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Idle Computer Processing Time
I've always thought that screensavers were a silly use of a computer's CPU. Why not put it to use calculating something useful?
I learned about SETI@home in 2000 and I've been a member ever since, using idle CPU-time to analyze radio signals from the Arecibo Observatory in a world-wide distributed computing project, initiated at UCB.
The concept is simple. SETI@Home collects mounds of radio wave data from outer space. The analysis of these data require more computing power than UCB can afford. So, they (ingeniously) devised a plan to chop the data into little bits and allow each bit to be analyzed by volunteers, like me, who donate the unused portion of their home computer's CPU.
So, when I'm not blogging, or playing solitaire , my computer is assisting UCB search the skies for signs of intelligent life. I'm no astronaut, but what a great way to help mankind finally locate conclusive proof that "we're not alone in the Universe". Of course, finding a needle in a haystack would be easier.
5 Years Later
My contribution hasn't found any alien life forms, but I have contributed over 51,702 hour of CPU time to the scientific endeavor (4,327 Work Units), as measured by the "classic SETI@Home" software. (I'm still crunching work units using this older version, on a 1997 266MHz desktop and a 1999 366MHz laptop - when they aren't stalled).
The software used by SETI@Home has changed and is now called BOINC and there are now other distributed computing projects that vie for my idle processing time, but so far, I've just stuck with the original.
My CPU is always maxed out, crunching fast-fourier transforms and looking for a signal in a sea of radio noise. Too bad I can't say the same for my brain, which is never maxed out and is idle a lot.