Thursday, March 30, 2006

Adventures in Gubmint

This week, I went to the DC-area to participate in a panel evaluating proposals solicited by the Department of Energy. It was the first time I'd ever done anything like that, so I didn't really know what to expect. I learned a lot, most of it related to the proposal writing and evaluation process.

The first thing I learned was to never, ever connect through Newark. If you have to change terminals (as I did), you have to leave the secure area and go back through security again. I had an hour layover and thanks to the metal rivets on my clothes, I got personally searched and nearly missed my flight.

But I didn't miss the flight, and made it to the hotel where I was staying and where the panel was, by 8 p.m. Just in time to see my colleague, who was on the Tuesday panel (I was on the Wednesday panel), leaving for dinner. So I caught up with him and another colleague who turned out to also be on the Wednesday panel, and we all went out to dinner together.

The next morning was the panel. The first proposal on the table was one of the three that I reviewed. The DOE program manager knew that I'd never done this before, so instead of having me go first, he asked one of the other reviewers to talk about the proposal. After that I was able to chime in with my comments about the proposal. Basically there was fifteen minutes allotted to each proposal, and the three people who had reviewed that proposal gave overviews of the proposal. Everyone else was welcome to ask questions and make comments too. I didn't talk much at all, except during the time allotted to each of the proposals I reviewed. Mostly I just listened and tried to absorb what people were saying. Obviously the review is supposed to be confidential so I can't say much more than that about it. I can say, however, that they kept us well-fed throughout the day, which was nice. My friend on the Tuesday panel said that the lunch they served on Tuesday had shrimp, but ours didn't have anything nearly so fancy. Good thing we were the last panel of reviewers; otherwise, today's panel might have been served peanut butter and jelly!

After the panel was over, I went out to eat with a friend from our undergraduate days and his wife. This is the same friend who was here in February, interviewing. It turns out that he was offered a job, and they decided to accept it and move to Oak Ridge! And he starts at the beginning of May! I was really excited to hear the news, and didn't feel too bad when the evening was over, knowing that we'd soon be seeing them here!

I am insane, so I booked a flight leaving at 6:45 a.m. this morning. That meant I had to get up at 4 a.m. Luckily for me, the colleague who was also on the Wednesday panel decided to accompany me in my rental car back to the airport. This helped keep me awake, plus he was able to help with directions, so I didn't have to rely on my foggy, directionally-challenged brain. I made it back home without incident, this time going through Cleveland rather than Newark. Upon arriving home, I took a nap before eating some lunch and making my way to work.

At work we have a frantic schedule at the moment; we've suddenly learned that we are supposed to benchmark our code on one of the leadership-level supercomputers by Tuesday. This code is a work in progress and has not yet been ported to any large-scale machine, so this poses quite a challenge. At the moment we're having trouble getting it to compile on that machine, because the compiler doesn't like the way we use templates. Luckily that is not my part of the job at the moment; right now I'm supposed to be writing a benchmarking code that records the timings of each of the operators in the code (e.g. multiplication, addition, etc.). I still have to finish that. Unfortunately, by being on that panel, I've missed a day and a half of time that could have been spent working on this. But I think the knowledge I have gotten from serving on that panel made the trip worthwhile.

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