Friday, May 28, 2004

Yeah, Still Here

Sorry for the lack of updates.

It has been only slightly less busy than before, but the good news is that weekends are mine again. The bad news is that my mental stamina and energy level aren't what they ought to be, and I imagine the solution for this will eventually be a nice week's vacation somewhere away from all the folderol at the office.

This post has it all, by the way...

This weekend will see me visiting Matt in Atlanta for a Memorial Day Party (honest, Megan, one of these days I'll call first so we can meet for lunch or something) and to get away from everything that has come to be normal in my life: the daily work grind, cleaning the house, feeding the dogs, listening to the multifarious hums and whirs that surround me in my house.

The lady I mentioned in my previous post, whom I shall henceforth call L, is still untired of my company, so we're meeting frequently for dinners, conversing over e-mail and the like. In contrast to my treatment of former dating adventures, I shall keep my commentary here to a minimum, as she is quite desirous of privacy. So, sorry, no descriptions of hair, manner, height, eye color or other distinguishing features. Suffice to say she revs my engine, and evidently I do hers, despite a rather breathtaking chasm between us in political terms. 'S a start. :-D

There's been an illness in my family since I was posting anything close to frequently. I won't get into any real detail (privacy again, you know), but one of the upshots of the situation is that I have recently made all the computers, idle and otherwise, that I have sitting around my home into contributing machines to the Folding@Home distributed computing project.

A distributed computing initiative is what happens when someone has a problem or set of problems that require truly massive amounts of computing power, like cracking an encryption key, or parsing possible signals from the vast corpus of SETI data (SETI == Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) that has been collected by radio telescopes, or even modeling the complicated folding that protein molecules do as they assume their final forms. The person with the problem figures out a way to split it into manageable chunks, then he/she sends those chunks of problem to hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people who agree to run special "client" programs that will work on those chunks.

SETI@Home is definitely the most famous of the DC initiatives, but also (very arguably) the least immediately useful. Folding@Home is the group with whom I've chosen to throw in my hat (and an approximate six aggregate gigahertz of computing power that was otherwise sitting idle around my house). Understanding protein folding is one of the important frontiers which medicine faces today; specifically understanding why the folding process occasionally goes awry, which can lead to all sorts of diseases, among which are such lovelies as Alzheimer's, several cancers, "Mad Cow" and Parkinson's disease.

Folding@Home's Science page is better equipped to furnish the particulars, but modeling protein folding is an incredibly computationally intensive endeavor, which would tax a modern high-end supercomputer for years on end. But if you can split the problem up and let tens or hundreds of thousands of volunteers work on problems (and you manifestly can), then you can cut that modeling time from years to months or even days. In other words, you can begin to tackle problems that are completely untackleable through any other available method.

F@H has had its preliminary do-the-numbers-add-up results published in several scientific papers, and the huge distributed supercomputer that produced them (which is really what we volunteers are providing) is now being put to work on the nontrivial problems.

It's an exciting thing to be associated with, and it's certainly nice to know I can put my computer-building skills to a use that truly benefits mankind.


Friday, May 07, 2004

Putting Life Back Together

Life, at long last, is good.

It's been a wild and wacky two weeks of rollout fun. Between panicky last-minute fixes, nursemaiding tricky network connections, chasing down truant data and otherwise birthing this project, I and the people for whom our team have developed this application are a few hours away from the successful conclusion of its major rollout.

I have officially lost 31 pounds since the 20th of January. Last night I mowed my lawn for the first time since the middle of April. Tonight I'm having dinner with a truly beautiful woman I met in the course of my adventures, and this weekend I plan to take radical steps along the lines of vacuuming the house, restocking it with various sundries, and taking out its trash.

Tae Kwon Do classes restart for me sometime early next week. It'll be nice to be physically tired for once. :-)