The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Use computer’s full potential

    Computers are possibly the greatest difference between our parents’ society and our own. We use them in all parts of lives. They help us communicate through e-mail and Instant Messenger, they entertain us with mp3’s and videogames and they help us socialize through Thefacebook and Internet chatrooms.
    We learn, work and play through them. Truly, we live through our computers. Even so, the modern home computer or laptop rarely gets the chance to live up to their potentials.
    Quite literally, most computers operate at only a fraction of their abilities. Right now, my laptop is running Windows XP, the office suite OpenOffice.org, voice client Ventrilo, two instances of the Firefox Browser, Winamp media player and the Gaim IM client. Together, these programs are not using even a quarter of the laptop’s processing power, and that’s while I’m actually using it.
    When I am done, my laptop, which is more potent than all the computers in the world 50 years ago, will sit there and do nothing. Its powerful CPU, beating at 2.3 billion times a second, and capable of 100 million additions or subtractions a second, will be wasted.
    Ironically, our society is starved for such processing power. Scientific and engineering computer simulations, which can be used in everything from designing atom smashers and new aircrafts to clearing up traffic congestion, require astronomical processing power. Even the largest computational facilities can requires days to solve the simulations which provide the basis for much of modern engineering and science.
    Because of this, institutions such as Stanford have turned to “borrowing” computer power from home users. Stanford’s Folding@Home program uses excess computing power from contributor’s computers to learn about protein folding-a major problem in biology-and “folding related disease.” The software, downloadable from folding.stanford.edu, installs easily and turns wasted computer cycles to useful knowledge.
    Mississippi State even has its own team. Because of its great potential benefit and non-existant costs, individual students and faculty should install Folding@Home or similar software-easily found by searching “distributed computing” on the Internet-on their personal computers and the university should install it on computers in the library where dozens of powerful (and expensive) Pentium 4 stations sit around wasting clock cycles all day long.
    Our computers’ unrealized potentials extend beyond their raw processing power. More and more, they have the ability to replace older, more expensive or more difficult tools with faster, cheaper and easier solutions. For instance, audio compression formats, such as mp3 or the more advanced Ogg Vorbis and Apple AAC, allow our computers to double as stereo systems containing thousands of songs. Similar formats exists for video, allowing computers and the Internet to slowly supplant cable and satellite as the best way to watch our favorite movies and TV shows.
    While most people are aware of their computer’s audio and visual capabilities, they are less aware of its other hidden talents. With voice over IP, or VoIP, families and friends can talk to each other across continents and oceans for the cost of an Internet connection, without costly long distance charges or even a telephone, students might want to hide this fact from their parents. Even if one of the callers doesn’t have a computer, services such as Vonage, allow VoIP calls between telephones.
    Media playback and VoIP are only the tip of the iceberg in the computer’s hidden talents. Other capabilities will no doubt turn up as we use our computers more and more.
    The everyday computer is a marvel of technology, but so common today that we often neglect its true potential. The average computer has the ability to greatly contribute to our lives, both as individuals-with services such as voice over IP-and as a society-with distributed computing initiatives such as Folding@Home working to advance science and improve our world.
    Nathan Alday is a graduate student in aerospace engineering. He can be reached at [email protected].

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    Use computer’s full potential