Features / Covid-19 – What can I do to help?



THESE ARE difficult and unprecented times. Coronavirus, Covid-19, PPE, social distancing… All these words, concepts and news, news, news. It seems we have little control of our decisions, and we can feel a bit helpless. Do as you are told, it’s all that you can do.

Or is it?

What if you could help with the research? What if you could take some of the problem, and work it out and then send back the solution? Wait, helping research a cure Covid-19? Yes, that’s exactly what you could be doing.

Not only Covid-19: if no project in particular is selected, Covid-19 work units (WU) are prioritised. You could also choose to help research certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, amongst others. Many of us will know family or friends affected by these diseases. It makes sense to help if we can.

If you’re keen to know more, then read on.

Folding@Home is a project that distributes chunks of data (work units) to idle computers to process. The researchers need your help, or more precisely, your computer or graphics processor. All you have to do is install a small client program on your computer, think of a name for yourself and join a team if you want to. That’s it! It works in the background, and you’d need never know it’s there.

At Shetland News, we’ve made a team, open to anyone. It’s called Shetland Fights Back, team number 258138. You don’t have to join, but it’s somewhere to be if you want to. With enough people, we will report the stats on the website and you can easily compare your work units and points with other people.

Maybe you’d prefer your own team? Your community, your family, your workplace – a bit of friendly competition – all in a good cause!

Sensible Questions

Is it free, and is it safe to use?
Absolutely, to both questions!

Do I need a powerful computer to run it? Can I run it on a laptop?
You don’t need a powerful computer, although the more powerful it is, the more work units you will get through. You could run it on a laptop, but the issue is heat. Laptops are not great at cooling. If you use your laptop on your bed for example (never advisable), it would get too hot.

Will I know if it’s running?
The folding will use your spare processor (CPU) or graphics (GPU) power. If you are busy in another program, the amount of processor power going to your folding will decrease in proportion, at its default setting. You will probably notice increased noise as the fans in your computer speed up to keep CPU and/or GPU cool. There will be an icon in the notification area.

I have a good PC, will it use the graphics card processor (GPU)?
Yes it will. It’s possible to have work units folding on both the CPU and the GPU at the same time. If you use your computer for work during the day, then you may wish to just run work units on the GPU instead. Modern gaming computers in particular have powerful graphics cards. The work units designed to work on a GPU have a higher points value. Note GPU folding is not currently supported on OSX.

How do I install it on my computer?
Download the installer from the website. Run it, let it install to the default locations. Pick yourself a name, and if you want to, join our team (258138) or make your own. When you have finished it will run, and show you the basic Web Control. If you choose to support ‘Any disease’ it will prioritise Covid-19 work units.

If you want to dabble further, an advanced control program is available if you right-click the icon on your taskbar down by the clock. This will allow you to enable or disable your CPU or GPU core, should you wish to restrict which is used for folding. It will also let you add a passkey to your account, tying it to you and your email (good idea).

I’m not seeing updates to my account or the team stats, why not?
After you join a team, you must finish one work unit before it shows. Also, the number of work units the servers have to deal with has gone up massively since the outbreak, due to the number of people joining the project. Sometimes there is a delay to the stats updates, but it will catch up and your works units and points won’t be lost.

It’s not working! / The log says there are no work units available!
Due to the number of requests, sometimes the research teams haven’t added enough work units to meet demand. Just wait a while and your folding client will pick up another as soon as one is available.

The servers are currently assigning around 130,000 work units per hour (23 April).

My points aren’t that high, how can I increase them?
Obviously the more you fold the more points you gain. The work units designed to work on GPU cores are worth more points. If you secure your name/account with a passkey, you will receive bonus points after you have returned twenty work units. There are three dates for your work unit. If your work unit is returned by the ‘Timeout’ date you get a bonus, but don’t worry if you can’t, you will still get points as long as you return by ‘Expiration’ date. Note that work units from different research projects have different amounts of work involved, and the points reflect that – nothing you can do about this.

I need more help, can you help me?
Sadly we at Shetland News can’t act as support for the project. There is however an excellent support forum, including a new donors forum, and a FAQ. If you have a question to ask, it’s probably been asked already by someone else. If not, register and make a new post – queries are responded to quickly.