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BBC wants your clock-cycles - to predict climate change

by Bob Crabtree on 14 February 2006, 17:39

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Downloadpage for BBC climate app

The BBC is bringing all guns to bear on the contentious subject of climate change, with programmes on BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4 that examine the science and the politics, as well as the possible consequences.

As part of this effort, the corporation wants tens of thousands of users of Windows and Linux PCs worldwide to download and install a distributed-computing app that runs in the background and can harness the unused power of all these PCs to carry out predictions on climate change.

The target is a minimum of 10,000 PCs. When that's reached, the BBC says, calculations will be carried out faster than on the world’s "biggest" computer. However, the hope is that that many more than the minimum sign up.

BBC4 gets the TV side of the Climate Chaos season under way next Monday (February 20) with a programme carrying the comforting title of Meltdown. Explorer Paul Rose is the presenter and shows the effects that global warming are already having in Greenland and explains what could happen in the UK. At the end of the programme, viewers will be asked to offer up their PCs' spare clock-cycles for that distributed computing initiative.

This is already under way, though, and you can sign up to it right now by going to the BBC's Climate change page (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/aboutexperiment1.shtml), then clicking on the link to take part (http://bbc.cpdn.org/index.php). The app you need to download is a 10.6MByte download for Windows and 3.4MByte for Linux.

Under Windows, we found the installation quick and hassle-free. The only issues we'd suggest you watch out for are:

* The stupid name of the Windows exe file - climate_change_screensaver.exe - which suggested to us that there is no way of participating without changing your screensaver. But that's wrong, there's an untick option during the installation that prevents your screensaver being changed yet still lets the app do its work. However, unticking this option doesn't stop the climate-change screen saver being installed - it's ready to use and accessible from the usual place (right-clicking Windows's desktop and choosing properties or via the Display option in Control Panel).

Win Installer showing screensaver option

* The way that, on the first time you are prompted to run the main app, rather than the memory-resident element, you'll likely find it is running already - so a second instance will start.

* The fact that there are typically two elements of the program working - together taking close to 16,000K of RAM.

Task Manager showing two active elements of BBC prog

* The BBC's unapologetic disclaimer:

The BBC makes no warranties or representations, either express or implied in relation to, and accepts no liability in respect of the software. You load and use the software at your own risk and the BBC will not be liable to you for any direct or indirect damages including for lost profits or for any other consequential loss arising from your use of or inability to use the software or from errors or deficiencies in it.

Oxford University and the Open University are involved in the distributed-computing project - their workings of the results will be broadcast on BBC4 in May - but the whole thing was put together for the Beeb by climateprediction.net and based on BOINC software that's used in a good number of other D-C projects and comes courtesy of the University of California, Berkeley,.

The "truth behind global warming headlines" will be tackled in the same week as Meltdown by another programme on BBC4, Climate Conspiracy or Global Catastrophe?. The same channel will then offer Reports from the Front Line of Global Warming, described as "a series of short eyewitness accounts of living with global warming".

Following the results-show in May, there will be a week of programmes across BBC TV.

In a two-part documentary on BBC1, Sir David Attenborough will undertake, "a personal investigation to discover how global warming is changing our world" .

Panorama investigates President Bush's rejection of the scientific consensus on climate change, asking whether, it's "Big Oil talking" or whether Bush is "right to resist what one of his supporters has described as 'the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people'?".

On the lighter side, viewers can check how much they know about climate change in a Test the Nation special.

The Money Programme on BBC TWO will look at the economics of going green and there will be a programme showing how six cities around the world are preparing for climate change.

The final main programme will be a Horizon special look at the case being made for nuclear power.

Through that same week - and in the lead up to the Feb-20 kick-off and beyond, we can also expect related contributions on BBC News and Weather, children's programmes and the Beeb's web site.

Below is how that climate-change screensaver looks when it kicks in (click for a larger version) - but be aware that although the keyboard shortcuts do work when you run the real display of your own personal private climate model (screengrabs further down), they don't work in the screensaver - though the globe does rotate. To run your own model - which, of course, requires you to have already run the installer - start the Climate Change Experiment Manager app, select the Tasks tab and click on the tool marked 'Show graphics'.

BBC climate-change screen saver

Personal climate model
The BBC app installs all sorts of toys - none of which we've yet had time to properly play with (so don't forget to give YOUR feedback in the HEXUS.community). Superficially, the most interesting looking is the personal climate model. This gives four views of the rotating earth - temperature, rain & snow, pressure and cloud cover. By default, the interface window is 640x480 but it can be rescaled larger or smaller by dragging its borders.

Views of personal climate model (grid turned off in each case)

Temperature view
Temperature view of person climate model

Rain & snow view
Rain and Snow view of person climate model

Pressure view
Clouds and Surface view of person climate model

Clouds & surface view
Clouds and Surface view of person climate model

As we said, we've only scratched the surface of the BBC app, so do share your experiences and tips and tricks over in the HEXUS.community.

HEXUS Forums :: 29 Comments

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Anything which brings Distributed Computing to a wider audience is good as far as I'm concerned. (Although there is something ironic about thousands of energy-guzzling, heat-generating computers being left on to map climate change!)

The fact that there are typically two elements of the program working - together taking close to 16,000K of RAM.

16MB? That's nothing. Over at Folding@Home, some work units can use over 300MB of RAM. People build dedicated computers just to do this stuff. It's fiercely addictive.
Although there is something ironic about thousands of energy-guzzling, heat-generating computers being left on to map climate change!

Can't imagine WHAT you mean!

hmmm, I'm just getting a timeout when I try to download it, can't believe that hexus has prompted that many peoplke to download it
Bob Crabtree
Can't imagine WHAT you mean!


lol was just thinking the same thing, bizzare, ill stick to Folding @ Home I think.
hmmm, I'm just getting a timeout when I try to download it, can't believe that hexus has prompted that many peoplke to download it

It's working for me at the moment