Distributed Computing

Distributed computing has been around for very many years.Some of my more long term readers will remember that way back in 2002 I featured a program called SETI @ Home which was designed to use the power of thousands of home computers together in order to search for extra-terrestrial radio signals amongst the stars.

Many years on the BBC have recently started another experiment using the same technology designed to use the spare computing power of many home PC’s together in order to run projection models designed to predict how the climate will change on a yearly basis all the way up to the year 2080.Obviously such issues are very much in the spotlight at the moment with some experts claiming that we are now too late to go back even if we were to stop polluting the environment tomorrow.

Basically you can join the experiment by downloading the software provided free of charge at www.bbc.co.uk/climate and installing it on to your computer.At the beginning of your experiment you will be given your own individual climate model that starts predicting climate change from the year 1920 right through to 2080.As bizarre as it may sound starting the experiment so far in the past the idea is that if your particular climate model can predict successfully the conditions in the year 2006 then it is probably a good model and hence worth continuing with through to 2080.If your model however has predicted that the world in the year 2006 would have turned to ice then it is obviously inaccurate and not worthwhile to continue running!Once your model has finished running the results will be sent to scientists in Oxford who will combine everybody’s results in order to predict which scenario is most likely to occur in the future.

The good news is that this process doesn’t actually tie up your computer for any particular amount of time; it will sit in the background and run whenever your computer or Internet connection is idle.As you can imagine the majority of time your computer is switched on it is not being used to its full capacity and the BBC software attempts to take advantage of this.

The software itself is relatively small (10mb) and easy to install and rather than just installing never to be seen again you can choose to monitor the progress of your climate model which can make for a fairly interesting diversion.The program also comes with a special screensaver that will switch to a graphical view of your climate model whenever your computer hasn’t been used for an extended period of time.

Unfortunately if you do not have a broadband connection then this experiment probably isn’t suitable for you as the project does need a pretty much constant connection to the Internet.Having said that though at the currently low prices that are being offered I would be surprised if many of my readers were still plodding along on dial-up!

I seem to be the only one who has seen the irony in getting people to expend electricity and therefore natural resources in the pursuit of predicting climate change so it should be mentioned that you should only run the software when your computer would be on anyway – Don’t leave your computer on just to run the software as this kind of defeats the idea of the experiment!

The BBC plan to provide an update to how this project is coming along in the Summer so do your little bit towards it today, download and install the software then forget about it!

About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.