People: Ryan Brooks: from Vic 20 to Supercomputer

Ryan Brooks lives in Lafayette, Louisiana where he used to work at the University of Alabama. He's been involved with computers since an early age. In addition to working at the University, he has just started a company of which he is CTO called Innovative Learning Assessment Technologies. Let's let him pick up the story ...

'I got my first computer (a Vic20 with a tape drive) when I was 8 and, because we didn't have any programs for it, I taught myself Commodore BASIC. That means, at 33, I've been programming for 25 years of my life. I think people like myself, who are excellent analysts, designers, and programmers, but don't have degrees in computer science, are going to become some of the most valuable assets for technology companies in the future. As the basic programming jobs are, more and more, going to MCP types and overseas companies, American technology workers need to move higher up the food chain to survive. For many, such as myself, that means getting into analysis, design, and project management. It is in these activities and the situations surrounding them that I find my non-compsci degrees most valuable. I guess I've really had my fingers in a bunch of different cookie jars in the last 15 years and that wouldn't have been possible if I had done a straight compsci curriculum.'

There are 2 centers on campus that I'm involved with right now...

'The center where I'm actually employed as a Research Associate is called the Center for Business and Information Technologies (CBIT). We are an economic development and technology transfer oriented center tasked with helping Lafayette and other Louisiana businesses exploit technology in their business plans, develop new technologies for use in their business plans, or adapt technologies from academic research for use in their business plans. (see Currently, we're working on some pretty standard enterprise applications in Java and .Net running over a variety of databases on a variety of operating systems. We also have worked with the dept of defense on a supply chain management system.

'The "cool" center is called the Louisiana Immersive Technology Enterprise (LITE). The mission of the LITE center can be best described by reading the website ( In short, though, it's a visualization technology center. We currently have an SGI visualization supercomputer... consisting of 11 altix nodes (each with 32p and 32Gb), 2 Prism nodes (16p and 16Gb), and a fiberchannel storage array (8TB) with Infiniband 4x for the cluster interconnect. We're also working with SGI to buy another viz supercomputer that would be the #2 viz system in the world. What makes the LITE center most unique are the visualization *venues*. Within the center, we're going to have 3 "flex rooms". Each has a 20' x 8' 120degree curved screen fed by 3 digital projectors with active stereo3D enabled (via crystal eyes shutter glasses). We'll also have an immersive auditorium that provides a huge screen, again with Stereo3D. This auditorium will be the largest in the world when complete (the building is supposed to open in a couple of weeks). And our "coolest" venue is the 6D cave. It's a 10' x 10' x 10' room where all 4 walls and floor and ceiling are Stereo3D projection surfaces, allowing you to be fully immersed in the experience. Also, the cave and all of the flex rooms have Interscope tracking systems that provide millimeter positional and orientation tracking for a specific user's head and data glove or wand. Within the cave, the head tracking allows the viz computer to adjust the point of view of the graphics to match the user's head position. The upshot is that... say you were in a simulation of a room... you could get down on your hands and knees and look at the underside of a table... the system would sense that you've lowered your head's position and adjust the POV of the simulation accordingly. It's very convincing actually. Additionally, the last "ultracool" item is... we've been working with the Army Research Labs on a soldier training project... it seems, now, that the ARL is going to buy us an omnidirectional treadmill to place in the 6D cave. In conjunction with the head tracker, this should enable us to allow users to actually "walk around" inside a simulation and the head tracker would sense the user leaving the center of the simulation space and order the treadmill to recenter him. That makes this kinda like an early holodeck. people will be able to really move around inside of totally immersive virtual spaces without any kind of interface device.

'as for my projects... currently, I'm working on a couple of supercompute applications... we're doing some proof work showing that .Net code (run through the Mono framework over linux) is a stable and performant way to implement processor and memory intensive science and business intelligence applications. I'm also working on ways to use the mono framework in conjunction with existing APIs for our system, such as OpenGL Performer and VRJuggler.'

I had been in negotiations with the University to license some intellectual property (that I had helped create a few years ago) from the research department so I could start my own company. Well... we successfully completed our negotiations and as of the first of this month, I am now a partner and CTO for my own company Innovative Learning Assessment Technologies (ILAT, LLC). :)

ryan @ infonuncio com

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