Mar. 23rd, 2017

sawyl: (A self portrait)
Up well before dawn to catch a taxi to Exeter airport in time to fly up to Edinburgh for today's meeting. Arriving at the airport too early to get through security — something I only discovered after I'd reached the front of the queue — I hung around in the lobby and waited for my flight to be called. I eventually gave up on the expected announcement and checked the screens which told me to departures. After standing around in the massive queue of people waiting to go to Alicante, I realised I was going to miss my plane if I waited for the queue to go through. I dodged through the fast-lane and made it to the gate just as the boarding shuttle bus was about to depart.

After a short and uneventful journey, which I spent catching up on some much-needed sleep, I found myself in Manchester. I quickly located the gate for my onward connection to Edinburgh and joined the boarding queue at the gate. As I was waiting, I noticed DJ further down the line; perhaps I was in the right place at the right time on the right day after all. Despite living in Wigan, DJ had had only just made it: something had happened on the motorway and, ten minutes from the airport, his taxi ground to a halt and sat in traffic as the minutes ticked away.

After another uneventful flight, we found in Edinburgh where we met up with one of the Exeter Crayons — who'd flown up from Bristol — and their colleague from Reading. We located a large taxi and headed out to the university Bush Estate campus, where the others pieced together a series of half-remembered landmarks in an attempt to get us closer to our destination. After a certain amount of random route testing — DJ remembered that the building was on its own somewhere and might have been close to the veterinary school, while PC said that he hadn't been since they replaced the single track road — we eventually spotted an extremely discreet sign announcing the name of the building.

An anonymous research facility somewhere in Scotland...

The meeting was good with some interesting presentations and a good discussion in the afternoon. During the lunchbreak we took a tour around the computer suite — very impressive, especially the elegant plant room which came complete with a viewing window — which our hosts proudly told us was one was extremely energy efficient thanks to the use of free cooling.

Given that we could see the remnants of snow from the conference room, I wasn't particularly surprised that they were able to use ambient cooling for most of the year.

The break area had a series of components from retired systems, including a very familiar piece of a equipment indeed: a node board from a liquid-cooled Cray T3E-900. They even had a selection of promotional mugs and what I assume is a bottle of fluorinert.

It's amazing how quickly things have changed: in 1997 a board like this would have contained a single DEC Alpha processor and a few hundred megabytes — if you were lucky; I seem to remember the limit was a couple of gigabytes, whereas we were limited to 128MB on the T3E-900 and 256MB on the 1200E — whereas a modern broadwell node on the XC40 has 36 physical cores and 128GB of memory.

With the day wrapped up, I hopped in a taxi with DJ, the Crayons, and colleagues from Reading and headed to the airport, having failed to see anything more of Edinburgh than the bypass and the research lab. We arrived much to early — DJ was flying to Bristol an hour before the rest of us — and settled down at a cafe in departures while we waited to be called to the gate. WE went our separate ways — the Reading group to fly to Heathrow, my colleague from the South West to fly to Bristol, while I went back to Manchester.

A Flybe Dash 8 waiting to take me back to Manchester. Despite MB's pronouncements of gloom — he's always keen to point up how prone the Dash is to landing gear failure — I made it to Manchester without incident.

Despite a minor delay to the flight, I arrived with almost thirty minutes to spare and walked to my gate. After catching up on the messages that had appeared while I was offline, I boarded my last flight of the day where the person in the next seat recognised me from this morning! Nothing interesting happened on the way back, although the wind got up noticeably once we reached Exeter, making for a bumpy landing and a rather chilly homecoming. Needless to say my taxi booking hadn't been successful, so I asked the rep to put a journey on account. Annoyingly, although not particularly surprisingly — there is some sort of complicated tax ruling involved — the taxi could only take me to the office and I ended up springing for the rest of the journey myself.

I arrived home, around 17 hours after I'd left, after spending well over 10 hours in transit...


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