It Rhymes With Oink And Could Just Make You Famous


If you've been around computers for a few years, you may remember a project called SETI@Home. In the US, scientists gathered radio data from distant stars and needed huge amounts of computing resources to analyse the information in the search for extra-terrestrial life. So they hit upon the brilliant idea of creating a PC screen saver. Whenever your PC is idle, the screen saver contacts the SETI project, downloads a batch of radio data to analyse, and sends back the results to the remote server. It means that your PC can be doing good, while you're not using it.

SETI@Home now has around 3 million contributors, which makes it just about the largest distributed computing project in the world.

The original screen saver has now evolved into something even more powerful, and there's a list of some 60 different uses to which you can put your computer's spare cycles. As always, you simply need to download the special screen saver, choose one or more projects from the list, and that's it. Whenever you're not using your PC, it will request a batch of important information to analyse. It could be, for example, information from a trial which is aiming to find the most effective cure for malaria, or as-yet-uncracked data from German wartime encryption machines, or just about anything else.

The software is called BOINC, and it comes from the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing at the eponymous university. You can find the download at and it's around 9 MB. The program is malware-free according to VirusTotal and Web of Trust. Once downloaded and installed, you can then choose one or more projects in which to take part.

Some of the projects require the use of a virtual PC created via the Virtualbox software. So if you think you may want to take part in those too, download the larger version of the file which also includes Virtualbox bundled in.

If you rarely turn off your PC, and it spends even just a couple of hours a day doing very little, why not donate some computing power to some very worthy projects.

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I have been running BOINC since 2008. Please educate yourself before making such statements. There are many more projects than SETI@Home. Some have more merit than others. SETI is simply the most well known and has introduced most users to the BOINC platform so is the most often cited. BOINC is open source freeware that has nothing to do with any government. Idle computer time can be used to help find cures for AIDS, cancer, ebola, etc. or help study the orbits and properties of near Earth orbit asteroids, find prime numbers... There are literally dozens of projects to choose from. Not to mention a friendly and active online community with users willing to help with issues far beyond the scope of BOINC itself.

Don't think Rob needs no education!

You could have said that a little less stiff lipped, sorry.

But I agree, the post could have mentioned at least more detail about the MANY different projects from various fields of science and discovery that one can choose from according to one's own priorities. I believe that "there's a list of some 60 different uses" is just a bit too terse.

To my mind skivelitis ruined his post when he wrote, "Please educate yourself before making such statements." The sentence as written adds nothing to the post. On the other hand it might have thanked Rob for the opportunity to expand on the subject. As a result I did not register that "I have been running BOINC since 2008".


Hey, why should we not be allowed to put some in his/her place when they make a really limited and/or dumb comment?

Just askin'...

"Please educate yourself...." was in response to crosseyedlemon.Thought the bit about the government made that clear. Others had posted during the interim. I will do my utmost endeavors to spare all such mortification in the future. I do indeed thank Rob for the exposure thus provided for this very worthy software. The decision the contribute to the betterment of all mankind is ones own.

Runs on Linux, and it is in many distro repositories.

SETI is a waste of time, but there are lots more that are actually useful.

"SETI is a waste of time"

And you know this, and can state it with such confidence ... how?

Seti is almost certainly a waste of time.

Why? Do you have a reason for that claim?

I suggested a more useful statement than the one you queried.  The probability of detecting intelligent extraterrestrial life is tiny, nearly zero, unless you use optimistic equations and values. There are many good reasons why SETI might "almost certainly be a waste of time" and it is easy to find relevant lists/discussions on the topic of Fermi's paradox and the like.

As an aside, I've often wondered if the name BOINC is an in-joke about the purpose of the platform given that it started years after "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink'" was published. I always laugh at the incongruity of high-minded projects reminding me of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon book.

I think classifying SETI as a waste of time or not extends far beyond whether you believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life forms. The projects at least give ordinary folk an opportunity to feel engaged with something they might otherwise never encounter in daily life. The odds of winning the lottery are also low, but it doesn't stop folks buying the tickets. MC - Site Manager.

The odds of an individual winning a lottery are, however, easily quantified. The odds of SETI finding anything are not as easily determined.

I find SETI@home is more interesting as a computing experiment than as a SETI experiment: How to replace an expensive supercomputer with a virtual supercomputer comprised of thousands of personal computers. The project has had to deal with all sorts of issues: users modifying the client software, data corruption, the lack of funding that led to this option, etc. ... and did I say it, the perennial lack of funds.

Another project with volunteer input (eyeballs only) was SETILive. It had similar funding issues so it closed down last year.

".... there are lots more that are actually useful." And that's why SETI is a waste of time. However, if it gets people interested in science, gets them to install BOINC, then that's good.

Most people have no idea how lonely and empty the universe is. They've seen too many star trek/star wars movies. What have we done to broadcast ourselves? We've only spent 100 years transmitting at higher power levels and now we're starting to tone it down and transmit information to where it needs to go. That is a very small part of the history of the universe; we may have missed other civilizations by a million years or a billion. Another problem is that unless we figure out "warp drive", there's no way to get there or even converse unless they're very close.

So why try? Perhaps some people think that finding extraterrestrial life will prove the Judaeo-Christian bible is erroneous somehow. It wouldn't, but would invalidate some fundamentalist interpretations.

SETI@Home has a very low probability of success. And, the nature of the search is that there will be no apparent progress until the signal is found. But, the effect of detecting such a signal will have a profound effect on mankind.

Many of the other projects also have a relatively low likelihood of substantial scientific progress. Something like Folding@Home, where they're attempting to calculate the physical structure of complex molecules, has only a small chance of making a fundamental breakthrough on any given treatment. But, the chances of such a breakthrough are higher than SETI@Home. Albeit, the breakthrough will likely have a personal effect on a smaller portion of the human race.

This really comes down to a personal preference. I've been running SETI@Home on multiple machines since late '99, mostly because it's just geeky cool. I have run some of the other projects for brief periods.

Drake Christensen

How can scientists receive radio data from a distant star when there is no life there that can be transmitting? Call me cynical but I believe the real reason your screen saver will be used has nothing to do with these pseudo-science projects. If the government wants to chase after extra-terrestrials that's fine but I prefer not to drink their kool-aid.

Perhaps you can explain how you know so definitely that there is no intelligent life there?

Or, if it's because the local shaman of your particular favourite mythology tells you that humanity is Special and that we're alone in the universe - don't bother.

Well, on Earth we are special. We belong in Heaven. Whether we'll find other creatures there, we don't know.
"In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places” John 14:2.

How can scientists receive radio data from a distant star when there is no life there that can be transmitting?

If you removed your blinkers and bothered to do one minute of work, you'd find::

SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a scientific area whose goal is to detect intelligent life outside Earth. One approach, known as radio SETI, uses radio telescopes to listen for narrow-bandwidth radio signals from space. Such signals are not known to occur naturally, so a detection would provide evidence of extraterrestrial technology.

Radio telescope signals consist primarily of noise (from celestial sources and the receiver's electronics) and man-made signals such as TV stations, radar, and satellites. Modern radio SETI projects analyze the data digitally. More computing power enables searches to cover greater frequency ranges with more sensitivity. Radio SETI, therefore, has an insatiable appetite for computing power.

I despair that people like you still exist, and blame your mentors. What will you do when you realize that tin foil has thousands of tiny holes?


Thanks for not replying anonymously; but I can't resist:

Usually you don't talk THAT stupid on this forum.

crosseyedlemon If you really don't know anything at all about the subject or anything related to it, why not keep your ignorance to yourself instead of blathering negatively. It reflects badly on you on several levels.