Holiday spirit running rampant FTW!!!!!

Best EDIT EVAH: I DID win the contest. OMG. Chris Pirillo and his team did the unthinkable, huge task of peeling down IPs and eliminating duplicate entries…. and I WON. I so could not have done this without the power of my friends in real life, my facebook contacts, but most of all my Tweeps. The people I network with regularly on Twitter jumped in and made magic come true to push this over the top. Don’t ever discount that small networking connection you make… there is power in giving and it can come back to you in amazing ways. Living proof, right here!!

Edit: I want to note that two things have happened since I wrote this post.
1)Since I did not win this contest, I am trying my hand at another.. on the Living in Theory Blog. I am referencing this post to answer the “what would you do with these computers” part of the contest, as that is only a small part of the contest… the most important is a discussion of how we are all working to change or improve our world. I encourage you to follow through the Living in Theory link to read some amazing, inspirational stories.
2) It has come to my attention that the local preschool at our YMCA ( which both of my kids spent some time at) is really struggling. Much of their extra funding comes from United Way funds, and most of the United Way money comes from donations in the community. In a community where the two largest employers are related to the auto industry, it is probably no surprise that donations are down. Our old PC would be perfect for preschool education, and I am excited thinking about having the opportunity to donate it to them.
( end edit)

HP has stirred up a lot of energy and enthusiasm with their HP Magic contest. 50 blogs around the blogosphere were chosen to be able to give away amazing prize packages. The prize includes more than one computer, with the intent that the winner will “share the magic”. Each blog owner gets to set their own rules and requirements (within reason) and so many different niche groups are being reached. I am impressed with HP’s savvy on this.. by allowing themselves to give up some of the control, they will reach a wider audience with less work effort on their part. Seems like a win/win situation in all cases.
Never one to pass on the opportunity to share some joy,I pondered who I would share computers with and decided to enter a couple of contests. Most of the contests are “impress me with your story” or “random drawing” type entries. I encourage you to go to HP’s website and find a few to enter yourself- everyone knows some person or organization who could really benefit from a new computer.
Chris Pirillo’s contest is working a little differently. Since his website is about getting people to guest blog and write interesting articles to share, he is having folks write an article, then the article with the most comments wins.
This means I need your help. I know there is nothing in it for you, except the joy of knowing that you really helped someone out. I will, of course, do follow up articles, pictures and videos so you can share in the moment when the gifts would be revealed.
What would happen with these?

1) My best friend has never owned a computer in his life. He struggled against rough times and a very rocky start early in his life and has turned things around amazingly. he works very hard as a part time mail man ( yep, even through midwest winters) to make ends meet, but he does has not gotten to a point of being able to buy his own. I would love to see him with his own laptop. The freedom of not having to “borrow” computer time from friends or at the library would mean the world to him.

2) My new inLaws are farmers. not big corporate farmers, but small, “trying to make ends meet and not let the debt get too much bigger this year” farmers. They do not have a computer either. They use a data line, but we know that if we get them a computer, not only will it save money by replacing the dtn, but it will give them so many other options for running the farm, managing the business and staying in touch with their grandchildren who are scattered across two states. We know once it is in their hands, they will never want to give it up.

3) my daughter who is a freshman in high school is really struggling with splitting her time between two households ( mine and her dads). I am hoping that having a small mini laptop that is completely hers no matter where she goes will give her some consistency that she is lacking. I had hoped to get her one for Christmas, but since we got the “temporary layoffs up to 13 weeks are imminent” letter from our employer last week, gifts of that scale are out of budget this year.

I will not lie, we would use the last computer to upgrade our family computer.. with my stepsons 3 hours away, having a family room replacement computer will make video conferencing with them much easier, and give us a place to gather for fun. It will even run Spore! ( the graphics card in our famliy room computer will not run it now). Our old computer will then be donated to a local charity to pass on even more love.

So what do I want from you? go read the article on cooking tips to eat well and save you money that I wrote. I think you will like it. Then make an intelligent comment. Simple thing you might have done anyway… and it will help out a bunch of other people!!

Computing Power leading to a decline in thought power?

I recently attended an Industry workshop for High Performance Computing at Purdue University. This was industry’s chance to give feedback to the university types on what we need, what we don’t and what we can’t use, no matter how cool. It was a chance for us to get a peek into some of the up and coming research and development in HPC, so we can mull over the possibilities in the next couple of years. It was also a chance for us to network and chat with each other. I had a chance to talk to people supporting HPC activities at about a half dozen major companies and the consensus was immediately clear.

People are relying on the brute computing power of today’s computers, rather than thinking carefully. We are apparently not the only ones to notice. Yesterday, Tim Walker posted a thoughtful piece on the usefulness of thinking as well. Don’t misunderstand- I am not a luddite. There is no doubt that today’s hardest questions require incredible computing power to answer. The power of the computer on my desktop and in my lap right now mean that I can process music and video in ways not possible with paper and pencil. But to think that because you have seemingly endless computing power at your fingers tips you do not have to take time to think before typing is not only wrong, it is wasteful.

Let me give you an example. This is a completely made up example based off of real life stories. The names, products, companies are all changed.. but the thinking ( or lack thereof) remains the same. The impact to the bottom line of the companies has been experienced more than once.

John Smith works for WingsRUs -an up and coming wing company. They are a aiming at becoming the leading supplier of wings to the global wing market, so they want a brand new design that is more efficient, more economical to make and helps the craft it is attached to use less fuel. All great goals. WingsRUs is technologically savvy and uses the latest modeling and simulation methods to test all of their designs before building prototypes. They have a large supercomputer cluster they use to run simulations for fast turn around of ideas. These are all great practices. John has the germ of an idea for a wing that will revolutionize flight. He is sure it will be the next breakthrough product. But there are 3 variables that vary by 4 cm each which could impact his design and he is not quite sure which combinations will give the best results. John can easily submit groups or batches of simulations to the supercomputer cluster at his company, so he decides to parametrize those variables, varying each by a millimeter at a time and running the simulation for each possible combination to find the best solution. Although each simulation runs in 4 hours, this results in thousands of simulations and the analysis of each- adding weeks to the overall design cycle and consuming large amounts of the company computing resources. John consumes so many cycles, that other engineers have trouble getting their jobs through the queue and their managers put together a project with real ROI to expand the cluster and add more computing power to the company resrouces. It has computable ROI because they are in a situation where their engineers ability to work is impacted and with the additional compute power, they can achieve more. However, the same end result could have been achieved without any cash outlay at all, if our friendly engineer John had taken the time to think carefully, done a reasonable design of experiment and run fewer simulations in the first place.

The insanity of this is that every single corporate IT person I have talked to in the last year has at least one of these stories. Sometimes many. Sometimes it is caught before new compute power is purchased, but not always.

You can make the same arguments for something like storage. Yes, storage is fairly cheap right now.. But just because it is cheap, should you fill it up with junk emails and multiple versions of 5 year old files that you never would have kept back when storage was expensive? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take time to think for a moment, make reasonable choices and save the money on extra storage?

There are concerns other than costs savings involved as well. An unused brain does not reinforce neural connections and soon becomes “flabby” like an unused muscle. The end result is not just a loss of money for companies, but a loss of the national brain trust and the ability to think an innovate.

I love my computer- sometimes in ways that are probably not healthy. Some people would say I am addicted to the connectivity it provides for me. But I refuse to go one step further and let it think for me. What about you?