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Solving (a bit of) the Coronavirus from home

When I read about the Folding@Home project the other day I immediately installed it on the powerful PC I got a few years ago to do machine learning “AI” work but which is now employed as a dumb media server in the living room (because machine learning turned out to be an artistic dead end, for me anyway). It has a graphics processor which can be used to do massive quantities of simple calculations much faster than your normal computer processors, and it turns out that understanding how Sars-CoV-2 functions requires those sorts of calculations. And once the scientists have this understanding they can start to develop medicines and antidotes sooner than later.

The problem is there isn’t a computer big enough to process them, so the researchers are distributing the tasks to a load of smaller computers across the internet, 2 million so far, one of them being mine. I installed the software last night as as the PC sat there downloading and streaming video it was also modelling “protein folds” in the background.

screenshot of the Folding@Home interface

It’s easy to set up - almost disconcertingly so - and you get a nice simple interface with a points system telling you how much you’ve contributed to the project. There’s also a team thingy so if you’re also doing running it, let me know. I doubt the gamification stuff makes any difference but what the hell, eh?

And you don’t need a powerful computer. Distributed computing is a bit like an ant colony. Lots of weak, dumb elements coming together to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. Your puny laptop can do its part in those periods when you’re not using it to its full capacity, which is most of the time. Install the programme, set it to Medium power when idle, and ignore it. Then, when a cure emerges, you can say you had a teeny, tiny but essential role in finding it.

(If you are having trouble getting it running, please feel free to ask me for help.)

Update: I found the Stirchley Covid Aid Group and joined that. Don’t know who set it up and even if it’s my Stirchley, but it’ll do!

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