Busy doin’ nothin’…

7 10 2012

I got an email the other day.

It said “We are pleased to announce that the Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy – Phase 2 and Computing for Sustainable Water projects are concluding.”


It sounds like that should be a good thing I suppose. And?

I read on. It was from World Community Grid. Once upon a time I was a programmer. A geek’s geek. More geeky than a geeky thing. I still am a bit, I can’t deny it. But I like to think that these days I’ve broadened out a little into more general nerdity. I now embrace things like history and art. Photography, music and the joys of a perfect red maple leaf falling in autumn. But once upon a time I was intrigued by the SETI@home project.

Not, you must understand, because I had any particular expectation that they would find any aliens (SETI: Search for Extra Terrestrial  Intelligence). No – I was more interested in the basic project: to cut up an incredibly large set of data obtained from radio telescopes, send each of those data chunks to any one of an untold number of geeks like me, and have their computer grind away on it with presumably clever and sophisticated algorithms looking for patterns or inter-galactic phone numbers or something.

Basically, if you signed up, instead of drawing those pipes or Bézier curves as a screen saver, your computer used its idle time (while you were drinking coffee, having lunch, or wishing you’d eaten more bran the last few days) to grind away on these SETI data sets. It really didn’t matter how good a computer you had. Every time you stopped using it, the screen saver would kick in, and the SETI program would munch on its own little problem. When it had finished, it sent the results back to SETI and got another data chunk to work on. Plodding away at its own pace whenever you weren’t using the computer for more urgent things – like Minesweeper or Solitaire.

Well SETI@home came to an end (I guess they never found anything), but the infrastructure was still there. Enter World Community Grid. Same idea – big, computing intensive problems, and asking the general computing community to offer their unused computer time to collectively solve the problem. I’m in!

To spread the benefit, your PC might get packets of work from all manner of different projects. You can opt in or out of your favourite causes, join a “team” to focus your efforts on a particular cause, all manner of things. To encourage your involvement you get little “badges” after you’ve donated so many hours of computing time to one project or another.

Bottom line for me though – my computer would have been sat idle doing nothing at all otherwise! Why not use that idle time to better the world? Currently my computers (home and work) are working on cures for SchistosomaMalaria and Leishmaniasis. They’ve previously worked on Discovering Dengue Drugs, as well as researching cancer and AIDS.

I’m no hero. I do donate hard cash to several causes I deem worthy – but this is generating real hard data for researchers to progress new ideas, it’s not costing me anything except a few data packet transfers every day or so… and somehow that seems more worthwhile than watching Bézier curves… and I’m not just saying that because he was French!

If you’re interested, you can download the screensaver here and start adding your own little contribution to the massive thirst for data analysis that modern research requires.

My Statistics My Team: SCOUTS
Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) (Rank) 3:273:03:57:34 (#26,852) Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) (Rank) 278:135:14:10:31 (#190)
Points Generated (Rank) 2,711,652 (#28,931) Points Generated (Rank) 238,769,463 (#182)
Results Returned (Rank) 4,904 (#30,988) Results Returned (Rank) 437,386 (#192)


Project Points
Results Returned Total Run Time (y:d:h:m:s) Badges Earned
Computing for Sustainable Water 11,481 35 0:003:21:35:03
Say No to Schistosoma 31,019 34 0:012:02:25:52
GO Fight Against Malaria 73,224 81 0:024:23:09:32
Drug Search for Leishmaniasis 108,174 109 0:037:18:09:30
The Clean Energy Project – Phase 2 188,479 207 0:068:05:14:15
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy – Phase 2 277,597 567 0:111:22:22:56
Help Fight Childhood Cancer 212,226 278 0:090:02:16:55
Help Conquer Cancer 262,109 918 0:110:20:26:06
Human Proteome Folding – Phase 2 442,159 690 0:201:19:14:59
FightAIDS@Home 535,266 850 1:017:11:40:17
Computing for Clean Water 206,278 472 0:069:18:26:06
Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together – Phase 2 752 2 0:000:08:56:14
Influenza Antiviral Drug Search 9,942 15 0:005:14:37:34
The Clean Energy Project 3,645 4 0:001:21:10:19
Nutritious Rice for the World 258,915 384 0:132:05:16:18
Discovering Dengue Drugs – Together 16,923 34 0:009:18:52:49
Help Cure Muscular Dystrophy 41,524 81 0:051:08:09:01
Genome Comparison 8,771 66 0:010:19:26:11
Help Defeat Cancer 8,836 28 0:012:13:20:56
Human Proteome Folding 14,332 49 0:029:17:06:41

Now come on – I dare you… tell me that’s not über-geeky!



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