[Beowulf] about clusters in high schools

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Jan 30 14:31:26 PST 2006

At 03:27 PM 1/30/2006, H.Vidal, Jr. wrote:
>Jim Lux wrote:
>>Most excellent... another good philosophical topic to discuss.
>>At 10:06 AM 1/27/2006, Robert G. Brown wrote:
>>>On Thu, 26 Jan 2006, Brian D. Ropers-Huilman wrote:
>>>>Hash: RIPEMD160
>>>>My first cut response, not the RGB 'bot response, which I'm sure will be
>>>>full of excellent anecdotes, is: absolutely.
>>>Absolutely indeed.
>>>My "excellent anecdotes" on this subject are basically derived from:
>>> From this, there is good news and bad news.
>>>The good news is that bright kids DO like to build beowulves in high
>>>school (including in schools in e.g. India, not just in the US!).  In
>>>nearly any school you'd have 5-15 students who would be perfectly happy
>>>to immerse themselves in it and have a great time doing so with ANYTHING
>>>like encouragement.
>>>The bad news is that the ones who succeed generally do so without any
>>>meaningful support from their school.  Sometimes not even with access to
>>>school-owned machines as a resource.  Almost never with anything like
>>>mentorship within the school itself.  They scrounge machines themselves.
>>>They find switches.  They learn about linux (usually from me telling
>>>them EXACTLY how to install a functional version for free on their
>>>scrounged hardware).  They find toy problems to play with.  Then alas,
>>>they graduate and move on, leaving very little that survives or might be
>>>used to turn into a "program".
>>This is true of lots of things, not just HPC.  It would be the same for 
>>robotics, etc., or anything that is not in the "core objectives" for the 
>>school, which by and large are:
>>"Graduate students" and "provide athletic events for community entertainment"
>The emphasis on Graduate students is presumably applicable for college
>age students. And the emphasis on athletic events is nearly universal
>(plus kids really do need the break, it seems).

Actually, I was using graduate as a verb.. the objective is to get students 
out the door at the other end. Pass the exit exam, get them accepted to 
college, what have you.

>Well, what I would ideally like is to institutionalize HPC for this school.
>That's really more core goal.
>And so it will have life after my son's tenure here.

And that is a noble goal.  Hopefully, all this discussion has prompted some 
ideas on how to get there?

>>>Why so bleak a picture?
>>>Well, for one thing Windows overwhelmingly dominates as the OS installed
>>>in most schools.  It is so pernicious a phenomenon that they don't teach
>>>"spreadsheets", they teach "using Excel".  They don't qualify students
>>>with an end of grade test on "word processing", they qualify students
>>>with a test on "using Microsoft word".  That this is Evil beyond all
>>>measure is beyond any doubt -- imagine the screams if one had to take
>>>all drivers tests in a state using a Ford.  On the other hand, the
>>>schools are crippled by the near-vacuum in computer competent teachers
>>>in general -- it is doing as much as they can to end up with somebody
>>>that can teach "using Word" or "using Excel" as part of "keyboarding".
>>There was an excellent article in "The American Scholar" 
>>(http://www.pbk.org/pubs/amscholar.htm) a few years back about how 
>>industry has hoodwinked the public school system (including at the 
>>collegiate level) into providing free training for their software.
>Do I take it (could not get article) that this implies free education
>in particular commercial applications conditions students to respond
>to these applications as the 'one true way' instead of being open
>minded to other technical options?

No, the article was more along the lines that schools spend precious class 
hours doing what is essentially user training for a single application, 
rather than generic skills.  The thrust was (this IS Phi Beta Kappa, after 
all) that society would be better served by spending tax dollars to give 
students a good liberal arts education, and let the employers pay for 
training people to use a particular software package.  I'll try and find 
the exact reference (oddly<grin>, the JPL library doesn't have it, and I 
probably threw the issue away a few years ago)

>Again, this may generally be the case, but if one has the fortune of being
>at a great school, then it's time to build opportunities. So this is not
>an average school, but it can be made better with a bit of participation by
>interested parents.....

Indeed.. and I'd say that most schools benefit by interested parents.  All 
to the better if they are math/science oriented, and if a sustaining 
program can be created.  It does happen.  It would be interesting to look 
at other successful programs and see what their origins were.  Athletic 
boosters have been around a long time, so that's not a good model, but 
perhaps a theater arts or music program that came into being?  Or even 
Science Fairs (which are out of fashion, these days).


James Lux, P.E.
Spacecraft Radio Frequency Subsystems Group
Flight Communications Systems Section
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 161-213
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
tel: (818)354-2075
fax: (818)393-6875

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