Matters of Consequence

Recently, I’ve been re-reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry‘s The Little Prince, which incidentally turns 70 this year. It’s one of those books that is on my “re-read every year or two” list, as it helps remind me of some simple truths.

On his journey that eventually brings him to the earth, the Little Prince visits several other planets (though most of them are really just the size of small asteroids). These are inhabited by a menagerie of caricatures, people who each expose the Little Prince to a different side of human thought.

One of them is the “star-owning” businessman.

Oblivious to the Little Prince’s approach, the businessman continually spouts a series of figures. He is clearly busy. In fact, when the Little Prince interrupts him (an occurrence the businessman had only experienced twice before), the businessman’s response was abrupt:

I can’t stop… I have so much to do! I am concerned with matters of consequence. I don’t amuse myself with balderdash.

Galaxy Cluster 1E 0657-56 (known as the Bullet Cluster) Credit: NASA/STScI/Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.

Galaxy Cluster 1E 0657-56 (known as the Bullet Cluster)
Credit: NASA/STScI/Magellan/U.Arizona/D.Clowe et al.

Matters of consequence.

What was he doing? Counting stars.

Why was he doing this? To claim them as his property.

How could he do that? No one else had thought of it before.

Why did he need to own them? So he could be rich.

Why did he need to be rich? So he could buy any new stars that appeared.

Matters of consequence.


I sometimes wonder if we too get caught up in matters of consequence. As I write this, I’m sitting in a metal tube suspended some 10,000 meters above the earth’s surface as it hurtles through the air. The experience has become so commonplace for me that I really don’t even stop to think about it.

I’m. Flying. Through. The. Air.


And, supercomputers have helped make this possible. At some point, this airplane was only a computer-simulated model being put through its paces to insure this hunk of metal wouldn’t suddenly and arbitrarily decide to simply fall out of the sky. I’m thankful for that.

As techies, the hardware and the software get many of us excited. Faster RAM. Better file systems. More reliable interconnects. Bigger Linpack scores. New Top500 systems. We thrive on these things. But, they aren’t true matters of consequence.

Curing cancer is a true matter of consequence. Solving global warming is a true matter of consequence. And, at this moment, keeping this plane in the air is a true matter of consequence (at least to me).

A couple months ago I asked about people’s passion for HPC. The responses were wonderful. People in our community are passionate about what they do and the value they provide to others. Now, as a follow-on, I’d like to ask one more thing:

Please celebrate your passion for HPC and what it does for humankind.

I give you permission to celebrate (not that you need it from me). Please do.

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