Wednesday, 27 August 2008

EMF Isn't Rocket Science But Don't Tell NASA JPL

Over the past few weeks, I've become a PowerPoint junkie. I'm psychologically scarred as a result. On relatively short notice, I needed to prepare two 1/2 day intensive EMF training sessions as well as a one hour talk for the folks at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California. I wanted to learn how to use animation to make really compelling visualizations of what's happening under the EMF hood; that killed more time than I care to admit. It also brought to light the fact that PowerPoint has occasional issues with undo; issues so bad that the resulting state corrupted the entire presentation, including the disk image from an attempt to save in that state. Thank goodness I'd saved a draft just two hours before that happened, or I would have died. It would seem that an exorbitant price tag along with a massive user base doesn't buy perfection. A little bit of praying and saving to a new file each time seemed to help ease the paranoia.

After a week of getting up a 2:00 in the morning, I finally had enough slides to choke a horse just in time for my flight to LA on Sunday. In fact, I worked on them some more on the plane when I discovered that a few slides I know I'd written just weren't there. Thank goodness for planes with power plugs to make the whole flight productive. Soon Los Angeles was in sight.

After a harrowing taxi ride to Pasadena, I was ready for some dinner and for some much needed rest. The next day I arrived at the JPL reception, where by some miracle of foresight I actually had my passport with me. This turned out to be a good thing, my being a "foreign national" and all. In that case you get the special "red folder" treatment to ensure that you are under constant supervision. We all know that Canadians generally can't be trusted like you can Americans. Though given the crazy state of the world, better safe than sorry seems a good policy.

My host, Jeff Norris gave me a quick tour of one of their museums which showed models of all the probes and stuff that have gone out over the years. Really cool!

One of the things I discovered there was that I'm totally hot!

There was even a replica of the Voyager Golden Record which I thought reflected rather nicely on me.

Finally I made to OPS lab where Jeff's team works in a very dynamic environment!

This week was EnsembleCon so team members from various locations were all working together. So many nice people! Then I started my morning "Introduction to EMF" session, which went well. I gave a demo of the tools in action and that took up lots of time because people asked a lot of questions which prompted me to show more and more things. I didn't get very far in the slides. For the "Advanced EMF" session in the afternoon, I was able to cover the bulk of the remaining slides though. I was quite happy with how it went. I think it flowed together very well. I hope the group felt the same way. I'll have to dig for some constructive criticism so I can make it better. On the way out, we found that the little park at the center of the complex was a favored hang out for deer. Apparently they're as common as squirrels.

That evening Alfredo Bencomo, another IBM refugee, drove me back to the hotel and we went out for dinner and drinks with many of the rest of the folks from the group. Pasadena is a very scenic place!

The next day, I repeated my "Advanced EMF" presentation, starting a little earlier so I could give a 0ne hour more general talk to a larger audience. I even got through all the slides reaching the summary slide. My talk was advertised around the lab like this

Apparently a catchy title attracts a bigger audience. By the time I was part way in, the room was beyond capacity with people standing in the hall.

I hoped that it would be well received as both humorous as well as thought provoking and from some of the comments I think it achieved that goal. I was completely taken aback by the large turnout. I think a few more groups will be looking at the success of Jeff's team applying Eclipse technology to great benefit.

Meanwhile, back at the OPS lab, it was a hive of activity. Apparently they were in the middle of a major Hibernectony as well as a prefrontal JAXBotomy, removing some irritating technologies that were not serving them well. Equinox, RCP, EMF, CDO, and GEF are the new order.

After a final question and answer session, Jeff took Alfredo (who missed last year's tour) and me for some more sight seeing. Here's Jeff posing with as 1/3 scale model of ATHLETE:

It's totally cool and they'll use EMF to help operate it!

Then we were off to see the Mars Science Laboratory technology.

Here are Alfredo and I posed with yet another explorer.

The most amazing part of all was seeing the work being done on the next probe to be sent to Mars. It was in this huge clean room.

Here are folks working with the guts of the machine.

When this puppy lands, the Eclipse-based software that Jeff's team is working on will help guide it around the planet. It's just too awesome for words! I felt privileged to see so many cool sights as part of my trip to NASA JPL.

My only disappointment was that they didn't let me into the space alien enclosure. I know they denied the existance of such a thing, but enquiring minds know this to be a deception. I think my camera didn't help. Space alien photos tend to be a bit contraversial.

So ended my trip to NASA. Thanks Jeff for making it a most memorable experience. You have a fantastic team of enthusiasic people working hard on a common goal. I'm absolutely sure they will be successful in everything they strive to accomplish.


Anonymous said...

Wow! Awesome!

Sounds like a huge success for you, for EMF, and for Eclipse in general (we can trust you to accurately report on your own talks, right?).

EMF in spaaaaaace...

- Dave

Lucas said...

I must mention that it is either not necessary to be a rocket scientist to make cool things with EMF ;-)

Nice place indeed !
I was so sure space aliens was among us. It remind me a very psychedelic movie with david bowie : the man who fell to earth (

Thanks for sharing these moments with community Ed, you just proove that life can really be just like a chocolate box. All my admiration for that !

Peter Friese said...

Ed, I really enjoyed reading your report. Sounds like NASA JPL is like Legoland for grown-ups :-) All joking aside, I think it's great to see that more and more companies are adopting EMF and other Eclipse technologies. Also good to hear that your talk on the Unbearable Stupidity of Modeling was well-received!

I am looking forward to reading more like this!

- Peter