A Diatribe on Promoting BOINC and Public Distributed Computing

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Profile mitrichr
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Message 31749 - Posted: 24 Mar 2010, 22:45:41 UTC

So, I have been considering for some time a writing a diatribe 0n the current state of Public Distributed Computing with BOINC software. My thesis is that if this activity is going to flourish, the software needs to be less cumbersome and easier for the average person to use. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this. I present my ideas here. If any people wish to throw brickbats, be my guest.

Presently, it seems to me that the preponderance of “crunchers” are technically adept people probably in some field of endeavor in which advanced computer skills are a requirement. BOINC Stats currently shows 1.9 million people engaged in this work on 4.9 million “hosts”. I think that it is safe to assume that this means that almost everyone who is technically adept and who wants to participate in this work is doing so, that this market for people and their computers is mature. This would mean that growth among people so described will be barely incremental.

But, there are projects with years of work ahead of them, and, judging from the number of projects in the alpha and beta stages of development, there will be ever more projects. So, how do we get more people, average people, involved with this work?

I am very seriously committed to participating in many projects running BOINC software, including WCG projects. From the very first project in which I participated, a cancer project at Oxford University running I think on UD software, I saw that this was the most important thing that I could do with my computer(s).

I am at best a computer enthusiast. This means that I can run my Windows based computers fairly well on my own without getting into too much trouble. But, I am by no means a technically adept person. I do have a friend who is an I/T person. I see him as my computer guru. He is also already a cruncher. I am currently crunching on two Core 2 Duo machines running 32bit Vista, a new i7-920 machine running Win7 64bit, and a lowly Atom N270 powered netbook, soon to be replaced (I hope, if it ever gets delivered) by an i5 machine running Win7 64bit. It took a month and a great deal of help from the terrific CA’s at BOINC message boards and WCG forums to get the i7 machine running properly.

And, herein lies the problem. Using BOINC software is simply too difficult for the average person who is not technically adept. I am sort of on the cusp. I am persistent and I can ask enough questions to figure out where I need to be headed. But, when I was getting help in the forums, I continually had to ask that people not use acronyms and not assume that I knew what they were writing about. But, if I was not so persistent, if I was not so committed to this work, I would have quit long ago.

As a corollary, I would submit that the current default standards of BOINC software are not up to the new really fast and powerful equipment that is on the market. If one buys some new barn burner, one must figure out what needs to be changed in the Preferences to keep it engaged and not running out of work.

I just recently passed the million credit mark. I use BOINC Stats to mark my progress. After I got the new i7 machine running properly, I saw that for a while I was passing people every day. Now, I am being passed every day. That means that there are ever more new machines being put on projects running BOINC software. But, while I am being passed every day, my percentile number, where I stand in the total universe of crunchers, keeps rising. I am almost to the 99th percentile. So, along with being passed, I am also passing others. Of course, this can also mean new people are beginning in the work. That means that with three moderately decent machines and the netbook, I am almost at the acme of this work. To me, that is terrible. There are just not enough of us.

There needs to be some sort change or changes in how the software works so that it easier for more people, ordinary people, to succeed as crunchers and more new machines to be able to be more easily configured to do the work. There needs also to be a shift, a paradigm shift, in how the technically adept , and really quite wonderful CA’s and others, respond to the forlorn non-adept among us.

Another area in which efforts are rather decrepit is how this work is treated in the press. Most often, too many times to count, articles are written about some project or other, people are interviewed, and then the article says nothing about BOINC or World Community Grid. Some accept that as O.K. That is definitely not O.K. We are told that “we” do not control the press. Of course, we do not control the press. But there needs to be recognition that any one article about some project can help raise the consciousness among readers of all projects if BOINC and/or WCG appear very clearly in whatever is written. Project people need to learn to be persistent about getting this done. It is of little help if an article about the Help Fight Childhood Cancer project at Chiba University, or the Quake Net project or some other project appears in the popular press or some scientific journal with no mention of how that project is being aided by thousands of people running this cool software.

Another area in which we are sorely lacking is the utilization of social networking applications such as Facebook and Twitter. I cannot speak properly about Twitter because I am not using Twitter. But I can speak about Facebook. Recently DARPA ran a contest with a US$40,000 prize in which contestants would locate nine weather balloons which were sent aloft across the United States. The winning team was from MIT. They used Facebook to attract people to aid in the effort, with the promise of sharing in the money prize. They located all of the balloons in nine hours. Recently also, WCG implemented a Facebook application. Their first attempt was a total failure. They re-wrote the application. But it was one application for all of WCG. So, I could become a “fan”, and I would see posts on my Facebook page of news from WCG. I would then need to drill to see what it was all about. Only one project, in France, wrote their own Facebook application and it was for a French audience. When I posted to each WCG project the very same message that they needed to get up on Facebook for their own project, I was excoriated as a spammer. That was in my view just so much ca-ca. To date, I have not seen a single news item from WCG come to my Facebook page. I know how to deal with this if I get a post. If I see it and read it and find out about it, and if that is as far as it goes, then this is, as they say, preaching to the choir. For my “friends” to see it, I copy some text, hopefully with some sort of thumbnail graphic, and I paste this into my own post. Then, all of my myriad friends and relatives will see it. Maybe some one or more people will check it out. That is how MIT won the DARPA contest. Facebook is the only social networking utility about which I know. I am sure that others can add to this subject.

So, that’s it. Software, technical support, Public Relations, and social networking. We are sorely lacking in all of these areas. For the universe of crunchers to grow meaningfully to deal better with what we can do with the potential ahead of us, all of these need work and a lot of it. If you read this far, I sincerely thank you very much.

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mo.v
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Message 31750 - Posted: 25 Mar 2010, 0:13:36 UTC

There are still a lot of people qualified in the world of IT who don't run any distributed computing / volunteer projects. Many are young people too busy at work and with their families to take the time out to see what they could do. Others still don't trust it. Some believe the life of their computer could be shortened.

I've been making low-level efforts for several years to get BoincSpeak simplified so that non-specialists have a chance of understanding. When I first joined Boinc I thought I was the host (or hostess) because I'd invited climate models onto my computer. I couldn't understand why I was being sent 'results'. I thought it was the job of my computer not to receive results but to produce them. No wonder I could hardly understand anything on the forums or Boinc website at first.

Boinc language is rather more user-friendly now but the job of making it more comprehensible isn't complete. I see, for example, that the Seti Server status page still offers to send 'results' to members. Incomprehensible to ordinary people, but it hasn't been changed because that counts as a page that only power users look at.

As you say, things have improved but there's still a long way to go.
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Profile mitrichr
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Message 31751 - Posted: 25 Mar 2010, 0:45:13 UTC - in response to Message 31750.  

mo.v

Thank you so much for your understanding, I applaud any efforts you have been making because you get it.

I must say, I don't see where I said anything has improved, I hope that we can get people to see that it must improve.

I hope that you are correct that there is still an untapped pool of I/T folk. We can be optimistic that there is potential there.

And, I did fail to note that absolutely incredible amount of work that has been done, the projects that have been successfully completed. BOINC Stats notes
204,590,253,665 total credits to date, 450,685,668 today alone. This is not exactly chopped liver.

But, go to a site like BOINC Synergy and just look at all of the alphas and betas. Read some of their stuff. We have the ability to work miracles for mankind.

Thanks again, more power to you.

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Profile mitrichr
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Message 31774 - Posted: 26 Mar 2010, 13:55:04 UTC
Last modified: 26 Mar 2010, 13:57:31 UTC

My good friend mentioned above, my "guru", showed me that it is way worse than I thought, with these statistics right from the BOINC web site:

Total
Users 1,925,931
Hosts 4,952,304
Teams 86,732
Countries 269

Active Now
Users 323,256
Hosts 604,564
Teams 28,025
Countries 235


This pretty much sucks.
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Message boards : Promotion : A Diatribe on Promoting BOINC and Public Distributed Computing

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