Donate your computer’s processor to a good cause

School has started again. Kids are away all day, and parents are at work. That poor, neglected and underutilized computer sits alone and idle at home, with nothing to do, except throw that silly “Windows” logo around the screen at random intervals.
Screen savers like that “Windows” animation are a technological throwback from more than a decade ago, when monitor technology wasn’t as advanced as it is today.
The concern then was that static images would “burn in” on the monitor, so that even when the monitor was off, the Windows task bar would still leave a ghostly image behind, permanently.
Regardless of their usefulness, many computers still use screen savers when the machine is idle. But there is an alternative to your computer generating images of flying toasters or a starlit sky on your screen.
You could be searching for intelligent life forms, predicting the earth’s climate 50 years from now, or helping find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease or AIDS—and not even be at the computer.
Welcome to distributed computing. The concept behind it is simple; instead of using hugely expensive supercomputers to perform mammoth, complicated tests, use thousands of smaller computers owned by individuals to do the job.
Many research facilities have created small applications that run invisibly on almost any computer when the machine is idle. The machine will log on briefly to the organization’s server, acquire a chunk of data to analyze, and log off to work on the data. It only needs to reconnect to the organization’s server when it’s finished working on that chunk of data.
The most well-known distributed computing project is SETI@Home, or the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. SETI records data off a huge telescope in New Mexico every day, and sends out chunks of the data for analysis by it’s network of distributed computers.
There are currently over four-and-a-half million computers working on SETI@Home data. The SETI@Home project’s web site can be found at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/
Folding@Home is another scientific analysis that studies protein misfolding in the human body, which has been identified as a factor in Alzheimer’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Parkinson’s disease and some cancers.
The distributed software lets you assist in simulating the folding and misfolding of proteins. Over 500,000 computers are signed up to assist the Folding@Home project. Their web site can be found at http://folding.stanford.edu/
Assisting in the development of new drugs (without a degree in science) can now be done by participating in FightAIDS@Home. It uses your computer to analyze drug designs for use in the worldwide fight against AIDS.
For the lighter side of distributed computing, you can check out ChessBrain (http://www.chessbrain.net/), whose goal is to create “a massive chess playing computer by utilizing the idle processing power of networked machines.”
Their record so far is over 600 computers simultaneously assisting in one game of chess.
Why not use that unused power in your home? It’s safe, and allows you to easily contribute to worthwhile causes.
You can find more resources on distributed computing at the “List of Distributed Computing Projects,” located at http://www.aspenleaf.com/distributed/

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