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!

Russian and American Scientists Achieve 50% Increase in Data Transmission Speed

September 20, 2018

As high-performance computing becomes increasingly data-intensive and the demand for shorter turnaround times grows, data transfer speed becomes an ever more important bottleneck. Now, in an article published in IEEE Tra Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM to Brand Rescale’s HPC-in-Cloud Platform

September 20, 2018

HPC (or big compute)-in-the-cloud platform provider Rescale has formalized the work it’s been doing in partnership with public cloud vendors by announcing its Powered by Rescale program – with IBM as its first named Read more…

By Doug Black

Democratization of HPC Part 1: Simulation Sheds Light on Building Dispute

September 20, 2018

This is the first of three articles demonstrating the growing acceptance of High Performance Computing especially in new user communities and application areas. Major reasons for this trend are the ongoing improvements i Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Introducing the First Integrated System Management Software for HPC Clusters from HPE

How do you manage your complex, growing cluster environments? Answer that big challenge with the new HPC cluster management solution: HPE Performance Cluster Manager. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Clouds Over the Ocean – a Healthcare Perspective

Advances in precision medicine, genomics, and imaging; the widespread adoption of electronic health records; and the proliferation of medical Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices are resulting in an explosion of structured and unstructured healthcare-related data. Read more…

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Gordon Bell Prize used Summit in their work. That’s impres Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Accelerates AI Inference in the Datacenter with T4 GPU

September 14, 2018

Nvidia is upping its game for AI inference in the datacenter with a new platform consisting of an inference accelerator chip--the new Turing-based Tesla T4 GPU- Read more…

By George Leopold

DeepSense Combines HPC and AI to Bolster Canada’s Ocean Economy

September 13, 2018

We often hear scientists say that we know less than 10 percent of the life of the oceans. This week, IBM and a group of Canadian industry and government partner Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Rigetti (and Others) Pursuit of Quantum Advantage

September 11, 2018

Remember ‘quantum supremacy’, the much-touted but little-loved idea that the age of quantum computing would be signaled when quantum computers could tackle Read more…

By John Russell

How FPGAs Accelerate Financial Services Workloads

September 11, 2018

While FSI companies are unlikely, for competitive reasons, to disclose their FPGA strategies, James Reinders offers insights into the case for FPGAs as accelerators for FSI by discussing performance, power, size, latency, jitter and inline processing. Read more…

By James Reinders

Update from Gregory Kurtzer on Singularity’s Push into FS and the Enterprise

September 11, 2018

Container technology is hardly new but it has undergone rapid evolution in the HPC space in recent years to accommodate traditional science workloads and HPC systems requirements. While Docker containers continue to dominate in the enterprise, other variants are becoming important and one alternative with distinctly HPC roots – Singularity – is making an enterprise push targeting advanced scale workload inclusive of HPC. Read more…

By John Russell

At HPC on Wall Street: AI-as-a-Service Accelerates AI Journeys

September 10, 2018

AIaaS – artificial intelligence-as-a-service – is the technology discipline that eases enterprise entry into the mysteries of the AI journey while lowering Read more…

By Doug Black

TACC Wins Next NSF-funded Major Supercomputer

July 30, 2018

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won the next NSF-funded big supercomputer beating out rivals including the National Center for Supercomputing Ap Read more…

By John Russell

IBM at Hot Chips: What’s Next for Power

August 23, 2018

With processor, memory and networking technologies all racing to fill in for an ailing Moore’s law, the era of the heterogeneous datacenter is well underway, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Requiem for a Phi: Knights Landing Discontinued

July 25, 2018

On Monday, Intel made public its end of life strategy for the Knights Landing "KNL" Phi product set. The announcement makes official what has already been wide Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

D-Wave Breaks New Ground in Quantum Simulation

July 16, 2018

Last Friday D-Wave scientists and colleagues published work in Science which they say represents the first fulfillment of Richard Feynman’s 1982 notion that Read more…

By John Russell

TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science

August 29, 2018

The National Science Foundation and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced today that a new system, called Frontera, will overtake Stampede 2 as the fast Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GPUs Power Five of World’s Top Seven Supercomputers

June 25, 2018

The top 10 echelon of the newly minted Top500 list boasts three powerful new systems with one common engine: the Nvidia Volta V100 general-purpose graphics proc Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

U.S Considering Launch of National Quantum Initiative

June 11, 2018

Sometime this month the U.S. House Science Committee will introduce legislation to launch a 10-year National Quantum Initiative, according to a recent report by Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This