Back in November I went down to Tampa for work. The project is called InfoStar, and the purpose of the project is to provide information about the Supercomputing 2006 conference to conference attendees. The tricky part, though, is that it’s dynamic data from a variety of sources, it’s available to anyone with an internet-enabled device, and it has to look good on a computer and function well on mobile devices like PDAs and cell phones. This project is my baby. This is my third year on the InfoStar project (and the third year of its existence), and this year I was the project lead. The first year we had a group of about 15 people that were involved. This year, we were 2. I wrote all the code, did all the graphics and advertisements, took care of the hardware, and did all the testing. And all of this on a budget so thin I ended up donating many many hours of my own time.

The site had everything about the conference, including the schedule (updated regularly to reflect room changes and cancelled events), maps of every location, a list of exhibitors and maps to their booths, web cameras throughout the conference area with time lapse videos of each day, relevant news, a photo gallery, a blog, a bulleting board, local weather, a fully functional search engine, and even some neat visualizations of the events at the conference. It was all written from scratch this year in a few weeks. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to test as much as I wanted, or do some things that would have made it more friendly for mobile devices, but that didn’t stop the praise from coming. I had people telling me how useful it had been for them, how they had made it their home page for the conference, how we should be marketing this to other conferences, how they’d love for me to work at their company (including “You’re the one responsible for InfoStar? You want a job at _____? I’m serious.”). Overall the feedback was great, the site worked out fairly well, and people are more enthusiastic about it. Of course, I focus a lot on what didn’t work out so well, what I could have done better, what still needs to be done, and all the other healthy pessimistic thoughts.

If you’d like to see the site, it’s still up: http://infostar.supercomputing.org/sc06|SC06 InfoStar site

The trip to Tampa was interesting. I’ve been trying to explore different places to find one where I’d like to live, so I was excited to see Florida. By the end, though, I wasn’t disappointed to leave. I was in downtown Tampa, and there were absolutely no places to eat. Each evening I tried walking in a different cardinal direction, and by the time I found a place and returned, I had burned more calories walking than I took in, so I was a very hungry boy for a while.

I ventured to Ybor city one night, which was a very positive experience. I found a sushi bar, and as I was about to leave, a loud trio entered and quickly became my friends for the night. We enjoyed some free saki from the owner, then headed over to a fashion/art show a few blocks away, where my new friends knew the live band, and I got to do some swing dancing. Then we had some aloe juice at a jamaican stand (it tasted like liquid salad) before heading to an irish pub. We hopped in a cab and went to a club by the airport, where we eventually separated for the night and I headed home.

The vendor parties were a lot of fun, too. The Microsoft party supposedly cost about a million dollars (but that’s just rumor), and they had a few places to dance. During the conference, people would occasionally recognize me as ‘the dancer,’ which is always pretty cool.

Tampa, though, is definitely not the place for me. It takes a long time to get anywhere. Looking at a map, you’d think I couldn’t have missed the ocean, but apparently it would have been a 45 minute cab ride to get there, so that didn’t happen. I also had a hard time getting used to hearing all the southern accents. As a native to the Northwest, I’m accustomed to clear speech and this was not. Everything was flat, too. There was no profile to the land, but that might just be because it was all underneath concrete.

So overall, it was a good experience, and I did good work on the InfoStar project, making the lab look good and getting some publicity. I got paid to tour a city I’ve never seen before (well, if you consider how many unpaid hours I donated and the number of hours I’m behind at work because of the trip, I actually paid quite a bit for it).

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