Category Archives: Collaboration

RTD 2014 went Further Faster

My RTD review post as promised is mostly to confirm how satisfied we were with the success of the conference. Attendance doubled from the previous year, the Keynote presentations were right on, the sessions were valuable and well attended and the Fireworks were more spectacular. This is not your normal Research and Technology Development Conference because Missouri University of Science and Technology is not your normal research campus. The difference focuses around S&T’s need and desire to collaborate with regional research universities. Missouri S&T confirms this focus by going above and beyond to throw not only a rich professional conference but also an extremely enjoyable experience. All this comes at the expense of S&T staff and partners working hard, but driven by the rewards.

Wesley Chun

Wesley Chun Keynote Presentation

Wesley Chun, from Google and author of the “Core Python” Series of books kicked off with a Keynote presentation that helped everyone understand the value of embracing new technology even if it might be disruptive. Mark Suskin, PhD, from the NSF Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure followed up with a reflective look at our traditional public research funding model and asked us to offer new ideas for what that model might look like.

The three pillars of Computational Science, Additive Manufacturing and Large Scale Visualization provided very distinct and engaging conference content areas. Many new professional connections were established for those seeking information about these pillars.

The talk of the conference again will be the Monday Night Social Event. Anytime you offer some of the finest BBQ in the region along with a selection of local beverages and the finest Pie in the land you have a winner. Follow that with a custom fireworks show put on by your own Explosives Engineering department and end it with a high energy rock band and you greatly improve the technical conference experience. Yes it was a great time, Thank You to all who were involved.

Checkout the Time-lapse of setting up the Video Wall

RTD 2014 Conference – Further Faster

A benefit that I thoroughly enjoy from being the CIO at Missouri University of Science and Technology is the opportunity to promote, support and participate in research activities. The capstone event that represents IT’s involvement with research is our “Research and Technology Development Conference”, RTD2014, that takes place next week, September 15-16. Putting together a conference such as this is an incredible amount of work which tells you that last year’s event must have been successful or we would never have committed to another year. Actually that is true, at this point in the life span of RTD, 4th annual, a negative outcome would cause us to abandon the effort for the following year. But no, this year’s RTD will be more amazing and we will probably be motivated to continue the tradition.

September 15 - 16, 2014

Here is a quick overview of what the RTD attendees can expect.

Keynote speakers this year include:

(Monday) Wesley Chun, from Google and author of the “Core Python” Series of books

(Tuesday) Mark Suskin, PhD, from the NSF Division of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure 

The conference content is focused around three major pillars:

Computational Science, led by University of Oklahoma and University of Nebraska

Additive Manufacturing, led by University of Louisville and Missouri S&T

Large Scale Visualization, led by Indiana University and University of Texas

Monday morning kicks off with various workshops focused around our Pillars and a very popular Python workshop provided by Wesley Chun. The sessions scheduled for Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning will be showcasing the latest developments in the 3 Pillar areas driven by the lead institutions.

In addition, the RTD Monday Night Social is a networking event not to be missed. In keeping with S&T interests, there will be catered BBQ (from various vendors across Missouri), music, and an incredible fireworks show by the S&T explosives experts.

So why do we do this? The original driver for such a conference is the need to create an opportunity for your university research community to collaborate. Typically this is called Cyberinfrastructure Days at many research institutions and it is required if you receive government research funding. Last year we decided to expand this to more of a regional event thinking that it would promote more intercampus collaboration. It has definitely stimulated more regional research collaboration with respect to sharing resources such as HPC. The potential for RTD justifies the investment especially with help from our vendor community, but it is our amazing staff and students who make it successful. We plan on launching a number of new projects after introducing them at RTD. I’ll follow up with a recap post.

Research Support and Student Experiential Learning

The pursuit of a STEM degree has gained significant attention in recent years as we evaluate the ROI for a college degree. A recent article in NerdScholar by Yesenia Rascon, “Top 5 Reasons to Apply to a Research University” highlights the importance of experiential learning, access to research facilities and hands on career development quantifies many of the reasons we allow our IT student workers the opportunity to participate in exploratory projects. This all relates back to a culture that we promote for our very successful IT Research Support Services, RSS, group here at Missouri S&T. I have been fortunate to be in a position to carve out some IT budget to dedicate to research support. However, because some of my funding comes from student tech fees I make sure that the students benefit from our efforts. This translates via the hiring of student workers, but extends beyond tradition tech support jobs. We hire students in RSS who seek out that opportunity and we benefit from important support services that they are able to provide to our university. However, we also reward them with the opportunity to own their own research projects. Our staff does offer advice and support but we also let the students fail.

Our students also earn the right to attend national research conferences such as the annual SuperComputing and Great Plains Network. These opportunities provide them excellent presentation experience which we utilized this summer by having our students conduct a workshop for the CyberMiner camp for high school students. We asked them to present their current projects to about 50 high school juniors and seniors. We designed the workshop to encourage the campers to engage with our students and it was truly an inspiration Geekfest showcasing our future technology leaders.

Here is a quick glimpse of the projects they presented and a sense of the workshop.

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes or Digital Signage Project

MinerBytes which is a digital signage project based on using the Raspberry PI computer connected to any monitor with access control given to designated administrators. This was a project conceived by a biology student last summer and this summer we are preparing it for version 1 production deployment on campus and in our community. Somewhat of a surprise to us was that this project generated the most interest by the high school students as they were intrigued by the coding behind MinerBytes.

Drone Project in Initial Phase

Drone Project in Initial Phase

The Helicopter Drone Project is in its infancy which was good to be able to show the campers how a project gets birthed. We don’t know where this project will go but we believe we should be on top of the explosion in use of drones. We have ideas for using it in creating virtual tours.

First Segway Prototype

First Segway Prototype

The Segway project started out last summer and has proven to be the perfect multi-discipline opportunity for our students. With a heavy electrical, mechanical and software development component we have had many students involved with this one. Our students presenting the Segway gave the campers some excellent advice based on their experience in designing the controller boards which they fried more then once. They told the campers what they appreciate most about their opportunity to work on these projects is that they are allowed to fail, and that has been their greatest learning experience.

Video Wall built by Students

Video Wall built by Students

The Segway prototype moved to a production design this summer which offered an excellent opportunity to display how they used SolidWorks design software on the new Video Wall that RSS built this summer. The Video Wall currently named MinerView is built on solid computer video display principles but was built from scratch with special attention given to the structure to mount the 9 55 inch high resolution monitors. The students had just a few hours to assemble the video wall in the classroom used for the workshop.

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

Using Video Wall for Engineering Design

The Video Wall will be used in the upcoming Research and Technology Development Conference, #RTDatSandT on September 15-16 where representatives from Indiana University and the University of Texas will show off the latest in visualization techniques. RTD2014 is another great opportunity for students at S&T.

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Video Wall to look at Mt Everest

Of course the Video Wall has many uses and will be an important addition to our Library where it will be made available to the entire campus for visualization. We already know that it will be instrumental as a foundation for our Business and Information Technology department’s ERP Center.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what is possible if your Information Technology department combines the needs of the university with an opportunity for experiential learning.

This New RSS website presents the students projects very well.

Well Rounded Education

In my many years as an IT leader in Higher Education there has always been a relationship with corporate partners who are looking to gain a recruiting advantage for our graduates. When I was at the Christian George Fox University the recruiters would come through me looking for any tech savvy grads I was aware of because they desired their solid work ethics and integrity. Here at Missouri S&T the recruiters are looking for an advantage in connecting with our best students. Problem here is that we do not produce enough graduates so the recruiters are looking for any opportunity possible to lure the student to consider their company.

We know that employers of our tech graduates in the US desire that our grads possess stronger communication and collaboration skills. And I think it is understood that more technology awareness is desired for all graduates. But it has been interesting to confirm feedback from recruiters of our S&T grads that defines how highly they prize our none STEM graduates. Yes, we do produce some graduates with degrees in the humanities, and they are sought after because they are forced to have a strong technology based foundation. This is partly because of the general curriculum requirement of at least 10 natural science or mathematic credits. But the employers say it is also because of the technology culture of the campus which forces those grads to become extremely comfortable working with their fellow STEM students. Due to the many cross discipline group projects our humanities students learn valuable skills in how to work with these sometimes socially challenged STEM students.

Not sure if this justifies anything but it sure can’t hurt to consider greater exposure to STEM curriculum and culture for all college graduates. We do need these humanities grads to help those scientists and engineers have more productive careers.

This recent Bloomberg article “Silicon Valley’s Talent Grab Spawns High School Interns” should be a wake up call for Higher Ed’s inability to produce enough product. Reality is, why wouldn’t tech firms get their recruits on the front end. Of course that is what we should be doing more of.

Competing in HPC, “Big Data” and Visualization

One of my challenges in coming to Missouri S&T has been to leverage the most effective use of our meager High Performance Computing, HPC, capabilities to stimulate learning and non-funded research. This has been an ideal opportunity for myself to evaluate this rapidly evolving area of HPC with no predetermined assumptions. Some early observations were that we did not have adequate super computing resources, but it was also apparent that those with enough resources did not necessarily produce proportional results. What we did have was an understanding of what we would do if we had more resources. If I just focused on HPC I would find myself in a resource battle trying to gain recognition in the research community based on cores and compute capability. But we were also interested in visualization and then along came interest in “Big Data”. What I saw was an opportunity.

The one thing I did have was the foundation of an effective research support team which included skill in adapting HPC technique to fit differences in data and workflow requirements. I also had talented student employees who totally thought outside the box and exposed many new options for us. So we started to see that we could compete in processing by adapting our HPC resources to the jobs being requested. And it became increasingly apparent that we were dealing with data that benefited from some sort of visualization to help identify what we should be looking for. For example: we have gotten good at presenting large data sets graphically over time with flexible data attribute selection where we are just looking for anomalies. Now that we are also exploring “Big Data” I could not help but ask why the concept of large in-memory processing for hadoop based data could not be married with traditional HPC and supported by our flexible visualization.

It now appears that my first year of exploration is starting to take shape. I have strengthened my human resources and have discovered that the human element is the most scarce, or at least a flexible human resource team such as we have. So now I have some financial resources to invest and this understanding of the interrelationships of these research tools is helping to stretch what I hope to accomplish. Most of our HPC cluster is devoted to students so we need a base HPC investment devoted to non funded research. For us that goal is probably a 1000 cores. But our success is not going to come from those 1000 cores, but instead from the collaborations we have developed with neighboring university computing centers who realize that we have more to share then just HPC. We can help them optimize their 1000’s of cores specific to the computation desired. Good example here is in computational chemistry.

I mentioned exploring “Big Data”, which has become the darling of big iron computer sales. In simplest terms, “Big Data” is about managing large diverse data sets and processing it with large amounts of memory. The real driver of “Big Data” is the need to analyze the massive amounts of real-time data flowing in about customer buying habits. But of course we have been led to believe that all of our analytical investigations should be using “Big Data”. Not true for analyzing student data but can be true for analyzing some forms of scientific data. And guess what “Big Data” really means it is too big to visualize with traditional spreadsheet type tools. So I am thinking why can’t we blend HPC and “Big Data” with my new nimble visualization techniques? We have all the ingredients and the most important turns out to be the human factor. So now I am throwing some DBA’s into the equation along with scientific software engineers with plans to expand the visualization resources. We should be able to provide most of our processing needs locally or via sharing with regional partners. Add in efficient on-ramps to XSEDE and Open Science Grid and we can compete with anyone.

Impressed with Google Plus Hangouts with Extras

We are very impressed with Google Plus Hangouts, so much so that I keep asking is this too good to be true. At first we were impressed with the normal hangout offering great audio & video conferencing along with chat and shared video. But we wondered about shared screens, and documents. Next, we discover Hangouts with extras. This has have everything you want in a conferencing tool except that it does not record, however, recording a window is not a big problem. So back to my concern that this is too good to be true. How can the video and audio quality be so good. In settings they actually have an audio echo cancellation option that actually works. We have been using Hangout with PC users with no headsets, how can this be. So what will mess this up? It seems like bandwidth would be the concern, as in Google may not allocate enough bandwidth down the road. It does look like 5 participants is good but they say 10 can work. This is pretty normal for conferencing tools. You know, this is a Skype killer. Google wouldn’t have any reason to damage Skype now would it?

The Hype about Desktop Virtualization

Sitting in Phoenix Airport with no WiFi so why not write a post. Just finished up an excellent CIO Summit put on by INX. I always find it valuable to attend CIO summits typically driven by key technology vendors. This summit was excellent for gauging where I stand with respect to our IT services compared to the corporate sector. The focus of the summit was virtualization, cloud computing and leveraging social networking. An excellent keynote from Erik Qualman, author of “Socialnomics” reminded us how important it is to understand the effect social networks have on our customer’s decision process. Also, Carlos Dominguez, Cisco, reconfirmed this, especially pressing the value of Twitter for news and research. It was interesting that half of the CIOs present do not use Twitter. We also were treated to an excellent talk by Morten Hansen, Author of “Collaboration”.

One of the key themes from the sponsoring vendors was desktop virtualization, VDI. Most all of the entities represented are well into server virtualization but the desktop is obviously the next problem/opportunity that the INX partners would like for us to be more concerned about, and most are. I was actually looking forward to checking into this more as well. I have not been able to justify an ROI for virtualizing my desktops so I was interested to find out why it is such a hot topic. Turns out the issue is primarily based on reducing the cost and complexity for supporting a Microsoft Windows desktop environment. That is why it did not catch my eye, you see, we have been moving toward a browser based computing environment with little or no critical dependance upon any desktop clients. This has been partly due to strategic moves such being primarily on Apple through the university, going with PeopleSoft and leveraging Google enterprise resources. I am now motivated to find out just how dependent we may be on desktop clients. Sure does make the adoption of ChromeComputing look a lot smarter then VDI.

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