So, this is more than a little late, but I’ve been wanting to make this blog post for a long time.
I went to IDF2014 this year. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. The Computer Science department sent out an email to all CSC and CPE undergrads offering 1) A free one-day pass for any student who signs up (worth $499, I found out later!) and 2) Free bus transportation to the first 56 students that responded.
I responded, and I’m very glad that I did.
I ended up being one of the first 56 people to respond, which meant I got the free bus pass. I wouldn’t have been able to go without it–the price of gasoline and all that. Waking up early enough to get to the bus at the campus by 7AM was a small price to pay. Skipping classes was more painful, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to San Francisco.
The day went something like this:
4:00AM: “Oh my god. Oh my god. I’m going to San Francisco! I’m going to see COMPUTER STUFF! And Intel…things! And I’ll meet PEOPLE!”
I woke up very early to give plenty of time to commute to the campus by 7AM. Traffic is nasty around the campus during crush hour and I’ve had days where the stoplight at Howe Avenue is at a standstill for a half-hour or more. I didn’t want to miss the bus!
6:00 AM: “Oh my god, I’m so excited! [Insert additional exclamation marks as needed.] Wait, where’s the bus? Why am I in the middle of an empty field?”
Turns out, I woke up so early, I beat the bus to the parking lot. I marveled idly at the irony and then napped for a little while.
The bus arrived. I was the only student in the lot.
Other students arrived. I recognized only a few other people, one of whom was one of my students in my supplemental instruction course last semester. We talked awhile and watched someone break out a huge case of Red Bulls. I took one, but I didn’t drink it.
We should’ve been on our way by then, but we weren’t. We were still hobnobbing around in the parking lot. Our IDF papers said we were to leave at 7AM, but the bus driver was instructed to leave at 7:30AM.
7:29AM: “Where are the freaking seatbelts?”
I hadn’t been on a bus since I visited Seattle with my mother in the 1990s.
7:30AM: “Why are there emergency exits on the ceiling? That makes no sense.”
We hit the road. For a little while, I watched the bus driver maneuver the mammoth vehicle through the narrow intersections and streets near the campus. I was amazed at how consistently the bus avoided collisions. It looked too big to make that corner, but it wasn’t. There’s no way it could fit down that lane–but it did. Nobody else was paying attention to the world outside the windows. Everyone was chatting cheerfully. Despite the early hour, everyone was excited.
I finally noticed the little symbol on the emergency exits. They’re on the ceiling because the ceiling becomes the wall if the bus tips over. Charming thought. Other people were starting to nap, most of them with headphones. For awhile, I did the same, but I kept an eye open to watch out the window.
We passed the gasworks and joined the traffic on the Oakland Bay Bridge. They were demolishing an old span. It’d been reduced to a single section hanging in mid-air. I wondered how they managed to get the workers over there, not to mention the port-a-potty, and then we went through the tunnel between the spans. When we came out the other side, we were greeted by San Francisco. A few people cheered.
The bus driver stopped at Moscone Center North. Oops. We were supposed to be at Moscone Center West, just up the street.
After ogling the architecture and wondering if I could pull off something like that in one of my video game levels, I headed inside and got my day pass. From that point on, the day was chaotic, but the highlights were:
- Went to a MakerSpace and won an Intel Galileo Board 2.
- Met the spectacular Tom Murphy of Contra Costa College.
- Watched a guy push around a cart that spat bubbles every time someone tweeted @IDF2014.
- Made my first tweet ever to enter a contest.
- Ate a free lunch.
The MakerSpace was particularly fun. It was a spacious room with dozens of workbenches scattered throughout. Each workbench had a laptop, an Arduino-compatible Galileo Board 2, and various electronics–sensors, LED lights, buzzers, etc. We were challenged to make something interesting out of the parts. I hooked up the sound and light sensors and played with the Arduino IDE until I could make the LED light up. Success! Then I hacked on it some more and made the buzzer sound whenever the ambient noise level went above a certain threshold. This was duly amusing at first, but it backfired when Tom Murphy started shouting instructions (the room had no PA), and I had to start yanking wires. Still, my hackish foray into the Arduino world was enough to land me my very own Galileo Board as a prize!
Afterward, I wandered around and explored the exhibits. On the 2nd floor of the massive building, there was an alcove with many weird, wacky projects. An Intel engineer proudly showed me his cluster of 40 (!) Galileo Boards, which he was using to test distributed networking algorithms. It reminded me of the Raspberry Pi cluster, but without the acrylic case. The boards were arranged in fours and stacked ten high on a custom 3D-printed frame, with all the cables going down the column in the center. There was an impressive amount of heat rising off the top, even with the Galileos idling.
By far the most fun was the floor piano. The “keys” were those giant foam puzzle pieces–the kind that you might’ve seen in a daycare or in kindergarten–with two large pieces of foil taped carefully flat to each one. A small USB-powered circuit board measured the current flowing between the two pieces of foil. When stepped on (either barefoot or in socks), the current changed and the board triggered a piano note on a laptop. It was very fun, although difficult to dance around to play complicated runs!
Tom Murphy was there watching people flail, and we chatted for awhile. I quickly realized that he is 1) brilliant, 2) charismatic, and 3) unconventional. I am envious of his students. It is rare to meet a professor that is so enthusiastic about his or her students and their educational journey. I can count the number of such inspiring professors I’ve met on one hand.
After talking with Tom Murphy, I went up to the third floor and found a small crowd of students gathered around “Chip”, an 8-foot tall robot who liked to make creepy sounds and spit out prizes. To activate Chip, you had to make a tweet @IDF2014 answering the question “What will you make?”. I found this question hard to answer. What won’t I make in my lifetime? I have so many projects and interests, and they’re ever dynamic and changing. But I made a tweet:
…and although I haven’t gotten very far on parallelizing q3map2 (I left out the word “distributed” on accident on the tweet), it’s still something I’d like to do someday.
After that, I ate lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering between the booths on the main floor of the convention center, asking questions about the latest and greatest tech being showcased there. Among the things I saw were:
- DDR4 RAM
- 4k video
- 8k video (?!)
- 100G networking
- “Green” rack servers
- Silicon Photonics
- USB 4
Amusingly, the Blender Open Movie “Tears of Steel” was being used by several different vendors to showcase their wares, especially among the high-def video booths. (You can download a version rendered at 4k from the Tears of Steel website.)
The afternoon was drawing to a close. At 2:45PM, I congregated with the other students outside Moscone West. While we waited for the bus, we compared our prizes. Some of us left IDF with nothing but good memories; others had won tablets, Galileo boards, T-shirts, and even a Lenovo all-in-one PC.
I left IDF with:
- Galileo Board 2
- Two T-shirts
- Intel Lightning bag
We waited for a half-hour until the bus driver came to get us. He had been forced to park at Moscone North. We walked back to the bus and then waited for another twenty minutes to make sure that no stragglers were left behind at Moscone West. Then the doors closed, the bus lurched into motion–and we got stuck in San Francisco afternoon traffic.
It took us nearly an hour to get onto the Bay Bridge. After that, it was a smooth ride home. I napped most of the way. The day had been exhausting, but satisfying. IDF2014 was a spectacular experience. I got to see some of the latest and greatest tech offerings, I won my very own Arduino-compatible Galileo Board, and I networked with several fascinating people. If I’m given the opportunity, I’ll be going again next year!
Expect a blog post about the Galileo Board soon.