Monday, July 2, 2007

Boinc = Distributive Computing!

Last month, Dr. Seth Shostak ( a SETI senior astronomer) came to Baylor University to spread his SETI propaganda. Actually it was a great talk (he gives like 50/year) and he believes that within the next 20-30 years we will probably find sources of an extraterrestrial civilization within our galaxy. He actually had a convincing argument and it was enough get me interested in helping out analyze the data that SETI is recording from the heavens.
Basically, distributive computing is done by breaking up whatever computer process you want to perform into pieces that individual computers can execute. This pieces are processed by any computer in contact with the internet and can be run in the background. In reality, our processors aren't used very much when we're not looking at the screen doing stuff, so might as well not let our little Intel's or AMD's go to waste, right?!

The program that SETI uses (and a few other groups too) is called BOINC. Boinc sends you different jobs to run and once completed they get sent back and you are given credits. These credits are added up to show how much work you have done. You can also join other groups to have your credits help them out (BYU has some groups...hint, hint).
It's a really cool system and you can use the GUI output of the program as a nifty screen saver. I am currently running two different processes: one for SETI and the other is called Rosetta. (though I can't get my screensaver to work now, though maybe that's a Vista problem...) Rosetta is a program that runs protein folding simulations using energy minimization principles. (there's even a protein folding program that uses your graphics card to run programs, called folding@home, which is not affiliated with Boinc)
It's a really neat idea and I can feel so warm and fuzzy by letting other people use my computer to help in the cause of science! (Yeah for me!!)

Here's some screeshots from the web of SETI@home and Rosetta:


  1. Jared, very interesting. Maybe I will have to try it out: IN THE NAME OF SCIENCE. I did a search and you will be happy to know Ubuntu already has this software packaged for you: here, here and here. You can just type in a terminal: sudo apt-get install boinc-client boinc-manager boinc-app-seti.

    I wonder if they got the name from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip "Scientific Progress Goes Boinc".

  2. Wow, that's a good possibility for the origin of the name, it is pretty silly: "Boinc". Guess we'd have to compare the dates of creation.

  3. Sorry, the Calvin and Hobbes version is "Scientific Progress Goes Boink". However if you type in "Scientific Progress Goes Boinc" into Google you get references to the project you mentioned, so maybe there is a connection somehow.


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