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NEWS:
United Devices winds down

 
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seafsee
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2007 11:58 pm    Post subject: United Devices winds down Reply with quote

Back in the day when the internet was fairly safe and Windows 98 was on top, while searching for some new screen-savers, I discovered not only a screen-saver but a handy little app that would run science calculations as well Exclamation

This marvel was known as SETI@Home.

I also discovered another application that did double duty as a screen-saver - United Devices. This one did calculations for cancer cures and later on did some other important work in the Patriot Grid set-up, running calculations for Anthrax cures.

As time went on, grid.org, the controlling site added some other components like Rosetta and later World Community Grid, but these required higher processing than my poor Pentium II laptop could provide, so I stuck with what had been successful.

As the Distributed Computing community became more knowledgeable and sophisticated, people expected more for their time and efforts and little by little UD became less favorable to end users.

Depending on what you read and who wrote the article both UD and F@H claimed to have a higher share of users and computing power; however only F@H was willing to publish actual numbers (in the form of FLOPS) and not just state how many times the program had been downloaded or how many users had done this.

The other noteworthy thing missing was the publication of science papers open for peer review and to the public. Grid.org was a for profit company. Though several big time companies donated time, energy and resources for a cure for cancer, in the long run the results were bought and paid for by third parties (including the U.S. Government re: Patriot Grid) and not for the betterment of all.

In hindsight, it seems strange that the U.S. Government would enlist the aid of an English University to conduct these computations.

As UD went quietly without much fanfare, it's a wonder I discovered this as soon after the fact as I did (I've known since May) . I learned of this development through Kirk Pearson's most excellent distributedcomputing.info
http://distributedcomputing.info/index.html
where upon further reading I discovered this in the "Recently Completed Distributed Computing Projects":
Quote:
United Devices Cancer Research. searched for cancer-fighting drugs. The project was a partnership among grid.org, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR), and the Centre for Drug Discovery in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, England.
( http://distributedcomputing.info/recent.html {2nd down})
where further into the article a link is provided to the following:
Quote:
April '07 Grid Project Ends

On Friday 27 April the Screensaver Project finally came to a close. The project, developed with the National Foundation for Cancer Research has run for six years and has at various times been funded by Intel, Microsoft and by IBM, but was chiefly a collaboration with United Devices Inc of Austin Texas.

Department of Chemistry, University of Oxford © Copyright University of Oxford 2001-2007
http://www.chem.ox.ac.uk/curecancer.html


Further down the "Recent" page, there is a bit about World Community Grid, where following another link to "The Smallpox Protection Project".
http://www.chem.ox.ac.uk/smallpox/news.html
Quote:
The first stage in finding a treatment for smallpox, a potential threat as a potent weapon of bioterror, is complete. Professor Graham Richards, Chairman of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, together with research and industry partners, will deliver the results of the Smallpox Research Grid project to representatives from the United States Department of Defense today [Tuesday 30 September].

Please note who receives the results - the United States Department of Defense Exclamation


Another problem with the program was the software used by grid.org. It didn't support the newer technologies being made in the computer industry such as hyper-threading processors made by Intel. This made it impossible to run more than one instance at the same time on the same machine as could be done with F@H. The BOINC client has built in support to run as many instances as cores identified by the client.

In the final days, controversy found it's way into the forum as a moderator called a supporter an idiot. I found myself embroiled in a flame war just because I stated it was possible to run UD on a hyper-threaded PC alongside another application like F@H or BOINC without an appreciable loss in production. There was an identical computer in the house at the time running only UD; my machine running both UD and F@H nearly matched the UD output of that other machine.


A former colleague wrote an excellent article about choosing a Distributed Computing project.
"On the Selection of a Research Project"
http://www.castlecops.com/t158999-On_the_Selection_of_a_Research_Project.html
The key points were:
RuyLopez wrote:
  • Consider the stated objectives of the research project.
  • Consider the source of funding that financially supports the project.
  • Consider the stature of the institutions conducting the research.
  • Consider the historical track record and reputation of the Principal Investigator (Lead Scientist) of the project.
  • Consider whether the results of the project will be published openly within the peer reviewed literature, or withheld for a restricted audience.
  • Consider whether the research is being conducted as a for-profit, or not-for-profit activity.

These are excellent starting points for making a decision.

Other things to seriously consider is YOUR preferences. Does the project resonate with you.
It can be argued that SETI@Home is a frivolous project; that F@H has more potential benefits for humanity. That hasn't stopped the over five million people that have participated through the years.

When I first participated in these projects (SETI, UD) there were no real guidelines to follow and I had yet to partake in the forum experience. My (lifelong) interest in Astronomy was a big factor in choosing SETI, and this was really new - and exciting. Helping science understand cancer via UD seemed like a really good idea - something noble one could do - a contribution one could make without any special skills or knowledge or tools except a simple program one could obtain for free online.

It may have been a baby step, but it was a step to Make A Difference

For over a year, my Pentium II - 333 MhZ laptop ran (struggled) with both SETI and UD, and most of the work I accomplished in these projects was done on that machine, though for a few months my new Pent. 4 hyper-threaded machine ran some Work Units for UD and I formed my team in memory of my father.

Goodbye old friend. Remember me kindly.

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sally



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PostPosted: Fri Nov 09, 2007 11:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Interesting article, Seafsee.
I too have contributed to seti@home. I think I would continue to contribute if the project was learning something, not just searching for a needle in a haystack. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Do we have any scientific discoveries stemming from seti@home?

I heard today one some of the star systems that were previously discovered to have an orbiting planet or two, has now revealed 5 planets. Here's one article at Scientific American:

Record Fifth Planet Discovered Around Distant Star
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleId=16EEA019-E7F2-99DF-313BF41351A7B653&chanId=sa013&modsrc=most_popular

Now that sounds exciting to me! Smile Maybe we really aren't alone.
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patermann
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 10, 2007 6:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, seafsee. Because it was looking for a cure for cancer, I also contributed to UD for quite a long time but I started getting concerned when they started running other projects, particularly ones for the US government such as the Anthrax project. That wasn't what I had signed up for! It also seemed that they became more and more a "closed shop" that did not publish results to the medical community.

Then I found out about Folding@Home and all my prayers were answered! Here was a project that was trying to find cures for several nasty diseases, most of which affected at least one member of my family and/or friends and, even better, they published all of their results to the worldwide community.

Now I keep doing all I can to get more machines folding. Unfortunately, I occasionally lose one and nearly all of my machines were reassigned not so long ago but I keep trying!

patermann
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seafsee
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 11, 2007 10:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all, thank you both for your responses. I wasn't sure if I should expect any.
sally wrote:
Interesting article, Seafsee.
I too have contributed to seti@home. I think I would continue to contribute if the project was learning something, not just searching for a needle in a haystack. If I'm wrong, please let me know. Do we have any scientific discoveries stemming from seti@home?

I heard today one some of the star systems that were previously discovered to have an orbiting planet or two, has now revealed 5 planets. Here's one article at Scientific American:

Record Fifth Planet Discovered Around Distant Star
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleId=16EEA019-E7F2-99DF-313BF41351A7B653&chanId=sa013&modsrc=most_popular

Now that sounds exciting to me! Smile Maybe we really aren't alone.

One of the criticisms of SETI@Home has been it's usefulness.
Are we searching for a needle in a cosmic haystack or are we wasting our time?

I'm not exactly sure if there is a good answer to that question.

I have also not been one to search through any science papers that may have (or may not have) come from the project.

I can say that as progress has been made in the computational end of the program - the part we end-users get to see, that much and probably more has gone into that which we do not see. For instance, the data capturing is at least seven times more powerful than it was in the beginning.

If you were unaware, the BOINC project was born from the same minds that made the original S@H screensaver model. What was learned from the early successful effort has been used to make an improved program to sift the data. Also, Einstein@Home is using the same data collected for SETI to run their computations.

The BOINC platform was built using knowledge learned from the original program and it is open to many other projects to use to run data in the same way.

To view any science papers from the program, it would be best to visit the main site and follow a few links.
http://setiathome.berkeley.edu/

patermann wrote:
Thanks, seafsee. Because it was looking for a cure for cancer, I also contributed to UD for quite a long time but I started getting concerned when they started running other projects, particularly ones for the US government such as the Anthrax project. That wasn't what I had signed up for! It also seemed that they became more and more a "closed shop" that did not publish results to the medical community.

Then I found out about Folding@Home and all my prayers were answered! Here was a project that was trying to find cures for several nasty diseases, most of which affected at least one member of my family and/or friends and, even better, they published all of their results to the worldwide community.

Now I keep doing all I can to get more machines folding. Unfortunately, I occasionally lose one and nearly all of my machines were reassigned not so long ago but I keep trying!

patermann


It seems as we all collectively learned about F@H at CastleCops, the more we not only appreciated how the program was run, but also the open nature of the project - how it's findings were available to everyone.

The latter reason alone I believe was enough to doom the UD project.

The subject of a CastleCops team for UD was brought up on at least two separate occasions - the first by myself and the last by none other than wawadave - who also contributed quite a bit of processing power to that project. In fact if you look closely at the beginning posts in the CC F@H forum you'll see where Dave confused UD with F@F on a few occasions.

I also know he ran into similar problems in their forums as I later did. I wanted to post about my experiences in a staff forum but was discouraged from doing so by another ex-staffer and fellow team mate. The negative forum experience was yet another nail in the coffin for UD.

I tried to have a staffer point me in the right direction in regards to papers published and was directed to a three year old paper on the merits of using a distributed computing model to run the required computations. This is generally THE starting point for any project. No one was ever able to show me anything of value beyond that.

The final obstacle for United Devices was the lack of a client to make good use of hyper-threaded technology and the later multi core technologies in use by F@H and BOINC.

In fact, I stayed away from BOINC in the beginning for two main reasons; the first being that the email account I signed up with was no longer in service and I could not retrieve a crucial password in order to migrate my classic account to my BOINC account; the second (though not necessarily in this order) was reports of problems with the first BOINC clients I had heard of in the CastleCops forums. Was one of those dissenting voices yours as I seem to recall?

Has SETI found new life and civilization in the cosmos yet?
No.
Have we learned anything from the effort yet?
YES.
Did UD publish and share any information with the public or interested parties?
No nad yes.

These were more the points I was attempting to make.

I differed with the Team CastleCops committee on several key areas which I felt were important; which were the deciding factors in dropping my support of their efforts. The factors in deciding which project to support, quoted in the first post being a small example. On their own, they are good points to consider. In my opinion, they are part of a larger picture. Another key question as I raised is the neutralness of the funding. "Nationally recognized", "respectable organizations" does not preclude certain "biases". If one looks deeply enough, one finds that if grass was found to cure a certain disease, by virtue of several organizations and LAWS, it could not be called a cure by virtue of it being natural (in the United States at least). I find this troubling on many levels.


Looking to the future, there are two projects in particular I am most excited about; Planetquest and Orbit@Home.

I feel a call to destiny with one of these. The other I feel strongly is a good use of spare cycles to help humanity.

At least with these two, I won't have to wonder about the information gathered with my contribution and how that will get used.
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