Article in Arts / Art / Sculpture
The City of Raleigh Arts Commission sponsored a temporary public art festival Raleigh has ever seen, This was a family-focused, temporary exhibit which opened in September 2001 and closed mid-April 2002 named The Raleigh Red Wolf Ramble. My entry "The Beowulf" was displayed at the RDU airport.
 
 
 

Proposal

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Used only with express written permission

Beowulf on display outside the Southwest terminal at RDU airport.

April 20, 2001

To the City of Raleigh Arts Commission:

I would like to submit this proposal, "Beowulf", for the Raleigh Red Wolf Ramble (RRWR).

This proposal approaches placing a piece of sculpture in public, as an opportunity to consider, in broad terms, what it means to be a member of this quickly evolving community. Rather than seeing "wolf" as a messenger of natural world, my proposal sees "wolf" as vessel for a more relevant metaphor for this community - a "beowulf" network.

What is a "Beowulf" network?

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Used only with express written permission

Beowulf on display outside the Southwest terminal at RDU airport.

To begin with, in my proposal, "Beowulf" is not the Scandinavian hero of the sixth century (though by happy coincidence that can be used to advantage in this project as a source of graphic design elements).

A Beowulf network is a high-performance massively parallel computer built primarily from over counter hardware components, running a free-software operating system, typically Linux, which has proven to be very robust in this role.

A Beowulf consists of a cluster of PC’s dedicated to running high-performance computing tasks. This “Pile-of-PC’s” as Beowulf’s are sometimes called, can yield the performance of a super-computer at less than 1/10 of the cost. And they can be assembled and operating in less than a day.

The combination of non-proprietary mass marketed hardware and free software, and associated lower startup costs make this solution very popular with small science and engineering labs. This is truly “home-brew supercomputing” at its most grass roots level. This is a very relevant metaphor to our community.

The companies that can take advantage of the parallel processing problem solving are the exact types of small R&D ventures that are opening for business in the RTP and Morrisville industrial parks.

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Used only with express written permission

Beowulf on display outside the Southwest terminal at RDU airport.

The computing resources created by parallel processing allow for some innovative uses, most noteworthy being “Genetic Programming”. A Beowulf creates a distributed memory, meaning that it casts out its’ task to external work stations, waits for the task to be completed then receives and assimilates the reply.

Genetic Programming, which is based on Darwinian principles of natural selection, operates very successfully in this environment.

Genetic programming is inductive rather than deductive, being first given a problem statement and then being turned loose to create a working computer program. The solution starts with the primordial ooze of thousands of randomly generated computer programs. These may include ordinary arithmetic functions or conditional operators.

image

Used only with express written permission

Beowulf on display outside the Southwest terminal at RDU airport.

The first generational loop or the program consists of a fitness evaluation, Darwinian selection and genetic operations. Each program in the population is evaluated to determine how fit it is at solving the problem at hand. Programs then are probabilistically selected from the population based on their fitness to participate in the various genetic operations, with reselection allowed.

In the mutation operation a single parent program is probabilistically selected from the population based on fitness. A mutation point is randomly chosen, the subtree calculations below it are erased and a new set is created following the same rules as the initial population.

In the sexual recombination operation, two parental programs are probabilistically selected from the population based on fitness. A crossover point is randomly selected in the first program, and then the subtree below is deleted and replaced with that from the second parent.

The Process of Making Beowulf

1. Sanding, then priming with a urethane base coat, sprayed not brushed. The wolves were delivered from the fabricator wih a primer coat already applied. The surface was very rough and inconsistent for my purposes. For my purposes I needed a very smooth surface, like a car - since I had decided to use car finishing techniques. Luckily, I have a friend who restores cars, Rick Vitek (Rick's alter ego is an attorney with MBS&S<1>). I was able to impose on Rick and his family for the week that it took to prepare the surface properly.

2. Sanding, sanding, patching, and then more sanding.

3. Priming with a color coat.

4. Applying the surface decoration. This was done by a combination of brush painting (sign painters enamels) and taping (car pin-striping tape). Taping was used for the background circuit board pattern. This was done in my basement. When I had completed painting Beowulf in my basement I imposed once again on a friend. Tom Mosier is currently a photographer and graphics artist at the Raleigh News and Observer (here is a wonderful homage to Tom as mentor <2>). He used the N&O’s digital camera to catch the "circuitry”, which proved very hard to capture once the clear coat was applied. We shot the pictures of the wolf in his flower bed - which I am sure his wife, Linda, appreciated. These pictures give the best views of the surface.

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Used only with express written permission

Painting the surface decoration in my basement. You can see 3d model renders over my shoulder, and the texture map used for the model beyond that.

5. Back to Rick’s garage to seal the surface under three layers of urethane clearcoat.

6. Build the base. This meant finding another donor for the 60+ circuit boards that ring the base. (Donna Witt of Gultech came to my rescue this time)

7. Adding the little wolves on sticks (which involved me standing in front of the pristine wolf, drill in hand, working up the nerve to put holes in the surface I had spent weeks achieving)

8. Bolt all the pieces together.

9. Transport to final destination. I had to get the Beowulf to its exhibit location: RDU International Airport<3>. Bill Hornsby, working with the Raleigh Arts Commission, brought the official wolf truck, and we cautiously made that perilous trip from Rick’s garage in Cary, to the airport.

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The final assembled wolf, ready for transport to the exhibit location.

All is well that ends well. The Beowulf was displayed outside the Southwest terminal at RDU for the duration of the project, protecting all travelers who passed through this gateway to the area. The Beowulf was awarded “Best Overall Wolf” and attracted national attention at the art auction that ended the project.

The Red Wolf

Inspiration for the public art project

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Red Wolf 707F awaiting its turn for reintroduction at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

The red wolf once roamed the entire southeast United States. But it is now extinct in the wild and only exists in managed/re-introduced populations, those being in Yellowstone Park and in Canada. As people moved into the wolves habitat, the animal was exterminated out of fear for the safety of livestock.

The Red Wolf was listed as endangered in 1967. In 1975, the Fish and Wildlife Service captured the remaining 20 animals and began a captive-breeding program. By 1980, the Red Wolf was declared extinct in the wild.

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Red Wolf pups (below) and adults (above) at the moment of reintroduction at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina.

Beginning in 1987, Red Wolves were re-introduced in two areas of North Carolina. In the northeastern Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge<4> and the nearby Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge<5>. This is the first re-introduction of a species that was official declared extinct in the wild. Today there are between 60 and 100 Red Wolves in the wild and more in zoo breeding programs.

A Pile of PC’s

A Beowulf computer

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The Michigan Tech Computer Department Beowulf class cluster of PC’s has a peak performance of approximately 5 gigaflops. This system is on loan from the Goddard Space Flight Center to support research in the Computational Science and Engineering Ph.D. program and in the CS department. It consists of 64 PC’s, each with two Pentium Pg processors, 128MB or RAM and 9GB of disk space.

These are a type of computer built by linking commodity components, in this case PC’s. When applied to certain types of problems, a Beowulf computer can achieve supercomputer performance for 1/10 the price. Beowulfs originated at NASA in the early 1990s and are now widely deployed as the architecture of choice for solving large problems on a budget.

Unlike a conventional supercomputer, which has a fixed size, the computing poser of a Beowulf can be increased at any time by just adding more PC’s. Beowulf computers are thought of like wolves: lean and will do the job quickly and promptly with no fuss.

The First English Epic

The epic, Beowulf, describes the adventures of a Scandinavian warrior-king of the sixth century. It is theoldest surviving epic in British literature.

In the plot, Beowulf’s pride is his tragic flaw. He is a king, so concerned with getting (worldly goods and honor) that he forgets that his part in the world will come to an end. Pride ultimately brings Beowulf to confrontation with a dragon. In his pride, he believes that he is able to do battle on his own without assistance from men or gods.

That the dragon and Beowulf die together us appropriate inasmuch as their lives paralleled each other’s to a degree. The dragon and Beowulf are reflections of each other both in their lives and their deaths. They are both in decline, having lived lives of acquiring objects and honors. Beowulf and the dragon both bask in the pride of their accomplishments and also rely on their past glories, rather than on the assistance of God to guide their decisions. Neither succeeds.

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A page from the original Beowulf manuscript.

My sculpture’s selection of symbols refers to this historical/literary backdrop. The celtic and twisted crosses all tie to the early rise of Christianity in Europe. The dragon and lone figure in the central icon reference the epic’s two main characters. It is another reference to old/new paths.

Links

The Beowulf Cluster Site is a collection of resources for the expanding universe of users and designers of Beowulf class cluster computers.
http://www.beowulf.org
Contains both the original Old English text and a modern translation, with the ability to jump to any section of the original or the translation.
http://www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~beowulf/main.html
Red Wolf Recovery Project - Today over 100 red wolves roam their native habitats in five northeastern North Carolina counties.
http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/
This is my website that is dedicated to my "Beowulf's" development.
http://www.cyberpiggy.com/gregstuff/beowulf/index.html
1
Rick Vitek's partner bio page on the MBS&S website
http://www.myersbigel.com/people/person.php?id=rvitek
3
Raleigh - Durham International Airport
http://www.rdu.com
4
Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge
http://www.fws.gov/alligatorriver/
5
Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge
http://www.fws.gov/pocosinlakes/
 

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