Get on the Grid!
By pcr on Tet 08, 2004
Everbody is positively mental over Grid computing (aka distributed computing) today. You may be curious about the Grid phenomena but you are worried that you have not yet installed Solaris x86 at home. Not to worry. I know you are going to make the switch Real Soon Now, but even before you do, you can participate in the grid with your home computer even if it runs an operating system from another company. :)
Grids have been a long time. In the 90's I participated in SETI@Home aka Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence aka Search for Little Green Men. Its an impressive project that has 5.2 million users who have donated 2 million YEARS of computer time to the project. Today they are working at 66.5 Teraflops (trillion floating point operations) per second. That's some serious computational rock and roll. For my money though Little Green men is just so last millenium. I mean if Agent Mulder has given up the search, why am I still working on it? :)
Another of my favorite grid projects is Folding@Home . This Grid project is modeling "protein folding, misfolding, aggregation and related diseases" (like Alzheimer's.) Currently they have 171,628 CPUs running Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, which means that they have 196 Teraflops on the problems. The image preceding this paragraph is a Beta Amaloid peptide, "thought to be responsible for nerve cell death in Alzheimer's Disease." It is a part of Projects 722-724 so your computer could be a part of helping with Alzheimer's research. Truly a worthy cause and you can join up here.
I was folding proteins for Professor Pande, but 2 years ago I had a colon polyp removed that was becoming cancerous. So these days my computers are working on cancer research headed up by the University of Oxford. There are over a million members with almost 3 million computers working on the problem and yesterday 270,000 results sets were submitted. If you are concerned about cancer, download the software from here. Then join my team-- SunONE. I am not actually the captain but I liked the name of the team.
I urge you to pick one of these projects and let your computer(s) crunch numbers while you are not actively using it. Each one of these processes runs in the background at a lower priority than all other work your computer is doing. Most can be paused but you will not notice them in the background because your OS only schedules them when there are idle cycles available. If you are surfing the web, they back off. Even while you are typing they work, and trust me, a modern CPU is doing a lot of waiting around even if you type 300 words per minute. If "a mind is a terrible thing to waste," wasting good computer cycles is just criminal. Thanks for your support