Hey there, sports fans! Guess what? The Avocado now has its very own Folding@Home team. The TL;DR version for folks already in the know: Our team code is 249704.
Folding@Home is a “…distributed computing project for simulating protein dynamics, including the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins implicated in a variety of diseases. It brings together citizen scientists who volunteer to run simulations of protein dynamics on their personal computers. Insights from this data are helping scientists to better understand biology, and providing new opportunities for developing therapeutics.” You can read all about it here, but in short, it’s a program that turns your humble computer into a science factory, churning out research on all sorts of diseases, like Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease, and cystic fibrosis. Simulating how proteins fold, move, and interact is a very compute-intensive task, one that traditionally required the performance and resources of expensive supercomputers. Folding@Home solved this problem by chopping the job up into small chunks called work units, and distributing them over the internet to participants all around the world running the Folding@Home client. The clients then process the work units and upload their results back to Folding@Home HQ, which incorporates those results into their models.
Recently, F@H’s focus has shifted to modeling COVID-19’s proteins, as part of a larger effort to create a treatment that will scientifically curb-stomp that miserable little sucker. As a result, and thanks to a bit of press exposure, the number of volunteers has exploded in the last few weeks, giving Folding@Home more compute power than the top seven most powerful supercomputers combined!
If you’d like to join the project, head over here and download the version for your operating system. (There are versions available for Windows, Mac, and several Linux distros.) Once you install it, you can run it right away as Anonymous, with no team. But if you prefer a little recognition and bragging rights from your fellow Avocadans, enter 249704 as your team number, and you will automatically join Team Avocado. If you can’t join, you can still check our team’s progress at stats.foldingathome.org.
A few notes, gotchas, and random thoughts:
- Right now, Folding@Home has more volunteers than unprocessed work units. This is the kind of COVID problem we want to have for a change, but it does mean that your computer may not have anything to work on immediately after you’ve installed it. You can confirm this is the case by launching the app called FAHControl and clicking the log tab. If you see the message “No WUs available for this configuration”, there’s simply nothing for your computer to work on right now. If so, just be patient. The gigantic brains over at F@H HQ say they’re working to get more work units into the hands of volunteers ASAP.
- Folding@Home’s minimum system requirements are pretty generous. Basically, any PC or Mac made within the last 15+ years can run it with some level of success, so you don’t need to be all PC Master Race to help. That said, it is compute-intensive by nature, and it may slow your computer down when it’s running. If that’s the case, I recommend setting it to run only when you computer is idle and/or cranking the Power slider to Light. You can manage these options by going to client.foldingathome.org once you’ve installed the software.
- Folding@Home will keep your computer from automatically entering sleep. You can still manually put your PC to sleep, but of course it won’t do any work when it’s sleeping. If you routinely put your computer to sleep, consider setting the client to run ‘When I’m working’ and lower the Power slider to light or medium, so that it’s not too intrusive.
- I’ve noticed that the web management interface does not like Chrome very much. If you run across the problem of it constantly refreshing itself, try another browser and/or clear the page’s cache by pressing Ctrl+F5. You can also manage most of the F@H client’s functionality by running the aforementioned FAHControl app.
- If you have a laptop and you don’t want F@H running while you’re on battery power, launch FAHControl, click Configure | Advanced and put a check in the box that says “Pause work while on battery power.”
- The Linux client supports both CPU and GPU work units, but for some bizarre reason, GPU support is disabled by default. If you’re sure your graphics card has the correct drivers installed, and it supports compute tools like CUDA, then (as root) edit the file /etc/fahclient/config.xml and remove the line gpu=false. Then, if it’s not already present, add the line <slot id=’1′ type=’GPU’/> under the header <!– Folding Slots –>. Save the file and exit, then restart the client by running (as root) service FAHClient restart.
Thanks for reading and thanks for volunteering! If you have any questions, leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer them.