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HPCinfra in Barcelona, Spain

For work, I was able to attend the HPCinfra conference held this year in Barcelona, Spain! This conference/workshop is designed for data center engineers and operators to discuss facility management, sustainability, and future developments in HPC (high performance computing.)

Sunday, May 19

Today was the famous San Francisco Bay to Breakers footrace. I thought that would mean there would be a lot of traffic on the highway to the SFO airport, but luckily there was none. After I was dropped off, I walked in to the TSA pre-check line. It was funny - there was a screen that showed estimated wait times.

Pre-check General
6 min 2 min

Someone in line behind me was making funny jokes about this. I stayed in the pre-check line anyway since 6 minutes is basically no wait at all, and I didn't want the hassle of having to take my shoes off in the busy, dirty airport.

I grabbed a bagel sandwich for breakfast and headed to the gate where Norm was already waiting. We chatted for a bit and it wasn't too long before it was time to board. We boarded the plane around 9:40 AM with the anticipated takeoff time of 10:40 AM. Naturally, there were plenty of technical difficulties. It wasn't until 11:40 AM when we actually took off - and the whole time we were waiting, the cabin just kept getting hotter and stuffier. Finally after liftoff, the pilot pressurized the cabin and it cooled off.

The flight was relatively uneventful, although I had the most amazing views from my window seat. I saw the bay, the town where I grew up, the delta, Lake Tahoe, the Sierras, and the Great Salt Lake. [Pictures] Despite the fact that we took off an hour late, we arrived at Chicago O'Hare only 20 minutes late! Maybe the pilot pulled some advanced manouvers (maybe he tried spinning - that's a good trick.)

When we got off the plane in Chicago, I was surprised to see the connecting flight was literally the next gate over. But, we had about 3 hours to kill, so Norm grabbed a beer and I got some food at McDonald's. I wonder how long it's been since I've eaten there. Norm shared stories of his carrer and the people he met, and then we both spent the last hour or so for work time.

Eventually, we boarded the 787 to Barcelona. I had an aisle seat somewhere in the middle of the plane. Someone sat down in the window seat, and I waited and waited for someone to ask me to get up so they could sit in the middle, but it never happened. That whole, 9-hour flight he and I had a spare seat in the middle, it was pure bliss! The flight went pretty smoothly too, but unfortunately I couldn't get a wink of sleep. I listened to Beach House, and watched a few episodes of The Office to kill time. The airplane food wasn't the worst either.

Monday, May 20

After an eternity, we landed in Barcelona, and turns out Susan from Argonne National Laboratory was on the same flight as us, so we chatted with her for a bit. After spending another eternity in customs, we joined up with Norm's wife who was waiting at baggage claim for us. We looked for the bus which never came, and decided to opt to take a taxi. It was an expensive ride, but a quick and direct shot to Sitges.

Unfortunately, my room was not yet ready when I checked in (around 2:00 PM) so I changed in the bathroom, checked my bags with the hotel, and went straight to the beach. I did not want to wait "an hour or 2" in the lobby for my room to be ready. After swimming and sunbathing (and a little sunburning) at the beach, I head back to the hotel where my room is now ready. I went up to my room, which has a great view - but none of the lights or outlets were working! I went down to the front desk again and they sent a technician up to help. Turns out, there is a weird card key slot where you are supposed to put your card in to turn on the power. That's a new one!

After getting situated in the room, I went for a 6-mile walk around Sitges. I stopped for gelato which was pretty good, and took some pictures of the architecture and the sea. I stopped at a restaurant called Mediterraneum and ordered a veggie paella - which was delicious. I met 2 other American guys sitting near me who were super funny to talk to.

Tuesday, May 21

This morning I paid for breakfast at the hotel (unfortunately not included with my room) which was an all-you-can-eat style buffet. You should have seen how much I ate. I had 3 (or maybe 4?) croissants, scrambled eggs, some potatoes, a doughnut, and some fruits. You know, to be healthy.

Afterwards I picked up my badge and schedule from the desk they set up for HPCinfra. I knew that there would be a bit of a late start today but it was now when I realized that the only event today was dinner, at 9 PM! So, I had the whole day free.

I walked over to the Sitges train station (about 1 mile) and bought a round trip to Barcelona for only 9 euros. (The 1-way taxi ride yesterday cost over 70 euros!) I didn't know which station to pay for so I picked the first one in the list, Barcelona Estacion Sants. The train ride was about an hour, but was really cool because I got to ride on the upper level and the train went along the coast for about half the ride until we went underground.

After I got to Estacion Sants, I already had my plan in mind so I started walking. I first saw the Casa Mila and the Casa Batllo, which are unique buildings designed by famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. I didn't go inside either of them as tickets were rather pricy, and both were very crowded. However, I was able to sneak a peek of the insides which were active and interesting.

After that I walked to the main attraction, La Sagrada Familia, a famous cathedral designed by the same architect. I had to walk around it a few times to take it all in. It's a massive church with really tall spires, and still unfinished construction. I didn't go inside this one either, but it was awesome to see from the outside with its incredibly ornate features.

After the Sagrada Familia, I meandered my way back, taking a route along the beach this time. I stopped by the Parc de la Ciutadella, kind of like a central park in Barcelona. I almost went to the zoo there, but decided against it as I assumed it was probably for kids. I also went through the Maremagnum, which is a shopping mall right on the water. On my way back to Estacion Sants, I stopped for a crepe with banana and Nutella.

When I finally got back to the station, it took a while to figure out which of the 16-some platforms I was supposed to go to with my limited Spanish knowledge. I did end up finding the right platform just in time, but realized I would still need to make a connection in a town called Castelldefels. I made it back to Sitges in one piece and headed back for the beach. Sadly, the clouds had just covered up the sun so it was very cold and I didn't stay long. Since I was stubborn, I still went to the hotel pool, which was slightly warmer.

Finally, it was time for a late dinner at the hotel. I think I was a bit underdressed for the event, but at the same time it felt pretty casual. They served some pasta and fish. It was good, and I sat next to David from Oak Ridge National Lab, whom I'd met at the ASHRAE Winter Conference. Dinner was over around 11 PM.

Wednesday, May 22

This morning, after breakfast, the conference events started. We met in the conference hall, which was actually in the hotel! There were many talks from different computing centers around Europe, and even Japan! The main topic of discussion was waste heat re-use. I was surprised to learn that many data centers in Europe and Japan will use a heat pump mechanism to dump waste heat into a district heating water supply line. To me, it sounds like a waste (pun intended) to do that, since you're actually using more energy to reduce your waste heat, thus generating heat elsewhere. But it sounds like it's a requirement for new construction in Europe, especially Germany where they hold very high green standards.

After some talks, we had lunch outside in the hotel patio with mainly appetizer-style things, like sushi, sliders, small fruit cups, etc. It was pretty good, I spoke with some Italians and listened to their interesting rant on vendors not supplying them enough information.

After lunch, we went back into the conference hall for a few more talks. I was REALLY tired, looking at the "home" time on my phone, I watched it go from 1 AM to 2 AM to 3 AM... After the talks were over, we headed over to the bus that took us to Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BCS). We got to go on a tour of their data center, which was smaller than NERSC's, but with much more power density. They were able to fit their latest machine called MareNostrum 5, with 17MW peak power, into a room maybe a third of the size of NERSC's data center (around 20-30MW). I was the most impressed how clean it was. They had a raised glass (or plastic/plexiglass) floor with electrical bus, piping, and cable underneath and everything was clearly visible. Even their electrical panels and switches were encased in transparent glass, and all the piping was followed a clear color code. BCS in all was a really interesting data center, and was also connected to an old church of some sort.

After the tour, we headed over to El Xalet for dinner. I sat with some French engineers from CEA. They served us some kind of chicken and potatoes, but they were one short from serving someone sitting next to me. I asked if he wanted my meal because they were offering him paella instead. He said he didn't want the paella, so I ended up taking it instead, which is what I wanted anyway! Dinner was pretty fun, and it was nice to speak in French during that dinner.

Thursday, May 23

As it always is on overseas trips, I woke up sick today! Or not even "woke up", since I didn't get any sleep at all. It was rough, but today is an shorter conference day. The conference started around 9 AM, and I was feeling okay so I sat in the back with my mask on listening to the morning site update talks. Around 11, I wasn't feeling good at all so I had to lay down in my room for a few hours. I don't know if I actually fell asleep, but after a few hours I was starting to feel better, so I came back down and grabbed what was left of lunch and rejoined the rest of the talks on sustainability.

After it was over, we said our goodbyes and many members hopped on a bus back to the airport. Since I was staying for another night, my original plan was to spend the afternoon in Barcelona, but since I was still feeling sick, I stayed in Sitges and went to the beach while it was warm. Out of stubbornness, I went in the cold water anyway, but I spent almost 2 hours just laying on the sand. Something that really surprised me about Spain is that the sun stays up until very late, almost 10 PM in May. That's probably why Spanish dinners are so late.

Friday, May 24

I woke up feeling noticeably better, but still sick unfortunately. I would have wanted to go for a swim in the morning but I decided against it. I headed over for the hotel breakfast. I thought they'd charge me for it, but they didn't! Maybe the conference stay included an extra breakfast, or the staff was just being nice. Expecting to skip or have a small airport lunch, I had a big, tasty breakfast of eggs, a croissant, fruit, yogurt, and a chocolate pastry. Fat and happy, I went back to the room to slowly start packing up. I wanted to check out around noon, but I was ready much earlier. Since I had plenty of spare time, I walked to the train station and stopped at Carrefour along the way to buy some cholocate souvenirs. I took the (very crowded) train all the way to Barcelona and then had to get on a (less crowded) connecting train to the airport. However, the travel was still pretty quick and I arrived at the airport around noon. Unfortunately, I had to take a bus to a different terminal but it was quick again, and free. Going through Spanish airport security was confusing but relatively painless.

I was there so early that I had about 2 or 3 hours to kill. I did some work and wandered around the shops. When I went to the gate there was hardly anyone there. We boarded and the plane was incredibly sparse - hardly anyone was aboard! I moved my seat to an entire empty row of 4 seats - all to myself. I was able to completely lay down for the whole flight. Turns out, this was the inagural flight connecting San Francisco to Barcelona, and the flight attendants gave all the passengers a commemorative token! Hands down, best 12-hour flight I've ever been on. After landing 5 minutes early, I got on the BART to go home, and one of the flight attendants was on the same train as me, so we chatted for a bit until parting ways.

It was a great trip, I learned a lot but also had a lot of fun. My Spanish definitely needs some work (coming for you, Duolingo...), but my French still came in handy. I hope to go back there someday. Click here to see photos from the trip.