Tuesday, May 26, 2009



Today's column is about distributed computing and the various projects that exist that leverage that technology to do good things. One in particular that is the focus of the piece is the Folding@Home Project run by the Pande Lab at Stanford University.

I support that project myself through volunteering my PC when I am not using it - and I created a team for today's column - the team number is 164706 if you would like to join it. Joining is as simple as entering that team number in the slot provided when you register as a volunteer for the project and download the software for your OS type.

I have already received more than a few email messages about this, so I thought I would mention a few things here that are the result of them:

- FAH updates once a day, very early in the morning. If you have joined the team, you will not see yourself listed on the team page until the next time that the FAH server updates the statistics - and I think that happens around 3 in the morning east coast time, which would be midnight in California, and a logical time to do it, right?

- Participating in FAH requires that the computer be on... If you regularly put your computer in sleep mode than the FAH client will also be sleeping and not processing data. That does not mean that you need to change the way you use your computer, but I should point out that leaving your computer on does not hurt it; I never turn mine off.

- The goal for our team is to help with FAH. Having said that, and all things being equal, I think it would be nice if we managed some sort of event at which we could meet some time this summer - perhaps a picnic slash cookout at one of the parks or beaches here on the Cape? I would be interested in hearing your opinions on that and any suggestions that you have.

- Worms in general: the FAH program is not a worm, but I can see how there might be a bit of confusion as I mentioned two worms in the column. Creeper and Reaper were in fact worm programs, but the FAH client software is not, I assure you. It is a dedicated program that only preforms the following specific tasks:

(1) It contacts the FAH Server.
(2) It downloads a Folding Data Packet.
(3) It unpacks and verifies the content of the Folding Packet.
(4) It places the packet in the work directory (under your documents folder).
(5) It engages the simulation routine when the CPU is available (when you are not using it).
(6) It packs up the completed packet.
(7) It uploads the completed packet to the FAH Server.
(8) It maintains a log file of everything that it does on you computer.
(9) It starts the process all over again with a new packet.

It does not access your data or other programs, and it will not use resources that you need while you are using your computer. Its strength is that it harnesses the idle CPU cycles, so it is all good!

I wanted to thank you all for your interest in FAH and in the other distributed coomputing projects discussed in the piece. I really do enjoy hearing from you - so thank you for your email and thank you for reading the paper!


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Way-out plug-ins for your computer


The subject of this post is the title of my 14 April Column in Digital Grind, the piece being about USB devices of a whimsical nature that you can plug into your computer.

At the end of the column, I suggested that if any of my readers found a whimsical USB device that I had missed, they should drop me an email and let me know about it - and here is the list so far!

Already Covered in the Column
  • Laser Guided Missile Launcher
  • USB Heated Slippers
  • USB Heated Gloves
  • The Scent 2.0 USB Aromatherapy Burner
  • T-Light Bevereage Warmer
  • USB Fridge
  • USB Desk Lamp and Fan
  • USB Digital Microscope
  • Optimus Maximus Video Keyboard
  • Top Tag USB Pet ID
  • George Foreman USB Grill
  • USB Piggy Alarm Clock

Submitted by Readers
  • USB Self-Destruct Button
    A desktop device complete with an arming key and a flip-up cover protecting the self-destruct button. According to the website it includes sound effects and, according to comments posted by fans, has the capability of controlling or restricting access to certain programs on your computer - unless you have the key!
    (Submitted by Jon K. from Bourne)

  • USB Hamster Wheel
    A fuzzy little hamster, a big red wheel, and your USB port! As you type on your keyboard, the hamster begins to run - the faster you type, the faster it runs! Talk about being part of the rat-race!
    (Submitted by Kim O from Wellfleet, and Rob W. from East Falmouth)

  • Swiss Army 1GB USB Flash Drive
    Talk about being prepared! This device contains all of the bits you would expect to find on a Swiss Army Knife, including the knife, nail file, scissors - and even a flash light! It also has a 1GB Flash Drive built-in - but I have to wonder if the good folks at TSA would have a problem with me carrying it onto the airplane...
    (Submitted by Jeff S from Boston)

  • USB Pole Dancer
    Sadly you cannot purchase this - but it is worthy of mention here as they were sold for a few weeks before Marks & Spencer pulled them off the shelf due to protests from outraged moral-minding citiznes - see the Mail Online News Story - which I suppose I can understand in a way. If you just ahve to know what it would have been like to own one, check out this video on YouTube.
    (Submitted by Kris J, from Dennis)

  • USB Puppy CAM
    I cannot believe I missed this one! His name is Cooper, he is fuzzy, he is a puppy, he is a web camera, and he is only $25!
    (Submitted by Sara V, from Mashpee)
That is it for now - if you have seen one not mentioned here be sure to let me know! Email your strange USB devices with a link to chris@boots-faubert.com!

Newspapers and Technology as a Guest Speaker


This past Thursday (7 May) I was a guest speaker at the Computers for Seniors of Cape Cod meeting at the Dennis Senior Center. The invitation to speak came several months back, about the same time as the invitation to be a guest on NPR's The Point - and I accepted both.

While I had a clear notion of what would happen on the radio, my expectations about speaking to the CFS was not so clear... In fact I had no idea what to expect! In an exchange of email with the coordinator from CFS we briefly touched upon some likely topics, including computer memory problems, the newspaper industry, and other 'net related subjects, eventually firming up a plan for me to speak about both the newspaper industry and speeding up and maintaining your computer.

That was the plan, I tell you! In fact I created a well-structured bullet list of speaking points, with footnotes, and even came up with a few clever jokes to use in my opening. It was a plan, maybe even a good plan... But you know what they say about plans.

7 May 2009 - Guest Speaker

My wife drove me out to Dennis - a trip that often takes over an hour due to the vagaries of traffic and road construction - and we made such good time that we were able to stop off at the Cape and Islands Boy Scout Council Store on the way. That was nice because despite the fact that I have been involved in Scouting as a leader I had never actually been there.

When we arrived at the CFS meeting the first thing that I noticed was that there were a lot of people - it was a pretty good crowd in fact - and something of a relief, as I had imagined speaking to a room with five people in it!

I set up my computer and turned it on, and leaned towards the microphone to begin, glancing at my speaking points and noting that my first point was to greet everyone and thank the CFS for inviting me to speak. That went off right-to-plan, and then the plan went off the rails.

Now do not misunderstand me - I am in no way suggesting that this was a bad thing - in fact I suspect that my chat to the CFS was all the better for the fact that the audience had a mind of its own with respect to what I would be talking about. You see after I finished speaking point one, a series of questions followed that covered all sorts of subjects, illustrating to me that (1) the members of the CFS are a very smart group with their collective thumb firmly on computing technology, and (2) they had some considered questions that they wanted to ask about the newspaper industry in general and the Cape Cod Times in particular.

My assessment of the event? There was not enough time available for me to answer all of the questions, and there were no questions that did not deserve an answer! We did not really have a chance to get too deep into tuning and maintaining your computer - which was largely the subject that I had prepared to address - but we did cover the newspaper industry, its present health, and its future, with more than a few meaningful observations from the audience on what was wrong and how it might be fixed.

It was a very pleasant experience for me - and I hope that they invite me back some time!



A note to the Boston Globe: One issue that appeared in the questions and observations from the audience was the fact that the Wall Street Journal is doing quite well, and I think that we all agreed that at least part of its success has to do with the fact that it altered its editorial approach and its content to better serve its customers. In the detective biz that is what is called a clue - so Boston Globe, you might want to take a tour of the WSJ!

... Paved with Good Intentions


What is it they say about the best intentions? Right, something to do with a road... Well here I am, dusting off the blog that was supposed to be a sort of companion part of my personal web page - a place where I can wax poetic and comment on the things that happen around and to me. And of course after one entry on video games, I promptly forgot about the blog.

Let me be perfectly clear here: it is not that I was too busy, or had other things to do, or was too wrapped up in life... I just, well, forgot. The blog was not linked in a meaningful way to my web page so it was an out-of-sight-out-of-mind sort of deal, it is as simple as that.

I was going through the notepad that I use to keep personal notes - random bits of this and that I tend to write down and never read again - thoughts that naturally enough are meant to help me remember things I want to write about or even - wait for it.... Blog about - and I came to understand that the only way this was going to happen was if I resolved to make it happen.

Right, so here it is. I will endeavor to post about the things I should be blogging, though I have no plans to make this a daily thing. In fact I am about to play catch-up, so you can expect more than one post on a given day as I work my way through all of the notes to myself *and* the new subjects and events that come to mind.

I apologize for my failure of follow-through in the past and will make considerable effort at correcting that short-coming.