Do good by not doing anything

You want to make the world a better place, but you’re sort of lazy. What if I told you you could make a difference without doing anything?

I know that doesn’t sound right, but all it takes is installing a program to your computer (okay, so you did have to do something). After the initial installation, you don’t have to do anything but let the program run on its own while your computer is on… so what can you do? Let me give you the details.

1. Track Earthquakes

Seismologists at the University of California at Riverside and Stanford Univ. are making an earthquake detecting network by linking laptops that have built-in motion sensors. Most laptops have these sensors (called accelerometers) that enable the computer to protect itself by turning off the hard drive if the laptops are dropped. Check out details at the Quake-Catcher Network.

Volunteers can download a special software that reports sudden motions of the laptop to a central server on the Internet. You don’t have to worry about keeping the laptop stationary– the system only picks up sudden motions that happen in multiple computers simultaneously. The central computer determines the computer’s location based on its IP address, which has its flaws, but not computers have GPS chips.

This system is a cheap way to track earthquakes– seismometers are huge and expensive but precise; laptops are less precise, but if you have more participating, the data becomes more accurate. It is also better in tracking the impact area of the earthquake.

The system is new and being used primarily now for education purposes and needs to be fleshed out more; like having interactive maps to show movements of earthquakes over time.

2. The Herdict Project

Herdict has two projects- Herdict Web and Herdict PC- both of which you can see on its site. The uber-cool program (in my opinion) is Herdict Web, which lets you see “what is inaccessible, where it’s inaccessible, and for how long.” By “inaccessible” I mean “not being able to access the Internet.” That concept may be confusing, but many countries block certain websites. With Herdict, the program checks out Internet filtering around the world, by seeing which sites are accessible (and which are not) according to country (and what sort of content it was that triggered the blockage).

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