The BOINC Home Network

A few months ago, I wrote about LHC@home 2.0, which is a project that you can get involved in that allows you to use your spare computing capacity to help ‘crunch’ scientific data from the Large Hadron Collider project.

Rather shamefully, at the time of writing the article, I hadn’t actually taken part in the project, however after buying a new PC, I thought that it was my duty to donate my spare processing power to help science!


I started off by going to the SETI@home website, where I worked out that in order to take part in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) project, I would need to download the ‘BOINC software’ – so I did. When I installed the software I was amazed with the amount of different projects that I was able to partake in.

The BOINC software is effectively a management tool which lets you choose which projects you want to help crunch data for. Then it sets about downloading, analysing and then uploading the data in the background.

The BIONIC LogoThere are so many great projects that people can get involved in, from looking for extraterrestrial life and the Higgs particle, to projects providing power to those who are doing vital research into malaria, cancers and other important global diseases, and even trying to work out how and why gravity works!

From finding new medicines to helping university students, there really is something for everyone to get involved in.

If you are worried that it may slow down your computer, then don’t be, you can set how much of your processor BIONIC can use, as well as the amount of hard disk space it can take up, and also how it uses your internet.

The BOINC software comes with an easy to follow interface, and gives you announces of important events and discoveries relating to @home projects.

The BOINC Manager Interface

The BOINC Manager Interface

Think where we would be in terms of scientific advancements, if everyone were to give just 10% of their PC to some of BOINC’s @home projects.

You can make a difference, and you can help science! Please go to the BOINC website to download the software today, and get stated with some of the brilliant projects they have on offer! I personally believe that the following projects are really worth a look at:

  • Poem@Home – investigating protein structures, how they determine protein function, how they interact with one another, etc.
  • LHC@home 1.0 – the Large Hadron Collider project – with some extra software, you can also take part in LHC@home 2.0
  • climateprediction.net – attempting to improve climate modelling, and predict the possible effects of climate change
  • Einstein@Home – searching through data from the LIGO detectors for evidence of continuous gravitational-wave sources, as well as searching radio telescope data from the Arecibo Observatory for radio pulsars
  • Cosmology@Home – comparing theoretical models of the universe in order to try to improve future technologies
  • malariacontrol.net – helping in the fight against malaria, via creating simulations and models of the history of Malaria
  • SETI@home – analysing data from outer space, to try and find extraterrestrial life

Unfortunately, I now have to give you a warning. Whilst I am sure that the software and projects are all 100% safe to participate in, some organisations would not want you to install them on their computers. You would be perfectly okay to install such projects on your home PC, however I wouldn’t advise that you do it at work or school, as there have been incidences in the past of firms pressing charges against people for increasing their internet usage and filling up there serves by unauthorised software like BOINC.

That aside, I really do urge you to download the BOINC manager today, any start helping science! If this makes the offer any more attractive, most projects have their own screensavers, many of which look pretty cool!

Install it and leave a comment below to let us know how you are getting on 🙂

How to choose the right laptop for you

After my recent post on how to be a smart online buyer, I thought why just help people get a good priced product, as a good price doesn’t always mean good value.

As a laptop is something most people probably buy online, and as it is also something that often costs a lot of money, I thought why not help people choose which is best for them. Maybe in the future I will do the same for mobile phones, digital cameras and who knows what else!

What is it going to be used for?

The main thing you have to work out is what is the laptop going to be used for? Do you need something that can cope with 3D HD gaming, or are we just looking at text editing, emails and the web?

The more you want to be able to do with your laptop, the greater ability it will need to have, meaning that it is more likely to need a higher spec, and therefore probably a more costly speck.

I only really use the internet

If most of the stuff you do is online, then you probably don’t need a very high spec laptop – just a good internet connection. If you laptop is mainly used for blogging using an online system like WordPress, Blogger or TypePad, playing your favourite online games, typing emails using an online webmail service, and socialising using Facebook and Twitter (I should point out other social media sites are available ;-)) then you might want to look into Chromebooks – or low spec laptops.

The Google Chrome LogoGoogle says that Chromebooks are ‘nothing but the web.’ They run a 100% cloud based operating system, meaning that all your data, settings etc. are stored online, safe and secure in the cloud. This means they only take secconds (literally 8 or 9) to boot up, meaning you are off and working/playing in an instant.

Here is how Google describes Chromebooks:

“Chromebooks are built and optimised for the web, where you already spend most of your computing time. So, you get a faster, simpler and more secure experience without all the headaches of ordinary computers.”

Chromebooks are very fast as they need no virus protection, have no background processes slowing them down, neither does it need updates, since all of that happens in the cloud, basically everything runs from the browser.

If you don’t want a Chromebook, you probably only need a really low spec laptop, so that could be very cheap. Regarding operating system, if you like pretty styles, then go for Windows7, as that it stable and also ‘looks good’ avoid Vista, especially on low spec laptops, as it can really slow them down – XP and 2000 are also good.

It’s going to be a family laptop

If you are looking for a typical family laptop, where some of the kids will want to play flash games, but they will also need to do their homework, and the adults want to be able to check their emails and social profiles for updates, then you are probably going to be looking for a pretty standard PC.

To make sure it is quick and doesn’t slow down you would probably benefit from a dual-core processor. Dual-core means that the computer possess more than one CPU. Extra CPU’s means that you can process data faster, therefore your laptop will run quicker.

In order for your extra CPU’s to be effective, it would be a good idea to have at least 1 gigabyte (gb) of RAM, and preferably 2.

Windows7 would be perfect for family usage, as would XP. 2000 may look and feel a little dated, and Vista is likely to cause you a lot of grief!

I edit photos and run games and watch online media

If you like to have a lot open, and often are found editing photos, playing CPU intensive games, and watching HD videos, then you probably need a pretty powerful processor, along with a decent sized hard disk, a good amount of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card. Screen display resolution is also likely to be important, as if you like HD, but have only a standard screen, you can’t display HD.

Intel make a type of processor called i3 and another called i5. These are very well designed processors and run very well. If you see i3 or i5 on a PC, it is probably going to be a good one. Photo editing and gaming can be very hard disk space hungry tasks, so I would recommend getting at least a 250gb (preferably a 360gb) hard disk. With a laptop, short of getting an external hard drive, there is no easy way of expanding the amount of space you have.

This type of user would benefit best from 4gb of RAM, and a dedicated graphics card – this basically means that the graphics card is a separate component within the PC, which has it’s only memory and processing unit.

I do all of the above and more, and I do it all at the same time!

If you can never seem to find a laptop that is powerful enough for you there are a few options available to you – sadly, they area all rather expensive ones!

The first would be to get a powerful MacBook. MacBooks are notorious for their high specs, stable operating systems and therefore lack of time spent loading.

The second would to be to buy a quad-core i7 spec laptop. Most MacBooks run off core i5 and i7 processors anyway, however Windows also performs very well when being run on a core i7 machine.

The intel Core i7 proccessor badgeA dedicated graphics card is a must for this type of user, and 4-8 gig of RAM is recommended. Depending on how long you want to keep your laptop will determine how big your hard disk will need to be. My advice would be that if you are likely to want to keep the same laptop for any more that 4 or 5 years, get a terabyte hard disk.

Another option would be to have a custom built laptop. These can sometimes work out cheaper, but you need to be cautious, as if you, or whoever is building the laptop aren’t 100% sure of what’s what, then you could face compatibility issues.

Certain processors work better with certain types of RAM, certain operating systems require certain types of graphics cards, and certain hard disks are needed in order to be compatible with the rest of the machine. Basically certain part of the laptop will naturally work well together, however if you custom build your laptop, you might have 8gb of RAM, but the problem is, your processor finds it hard to deal with that type of RAM.

Other things to consider

When choosing a laptop, it is also important to consider things like who it’s made by. Different firms have different reputations for the quality of their laptops, but also consider the quality of their customer service. If their automated calling systems drive you mad, then it may be wise not to buy one of their laptops.

Furthermore, consider your other devices like cameras and phones when buying a new laptop. Some devices may not be compatible with your operating system, or you may need to get some new camera cables if your current devices can’t plug in to your new laptop.

Connectivity is another important factor: does your laptop have inbuilt Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or infrared? If you are forever connecting to mobile Wi-Fi, or your phone to download pictures, then it would be useful to have such functions inbuilt.

An inbuilt webcam and microphone can be very handy if you are often using programmes like Skype to talk to friends on the internet.

Also don’t forget the battery. If you barely use your laptop when you are away from a plug, then the battery is probably not of much importance to you, however if your laptop battery is important to you, you may want to avoid second hand laptops. Laptop batteries from second hand machines can often be less powerful and last less time than a normal battery would.

The right laptop for you

Getting the right laptop for you can be crucial in making sure that you get value for money, as a laptop with spare capacity is a waste of money, as is a laptop that cannot perform to the standard you need.

If you need any more help in choosing the right laptop for you, drop a comment below 🙂

DVD Creation with Video from a Flip Camera

Convert a Flip camera video to DVDSince the invention of portable video cameras people have been shooting video and making home movies. But now there are new hand held HD cameras such as the Flip and Vado which can shoot 720p HD video making home movies look better than ever. But what are you going to do with all that video now? The most logical and fun way to utilize this video is to create a DVD movie, and to do this you would use your Windows PC and some DVD burning software. This article will list what hardware and software to use that will make you a video master in no time at all.

Camcorder Options

The least expensive choices when it comes to shooting HD video is to use either a Flip HD camcorder from Cisco (no longer supported) or a Vado from Kodak. Both of these options are simple to use since they are a single function gadget, and usually under $200. Both shoot HD 720p video with the click of a button. It’s just as easy as taking a digital photo. Both offer on board memory for video storage, just be sure to choose a size big enough for the amount of video you are planning to shoot. Typical options come in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB, even 32GB. You can always upgrade to a better video camcorder but expect to pay upwards of $500. Now that you know what camcorder to use it on to the big machinery.

Windows 7 Is Great for Video Editing

Even though editing video on a Mac is like a dream, this article will cater to the Windows users. So with that said your Windows PC needs to be up to date with better hardware including memory (4GB is recommended), video card (CUDA enhanced), Hard Drive space (just get a 1TB already), and processor (quad core is best). Since video editing is a very processor intensive task it’s a better choice to upgrade on hardware when necessary. Now onto the fun part of creating your DVD masterpiece.

Movie Converting and Burning Software

There are plenty of choices when it comes to choosing a video converting software that will make a compliant DVD movie from your Flip video footage. The camera itself is bundled with a basic video application but the features are very limited so if you are looking to create a custom DVD with your special touches it would be best to look around for a few more editing options.

Two recommendations that I can make are to use Sothink HD Movie Maker or ConvertXtoDVD. Both are easy to use video to DVD converters but the main difference is that Sothink also supports Blu-Ray burning. This will allow you to capture and burn true HD video and retain that same resolution to the TV set. So both of these applications feature an easy drag and drop timeline where you add the videos in the order of your choosing, then select a few DVD menu design options and click the convert button. The result will be a properly formatted DVD or Blu-Ray in Sothink’s, which you can then take to your DVD/Blu-Ray player and enjoy on your TV just like a Hollywood formatted movie disc. You can review more DVD creators at burnworld.com.

Even if you don’t choose a software package like I recommend, there are plenty of other options to choose from which include more advanced authoring features for the more advanced user. But whatever you choose all video editing packages follow basically the same procedure for making your home movie, as follows.

First Add Your Video Files to the PC

Connecting the camcorder to the PC via USB or Firewire should prompt Windows to give you a few choices on what to do with the content on the camcorder. You can choose to copy directly to your hard drive or import using your authoring software of choice.

Then Edit the Video

Like I mentioned with the two recommended software choices, almost all video editing/authoring software packages use a timeline feature where you add the files in the order of your choosing. More advanced applications will even allow you to trip and crop the video giving your further control of the final outcome. In addition to this you can add text, sound effects, background music, and more to the video production. The better applications will have a preview window so you can view your changes to make sure it’s what you are looking for.

Finally, Burn to DVD

Now that you have finished adding files and editing video, it’s time to burn the production to a DVD or Blu-Ray. All software options will have a settings area for burning. This is where you will specify they type of disc to create. The more common choices are DVD, either DVD5 or DVD9 (dual layer), just choose the type based on the blank DVD’s that you have. If you want to burn to Blu-Ray be sure to use a Blu-Ray burner (sorry have to mention this because I get questions daily on why Blu-Ray won’t work in their DVD drive). There will also be a setting for the Video frame rate: in the UK and Europe “25 (PAL)” is the standard, for the USA select “29.97 (NTSC)”.

There may be more settings under an Advanced Tab, but these are the main settings to get you started. Now you are ready to select “Burn” and beginning making your DVD movie. The burn process only takes a few minutes with today’s burners.

I hope this article puts you down the right road for creating your own DVD movies from your Flip or other camcorder video.

Want to do your bit for science? LHC@home

What on earth is LHC@home?

LHC@home stands for Large Hadron Collider at home. LHC@home is a new project involving your PC and the Large Hadron Collider. But why do they need your PC?

Too much data

Basically, the Large Hadron Collider throws particles around a 27km tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps and then smashes them into each other. The process is much more complicated than that, but you get the idea.

All this creates astronomical amounts of data, far too much for the projects computers to cope with. So how are the scientists ever going to make sense of the data they have gathered? The answer: you.

LHC@home 2.0

Way back in 2004 there was the idea to use the computing power of willing members of the public, to help analyse the data collected from the collider. This project was called LHC@home. To say the least, it didn’t really work out as planned, which is why project LHC@home 2.0 is now underway.


LHC@home 2.0 is an improved and updated version of LHC@home. Home computers are now much more powerful than in 2004 meaning that they are more likely to be able to cope with the complexity of simulating highly complex particle collisions.

The public aren’t going to be doing all the work, the Large Hadron Collider has it’s own massive supercomputer network, however by harnessing the spare capacity on (hopefully soon to be) millions of peoples home PC’s worldwide, then data can be analysed much faster.

SETI@home

LHC@home isn’t the first project of it’s kind however. SETI@home is another project which users can get involved in. All you do is install a screen saver and then when you are not using your PC, it starts to help in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence!

SETI@home screen saver

The SETI@home project screen saver

Do your bit for science!

Why not do your bit for science and offer your PC to help the LHC@home or SETI@home project?