Summer of love

It's all about "togetherness." Money helps, but man helping his fellow man is what life is really all about. It's the '60s all over again; come on people, now, smile on your brother and get together.

By DAVID SHAMAH
March 8, 2007 09:43
3 minute read.
computer cartoon 88

computer cartoon 88. (photo credit: )

 
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It's all about "togetherness." Money helps, but man helping his fellow man is what life is really all about. It's the '60s all over again; come on people, now, smile on your brother and get together. And just imagine what John Lennon would have come up with if he had heard about the wonders of Distributed Computing. Your computer, my computer, his and her computer can all work together crunching data to more quickly and efficiently come up with answers and solutions. Distributed Computing isn't new, with the first applications having been developed nearly a decade ago. But with the newer, more powerful processors many users have upgraded to, the processing power of many computers working together has never been greater, and the larger distributed environments can make use of supercomputer level processing. The most popular Distributed Computing system, Seti@Home (http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/) - the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (no, they are not kidding) - is typical of the genre. Seti participants install a screen saver onto their computers, which is in touch with the system's central server. When you leave your computer unattended, with its processor working at very low capacity, the Seti screensaver downloads data onto your system from supercomputers analyzing information gleaned by satellites and spacecraft to try to figure out if "anyone is out there." When you go back to work, the Seti program pauses in its tracks, picking up its work again only when you go away again. So far, Seti hasn't found any aliens, but the system did find a stolen laptop a couple of weeks ago (http://tinyurl.com/225uan). Hey, it's better than nothing! Despite the popularity of Seti - more than three million people have installed its screensaver - the main focus of Distributed Computing applications is on medical research, and programs exist following the Seti model of harnessing participants' processor power during downtime to search for cures for cancer, AIDS, genetic diseases, malaria, muscular dystrophy and many others, as well as drug research. The most well-known of the medical research networks is Folding@Home (http://folding.stanford.edu/), which is researching protein behavior in the search for treatments of Alzheimer's and Huntingdon's diseases, among others. At http://www.grid.org/projects/cancer/, you can get in on the fight against cancer via software provided by the United Devices Cancer Research Project, and you can make like Jerry Lewis on the Memorial Day Muscular Dystrophy Telethon by helping the World Community Grid cure MD at http://tinyurl.com/2nq3wz. The common denominator in all these efforts is that the complicated computations needed to conduct research on the behavior of cells in the body interacting with drugs and environmental factors could require processing billions of pieces of data - beyond the capability of all but the greatest supercomputers. But with Distributed Computing, thousands or even millions of users providing their processor downtime for use in research creates a "virtual supercomputer," greatly increasing the likelihood that a possible cure for many dread diseases can be discovered more quickly. The same holds true for research on global warming at http://www.climateprediction.net/, as well as a whole bunch of math projects dedicated to finding things like generalized Fermat prime numbers (huh?) and developing a "particle accelerator." You can find a good list of active Distributed Computing projects at http://www.distributedcomputing.info/projects.html. Many of these systems actually use the same piece of software, called BOINC, which can be used for a single or multiple causes. After all this socialist-type do-gooding, though, some of us need to stroke our greedy capitalist selves, as least a little - and the world of Distributed Computing can help with the search for money, too. Check out, for example, Gstock (http://www.gstock.com/), which uses processing power in its network to predict what the stock market is going to do. In the free version, you can open up a portfolio of as many as 100 stocks, and Gstock will send you automatic alerts with data, buy or sell recommendations and general performance predictions. When you sign up, you become part of the network, and your computer is drafted into the processor pool. Does Gstock work? Well, the site claims that two-thirds of its buy/sell predictions over the past three years were right. Gstock says that it tests more than a billion different investment strategies for each stock, and since it covers all shares on the major exchanges, that gives you an idea of how much processing power we're talking about. Of course, I would feel better about myself if I dedicated my processing power to something like http://www.malariacontrol.net/ - but even uber-hippie Jerry Rubin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry-Rubin) turned stockbroker before he died. http://www.newzgeek.com

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