The 2016 Beowulf Bash Interview: The Story Behind “Beosnark”

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image003The Beowulf Bash returns to Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov 14. As the one party you don’t want to miss, the Bash starts at 9pm, right after the SC16 opening gala.

The Beowulf Bash is a true community party, paid for by a multitude of vendors — often competitors of each other — in order to thank the Beowulf community that developed the technology upon which much of modern-day HPC was built. Although there are many sponsors, no one sponsor takes sole responsibility for the event (kind of like Linux).

Since its inception the Bash has been consistent about two things: 1) it is held on Monday night after the SC Opening Gala, and 2) most attendees have a darn good time. For almost a decade now the Beowulf Bash invites have come to us with a bit of an edge. We caught up with the two people who create the Beowulf Bash invitations, Lara Kisielewska of Xand McMahon and Doug Eadline of Cluster Monkey, to find out more about these unique invites.

insideHPC: Let me first say, great job with the Beowulf Bash. I assume this year will be another fun time?

Lara Kisielewska of Xand McMahon has been one of the driving forces of the Beowulf Bash

Lara Kisielewska of Xand McMahon is one of the driving forces of the Beowulf Bash

Lara: Of course! We always have fun putting it together, and I think that shows in the types of events we’ve produced over the years.

Doug: We always hope so. And, before I forget, this could not happen without the generosity of the sponsors. They are great partners and have a good sense of humor.

insideHPC: If anyone has ever read your invitations and the BeoBash web page, they immediately get that this is not your typical trade show party. Why is that?

Doug: Because it is not your typical trade show party. The Beowulf Bash grew up with Linux and open source, so we asked multiple vendors to help bring the community together for a party. It stared small and has grown into quite a big event. Plus, HPC can be a serious business, folding proteins, colliding galaxies, and all, so why not have a little fun? We could do a bland “come to our party blah blah blah” invitation that no one ever reads, but I like think our invitations get people interested and engaged.

Lara: There is definitely nothing typical about the Beowulf Bash. It’s as quirky as the community it celebrates.

insideHPC: The invitations have a certain edge to them. Who creates these things?

Lara: Well, I pester Doug to write the snarky content and then my team takes over with the artwork. They look forward to this project each year because there truly are no artistic limits. The more over the top, the better.

Douglas Eadline of Cluster Monkey has helped with the Bash since the start

Doug Eadline of Cluster Monkey has helped with the Bash since the start

Doug: Let’s back up just a bit. We always start with a theme based on the venue. Like the 2012 Hitchhiker’s Guide the Beowulf Bash held in the Clark Planetarium (across the street from this year’s Bash in Salt Lake). After we agree on our theme, I start writing the invitation. I would say my style is a mash-up of Mad Magazine, Monty Python, and Lewis Black, so if you don’t like the jokes, I’m to blame. When I’m done I turn it over to Lara and her team goes to work. I can say I have never been disappointed with their work.

insideHPC: How did this all get started?

Doug: Well, I used to try and organize the Beowulf Bash myself, along with something else called LECCIBG. It didn’t always work out. Like when I scheduled the event at a closed venue, or the time I sat all alone in the bar next door to the one where everyone else was wondering where I was. Thankfully, Lara took over and started organizing. At one point she asked me to write an invitation. I was really busy at the time and did not want to do it. So my passive aggressive snarky side came out and I honestly thought Lara would not like what I wrote, something about have you ever wanted to get arrested in Texas? But instead she thought it was funny and called it Beosnark.

Lara: Anything that makes you actually laugh out loud is great copy. I loved that it was completely different from anything remotely approaching a traditional party invitation. It reminded me in many ways of the sense of humor of many of my friends in the Linux community and I instantly decided that it would become a hallmark of the Beowulf Bash brand.

insideHPC: Are you concerned that you might offend someone?

Lara: Doug likes to poke fun at the popular trends and fads of the time. But he’s an equal-opportunity insult artist! Sometimes the real gems are in the little footnotes and sidebars he adds. It’s all good fun.

Doug: No, if you get offended by these invitations, then stay home and watch Dr. Phil re-runs. That may help.

insideHPC: What is your favorite invitation?

Lara: Wow, that’s hard…I love all my children equally. Maybe though, my favorite image was used in the 2014 Mardi-Gras themed invite, photoshopping the heads of Beowulf pioneeers Thomas Sterling and Don Becker onto dancing girls for the 20th Anniversary invite.

The SC11 Beowulf Bash invitation was a crowd favorite

The SC11 Beowulf Bash invitation was a crowd favorite

Doug: My favorite is the 2011 Beowulf Bash and Cephalopod Festival at the Seattle Aquarium. Lara assigned the graphics to someone who never read a computer book in their life. The invitation came back looking exactly like an O’Reilly book. It was hilarious. The other invitations have great graphics, but this one seemed too perfect.

insideHPC: What was your favorite Beowulf Bash?

Doug: That is a hard one, but I would have to say the Mardi Gras parade in 2014 was perhaps the most over the top. We had Thomas Sterling and Don Becker riding around the venue (with Lara and I and our Gold level sponsors) in a surprise parade, throwing beads at everyone. The place was going crazy and people were having a blast. I’m thinking how the people in this room are probably the future of supercomputing, I wonder what it all means. Then I throw beads at them.

Lara: I would definitely have to agree. That one was a highlight that it will be hard to top. But we will keep trying!

insideHPC: What if someone wanted you two to create an invite for a corporate event?

Lara: All they have to do is ask. We did a great rooftop “party in the cloud” invite for a cloud company at HPC on Wall Street a couple of years ago. The problem though is that corporate VPs or their legal departments always make us tone it down. They cut half the humor out of the invites.

Doug: While we have done some invites for corporate events, it’s not something we really sell. Maybe we should. Good curated snark is hard to find these days,

insideHPC: What do you two have in store for this year?

Lara: You’ll have to come and find out!

Doug: I have two words: Man bun.

Register now for the Beowulf Bash.

See our complete coverage of SC16, which takes place Nov. 13-18 in Salt Lake City.


  1. I’m disappointed that Don didn’t mention some of the early bashes, such as the time we had Microsoft as a sponsor, or the one where he was asking the sponsors for extra cash during the event to keep the beer flowing…