Weird Science

June 17th, 2010 in .Blogs .Desktop & All-in-one PCs
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The idea that you can use your computer’s spare processing power to save the planet, discover alien life, and a cure for cancer, is not a new one. Ever since its launch in May 1999, SETI@home has been one of the most well-known of these projects and currently has in the region of three million users. This is a phenomenal contribution from PCs chugging away across the globe.

The thing is, science is expensive. If you want to investigate a phenomenon, discover a cure, or just figure stuff out, you need phenomenal quantities of cash to pay for the equipment and the people and other such necessities. You can’t cut corners or the results are affected.

So enter BOINC, an open-source software for volunteer and grid computing. It’s a whole new world of computing and learning that allows us folks on the street to help those that want to figure out the world. And what a fabulous way of using up all that delicious processing power you have, in those moments you don’t need it.

In these wonderful (ahem) recession filled times, with everybody looking at bank accounts in a panic stricken way, science is taking something of a knock. There wasn’t a lot of money floating around to begin with, and now there’s even less. So projects like SETI@home, and friends, are a fantastic way of getting stuff done without losing precious time and money.

All you, the user, needs to do is download a client application that will pootle along harmlessly in the background, using unused CPU and GPU cycles to analyse data, make calculations and so forth. In short, nothing is wasted here. It also shouldn’t affect your computer’s performance so you don’t need to fight for processing power when you need it most.

This is something I feel quite strongly about. Especially since the idea has evolved to include more than just alien life. You can choose from a huge range of different subjects including; quantum computing, mathematics, software testing, game-playing, cryptography, artificial intelligence, chemistry, astronomy, nanotechnology, physics and climate studies.

Before you dive in and set your ASUS desktop to work, you can spend some time on the different sites to see how much work has already been done, and what they are planning to do. There are enough projects for you to enjoy spending some time finding the right one for your passions or beliefs.

In an interview on TechRadar, Dr Anderson, a research scientist in the Space Sciences Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, said, “The cost of the projects is a couple of server machines and a couple of people to administer the project – say $300,000 a year. Buying the equivalent computing power…would cost on the order of $50million a year. No BOINC-based project has this kind of money!”

You can see how adopting a pet project can make a huge difference to science without having any impact on you. It’s not like downloading the relevant app and getting started is going to take all that long, and afterwards it will do its own thing without a single whisper from you.

Whether your run Linux or Windows, or have a netbook, laptop or PC, there is a project that will happily sit on your system. So go on, dive in. You never know, your super ASUS motherboard and styling components may well be the first to discover the cure for AIDS or that alien signal…

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