The Curious Hobby of Distributed Computing

28Jun11

I’m starting to see screen artifacts when I scroll down windows, and for the first time since I set it up, my machine has outright crashed, hanging in some nebulous state that even external access and a score of ‘sudo’ commands won’t fix. So much for my latest dabbling in distributed computing – sating my curiosity by mining “Bitcoins“.

Distributed computing has always held an interest for me. It’s beyond the scope of what I do, for the most part, except for the useful, and increasingly common built-in parallel processing abilities of programs like SAS. But its neat technology, you can do some cool science with it (Folding@Home or SETI@Home come to mind), and the idea of linking bunches of cheap computers together to work on projects is fun. And the geeky side of me is pleased by scrolling numbers and readouts in a terminal window.

But roaming around the internet, you find odd things. People running distributing computing programs as a hobby. An active one. Discussions about techniques, how to configure programs for maximum output, sites to compare your scores. The height of the oddness, in my mind, is the building of dedicated “Rigs” – computers built for the purpose of distributed computing, often fairly expensive ones at that. Some of them profoundly odd – like the ones driven by Bitcoin speculators convinced they are going to make a fortune in digital currency, the guts of their machines laid out on racks to cool banks of video cards with ambient air. Metal shelves full of exposed parts, that look like the set of some mid-90’s hacker movie. Discussions of how much money is then spent powering these things – and the AC to keep your house pleasant when you’re running a small super-computer out of your home office.

It’s not the oddest hobby I’ve ever seen, or even a useless one (hey, more power to the people contributing to Folding@Home), just further examples of whatever exists in the world, someone does it with passion.

And occasionally with exploding video cards.

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