Use Your Computer to Help the World

May 10, 2017

How many hours a day do you use your computer? That answer can vary from just a few minutes to all day. During that time when you aren’t using it, did you know that your computer could be helping to cure cancer, analyze the Earth’s climate, find life on other planets, cure AIDS, or do any number of other things to help mankind? It’s true.

As you probably remember, we generally recommend that you leave your computer on all of the time so that your computer can do updates and maintenance when you aren’t using the computer. That way, your computer is the fastest and most up-to-date that it can be when you are using it. Why not have your computer doing something useful when you aren’t using it?

This is done through something called Distributed Computing. Traditionally, if you wanted to crunch data, you would run it through a big powerful server. These servers are fast, but very expensive. The idea behind distributed computing is to push pieces of the data crunching off to thousands of much less powerful computers. Each computer can crunch a small part of the data. It’s even better if people are willing to volunteer their computers to participate.

Interested in participating? All you need is BOINC! BOINC stands for Berkely Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. It’s a software program you can install on your computer that will allow you to participate in distributed computing. You decide which projects your computer is used for. You decide when and how much of your computer will be used.

I have been using BOINC and participating in this since 1999. Wow! 18 years. Hard to believe. My level of participate has fluctuated over the years. Sometimes I just have one computer running BOINC. Sometimes several. Right now, I have 4 computers running it at different levels.

There are lots of projects to choose from. Projects are in areas like biology and medicine, astronomy, mathematics, seismology, cryptography, cognitive science, physics, chemistry, climate, and others. I’m participating in SETI@home (looking for ET), World Community Grid (looking for cures to diseases), Rosetta@home (looking for cures to diseases), and climateprediction.net (trying to understand Earth’s climate).

If you are interested in participating in this, here’s how:

  1. Go to http://boinc.berkeley.edu
  2. Click on the green download button to download BOINC.
    The download page will give you the option to download BOINC by itself or BOINC plus VirtualBox. If you have this option, download BOINC+VirtualBox. If it doesn’t give you this option, just download BOINC.
  3. After downloading it, you’ll need to run it to install BOINC.
  4. When installing BOINC you will come to the BOINC Configuration options.

    This is a very important window and you should stop and think about how you want it to run on your computer. If you take the default options and hit next, it will install BOINC as a screensaver. That means after the mouse and keyboard have been inactive for a specified amount of time, BOINC will kick in and start processing. It will show stuff on the screen until such time that your screen turns off and it will continue to process. BOINC will replace your current screensaver.

    Note: a lot of people are confused about what a screensaver is. The background picture on your desktop is not a screensaver. That is a background picture also known as wallpaper. A screensaver is something that kicks in after the specified amount of time and shows stuff on your screen. It can be photos, bubbles, a message, stars, or any number of things.

    If you click the advanced button, you can deselect the screensaver option and select the service option. The service option means BOINC runs all of the time in the background and you will never see it show up as a screensaver. There will be an icon and messages that pop-up from time to time. In addition, installing as a service will limit what projects you can participate in. Some projects use the graphics chip on your computer for processing. If you install as a service, these projects can’t run.

    For most people, the best option will be to go the screensaver option.

  5. The rest of the installation is straightforward.
  6. Once installed, you’ll need to configure it and attach to projects.
  7. When BOINC opens, go to the projects tab, click on Tools, Add Project.
    1. Choose the project you want to add. You’ll have to create an account with each project.
    2. Once you’ve got your projects, click on Options and then Computing preferences.
      Here’s where you can specify when BOINC crunches projects and how much of your computer’s resources it uses. You can tweak these going forward until you get it the way you like it.

As always, if you need help or would like for us to install and configure BOINC for you, just let us know.

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