View Single Post
Old 2003-11-30, 23:28   #13
Prime Monster
Prime Monster's Avatar
Aug 2002

1000001002 Posts

Why donate your computer cycles to GIMPS?

I included the following text in its entirety because I though it was one of the best personal arguments that I have ever read about why one should participate in GIMPS. Enjoy !!!

Originally posted by Lumly

I could give you technical reasons for crunching for GIMPS, but I won't. Most people aren't interested in them, though they exist and are quite persuasive. I find the psychological reasons far more compelling because, in the end, these are the reasons you will stay with the project.

Tell me something I don't know.

There is something very gratifying about knowing the actual outcome of your work unit. A GIMPS client returns very definite results. If you trial factor an exponent successfully, it will not only tell you so but give you the factor that it found. If you Lucas-Lehmer test an exponent, you will know that it is, or isn't, prime because it actually tells you.

Results are forever. You can always refer back to them at any time. Twenty years down the road you will be able to state with certainty that you proved that such-and-such a Mersenne number was composite.

This is not the case of most other distributed computing projects. You will never have a screen that pops up and tells you that you just found E. T. You will endlessly process work unit after work unit and never will you be able to distinguish between the first one and the ten-thousandth.

Anthropomorphic personification.

Crunching for distributed computing projects can be thrilling. Watching the number of work units you put out per day can make you excited about your throughput. The work pours in quickly and the results leave even faster.

GIMPS is a different sort of project for it is slow and deliberate. The work units are so unlike most others projects’ that we don't even call them work units at all. We call them exponents or assignments because the term ‘work unit’ isn't personal enough.

With today’s computers these exponents can take anywhere between two days to two months to complete. Running a Lucas-Lehmer test on a 33M (a Lucas-Lehmer exponent that is in the thirty-three million range or, when expanded, is a ten million digit number) is an intimate process. You will probably have to trial factor it. Then it passes into P-1 factoring stage 1, on to P-1 factoring stage 2, and finally it spends weeks on the Lucas-Lehmer testing.

All the while you watch it slowly mature. The exponent ceases to be a mathematical representation of an integer but instead takes on a life all its own. It is a life that you and your computer nourish with CPU cycles. Even though you know that only a tiny fraction of the Lucas-Lehmer test could possibly have been performed, you check on it several times a day just in case something goes wrong. You get to know it like a friend. You can recite it by number and you remember it long after the result of the test has been sent in to Prime Net.

No other distributed computing project comes close to this level of emotional attachment for the cruncher. The time invested on each exponent is what makes GIMPS special. It teaches the user patience and perseverance. Devotion and loyalty soon follow.

It’s quiet... too quiet.

Another unique aspect of GIMPS is that you can use the client program to search for prime numbers completely on your own. You do not have to go through the server to get your assignments, nor do you have to use the manual web pages.

You can, at any time, test any exponent that you wish. The results will be reported to you in the normal fashion, at which point you simply test another one at your leisure.

This allows you to do your own search, testing your own range of exponents, building up your own data sheet of results with no one else the wiser. You can be like the mathematicians of old, working in solitude, hoping to find that one number that will put them in the history books. Should you find a one, you will be accredited, along with the project programmer who after all did write the application.

Alas, Horatio, I knew him well.

The greatness of a distributed computing project isn't dependant on the kind of work it researches, but rather the quality of its client program. This is in turn influenced solely by the competence of the programmer behind it.

Some distributed computing projects have client programs that are rarely updated, or worse still, that are rewritten by the users because the programmer himself is not talented enough to handle the job.

GIMPS’ George Woltman is a singular man in this respect. Easily reachable by any and all who want to talk to him, he listens to the needs of his crunchers. He continually seeks to optimize the client’s code, often rewriting it completely for every new instruction set that is released. If a bug is found then it is fixed. If you have a suggestion then he will listen. He just plain takes the time and effort.

All of this is because he is passionate about prime numbers. It has forced him to learn his maths as well as his programming. It is this infectious zeal that spreads to those who crunch for GIMPS. You don't need to know just how it works. When you see the amount of energy he puts into it, you are hard pressed not to want to share in it.

We regret to inform you ...

Many people have had high aspirations when they were young. Just how many wanted to be a fireman or a ballerina but never did can never be known.

My own ambition was to go into astrophysics. Along the way I discovered that although my algebra was top notch I just couldn't wrap my head well enough around calculus. That failure is a regret that I have, and though the search for prime numbers does not entail the direct use of calculus nor does it solve the meaning of the universe, the chance to work on a problem of purely mathematical abstraction without the need to train oneself for years is appealing to me.

...these fifteen... no ten, ten commandments!

Probably the most compelling reason to run GIMPS is to get your name in the history books. Think of it. Mersenne himself lived and died hundreds of years ago and yet today his name is plastered all over an electronic medium of which he could never even have conceived. All the discoverers of Mersenne primes have their names permanently etched in ‘stone’, and although no one will remember most of their names from memory, they will still be there in the list, flagstones on the never ending path of mathematical discovery. Thousands of years from now their names will still be recorded somewhere as discoverers of Mersenne primes. This is no exaggeration either. As long as modern technology survives, so will their names.

You will never find this sort of reward in other distributed computing projects. Hundreds of years from now no one will record the fact that it was your computer that found the key fold of a protein. No one will record that it was your computer that processed the signal that found extraterrestrial life. All that will be recorded is that it was a group effort. Mathematical research differs in this respect. It is a tradition to credit the individual.

In fifty words or less...

Idle hands are the devil’s playground, as too are idle CPU cycles. If you are still reading this then you must agree. The only choice left is where to put your allegiance. Please consider joining GIMPS today.

Written by Justin "Lumly" Valcourt

Last fiddled with by S485122 on 2010-04-06 at 05:04 Reason: it is P-1 factoring not L1 factoring
Prime Monster is offline