Throwback Thursday: Using Quantum Computing and Pre-exascale Technology, Archaeologists Uncover 26-Year-Old Viking Helmet among Supercomputing Archives

The year was 1992.  The annual SC conference was being held in Minneapolis.  I was directing Market Relations and Communications for Intel’s Supercomputer Systems Division.

Due to some unanticipated product delays, we were not going to have what we had hoped would be a spotlight system for the Intel booth, so I was given a new direction:  Come up with an event to dominate the mindshare of the SC attendees.  Make it the most talked-about event – ever – at an SC conference.

I do love a challenge.

Our marketing team worked night and day for the better part of two months leading up to the conference and the result was, from what I have seen over the years, possibly the most well-attended social event – ever – at an SC conference.

SC Perennial and HPC community legend Jack Dongarra (left) at the Intel Viking Village special event at SC’92.

In our planning sessions, we drew the association of Minnesota with its NFL team, the Vikings, and created a “Viking Village” complete with a draw bridge leading to the main entrance, soundtracks of goats and horse-driven carts rumbling through cobblestone streets, and a Viking feast with large turkey legs, instead of the typical hors d’oeuvres.

My marketing team outdid itself in promoting the event.  We even hired actors dressed as Vikings to wander the exhibit hall and hand out imitation parchment scroll invitations to the social event.

If you have one of these, then you remember.

Well, the promotional efforts worked.  An hour before the event was to start, the number of RSVP’s indicated that both our event space and catering order were grossly underestimated. The Marriott hotel had to open up two additional ballrooms for the event and the catering staff scrambled to pull food from nearby hotels to accommodate our crowd.

When I arrived at the draw bridge entrance to the main ballroom, there were at least 500 people standing in line waiting to join the party.  We stopped counting attendees at 1,500 and declared the party a victory.

After-Hours with Prince

Hoping to not lose too many of the attendees to other vendor social events that evening, we also planned an after-hours party at Prince’s private night club, Glam Slam.

The club had limited space, so to get in, attendees at the first party had to grab a special medallion that allowed them to board the bus and gain entrance to the nightclub.  Only a few hundred could attend.

Here is where it got interesting.  We struggled with how, at the end the first party at the Viking village, to get everyone’s attention and inform them of the after-party – which had not been promoted in advance. Our transition strategy was to stop the first party – bring up the lights, create an aisle in the middle of the ballroom, and bring the Minnesota Viking cheerleaders onto the ballroom stage and have them do a special supercomputing cheer we had written for the occasion.

As it turns out, the room was so crowded and noisy – it was nearly impossible to break through the ambient noise, and we struggled mightily to create an aisle for the cheerleaders. When they finally got on stage, the music for their performance couldn’t be heard and they had to stand there and hold their pose – like a football calendar photograph – for what seemed like an eternity.  We finally turned up the volume of the sound system allowing the cheerleaders to do their cheer. It was an awkward several minutes – to say the least.

Following their special supercomputing cheer, I took the stage – to see hundreds of Viking wannabes wearing plastic Viking helmets who didn’t want the party to end.  But it was time.

I announced the after-party at Glam Slam – and several hundred of us went off for a wild evening of fun.  Even Prince was in the house that evening.  I remember greeting many folks from the Intel Supercomputer Users Group (ISUG), the growing vendor community, funding agencies such as DARPA, and even Sheryl Handler, one of the founders of Thinking Machines (Intel’s competitor at the time) showed up at the party.

We met our goal of capturing mind share at SC’92.  And the Viking Village and cheerleader faux pas are now legendary in the memories of long-time SC attendees.

Lesson Learned

The cheerleader portion of the evening did not go over well with a number of the SC committee folks who thought the cheerleader portion of the evening was a bit sexist for such a conservative, professional group.  It was an awakening for me and a good lesson in sensitivity.

I still remember sitting down to write letters of apology to the committee members on behalf of Intel.  To this day, I still enjoy the occasional teasing reminders of this event from some of my dearest friends on the SC committees.  It’s all good.  In fact, I think the cheerleader snafu turned out to be a bonding event for many of us.

Needless to say, Intel’s “Viking Village event” has a special place in the SC conference history.

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