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Software Networking

Interview with SETI@home Director David Anderson 172

CowboyRobot writes "ACM's Queue magazine interviews David P. Anderson, a research scientist at the U.C. Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, who directs the SETI@home and BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) projects. SETI@home uses hundreds of thousands of home computers in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. FTA: "volunteer computing arose because projects such as SETI@home needed $100 million worth of computing power but didn't have the money. But there's no free lunch--a project must give participants something in return for their computer time.""
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Interview with SETI@home Director David Anderson

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  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:49PM (#13430006) Homepage Journal
    It seems that many of us are competitive enough to donate cpu time and only get back a scorecard.

    • by DurendalMac ( 736637 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:05PM (#13430153)
      The way a lot of the SETI competitors see it, they get a bigger e-pecker in return for their number crunching efforts.
      • "Its not the size of your results that counts, its magic in them".

        Only people with small e-peckers say stuff like that. ;)
      • That may be common on some BOINC-type projects, but I've found that people crunching for ClimatePrediction.net [climateprediction.net] to be more of the concerned variety.

        There is still some emphasis on stats, but overall the activity surrounding the related Open University course and discussion of climate change and ecology tend to eclipse competition for its own sake.

        CPDN is the most demanding distributed computing research project I've seen and narcissists fall by the wayside pretty quickly. What we COULD use are more geeks. ;
    • I agree. Many of us geeks thrive on competition. Stategy, too. If only there was some way to incorporate strategy. Fantasy BOINC, anyone?
      • That would actually be really interesting. More and more I'm starting to like games where you can make progress even if you're not online. (Eve Online and Planetarion are the first two that come to mind but only because they're the only ones I play).

        I know all this is non-profit and volunteer, but I would love to see something substantive in return for making the office bedroom 10 degrees (F) hotter than the rest of the house.
    • by HTTP Error 403 403.9 ( 628865 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:25PM (#13430289)
      It seems that many of us are competitive enough to donate cpu time and only get back a scorecard.
      How about using the MMORPG method of rewarding participants. Have SETI members level up after certain of work units. "I'm a level 42 SETI warrior!" Or maybe have SETI members find "rare" artifacts. "I have the sword of Cocconi!"

      I can't understand how my nephew will play WOW for an entire weekend to change a number from 47 to 48.

    • My friends and I had a competition over who had the most seti points. It boiled down to which one of us was in charge of a better network.
  • Patent Rights (Score:2, Interesting)

    I'll take a share of any items that they patent as a result of SETI. Residuals ought to help pay for new computers down the line for me.
    • I'll take a share of any items that they patent as a result of SETI.

      I'm betting that any goodies we get out of the deal, like warp drives and matter replicators, have already been patented by the aliens. They'll probably be expecting royalties.

  • New client (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fatwreckfan ( 322865 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:51PM (#13430018)
    Am I the only one that stopped participating once they switched to this new client they use now? I couldn't get it to work on either my work or home computers...
    • Re:New client (Score:4, Informative)

      by VJ42 ( 860241 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:54PM (#13430052)
      I carried on using the old client, it still works. (I couldn't get BOINC to work either).
    • That's how it was for me. BOINC wouldn't run properly. I guess I didn't try hard enough or something. After a bit of trying I decided to switch to Folding@Home instead. I like the client better and, in my opinion, the science is more beneficial to humanity.
    • Re:New client (Score:4, Interesting)

      by demachina ( 71715 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:09PM (#13430180)
      I stopped running SETI once I figured out what a needle in a haystack search it is. They are looking for a few specific waveforms on a very narrow frequency band. There isn't a particularly strong chance that aliens would share in their thinking on what signal to send and happen to do it in the same time frame.

      I'm all for donating spare CPU cycles but I would rather it went to something that had a better chance of having a point like molecular biology research.
      • Re:New client (Score:5, Interesting)

        by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:43PM (#13430439) Journal
        SETI is actually looking on the frequency band that makes sense, given the nearby stars have already been searched more broadly. Remember, SETI is only listening for aliens who are trying to send us a message, not looking for radio traffic leaking from some alien planet.

        Anyone doing radio astonomy is going to be listening on or near the 21cm "hydrogen band", as there's only "a very narrow frequency band" that works for radio astronomy at any distance. If you're going to send a signal to someone you know noting about, this is the one frequency range that you can be sure they'll be listening on, if they're listening at all. It's not just chosen arbitrarily.

        Certainly, the chance of finding alien intelligence after we checked the easy targets is small - small enough that I'm happy SETI is orivately funded, not fighting for funds from the NSF. But for a volunteer effort, support what makes you happy to support.
    • Am I the only one that stopped participating once they switched to this new client they use now? I couldn't get it to work on either my work or home computers...

      I saved myself the grief: I stopped while still using the old client, because the bunch that ran the old system so abysmally poorly couldn't be counted on to run the new system any better. They had chronic problems with their network, with their feeds, with the servers that were supposed to accept results, and with their forums. What use is t

  • by Datagod ( 613152 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:51PM (#13430020)
    When you find the aliens, perhaps give all the Seti@home volunteers a good probing?
  • Power usage? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rikkochet ( 910226 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:53PM (#13430039)
    Now correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't utilizing 100% of a CPU result in a significant increase in power consumption on the system versus the processor simply being idle? Sure, it's nothing compared to leaving your big CRT monitor on, but still.. I definitely notice my CPU and case temperatures are substantially higher when I have high CPU utilization going on - I can't help but wonder how much energy we're actually consuming here.
    • Re:Power usage? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Duncan3 ( 10537 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @03:56PM (#13430071) Homepage
      1. Yes.

      2. Lots.

      The cost is just spread out over thousands of people, instead of having them all in one place.

      • The cost is just spread out over thousands of people, instead of having them all in one place.

        What about the cost to the environment? Ah yes, this is also spread out over many thousands (billions) of people.
        • Re:Power usage? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by squidfood ( 149212 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:56PM (#13430568)
          What about the cost to the environment?

          From this link [tomshardware.com] a good average differential between a processor at load and idle is 40W. If you turn the computer off instead, that's maybe 80W. (Broad average over many computers).

          Now Here [berkeley.edu] we see that 2million years of computing time has been used, so (times 40W/hr) that comes to 700,000MWHr.

          No the 2000 U.S. consumption of energy was ~21 billion MWHr. (Here, and trust the government to use quadrillions of BTUs as a unit [doe.gov]). So to date, SETI has used 0.003% of U.S. annual energy consumption. And that's almost enough energy to power the City of Red Deer, Alberta [gov.ab.ca] for 17 months! Someone else can tell us how many libraries of congress you could have read with that much light.

          Feel free to check my units and zeros, I've been wrong before, as long as someone can tell the Brits what a quadrillion is.

          • During the heating season (i.e. the winter months) the added power consumed simply heats the room -- zero cost here (assuming you are using electric heat or comparable). During the summer, in many places, the air conditioning will work over time to remove the excess heat.

            So if you are worried about it simply don't search for aliens in summer.

    • Nobody needs SETI. If you're looking for a real challenge, try to find intelligent life on this planet[1].

      Charly

      [1] And no, mice don't count.
    • Re:Power usage? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mr Guy ( 547690 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:06PM (#13430158) Journal
      I have a 45 watt CPU. I'm going to assume for simplicity's sake that all other power drain is roughly equal and they only burning CPU time. We'll say, for the ease of the numbers, it burns 4 watts idle, so the ramp up to full cpu is 41 watts. That gives me 1 Kilowatt-hour per day. I pay about 8 cents a kilowatt-hour. So the way I figure it, for my two computers, I'm donating about $2.40 a month to cancer research with folding@home.
    • ...doesn't utilizing 100% of a CPU result in a significant increase in power consumption...

      Yes, but that is not all...

      Your CPU is cooled by pulling in cool air(relatively speaking) from outside your case and pushing the hotter air out the back. Then the A/C in your house needs to cool the hot air produced by the computer. So you will have to pay more money to run your home's A/C.

  • I love BOINC (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I was a seti@home classic user and switched to BOINC. It allows you to run multiple projects of all different types and apportion percentages of your resources to all the projects you subscribe to. It allowed me to perform some protein folding (which some might find more useful) while looking for ET. There are some climate modeling and I think interferometer processing may also be available. I think BOINC needs to add control of CPU utilization parameters, but it is a great step foward from the single-use s
    • Re:I love BOINC (Score:3, Informative)

      by Thrymm ( 662097 )
      I love it too, I was running the Climate Prediction along with SETI... but now I've switched over to the Enstein one. http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/ [uwm.edu]

      From the Site:

      Einstein@home is a program that uses your computer's idle time to search for spinning neutron stars (also called pulsars) using data from the LIGO and GEO gravitational wave detectors.
  • Hey, I tried using the BOINC software. I'd love to help and be a part of the project, but the fact is that it simply eats all the resources on my machines. Yes, I've tried tuning it back, but to no avail.

    When using it, the laptop fans run all the time, and no doubt my power utilization is higher. As much as I'd like to help , I just can't justify it.

    • by Mr Guy ( 547690 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:14PM (#13430214) Journal
      Calling it a resource hog may not be the right term depending on what resources you are talking about. The whole point of the programs is to run your CPU to max when it would be otherwise idle. In that sense you are deliberately contributing to the wear and tear of your system, as well as any heating issues you may be concerned about. You are choosing to offset this against the value of the research, which is why I can't understand why people will donate cycles to SETI and not to something more directly useful like folding@home, but that's a value judgement.

      It, however, should NOT be a resource hog in the sense of Microsoft Office, in that it slows down other programs. These programs are designed to utilize any resources you aren't using, and immediately give them back if you need to use them. This is done by setting the priority of the process just over system idle. Any cycles that would be spent idle are spent on processing instead, but when a program wants cycles, it gives them up.
      • The whole point of the programs is to run your CPU to max when it would be otherwise idle...These programs are designed to utilize any resources you aren't using, and immediately give them back if you need to use them. This is done by setting the priority of the process just over system idle. Any cycles that would be spent idle are spent on processing instead, but when a program wants cycles, it gives them up.

        Yes, I understand (and yes, I've tuned it properly). But that's not how it works. While it may

        • It sounds more like you are having issues with the screen saver and not the actual BIONC program. Just leave the SS for BIONC off and either pick something else or none at all.

          The problem isn't that BIONC is taking up your resources, it's that those pretty graphics have to be loaded up and unloaded whenever the SS starts.

          I don't have the SS on and have never seen _any_ impact on my computer performance.
      • Back when dnetc started, computers always ran at 100%. Any "idle" time was just spent executing NOPs. These days, computers don't run at top speed all the time, and thus it's wasteful to run this SETI nonsense.

        SETI was always more about feel-good-ness and "look how cool my computer is", than actually doing anything beneficial. It's like eating Rainforest Brand ice cream instead of flying to Brazil and standing in front of a bulldozer.

  • If you donate enough computer cycles, you can use the SETI@home points to buy your way off the Darwin Awards list, like a get out of jail free card... or at least keep your name from being used if you make the runners up list?
  • Did it occur to anyone that when SETI found a strange frequency-shifting signal out of nowhere, to check what star would be on the exact other side of the sky?
    • Did it occur to anyone that...

      Well, obviously it occurred to you. However, Mr. Anderson from TA* is a mathematician, not a deep-thinking slashdot user like you and me.

      -------
      *If I were a cusser I'd write "TFA," but I'm not so I didn't just write that.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        *If I were a cusser I'd write "TFA," but I'm not so I didn't just write that

        Straigten up and quit thinking the word fine is a bad word. Yes it is derogatory to say that is a fine woman but it is not in refrence to The Fine Article; unless of course there is a new line of seperatists articles liberals on the horizon.
      • You say "mathematician" like it is a magic word. Let it be known that I also attempted to study mathematics once upon a time, and also let it be known that science fiction stories and locating alien intelligences is not part of the curriculum of mathematics.
    • SETI @ Home processes data that is sometimes several years old. The origin could be virtually anywhere in the sky by the time they get around to signal detection - did you actually think this was realtime analysis?
      • SETI @ Home processes data that is sometimes several years old. The origin could be virtually anywhere in the sky by the time they get around to signal detection - did you actually think this was realtime analysis?

        The data comes from scanning specific regions of the sky, so the origin is known, otherwise the whole SETI project would be only marginally useful.

        I'm also not suggesting to locate a moving object in the sky, but am working on the assumption that the moving object transmitted a focussed tran

  • ..a project must give participants something in return for their computer time

    so everybody who contributed gets an alien in return , and would you like fries with it?

  • How Timely (Score:5, Funny)

    by ipxodi ( 156633 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:13PM (#13430206) Homepage
    How timely considering Seti@home has been offline for a week and all the users have this really keen "Boinc is currently idle" floating screensaver.
    Maybe they've been hacked by Aliens who didn't want to be discovered.
    "I for one welcome our new alien hacker overlords."

    .
    • I've been wondering about that. I have d.net running on the same computer as BONIC, and I thought they got along nicely and shared and whatnot, but then I noticed that BONIC wasn't moving progress-wise. I'd also noticed some time ago that I wasn't able to get any updates.

      My real question about this is am I killing my laptop faster than I'm killing my desktops using these clients? I would guess yes. Unfortunately the laptop is the fastest machine and I'm a d.net stats.addict. :P
    • BOINC has built-in caching (like SetiQueue, but built-in to the client). You have to enable it on the website, which is rather odd, and hope your client picks up the new preferences during its next resync. BOINC will then download a lot of data, and keep your CPU's busy even during downtime. My CPU's are still running old SETI units that BOINC has cached!

      And, there are other BOINC projects you can choose, besides SETI.

      Or, you can save a watt or two. I checked, and my best computer uses 110 watts when id
    • You're missing the point of BOINC--if your favorite project is down, go ahead and join up with another. If you RTFA, Mr. Anderson recommends this because high project availability is NOT one of BOINC's goals.

      Furthermore the credits from one project to another still are scored equally, so you don't lose any headway in the standings when a project is idle.
    • I noticed SETI@Home being down pretty frequently so I added climateprediction.net as another project. I set SETI down to 25% of my process time and Climate Prediction at 75%. I'm thinking of adding another couple of projects, like Folding@Home or the Einstein project. I may even drop SETI. Kind of sad, seeing a project I believed in not improving their software and being down way too often. Besides, as many have already posted, I think there are projects whose results are more worth my CPU time.
  • The interview concentrates on the computing side of the project, the BOINC platform. While this is interesting what puzzles me more is that so far SETI@Home failed to really find anything. I would it even call it surprising given the fact that recent numerous discoveries of planets orbiting other stars give more ground to the assumption that life might be common in the Universe. Either it is not or a part of our assumptions must be wrong.
    • The interview concentrates on the computing side of the project, the BOINC platform.

      I thought so too. I was looking for more questions about SETI myself, but oh well. If anyone else is looking for an interview more about SETI and less about BOINC, here are the interview questions up front, so you can skip the 3-page interview if it doesn't appeal to you:

      • Can you tell us a little about BOINC and the history behind it?
      • Besides SETI@home and Climateprediction.net, what other projects are using BOINC?
      • Wha
        • Can you tell us a little about BOINC and the history behind it?

          Sure. We ran into certain limits in the original SETI@Home project and wanted to broaden our, uh, horizons while finding an excuse for spending more time drinking microbeer, wine, and eating cheese.

        • Besides SETI@home and Climateprediction.net, what other projects are using BOINC?

          We're evaluating some candidates, including the Find-A-Valid-Credit-Card-Number project, the Lottery Prediction project, and the PI Generator project. You know, the

    • Re:Hm... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jtheletter ( 686279 )
      I would it even call it surprising given the fact that recent numerous discoveries of planets orbiting other stars give more ground to the assumption that life might be common in the Universe. Either it is not or a part of our assumptions must be wrong.

      You have certainly waved off a huge amount of information and theory in just two sentences. So you're basically saying that even though we've only searched approximately 0.002%* of the sky for less than a decade and found nothing, this surely disproves the p

      • Projects like SETI at home are basically looking for signals someone is intentionally sending to us, at an "obvious" frequency and with signal structure dumbed down so a less sophisticated civilization (us, with near certainty) could recognize it as such.

        If you believe that the speed of light is a law of nature that can't be trifled with, then no civilization out there would know of our existence unless they were within (prob. well within) about 100 light years. That really cuts down the available volume

      • SETI and any program like it are all long shots, and there's no way to prove them wrong, only eventually right, unless of course through some cosmic joke there really never was, is, or will be life elsewhere in the galaxy.

        Wow! You just turned SETI into a religion instead of a science.
  • New Project (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:14PM (#13430213)
    I am actually starting project called waldo@home. It will require $100 million worth of computing power to find waldo.

    Anyone want in?

    K.
    • by Peldor ( 639336 )
      First I need to know if it's available in a BeOS version I can run from a bootable USB drive preferably in Sanskrit.

      I can't just go donating my computer time to anybody who comes up with a project.

  • I've been a SETI@Home volunteer for several years... since 1998, I think, and I've unofficially clocked over 10,500 hours of time -- unofficially that is, because ever since BOINC came into the picture, I've not been getting any credit for my work units. I've tried BOINC, and other than the fact that it's a piece of buggy crap, I hate it, and won't have it on my computer.

    SETI was just fine with it's old client -- this may just be a how-to on how to loose a loyal following! SETI@Home no longer runs on my c

    • The user experience might have suffered a little with the switch to BOINC, but think of what has been gained: a generic distributed computing system, where projects can fairly easily package up their computational problem for SETI@home-like processing, without having to go through all the work of setting up the distributed computing infrastructure! And with BOINC, you can specify what percentage of your cpu resources you want to go to which processes... it's like the United Way for CPU cycles. (-:

      I work on
    • Seti isn't BOINC. BOINC isn't Seti.

      Seti@home was not fine with the old client. There were easily exploitable ways of running up your CPU time that brought into question the validity of the results being returned. It became less a question of donating CPU time to science, and more of an attempt to show the world how big your geek-dick is. "I've got blah blah blah hours on Seti" started to become the equivilent of "I just bought a new H2"

      BOINC is a huge improvement over the old client. It does require more RA
    • So did you switch to another prject (like folding@home) or are you no longer
      contributing cycles to any distributed projects?
    • I agree - 13702 work units here and I won't be contributing another.
    • I've tried BOINC, and other than the fact that it's a piece of buggy crap, I hate it, and won't have it on my computer.

      Same here. But, old client (V3.08) works fine, at least at 4-5 computers that I have S@H running.

      BTW, ~2800 units, ~28k hours. :-)
  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:29PM (#13430316) Homepage
    The numbers don't look good: Our most powerful RTs (NM array) can barely pickup Voyager broadcasting 5W from Neptune. Even if ET is putting 1 MW in a roughly equivalent antenna dispersal, she can only be 0.2 light-year away. Give her 1e4 better efficiency/aiming, and she could be 21 light-years.

    There probably several hundred stars in this volume, IMHO some of which will have/had intelligent life. But how long are they going to keep at it with directional RT transmitters?? I'd guess maybe 1000 years. But that's out of a 5 billion year stellar cycle! Not only is space vast, but so is time. Planetary evolutions _will_ be out-of-phase by millions & billions of years.

    • I say "bah" on your emotional "theory of evolution." If you want an answer about extraterrestrial life, just ask the Flying Spaghetti Monster. [venganza.org]
    • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:59PM (#13430600) Journal
      Ahhh, but SETI is looking for aliens who are trying to talk to us. Setting up a beacon that targets a set of stars and sends them a message, each in succession, repeating for millions of years doesn't seem that far-fetched or difficult - no moving parts are required, after all, all it would take is good radiation shielding for the computer.

      The signal could be quite strong indeed, if based on someplace like Mercury, from just solar power. With just a 100m square array ET could be 200 light years out with your assumptions, and that's something a lone nutjob could set up given reasonable space trave technology. A government-sized effort could be several orders of magnitude better.

      SETI is interesting precisely because it should be pretty easy to find any alien life that wants to be found, and yet we keep not finding it.
    • Scientific American had an article that suggusted any civilization advanced enough to have colonized a couple systems is almost certainly beaming communication instead of broadcasting it. Lots of luck setting the improbability drive to a location in the beam path.

  • I have contributed probably a good 600-625 work units to them so far, and I'd like to know how far those clock cycles have gone toward the research.
  • Folding@home is hosted by Stanford University and studies protein folding, a biochemical process with implications for fighting disease.)

    Amusingly, our structural predictions based on protein folding are just down the hallway from me, in the Baker Labs, which uses a lot of cheap Linux computers to get even better results.

    I think Baker's predictions rank usually 2nd to 5th, and the Stanford predictions are below that rank.

    It's great to see everyone trying to get all this done!
  • Disclaimer -- I run a distributed search engine project [majestic12.co.uk] so my opinion is biased.

    It was noted above that while there are plenty of CPU sucking projects they don't seem to have end results that can actually be used in daily life.

    OK, d.net proved the point by breaking crypto that was thought to be too strong. Fine, done that, why waste CPU cycles further?

    SETI@Home -- okay, its cool to search for aliens, but lets be realistic here -- its cool, but not exactly useable.

    Lots of effort, heck, lots is too small of a
  • My reason for running SETI: If I find ET, maybe, just maybe I might have a chance to meet Jodie Foster. I'm sure some math genius out there can work it the statistics (close to zero), but in a Dumb & Dumber [imdb.com] kind of way... I still have a chance [imdb.com]..
  • by Anonymous Coward
    i am somebody who thinks they really made a mistake moving to BOINC. I mean, it's a good idea, but the implementation is horrific.

    SETI@Home has always had an inferior statistics system than Distributed.net, and I really think the client is also inferior. BOINC just makes it much less approachable. SETI classic and DNET both are things you can pretty seemlessly run on your parents computer, etc... BOINC requires a more elaborate registration procedure, forcing you to keep ahold of a ginormous string of

  • by The Lynxpro ( 657990 ) <lynxproNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday August 29, 2005 @04:53PM (#13430541)

    I wish BOINC could also be designed to use graphics cards - ala the BrookGPU project - to help with the number crunching duties.*

    Granted, it would require both Nvidia and ATi to donate with the efforts (especially ATi and their stingy Linux commitment).

    I'd love to see some old machines with all their PCI card slots filled up with 3dfx Voodoo cards and the like helping future scientific endeavors.

    *Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the BOINC software rendering the SETI@home graphics courtesy of OpenGL, but I think there are more noble tasks the GPU could be harnessed to work on...

    • by SETIGuy ( 33768 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @05:27PM (#13430856) Homepage
      I wish BOINC could also be designed to use graphics cards - ala the BrookGPU project - to help with the number crunching duties.

      So do I. In fact I keep looking for people to help us develop this.... To no avail. :( Aparently the people who want this most don't have the ability to implement it, and the people who have the ability (assuming they exist) aren't interested.

      If anyone wants to help, join the boinc_opt [berkeley.edu]mailing list and send a message.

      BTW, David is the titular director of SETI@home, but currently has no managerial duties beyond the BOINC project.

      • "So do I. In fact I keep looking for people to help us develop this.... To no avail. :( Aparently the people who want this most don't have the ability to implement it, and the people who have the ability (assuming they exist) aren't interested."

        Interested, but I have no abilities other than a token financial donation and some spare 3dfx videocards... :)

        You'd (I mean, I) think the graphics card companies would donate some services to help out with the task...
        • You'd (I mean, I) think the graphics card companies would donate some services to help out with the task...

          We did get some financial support from a graphics card manufacturer and employed some students on the task for a summer. But corporate priorities change, or maybe they weren't happy with the rate of progress, and the manufacturer didn't make good on promises of subsequent support, which prompted the university to withdraw matching funds, which meant we really couldn't afford to work on it further...

  • and not a single "Mr. Anderson" joke :(
  • by hobotron ( 891379 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @05:05PM (#13430652)


    I see some comments about S@h's recent bugs, and come on its still somewhat in beta (as S@h classic still runs right next to it, new sign ups are forced to use the BOINC client but classic is still open to current members) thats no excuse, but it helps to explain some of the strain.

    Its not really about seti@home anymore, they had a system set up that worked more or less for them since 99. What they are really doing is removing the enormous cost (enormous even after its been reduced from a direct super computer) of setting up a distributed computing network, up until boinc it was tons of different standards that each in house dev team had to make from scratch. boinc is a system that lowers the cost (in terms of time and knowledge) to enter the distributed market.

    This is a mostly good thing, unless you have some n00bs like BURP (rendering project) that make a bug that nukes your local machine account info. This is mostly balanced out by the ability to run multiple projects at once, a good example is that seti@home has been down for about a week, but BOINC still runs and you can run other projects seamlessly.

    In 5 years it will be even easier to enter the distributed market, you will never see BOINC or its derivatives take over classical supercomputers, but as the costs go down you will see much more innovative uses for this computing power.

  • cpu time for money? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by N3wsByt3 ( 758224 ) on Monday August 29, 2005 @05:23PM (#13430813) Journal
    I've been a contributor to seti@home when it just started for some years. Maybe I was just being idealistic (and young ;-) but I thought it was a cool project. I still do, more or less, but..well, you know how it goes. After some years, I had to fix or reinstall my computers, and somehow, I never downloaded it again. Maybe I just lost interest too, and then with that more user-unfriendly boinc system, I just thought to myself it's not worth the trouble anymore. After all, it DOES cost you something, and let's face it; after years, there is still little to show for.

    I have always been wondering, though, why *commercial* companies don't see the value in such distributed cpu systems? I mean, there are, for instance, commercial genetic-engineering companies, trying to solve the riddle of DNA strings... which usually costs a lot, for computertime on supercomputers. Now, it would seem to me that a system like boinc (but not exactly boinc, because I think it's not allowed for commercial use) would be financially a far better deal. Just give the 'users' some mild financial gain, and they will have a userbase by the millions in no time, while for the company itself it would still be cheaper then if they had to pay for regular supercomputer-time.

    So, everybody (well, at least the capitalists ;-) would be better off; users get an actual financial gain, and the company gets huge resources for comparatively little money.

    so why don't we see things like this, even after all these years?


    • I investigated a commercial distributed possibility for signal processing using off cycles for seismic. A variety of issues popped up that made it a no go.
      The logistics behind figuring out who gets paid for what is immense, especially for an application that's supposed to be non-intrusive. Couple that with "proprietary data" - end users want to know whats going on - and clients don't want to tell them.
      The biggest stopper:
      Terrabytes of data will take out your intranet even in off hours, and if you partitio
    • In his novel Permutation City, Greg Egan depicted a near-future with something called the QIPS network (quadrillions of instructions per second), a massive, generic processing grid with a varying market rate for computing time. Ahh the clean lines of sci-fi software.
    • Because it's not cost effective.

      If I'm selling my CPU time I want to get at least what it costs me back, if not more.

      But it's cheaper to setup a rack of quad-cpu blade servers than it is to pay people to run the software on their home computers and support the distribution of the data, and conceivably tech support for the home PC's. There's lots of overhead involved in the costs of running a PC and getting the data to that PC beyond the watts/cycle that the actual calculation costs.
  • I've got Karma to burn, I guess so I'll risk it and voice my opinion.

    What possible good is SETI@Home? Isn't working on Cancer or Folding proteins a much better use of the CPU time then trying to have some fantasy about Aliens trying to communicate with us?

    It is very unlikely that we will ever find anything. If we do find it people will not believe it. There would probably be so little of the signal that it we would never understand it and it would be so old that likely the thing that sent it has long bee
  • I participate in Folding@Home. Gives a small pleasure that your CPU is actually useful for curing cancer (well, not partly useful) rather than just for playing FPS games and playing rock music. Anyway, any idea what is the world's largest distributed computing (volunteer computing) project? Is it SETI or Folding?

If a 6600 used paper tape instead of core memory, it would use up tape at about 30 miles/second. -- Grishman, Assembly Language Programming

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