Thursday, May 08, 2008

Open that little black box, yeah!

The other day, I was talking to a friend about those distributed computing things, like SETI@home and the protein folding thing. The protein one interested me. I said something like:

"The weird thing is, we don't know the algorithm for protein folding - not even a little. So they're probably folding at random and then, what, testing to see whether any of the folding was close to a physical test fold?

"Maybe they're testing folding algorithms? Like ALife, testing to see which algorithms produce closest to known results, reproducing the best? No, that would require one hell of a breakthrough in an unrelated field before it could be done..."

Apparently, they were musing the same things I was musing, because they've largely given up on the idea of using your spare CPU cycles to randomly fold things. Now they're using YOUR spare cycles to make YOU randomly fold things. In all honesty, that's a much, much better idea.

Still, even with this new, less stupid method, I don't think anything will come of it. All of these things stink of bad grant allocation. Sort of like when you see those images of children on milk cartons, and they say things like "32 billion children who go missing are rescued every year..."

Yeah, but how many of them were rescued because their faces were on milk cartons? Zero? Negative two?

Protein folding is an important endeavor, but does this help? Even if it does, WHO does it help? Who gets the final patent? Who gets to charge $120 a milligram?

Anyway, check it out. See if you disagree.

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