ExCeL-lent EPCC at New Scientist Live 2018

Author: Oliver Brown
Posted: 25 Sep 2018 | 16:44

Regular readers will already know that EPCC was planning to attend New Scientist Live again this year. Despite our concerns about getting to London as Storm Ali bore down on us, we made it, and I’m happy to report we had a very successful and enjoyable trip!

Three of us (Jane, Gordon, and myself) flew out shortly before the storm arrived at Edinburgh, and Alistair, Ben, and Weronika flew out at different times later in the week, so we eventually had a full complement of seasoned outreach veterans staffing the stand in London’s ExCeL.

Since the others were to arrive slightly later we had the job of unpacking and building the stand on arrival. We were of course more than equal to the task, although someone may-or-may-not have spilled their coffee on the carpet right in front of one of the tables. Whoever it was, I’m sure it completely wasn’t their fault and anyway, some might say a coffee stain adds character to the stand and is in keeping with the theme of high-performance computing!

At the stand we had the bean-bag sorting game, Wee Archie Blue, which was again running the CFD wing design demonstration, and a Cray XC30 board like those found in ARCHER. Of course, with their wealth of knowledge and experience in all things HPC and data science, our wonderful staff members were as much a part of the stand as any of the equipment!

The exhibition lasted for four days from Thursday to Sunday. Thursday and Friday were the quietest days, and many of the visitors were groups of school children looking for some entertainment on their day out of the classroom. We were happy to oblige, and it was easy to get larger groups to participate in the bean-bag sorting to demonstrate resource contention, no matter how competitive the participants. Another exhibitor commented on how great it was to see young people having fun while learning about computers – big win for us. There were some wacky wing designs too – however, they were good listeners in spite of their antics, and it was easy to relate what we were talking about to the science they were learning in school.

The ExCeL finally reached full capacity at the weekend, with a sell-out show on the Saturday. This was, incidentally, the same day that our stand neighbours’ patience ran out and we were asked to move our sorting buckets further from our adjoining wall. Our proximity to the Technology Stage meant we were well placed to attract a lot of traffic, so all six of us were kept busy chatting to everyone who stopped by. Sunday wasn’t quite at the same level, but we still got plenty visitors – enough that people were having a good laugh as our poor tired brains struggled to do simple mental arithmetic when adding up their sorting scores. We were still going right up until the very end, when security were asking the last few stragglers to leave so packing up could commence.

While the bean-bag sorting game was our most popular demonstration this year, we think the most fun and beneficial part of attending events like New Scientist Live is simply having the chance to chat to members of the public both about what we do, and what they do. As well as all that, we also had an abundance of Cray and ARCHER branded goodies to give away including some pencil erasers which, judging from the weight of the boxes they were packed in, are made from pure osmium

All in all, we had a lot of fun at New Scientist Live this year, and I hope visitors to our stand did too. Hopefully some of them even learned something new about computing – we’ve already provisionally put our names down for another stand next year, when we’re looking to have some brand-new demos to top what we brought in 2018!

If you came and saw us at the stand, and have a question we weren’t able to answer, or simply want to talk further, please do get in touch!

Images
Top: Our stand before and after building and coffee spilling.
Middle: The stand at a quieter moment!
Above: ExCeL London, our venue for the week, looking rather photogenic.

Authors

Oliver Brown and Jane Kennedy, EPCC