My thoughts as I reach 100 million points in BOINC
Today I reached one hundred million points in BOINC. It’s a number as any other, but as we, humans, enjoy nice round values, so well enough it can be a time to celebrate and think about BOINC in general.
As a word of introduction, BOINC, or Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing is a system that allows for scientists to tap into compute resources of ordinary people. If a researcher requires vast computational resources to, say, simulate a galaxy, they can create work units that will be sent to volunteers’ computers, calculated by them, and returned to the project’s database. The whole idea is based on the fact that computers of today have become powerful as never before, yet most of the time they use mininal resources, as the user is doing some light tasks like internet browsing. Why not use those idling CPU cores, those GPUs that can compute sun rays bouncing of a windshield of a virtual car hundreds of times a second? Modern research requires a lot of processing power as volume of data grows exponentially. Sounds like a perfect match. The theory is beautiful. The outcome? Not so much.
My BOINC journey
I discovered BOINC in the midst of the pandemic, in April 2021. In those tragic times, I, as many other people, realised I had some old hobbies and interests that I forgot a long time prior. For me, it was astronomy. I decided to come back to it. I joined internet forums (still my favourite way of belonging to an internet community), bought books, started reading about the current research. I even bought my first telescope and started taking pictures of our Cosmos (both of which turned out awful at the beginning, but that is a story for another time).
During that time I did some crunching for folding@home, they were the talk of the party because of their involvement in research for the Covid vaccine. So I started looking if there was something like f@h but for astronomy. And it was, this is how I came across BOINC.
I started with my old desktop, with a Intel i5-4460 and Nvidia 750Ti. Now I am crunching on my current, much more powerful desktop, with a 16 thread AMD 3700X and a RTX2060. Occasionally I also pull out from the basement that old desktop, but now with a RX470 ex-mining GPU. I’ve been also crunching on a Raspberry Pi.
As a fact, BOINC has been lately the sole reason I want and buy more powerful computer hardware, if it wasn’t for it I would be happy with a much less powerful GPU, as I don’t game much.
And so, after 2 years and four months of regular crunching, I reached 100 million BOINC points. Those points of course are just virtual boasting numbers, shared resources to the scientists. But I do feel good that in a tiny tiny way, I contributed to scientific research, and maybe what I did will make some breakthrough I bit closer to reality. This is what BOINC is all about, giving your resources and not expecting anything in return, apart from progress.
Projects I contribute to
This is a short summary of the projects I currently crunch, to learn more about them, visit their respective science pages.
Run by the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Toruń, Poland, this BOINC project simulates the lifetimes of stars and black holes to better understand the mechanisms behind their evolution
Einstein@Home is currently one of the most active BOINC projects, it’s goal is to research gravitional waves by analysing data from radiotelescopes and satellites.
This project is all about our own galaxy. It’s goal is to study its history by analyzing the current structures of stars in the Milky Way.
This project, located in the University of Prague, focuses on researching asteroids, their dimensions and spin based on the available imagery.
World Community Grid
In contrast to the other ones, this project is about life sciences, recently mostly about looking for new cures for cancer and covid. The project owners had to change infrastructure last year and had months of technical issues, but seem to be getting more and more stable lately. Perfect for people that feel that astronomy is too far away from real life problems.
This project has been carried out by my own Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, it focused on researching comets, however in the last few months it has been active very rarely and looks dead at the moment.
Future of BOINC
Last year the creator of BOINC wrote a long article talking about his views on BOINC, and one of the main points is that, according to him, BOINC “plateaued in 2007” and since then has been in decline. I haven’t been that long with BOINC, but even in my short period, I can understand why he sees it this way. The BOINC projects list is full of dead links, and since I joined I have not seen a new, stable project. The beautiful idea is just not surviving in reality.
Reasons for this are many, among them lack pf publicity and media converage, underfunded academia, and the software itself being complicated for both scientists and volunteers (don’t get me started on setting up proper GPU drivers on Linux). Another issue are the rising energy prices. Contributing your computer to BOINC is not as free as it sounds, running the CPU and GPU with a heavy load means increased heat, noise, wear of parts, and a much higher energy bill. One month when I run my crunchers at full tilt 24/7, my energy bill increased three times. That is not something many are willing are accept just for internet karma, especially when taking into consideration concerns about global warming and the source of all that electricity.
A bit of a silver lining is that with the downfall of crypto mining, the market is flooded with cheap GPUs that are perfectly valid for actually doing something good, and getting powerful resources is as easy as ever.
But to sum up, BOINC right now is the realm of diehards and geeks, and not everyone watching cat videos on a laptop, as BOINC creators envisioned at the beginning. Nobody knows about it, joining it is not that easy, and the price to pay is high. And when you actually join, there is not that much choice what to crunch.
And this makes me super sad, because BOINC is this beautiful grassroot initiative that is very much in line with my love for the non-profit, federated Internet driven by volunteers.
I will continue to crunch as long as I can, as long at energy prices allow me to do so and as long as the projects exist, and I invite you to join me. Drop me an email, talk to me on Mastodon, I will be happy to help and guide you into crunching yourself.
What do you think? Are you BOINCing? Let me know.
If you would like to help fund my future projects, please consider to