The Gore talk at SC09

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VP Al Gore at SC09I was at former Vice President Al Gore’s keynote talk on Thursday at SC09. I had great seats; four or five rows back and off to the left. Fun fact: this was the second time he’s been at the show — evidently he attended as a senator in the early years of the conference. I wouldn’t have thought I was the kind of person that was interested in being in the room with someone that famous at least partially because he is famous, but I am. There you go.

I’ll say straight up that I enjoyed it immensely; I tracked down SC09 General Chair Wilf Pinfold to thank him personally for what I’m sure was a controversial (if not difficult) decision to get through the committee.

Why did I like it? First off, it was enjoyable — the man is funny. Lots of self-deprecating humor (“I’m Al Gore, I used to be the next president of the United States.”). And, yes, he did mention both his new book and climate change. But the story he told about climate change was only about 60% of the speech, and it was tied into our community’s contributions there. He also talked about the other challenges facing our world (urban design, population growth, public health, bioinformatics, and so on) and talked about the ways in which the work that our community does fits into the future of our planet.

It is useful to remind ourselves, at least once a year, that the work we do isn’t really about the next deadline or about the next milestone. In five years it won’t matter if you were a month late or a month early. What matters is how the science we enable makes the world better. Good stuff.

At this particular point in my real career (yes, I do things other than insideHPC!) I am moving from operations to strategy. I get to think large and long after 15 years of thinking local and not much more than six months out. His talk energized me, and reminded me why as a grad student I picked this field. I heard lots of “he was ok” or “I can’t believe you liked that talk.” But I did. It was what I needed at this time.

And it was good for the community — like him or hate him, SC09 got loads of international press coverage that we would have never gotten if Al Gore hadn’t spoken at our conference this year.


  1. Well, I was NOT an Al Gore fan coming into the conference. I listened closely to his message. And I have to say, I now see him in a different light. When we develop emotional judgements of people for whatever reason – it’s hard to sway those initial feelings or opinions. This is certainly true with many celebrities in the entertainment industry. I was sure I would not like Gore’s speech and would find it too self serving. I was wrong. He really did address our community – and I know from talking to a few others that he had a number of 1:1 conversations with some of our community leaders prior to this speech. And they were genuinely impressed. I guess my point is – I wish more people would back off with the Gore bashing long enough to take a fresh look. He may do a lot of things wrong – but he is good for this community – and I think he was hands down the best keynote speaker we’ve ever had.