[RC5] First impressions

Jason Bechtel jbechtel at eng.utoledo.edu
Tue Mar 3 00:26:55 EST 1998


Paul Ross wrote:
> Forgive me for sounding naive, but I am :) I stumbled across the
> actual workings of d.net a couple of days ago

	When you said "actual workings" I thought you were going to expose some
scandalous code or something!  Boy, was I ever relieved...  :-)

>  Having three P133s, a P266, a P300 and very shortly two more
> P333's available - each with about 80% idle processor time - I felt
> I could contribute a fair whack to the project. So hi ho,
> downloaded, installed and let's see what happens.

	Glad to have you aboard!

> Has anyone thought about scaring people off, though?

	Most of us think scaring people off would be bad for the project so we
don't encourage it.  :-)   (I'm just trying to be funny... please don't
be offended.)  Actually, I'm glad you wrote.  I'll be getting serious
soon...

> Someone (I deleted the mail, I forget who - sorry) has already
> brought up something I'd noticed straight away - how even though
> the DES contest was over, their machine was still downloading and
> cracking DES blocks. A tad worried that my servers were plugging
> away for nothing, I tried the stats pages, to see if I'd made a
> dent - result? Stats pages offline.

	Yes.  A bad first impression if I've ever heard one.  But you were
taking the right steps...
	1)  You went to the web site.
	2)  You subscribed to the mailing list.
	3)  You tried to check your stats.
	Normally, taking these steps would have allowed you to at least find
out where to get the answers to your questions if it didn't answer them
directly.

> Now I realise that I may have joined this project at an unsteady
> time, in that the DES key has 'only just' been cracked, and the
> switch back to the original project is still ongoing. Is this the
> case?

	This is, in fact, a transition period.  We only have one stats server
and it is very busy.  It can only keep track of one project at a time. 
We just finished DES II-1 and so there are about 40 days worth of work
on RC5-64 that has to be processed before the stats return.  As far as
the clients go, it's usually steady.  Reading the mailing list and
getting on the IRC channel (EFNET #distributed) are the best ways to
find answers to problems.  Of course, everyone there will assume you
have read the FAQs, so read them first.  Then ask.

> If so, how about a couple of more user friendly pages on the web
> site, explaining such? I'm sure there's at least a few people
> who've looked over the site and thought 'naaaah. Too much hassle.'
> when trying to make sense of the information held within.

	"We did it! DES has been cracked!  Please be patient while we convert
the stats back to rc5-64."  --desstats.distributed.net
	This was enough for me.  Of course, I've already been involved with the
project since RC5-56, so I know what DES, DES II, and rc5-64 are.  For
someone who is a complete newcomer, the traditional site navigation bar
is at the top with links to pages that explain what these things are.
	I will admit that the website is a bit daunting.  There are a lot of
links in the left-hand column and the first one I would want to go to as
a newbie is near the bottom:  Q&A.  However, the very first paragraph
(after the welcomes) states, "Most of your questions will probably be
addressed in our FAQs or can be answered on our Mailing Lists."  I
advise you to follow the link in the word "FAQs" and read at least one
of them.  This should be standard procedure for any website.  The FAQs
are pretty complete.  The website is not.

> Does d.net want to recruit people who are likely to delete the
> software halfway through a keyblock and never return the results,
> leaving that block to wait until the re-issue at the end?

	As someone already posted, this does not affect the effort whatsoever. 
It merely changes the order in which the blocks are tested.  Since the
key is truly randomly chosen, the order does not matter.
	This does not really address your true concern, though.  While not
completing blocks does not affect the effort's progress, losing
participants has a *large* affect on the effort as a whole. 
Distributed.Net depends entirely on the voluntary effort of thousands of
individuals who give their time to become involved in this massive
project.  The website should reflect that by being as "user-friendly" as
possible.  On the other hand, you must understand that the organizers of
the project are also donating their spare time to run this experiment. 
They have families, jobs, and do this for fun.  If we had even a
part-time webmaster for the site, it would probably be a lot better, but
priorities tend to lean toward the programming of the clients, proxies,
and servers.  I'm sorry if I'm only making excuses for the site.  I
really do think that we need to hear about problems so that they can be
solved.  I encourage you to point out any other problems you see as they
arise.  I just want to prepare you for the reality that you may not see
changes very quickly.
	So getting back to your "moans," do you have any suggestions for the
website?  The most helpful criticisms include suggestions for
improvement.  I agree that the site needs work.  It needs a more
intuitive feel.  I think that right now the stats assume a certain level
of internet savvy, familiarity with worldwide collaborative efforts, and
an inquisitive mindset... none of which are guaranteed in a newcomer. 
Here are my 2 (or four) pesos:

1)  Maybe "How to Help" should be called "Where to Start" or "Start
Here."  
2)  The wording is slightly stilted toward "techie-speak" and could
stand some work.
3)  What if someone doesn't know what a mailing list is or how it
works?  There are a lot of assumptions.
4)  The link called "Statistics" in the site-nav bar should give a page
of statistics!  Some newbies may not even know what a proxy network is! 
If it doesn't point directly to a stats page it should at least lead to
a page that lists rc5stats.distributed.net and desstats.distributed.net
and explains what the statistics mean (i.e. how they are calculated).

> Another question, based on issuing blocks - how is it allocated...
> start at the beginning and continue until the end, then stop?

	As far as I know, the main keyspace is divided in to large "chunks." 
The large chunks are processed at random, but the actual blocks within
each chunk are processed from start to finish, sequentially... for RC5
at least.

> averages are it'll be more towards the middle than either end...

	Intuition deceives you.  If you've studied probability at all you know
that this is not true.  Sorry...  :(

I hope I've cleared some things up and given you an idea of how things
work around here.  Please, feel free to do what you just did... post to
this list.  It receives a lot of traffic and a lot of very intelligent
and knowledgeable people are here to help you.  Also, read the FAQs and
drop in on the IRC channel if you get a chance.  If you need help
getting started with IRC let me know.

Aloha,
Jason
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