Caroline Marwitz's post today about the practicality of locating data centers in cold climates reminded me of an annual tradition of mine. Here in Colorado, it's raining, and that's likely to turn to snow tonight. It's time to have my home PC resume its distributed computing work.
You probably have heard the term before, but if you haven't, distributed computing refers to projects, such as SETI@home, where tasks that would usually take a supercomputer are instead divided out to many smaller computers. Personally, I think SETI's goal of finding alien life forms is a bit farfetched, so I support World Community Grid. WCG harnesses unused processor power for various charitable causes, mostly protein folding for research in curing diseases.
I stop processing for WCG in the spring and start again in the fall. Running my PC at full blast uses a substantial amount of electricity and produces a noticeable amount of heat. (Not that you have to run distributing computing with 100 percent of your CPU capacity—the client software is highly configurable.) In the summer, that's a bad deal for the environment and my checkbook. But in Colorado's fall and winter, I'd be paying to heat my home anyway, and all the electricity used for computing gets turned into heat.
WCG is sponsored by IBM and it uses a very well-made client program—it's not some shady, no-name software. So as it starts to get cold where you live, consider donating CPU time and electricity to a good cause.