POSTED ON JUNE 27, 2012:
Amping Up T-Town
Tulsa community super-computer lights up this fall
What separates community with fast-track potential from a place that doesn't have these prospects?
In the last couple of centuries, access to physical portals and transport connections was highly material. Places that had access to the ocean, to major rivers and waterways, land for industrial and residential use, highways etc. had a cat/bird shot at getting big and staying that way.
Tulsa's prospects for additional high-wage jobs and access to emerging markets has been, and continues to be, tightly connected to these assets -- but there are also other factors at play. Economic historian Nail Ferguson and science writer/polymath Steven Johnson have modified this long offered notion in recent books by noting the supreme import of density (cities), intellectual property rules and the surprising importance of professional/amateur societies, informal spots like high brow coffee shops/bars, and royal/public money for early stage projects and frankly experimental efforts.
In our new century, a powerful advantage springs from having a bunch of brainy folks and a highly tolerant culture that values idiosyncratic individuals and their lifestyles.
Over the course of the last several months I've written several pieces on developments associated with a signal community supercomputing project here in Tulsa. A supercomputer is an extremely high performance computation engine, or an array of lots of conventional processing devices ganged together as a seamless, ultra-capable gizmo. Another way of thinking about a super: they are simply the fastest, most capable computing machines available at any given time. Supers have been used traditionally for nuclear weapons simulation, seismic exploration, particle physics, aerospace prototyping and climate modeling.
Having a publicly available "Super" could give Tulsa researchers/scientists, designers, engineers, entrepreneurs and artists a wild-card advantage in our region.
Barry Davis, a veteran Tulsa venture capitalist and David Greer, the chief of TU's nationally renowned information security technology program and the acting director for the new project, are ramrodding this giant effort and leading a big consortium that includes TU, OU, OSU, TCC and City of Tulsa/ Mayor Dewey Bartlett's administration.
Barry Davis said at the Tulsa Community Supercomputer launch event last week:
"The Tulsa Community Supercomputer will enhance Tulsa area research and development in the sectors of advanced materials, aerospace, alternative energy, cyber-security, healthcare, life sciences, oil and gas, telecommunications and others. City and state government entities can also potentially benefit from using the Tulsa Community."
And Mr. Davis could have added animation and special effect work:
On Friday, Mr. Katzenberg's company is releasing Madagascar 3, a computer-generated animated comedy. Since 2009, DreamWorks Animation has released nothing but 3-D movies, each of which carries computing loads that cost the company an extraordinary amount of time and money.
"You're making a separate movie for each eye" with 3-D, he said. It typically takes four years, and 3 billion computer renderings to make an animated feature with good visual quality. There are six terabytes of data in 150 seconds of animation. Each character consists of thousands of points and hundreds of layers of color and shape. "A world-class animator can render three seconds a week," he said. Backgrounds are a whole other series of points and layers." - From The New York Times /June 8, 2012, "Predicting the Rise and Rise of 3-D" by Quentin Hardy.
In Tulsa there are a whole range of advanced tech/service ventures and high-value firms that could make extremely effective use of a supercomputing facility, say Davis and the driver entity (Oklahoma Innovation Institute (OII) for the project. OII has identified more than 50 local firms in the aerospace, industrial design, energy and biomedical industry -- all are classic users of advanced computing.
What we have here is an opportunity to secure a piece of the new generation infrastructure that is a signal part of the technological and human support systems that animate an agile, and vibrant economy. There simply is no substitute for having at least one facility of this kind in a city that has any ambitions that have a connection to the emerging life sciences, advanced manufacturing, computing and aerospace futures.
A New Way
Part of the alacrity associated with a supercomputing facility is the capacity to do scientific, engineering and even interactive media and animation work in an entirely different fashion. This is why the $800,000 in fed funds and a bevy of private philanthropic donors needed for first stage of the project are very high-yield investments for Tulsa. Supercomputing, unlike ordinary PCs and other computing, represents a qualitative change in the way that human beings can amplify analytic, computational and creative work -- often by using advanced computer stimulation as a substitute for actual engineering trials, and physical experiments that are sometimes exceedingly expensive and difficult to do.
Three Examples of Supercomputing at Work
New drug development has long been a surprisingly primitive trial and error process predicated on looking at the characteristics and metabolic activity of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of substances in the search for new therapeutic agents. So called "rational drug design" is fueled by super computers and a new discipline called computational chemistry. This combo avenue is a powerful way of navigating around the traditional methods that have hobbled pharmaceutical researchers in the biosciences.
--The 787 dream liner -- Boeing's new commercial civilian transport plane was produced via supercomputer. Hundreds of candidate models, each having different fuselage, wing and other air frame characteristics were modeled using a huge aerodynamic emulation of the aircraft combined with wind-tunnel testing. By one estimate, the time frame associated with developing this new and breakout airliner was cut by as much as two years as a consequence of using supercomputer design and engineering driven methods.
--Some cities are using novel incentive packages to encourage commuters/their employers who come into downtown city centers to pick alternative work/travel schedules. These still-experimental incentive practices encourage commuters to use mass transit as well, so traffic engineers and city planners who want to experiment with these methods are challenged to show that road congestion and deferment of capital improvements to major highway segments might come about via these new special incentive efforts. Although Tulsa is not currently experimenting with these plans, the new supercomputing project will almost certainly offer INCOG, the regional planning agency responsible for transportation planning in our area, a powerful bucket of rich computer simulation tools for looking at transit, commuter rail, alternative scheduling and incentive programs -- all options that will be a part of our transport future here.
In a few weeks, a look at a spectacular bio medical use of supercomputing that could be a huge game hanging project for Tulsa.
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