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GPF: Community Projects

Last updated January 6, 2009

Folding@Home | Project Honey Pot

The GPF community may not be as vocal as those of other webcomics, but we know you guys have your hearts in the right places. (For most of you, that's center-left of the chest, between the lungs and roughly right below the sternum.) We know you care about the world around you and seek to better yourselves and your community. Whether you are motived by religious convictions, moral obligations, humanistic ideals, or just warm and fuzzy feelings doesn't matter; you want to better the world around you, one person at a time.

I won't be so conceited and grandiose to think that a tiny cult of personality built around a lowly cartoonist can literally save the world (although it would make for an interesting story). However, we can pick and choose our battles and do what we can, when we can, where we can. Below you will find a list of officially sanctioned "community projects" that we heartily encourage you to participate in. Many—if not all—I am involved in personally. Note that we do not seek to "steal" people away from other projects; if you are already involved in one of these or a similar project working for another team, then we encourage you to continue doing so. However, we'd love to grab those of you who aren't actively involved in something, and we should also point out that many of these can actually be done simultaneously without affecting the others. So go ahead, give a little. I promise you'll like it.

Folding@Home

Folding@Home is a distributed computing project that studies protein folding and misfolding. "Distributed computing" is a method of computer processing in which different parts of a program, or different portions of data, are processed simultaneously on two or more computers that are communicating with each other over a network or through the Internet. In specific, Folding@Home analyzes how proteins "fold" or assemble themselves into various chemical structures. Understanding the functions of these proteins is essential to diagnosing and treating numerous diseases such as Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis, BSE (Mad Cow disease), some forms of emphysema, and even certain types of cancer. This project is run by a non-profit operating out of Stanford University which submits its aggregated analysis to researchers world wide. Much of its code is publicly available as open source.

So out of all the dozens of distributed computing projects out there, why did we pick this one? Well, after a lot of thought and soul-searching, we felt this project's goals had the greatest short and long-term benefits for all mankind. Yes, searching for extra-terrestrial life may be arguably geekier, but protein folding research has implications that affect us here and now. Virtually everyone knows someone in their sphere for friends and family affected by the diseases above; wouldn't it be awesome if we could all band together to contribute to finding cures? And why not do so sharing the banner of community here at GPF?

So if you have a few clock cycles to spare, why not give Folding@Home a try? I've personally been running it on multiple machines for some time now and have found it to be unobtrusive and easy to temporarily disable when I need more processing power for something else. They have clients for Windows, Mac, Linux (also runs on Free/OpenBSD), and Playstation 3, as well as specialized clients that take advantage of the untapped horsepower of the latest graphics processors. Even if you decide not to join the GPF team, we encourage you to find another team to work together, or just strike out on your own. Personally, I could care less about the bragging rights of how we rank versus other teams; I just care about finding results and giving back to the greater good. If you leave your computers sitting idle much of the day, why not give them something useful to do in the meantime?

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Project Honey Pot

You may (or may not) be aware that we here at GPF are in the trenches on the forefront of fighting spam. I've been battling e-mail spam for over a decade—publishing your e-mail address used to be a good idea—and forum (or more commonly "comment") spam for several years. While filtering technology has come a long way in ebbing the tide, I know I spend several hours a day policing my inbox and the GPF Forum for spammers. Spam is more than just an annoyance; it's a threat to privacy and usability for every single Internet user.

As such, I have joined Project Honey Pot, the first and only distributed system for identifying spammers and the spambots they use to scrape addresses from websites. Volunteers at PHP donate URLs and MX records to create "honey pots" to trap and identify spammers, catching them in the act. Information collected from these honey pots are then collated and shared with anti-spam developers and researchers to improve filtering technologies and with law enforcement authorities to track down and prosecute spammers.

If you own or operate a website, we encourage you to join PHP and install a honey pot of your own. If you control your DNS, you can also donate an MX record for a subdomain or three to help foil spammers' ability to recognize the traps. If you can't do either of these but at least run a blog or similar site where you can insert HTML, you can install "QuickLinks" that link to other volunteers' honey pots. All of these actions are unobtrusive and virtually invisible to your regular visitors (Can you find our honey pots?) and will not affect the usability of your site in any way. While PHP does not have any sort of "team" feature, we still encourage everyone who can to participate. (The links from here do include our referral code, so we get credit if you sign up.)

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