Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Donating Computer Power for Good Causes

I've become aware of a project headed up by Berkeley that lets home computer users become part of virtual super-computers to solve the world's problems. From the AP article:

Baker's work could one day lead to cures to diseases from cancer to Alzheimer's. The project takes a more direct approach to other diseases, including the search for an HIV vaccine. In that case, his team hopes to develop a way to help the body recognize critical parts of the virus' proteins so that it can no longer hide from the body's immune system.

The project sends work to computers that have installed the necessary free software. When the machine is idle, it figures out how an individual protein - a building block of life - might fold or contort, displaying the possibilities in a screen saver. When the PC is done crunching, it sends the results back to Baker's team and grabs more work.

The program discussed in the preceding paragraphs is called Rosetta(at)Home. Unfortunately, my ancient computer is too slow and feeble to participate in this program. There were warnings about overheating and such, so I decided not to risk it. Perhaps I'll talk my wife into getting our super-duper new computer enrolled into that one.

I browsed through Berkeley's other programs, and found one set up by IBM called World Community Grid, that even this old clunker could handle. Through it, my computer will be doing computations to help fight AIDS and researching human proteins. This will only be happening when my screensaver comes on. In the event that I'm doing something like an antivirus scan and don't want my computer's processing power to be diverted to virtual supercomputing, I just put the program into snooze mode on the task bar. Very simple. If you've got a really souped-up machine, I think it's possible to let the program run in the background all the time, within constraints set by you.

Some of the other programs available through Berkeley include climate change predictors and SETI(at)home, whose effort to discern signals from extraterrestrial intelligences was the pioneer of virtual supercomputing. So if you're an Art Bell fan, that would be an enticing option.



This is this week's post. Anyone may send a trackback ping on any topic, as long as the post contains a link to either this post or the front page of Tor's Rants. My abject apologies to OTA regulars for not getting this up earlier in the day, but them's the breaks. For my part, I'm sending trackback pings to: Freedom Watch, historymike's musings, Common Folk Using Common Sense, and the inimitable and indefatigable Planck's Constant.

Whaddayaknow, Planck's Constant pinged us, urging that we read Owoooo Lorraine Bracco on the Couch. Our pleasure.