Friday, September 26, 2008

Quaking at Home

With nearly everyone in the country owning a fairly decent PC (and by “everyone”, I mean middle to upper-middle class employed people and/or those in outrageous debt), there’s a lot of computing processing power out there being wasted on YouTube videos, porn downloads, and MMORPGs. The SETI Institute has been tapping into that power for years now with its SETI at Home program, where your idle computer is volunteered to monitor the nearly limitless data coming in from the world’s telescopes. Now Stanford University and UC Riverside have teamed up to launch the Quake-Catcher Network, which would employ your laptop to monitor earthquake activity. Many newer laptops contain accelerometers that are used to protect hard drives from sudden drops. But they can also detect subtle movements after a quake. While any kind of movement can set off an accelerometer, the Quake-Catcher Network would look for simultaneous movement across a range of laptops in the same area, thereby detecting aftershocks they wouldn’t normally have the resources to study. Of course, all of their data could be skewed wildly if an entire neighborhood full of Quake-Catcher Network members decides to use their laptops while jumping on trampolines. I’m not encouraging this kind of tomfoolery—I’m just saying there’s no party like a trampoline party. More details here.

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