The past week I've been BOINCing around with a new (to me) program that does a wonderful thing. Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing: an open-source software platform for computing using volunteered resources. Stay with me now, this is really very exciting.
Remember I've told you before that computers are not very smart, just incredibly fast and able to do the same thing over and over and over without getting bored with the repetitiveness?
In fact, most of the time your computer is waiting to do something and it would be quite happy to have something, anything to break the tedium. This is where BOINC steps in and gives it a task that actually contributes something. SETI@home was a project to analyze the data picked up by powerful radio telescopes.
There was (is) huge piles of data that would require massive amounts of computer time to look into the nooks and crannies for anomalies that might be radio signals escaping from distant planet - the equivalent of Gilligan's Island or Red Skelton reruns which slip through our ionosphere. The cost such minute scrutiny would be prohibitive.
As PCs became more widely available, some very smart folks at Berkely realized that there was an enormous amount of CPU time when each computer was just sitting waiting -- even as I type between each keystroke Max, my computer, is running hundreds of cycles. No I'm not that slow of a typist! Max is just very, very fast. Their program allows you to donate that idle time to different scientific studies (even to split it up among several projects in different Universities. Some examples:
- Climateprediction.net: study climate change
- Einstein@home: search for gravitational signals emitted by pulsars
- LHC@home: improve the design of the CERN LHC particle accelerator
- Predictor@home: investigate protein-related diseases
- Rosetta@home: help researchers develop cures for human diseases
- SETI@home: Look for radio evidence of extraterrestrial life
- Cell Computing biomedical research
- World Community Grid: advance our knowledge of human disease
Your computer can be part of the research that finds a cure for some disease you can't even pronounce. They've even set up teams, forums and a credit system where you can see how your team is doing and how much information your computer is processing.
OK, so the credits aren't frequent flyer miles -- just bragging rights among geeks. They have some neat graphics you can use as a screensaver (each customized to the particular project,) Some Teams even generate signature graphics with your stats for you. Example:
The important thing is you can contribute time that would otherwise be unused and advance some worthwhile study. Well, there may be some downside issues...