Bits from Bill

Technology thoughts leaking from the brain of "Bill Pytlovany"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Your Laptop Could Predict Earth Quakes

The concept of distributed computing using personal computers has been around for a while. There have been fun applications but now we have one that could have mass appeal and actually save lives. A joint project between Stanford University and University of California at Riverside called the Quake-Catcher Network shows some real promise.

The most popular distributed computing project for personal computers has been SETI@home. The goal of this project was to process all the narrow-bandwidth radio signals collected by SETI radio telescopes looking for specific patterns.

“In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers, and he organized the SETI@home project to explore this idea. SETI@home was originally launched in May 1999.”

SETI@home created a screen saver application so it was only active when your computer was idle so computation wouldn’t conflict with other activities. Like many, I participated for a while in hopes I might be the one to prove there was intelligent life in space.

Enter the Quake Catcher NetworkQuack Catcher Network Logo

The Quake Catcher Network would work in a similar distributed computing manner using an open-source platform called BOINC. QCN would take advantage of accelerometers which are commonly built into new laptops. The purpose of the laptop accelerometer is to detect if your laptop has been dropped so it can lock up any moving parts like your hard drive head. Accelerometers detect changes in the rate of motion. Last year I wrote how accelerometers are used in the Wii Remote.

The Quake Catcher Network is still being alpha tested but I predict we’ll be hearing more about this innovative project more this year. If you don’t have a laptop with an accelerometer QCN will make them available for purchase. We don’t get much seismic activity here in Scotia, NY but I can’t wait to participate.

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