Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Work Travel

I woke up early and drove to San Diego Supercomputer Center for a meeting today. A coworker spent the previous night at our house so we could carpool. Not having to arrange a meet-up place meant we could both get an extra 20-30 minutes of sleep and I didn't have to scramble for an early morning babysitter.

SDSC has geek glamour. My life is incredibly glamorous in a geeky way if you consider that, less than a week ago, I visited the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon for a meeting with the winner of the DARPA Urban Challenge.

It occurred to me that not many people in the general population have occasion to visit a national supercomputer center. I took a few pictures and movies to show the immensity of rack after rack of servers and the sound of all that HVAC. Unfortunately, all I could hear when I downloaded the movies was a hiss that does not resemble the actual sound of the room at all.

Supercomputer sites used to be rarer and even louder. There are no water chillers here today. (Those used to roar as if you were standing at the bottom of Yosemite Falls in the springtime.) The racks of computers are bolted to a false floor and cold air is blown upward through the racks. Hot air is sucked up through large inlets in the ceiling.

The health of the system needs to be constantly monitored for early signs of failure and quick response.
Low-tech, but effective monitoring.
Geek humor.
A robotic tape library carousel. When someone requests a volume of data, the robotic arm swings around to pull the tape, then loads it into the tape player. The data is read and delivered via wire (internet).
SDSC digitized data from the Library of Congress from the 18th century to present and serves up the data over the internet to users around the world. If you need sea surface temperatures going back 200+ years, this is the place to look.

We walked past the Geisel Library (Dr. Seuss) at lunch. I am showing off a stuffed Salmonella toy I bought for Iris at the bookstore. It was an impulse buy because I went to the store to buy her a molecular model set and I found the giant microbes irresistible. It was hard to pick just one. I almost picked the T4 bacteriophage because the label is so informative and entertaining (click label at the link above to read it) and because of my work with TC4. In the end, I thought the T4 story might be too scary for Iris.

Buying a molecular model set was tougher than when I went to college. Back then, only one type was sold in the bookstore. (The other kind, used by professors, was too expensive $$$ for students.) Today, there were half a dozen to choose from at the UCSD bookstore.

Which to buy?

At first, I reached for the familiar one I had used as a student (kicking myself for not hanging on to my old one). It has the paddles that show p and spn orbitals so I can demonstrate reactive sites. But then, those have rigid bonds and I didn't want to teach her that molecules are rigid. When I taught Molecular Quantum Mechanics, some students just could not get beyond their static view of molecular shapes and representations. I don't want to handicap her.

What if she fails MQM and blames her mommy for imparting to her an erroneous world view of rigid molecular bonds at a young and impressionable age?

I bought her the flexible set.

From the Archives:
Business Travel for Moms

1 comment:

  1. When I worked in NY we got an e-mail asking for people to donate their old molecular model kits for a summer program at a local school. I was absolutely amazed at how many of us still had them (and were willing to part with them for a good cause).