed not only to me but to one another. This conversation was also archived so anyone can go back later and look at that too. There were some glitches from an overloaded system but it was still lively, engaged, and interactive. But the biggest impediment wasn’t from any beta technology. David himself, at the time, wasn’t able to be on line. Why? He was in an airport in Amsterdam, and, like the rest of the world, anxiously waiting out a catastrophic volcano.

There were also presentations in the 3D virtual environment Second Life. One panel, led by HASTAC Scholar Ana Boa-Ventura, was on dance and performance and participants were welcomed into Second Life. If you wanted, you could pick up a free t-shirt for your avatar, created by HASTAC member Liz Dorland. Those experienced in SL helped the Newbies, both in the virtual world and using Google Wave. My favorite moment was when Fiona Barnett, Director of the HASTAC Scholars, typed to Jen Guiliano (the amazing graduate student responsible for organizing so much of the conference): “Sorry, Jen, I think I just stepped on you!”

That made for a lot of laughter but also was a stellar moment for reminding us that we were all part of a very interesting experiment. Since HASTAC had taken on the responsibility for communicating to a larger world, we were using Twitter, Facebook, as well as the HASTAC blogs with RSS feeds to get out the word. We were IM’ing and of course we were using YouTube. That is a host of technologies and, at one point, I found myself watching the conference sessions on my desktop, contributing to a Google Wave conversation on my laptop, and tweeting to our followers using my iTouch. When the telephone rang, I was paralyzed for a moment!

We were as exhausted at the end of Virtual HASTAC as conference organizers ever are. We had a hilarious post-conference sigh of relief at the end when I, Jen, Fiona, and Pam Fox (one of the developers of Google Wave, and based in Australia) were joking about sharing a HASTAC cocktail we would call The Wave and Fiona posted our favorite current music video, the amazing “Tightrope” by Janelle Monae, and we all were dancing in our actual spaces, on two continents and four cities, and laughing about it, together, on line using Google Wave.

That may not be a “real” conference, but it beats waiting out the volcano at your local airport. We happen to think it’s the conference of the future.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

IBM Launches Commercial Quantum Network with Samsung, ORNL

December 14, 2017

In the race to commercialize quantum computing, IBM is one of several companies leading the pack. Today, IBM announced it had signed JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung and a number of other corporations to its IBM Q Net Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC Researchers Test AI Traffic Monitoring Tool in Austin

December 13, 2017

Traffic jams and mishaps are often painful and sometimes dangerous facts of life. At this week’s IEEE International Conference on Big Data being held in Boston, researchers from TACC and colleagues will present a new Read more…

By HPCwire Staff

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in what has become an overwhelmingly two-socket landscape in the d Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Explore the Origins of Space with COSMOS and Memory-Driven Computing

From the formation of black holes to the origins of space, data is the key to unlocking the secrets of the early universe. Read more…

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as several tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercialization of quantum. This week, Microsoft took the next step in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Launches Commercial Quantum Network with Samsung, ORNL

December 14, 2017

In the race to commercialize quantum computing, IBM is one of several companies leading the pack. Today, IBM announced it had signed JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

Microsoft Wants to Speed Quantum Development

December 12, 2017

Quantum computing continues to make headlines in what remains of 2017 as several tech giants jockey to establish a pole position in the race toward commercializ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Iron, Soft, Data, People – It Takes an Ecosystem!

December 11, 2017

Cutting edge advanced computing hardware (aka big iron) does not stand by itself. These computers are the pinnacle of a myriad of technologies that must be care Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft Spins Cycle Computing into Core Azure Product

December 5, 2017

Last August, cloud giant Microsoft acquired HPC cloud orchestration pioneer Cycle Computing. Since then the focus has been on integrating Cycle’s organization Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE In-Memory Platform Comes to COSMOS

November 30, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is on a mission to accelerate space research. In August, it sent the first commercial-off-the-shelf HPC system into space for testing Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This