Folding @Home

Among the fun and useful things you can do with your computer, distributed computing (using spare cycles on lots of personal computers do do big jobs) has always interested me, and I’ve now signed up Folding @Home which models the folding process needed for proteins to function. Misfolding contributes to diseases such as Alzheimers.

Folding @Home encourages team efforts and I can see why. After a week, my G4 Powerbook has only managed 18.25 per cent of the first job (the program doesn’t impose any perceptible load on the processor). So I’ve set up a team called “Ozploggers” and I hope some readers or fellow bloggers will join it. The team number is 50303. To join just go the Download page pick a user name, and nominate this team. Feel free to notify me in comments or by email.

UpdateWith a few readers joining in, the pace has picked up noticeably, reaching 29 per cent today. So please, some more volunteers. It’s fun to watch the simulations, you can get a screensaver if you want to, and there’s a pretty good chance that you will help to save lives.

The end of Fabian socialism in Australia ?

Reader Tristan Ewins has sent in a guest post, regarding a proposal that the Australian Fabian society remove references to socialism as an objective. While, for a range of reasons, I prefer to describe my perspective as social democratic rather than socialist, I agree with Tristan that this is an unfortunate step, which severs the society from the intellectual tradition that gave it birth and that still represents the best hope for the future.
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Wikipedia work

Just after I posted last time appealing for help on Wikipedia, I got an email from Mark Horridge, who had contributed an article on Computable general equilibrium, one of the items I was asking about. There are still almost unlimited opportunities to contribute though. Here’s a list of stubs (short articles needing expansion). And there are lots of topics that don’t have an article at all.

There’s a bit of a learning curve in editing Wikipedia, but if you’d like to make a contribution without going through this, send me a few paras of text on a relevant topic and I’ll post it for you.

Also, a renewed call for help with Folding @Home. It’s very worthwhile and doesn’t seem to slow the computer down at all.

A challenge, an opportunity and a test

When we’re faced with a catastrophe like the one still unfolding in Asia, any response seems inadequate, and it is perhaps inevitable that there have been complaints about weak responses. In the short run, the issue isn’t financial commitments: the main problem is the logistical one of getting help to where it is needed as fast as possible. In the longer term, however, dollars will matter. The record of the developed world on this kind of thing is good. Big promises are made during the initial outpouring of grief and sympathy, but when the time comes to deliver on those promises, the ordinary processes of politics push foreign aid to the bottom of the priority list. People in Bam, the Iranian city destroyed by an earthquake last year, are still living in tents because the aid promised to help them rebuild their homes hasn’t arrived. Meanwhile, with or without disasters, poverty, preventable disease and malnutrition kill people by the million every year.

If all the rich countries gave only 1 per cent of their income to development and emergency aid, there would be enough to pay for huge improvements in living standards, like those set out in the Millennium Development Goals and to have a standing response to disasters and emergencies. For Australia, the cost would be an extra $5 billion per year, about the cost of a “sandwich and milkshake” tax cut, or a couple of days worth of the promises made during the last election campaign.

It’s sadly unlikely that the rich countries will, in fact, do anything on a collective basis. But with Indonesia being the country hit hardest by the disaster, Australia in particular is faced with a challenge, an opportunity and a test. We can, if we want, send a few emergency missions, then return to business as usual. Or, we can make it a major policy priority to help our neighbours, and particularly Indonesia, rebuild over the next few years.

For various reasons, our relationship with Indonesia has been fraught with tension ever since that country achieved independence. We have the chance to put that history behind us and work together now. In this context, it’s worth looking at the example of Turkey and Greece, two countries with a long and bitter history of conflict and war. The positive response by the Greek government and ordinary Greek people to the terrible earthquake that hit Turkey in 1999 began a process that has seen much of that bitterness dissipated, even though problems like Cyprus remain unresolved. Helping our neighbours won’t eliminate all sources of disagreement with them. But it offers the chance for a relationship much better than we have had in the past.

Of course, we should help because it’s the right thing to do, and not just because it will do us good in the long run. But when the disaster has faded from the television screens, it’s worth remembering that it’s in our own interesting to keep on helping.