BOINC is a platform that allows computers all round the world to contribute their spare computing capacity to run distributed applications. Many of those involved with TheChels.org contribute their computers in such a way.
Distributed applications are largely run by Universities to research fields such as Biology & Medicine, Earth Sciences, Mathematics or Physics & Astronomy. To cut a very long story short, there are two projects we’d like to talk about; Rosetta and World Community Grid.
Rosetta - Rosetta is described at About Rosetta with useful Wiki links that give an indication of what Protein folding is and how it relates to disease. Rosetta doesn’t attempt to look for cures, but tries to replicate how proteins fold (or mis-fold) so that it can seek to improve on nature or find binding proteins that may be able to neutralise disease in the body.
Disease related research includes work that will help Malaria, Anthrax, HIV, Herpes, Alzheimers, Cancer, Prostate Cancer. More recent work has been targeted toward Bird Flu and Influenza. The science is described here. The welcome message from Professor David Baker, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington is here and the Rosetta promotional video here Rosetta@home
World Community Grid - World Community Grid (WCG) does similar work, but is an umbrella project for several areas of research, currently Muscular Dystrophy, Childhood cancer, AIDS, Cancer, Proteome Folding and intermittently Dengue Fever, Influenza, Clean Energy and Nutritious Rice. Their promotional video is here What is World Community Grid?
The software is 100% safe, and will not intrude on your normal computer use as it makes use of it when you’re not.
Visit the BOINC homepage and click the “Download and run BOINC software” option. This should take you to a page that offers you the correct BOINC version to match your OS.
Note there are different versions for Windows 32bit and 64 bit, similarly for Linux x86 or x-64 or Mac OS X. If you don’ t think it’s picked the right one, click “All versions” on this page and you can confirm of select the best option for you.
Install it as a shared or service installation, ensure it is NOT set as the default screensaver (more on that later), and set it to launch on completion.
Attaching to Rosetta
When it starts, make sure you’re in Advanced View so that you have menus at the top of the window. Click the Tools menu to select “Add project or account manager”. Select Rosetta@home as your project, ensure you’re set as a New User, decide (and remember) a password and you’ll be connected.
On attachment, work units will be downloaded and will be visible under the tasks tab. One task will run concurrently for each CPU core you have, so a quad core will run 4, dual core 2 etc, older single core just one.
Most people, who are interested, will be keen that their machine operates normally as quickly as it can and might be concerned that CPU usage (as shown in Windows Task Manager) is at 100% and will be forever more while BOINC is running.
The key is that while all tasks use up ALL unused clock cycles, they run at “low priority” so the moment you move the mouse, type, run a program, watch a video, play music, whatever, priority seamlessly moves away from BOINC and lets you do it without any slowdown.
I ran out of tasks once and noticed no speed up, then when more came down I noticed no slowdown, so I’m pretty confident you won’t either.
Rosetta tasks run for 3 hours by default. When they complete they’re sent back automatically and more tasks come down. As the manager program becomes used to the rate you complete the tasks it’ll grab a default 0.25 days worth of tasks in case of either loss of internet connection or an absence of available tasks.
If you click a task you can click the “Show Graphics” button to see a visualisation of the work being done. It’s this animation that can be set as your screensaver if you want, though bear in mind that it uses CPU time to display and slows the progress of the calculation.
Now tasks are running, from either the Project or Tasks page, select the Rosetta project or task and click “Your account” from the list of websites that appear on the left. Click “Participants” at the top of the webpage and enter the details you set up when installing BOINC.
In the “Account Information” section of the page click to change “other account info” to modify your displayed name rather than have your email address on full display and chose your country and update info. No other info needs to be changed here and you can be confident your email address isn’t misused. Finally, go to TheChels Team page and select “Join this team” and all the essentials are complete.
After a while you may notice on the Boinc Manager project page that a figure appears under “Work done”. That’s because a credit figure for your task will be awarded, which varies from task to task and from project to project. You can view the progression of these credits on the Statistics tab. A stats site also exists which, after a day or two, will begin showing your position among the 2 million contributors to BOINC projects.
Once you feel settled with this project, probably best to leave it for a few days, use the Tools menu to attach to World Community Grid (or not – as you wish). The only difference is that tasks come down under different application names within the WCG project and the default run-times will vary from 2 to 10 hours.
There are several other issues you may want to know in advance – just ask me here.
If there’s one issue I’d bring up first it’s that the constant processing can find the weak spots in a flaky or memory-constrained machine. You should have a minimum 512 Mb RAM for a single-core machine, 1Gb RAM on a dual-core machine and 2Gb for a quad-core.
Below are a list of further Wiki links on the general subject.