july 30

i had to run downstairs in my building at lbl to pick up a photocopy, so i took the elevator to the first floor. all i had was a room number and vague directions, and when i turned a corner there it was, the supercomputing room. i'd heard legend of this place from chuck and his father, both of whom have traveled these halls in awe. the entire level was hushed in a way only sealed doors can create, and the air and floor cold to my bare feet. i stood staring into the room, almost a fractal repetition of tall dark gray boxes under a flourescent sky brighter than where i stood. it was like an underground city, or an army. before me, on the other side the glass, was a Cray. i'd never seen one except in movies, like sneakers or war games. the case was beautiful, as close to it as a computer can get. and me like and ape staring at an alien monolith, without the orchestra music.

the guy in an adjacent room saw me drooling and i mouthed to him "that's incredible!" and he motioned me in. the floor was even colder inside, and there was strangely no hum of fans, just of massive amounts of electricity, or maybe just the hum of large solidity. he cracked on open for me, like opening the door of a refrigerator, and inside were slots and half were filled. each board four processors, two dozen boards in just this struct, 45 gigabit throughput, continuous. 554 processors, eigth fastest in the world. the first is the size of half of this room, and unique, irreproducable. this one here cost US$45 million. everything was cooled by some highly evaporative liquid. he says they once spilled some, and it didn't hit the floor. how cool is that!

i asked him questions and ran my fingers over the red stips in the casing. we walked deeper into the room, wandering thru the plastic forrest and squeezing between some of the grey trunks to get to another cray, older, from 1992, with a cylindrical red tower in the as the central structure. they had dozens of other lesser machines with glowing green bars like the eyes of drones or soldiers. all of them connected and sharing data, tasks, time, exchanging bits indescriminantly, making computer love and producing images and worlds of color and infinite reality.

sure, it's just a big box of plastic and metal. if michelangelo had made one out of marble it would be fairly unimpressive. but it's tech, tech on a scale so beyond my finite sense of reality that i can't even know what it can do, what its bounds are, what it is.

after seeing that i thought that maybe working at a place like this is actually pretty cool. the guy tempted my technophilia by saying that i could get an account on the sgi onyx, do some rendering. i wouldn't even know how to start, but i can learn, right? there's even an attached vr room where i could play with my digital creations. but i had to leave the realm of wonders and climb up again towards the light. my scavenger instincts kicked in as i left, pulling a broken keyboard out of the trash. pretty cool i thought.

07.29 | july | 08.07