Saturday, January 17, 2009

Intro and Volunteer Computing

Good Day everyone and welcome to my blog. I would just like to say that this is a work in progress and may be some time between posts until I make time in my schedule to address my blog. This blog as the title explains is there to make you think about things you may not know of and work to expand your mind and view. Here I hope you will come with an open mind, leave with questions, and use your grey matter to find those answers yourself.

This weeks topic:
"Volunteer Computing"
Some of you may have seen me posting on your blogs already about GridRepublic. Yes, I am a huge fan of it and feel that everyone should use it. If this is your first time hearing this name then let me take a moment to explain:
Almost every computer connecting to the Internet can help bring about amazing change in the world by working together. How you might ask? Well its through what is called "Volunteer Computing".

Volunteer computing is where people lend their spare processing capabilities and other resources of computers and other electronics like video game consoles and cell phones so that computations can take place on their hardware.

What does that mean? It means that when these devices are on they don't use their full abilities and that in this case BOINC an open source program developed at the University of California Berkeley is enabling the utilizing the otherwise wasted abilities of these devices. Universities and some individuals are creating projects in many areas of science and computational work which any person can join and help without knowing anything more than how to install a program on a computer.

Why would this be necessary? Well say that you wanted to make a copy of an entire encyclopedia by hand. It would take years for a single person to do that alone, but if you and some of your friends split up the books and pages and started copying different sections then with the more friends that are helping the less time it would take to copy to the encyclopedia.

This concept is the same thing as what volunteer computing does. Scientists and other projects take problems that would take months, years, or thousands of years to for a single computer or even supercomputer to return and break it up so that computers all around the world can work on a small piece of the problem. These projects without these volunteering resources would be extremely expensive to complete and would take a long time. Volunteer computing also enable smaller more focused projects that may otherwise be unable to gain the computing resources or funding to take place due to their topic or very concentrated problem that does not concern a large population.

Why should I join? Each person joins volunteer computing efforts for different reasons. You must find your own reason, but some examples of why people join are one to help a good cause like the search for cures for diseases, for the chance to display their computer's abilities and/or power, for a publicity stunt, to help accelerate research in clean energy, to help discover the unknown, or my reason for the love of the advancement of science, technology, and understanding.

What is in it for me? The results and good feeling knowing you are helping. The projects that you help turn up discoveries. Some of the projects actually list volunteers who make the discoveries in their papers and others acknowledge those who help. Secondly some of the projects you help might bring about a drug that saves your life or a life of a friend or relative, or a discovery impacts the ability make your dream car, or whatever happens these days. It is your choice what projects you help and each projects have impact in fields directly and indirectly related in materials enabling traveling to space, creating safer cars, and the list goes on and on. Really discoveries in science can bring things from Sci-Fi to Sci-Fact like cloaking and teleportation or micro machines that repair your body from the inside without surgery. Each discovery will be something known for the future and that is what can really matter. Before we thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth, just imagine what we may have misunderstood and how the may change through volunteer computing.

What about security, slowing my computer down, or impacting my normal use? Obviously security is a major concern and another being how BOINC affects their computer... least that is what it is for me.

First to address the security: BOINC is developed with security being one of its top concerns due to the the potential to be installed on so many computers around the world. The programmers use many techniques that work to minimize the risk to users. As of the date this is posted there have been no documented cases of security problems. The largest risk for users is attaching to projects with malicious intent. Though the community of active volunteers discuss and check out the projects and GridRepublic is working to make only trustworthy projects available for joining though their website.

Secondly to address the computer impact: BOINC/GridRepublic is set to run at the lowest priority for using your computer's resources. Thus it should act the same as it did before you joined, though one thing to mention is the fan might be a little louder or on more due to increased heat having to be dispersed. If this does happen and it bothers you there is a setting where you can limit the % use and that can be played with until things are acceptable. Also to mention each project requires different amounts of memory to run and if you do not have much memory in your computer you might want to set BOINC to only run when you are not using it. What happens if you do not have enough memory? Two things might happen one you don't get any work to help and/or two your computer will do a thing called page filing which your computer uses its hard drive as memory, but that is much slower and you may see programs not load as fast and other performance hits. I would recommend you have at least 1 Gig (and more is better), but it can still be run on computers with less than that.

Ending Questions to Ponder: Working together with volunteer computing what would be the greatest accomplishment humanity could benefit from? What have you done to help someone recently that really mattered?

Ending Mission: Make at least one person smile each day. You will be amazed how much better you will feel about your life and your reason for living.

I would like to thank you for visiting my site and I hope you have a great day and take a moment to check out GridRepublic. I look forward to sparking your mind about other subjects.