What if computers could be turned into a worldwide earthquake detecting network? With the Quake Catcher software and your laptop's built-in accelerometer, that might just be possible.
Elizabeth Cochran, an earth scientist at UC Riverside, has already managed to get about 1000 people to install Quake Catcher and has been tracking the date submitted by the software - including disruptions from the recent magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile.
The system isn't perfect as it's limited by the sensitivity of accelerometers built into computers or ones connected by USB, but at least it does have a mechanism in place to ignore vibrations that are limited to a single machine. This means that accidentally letting your laptop fall off the desk won't make anyone assume there's an earthquake. Now if you coordinated such a drop with a bunch of people in your geographic area on the other hand, we might manage to upset Ms Cochran a bit. [LA Times via Pop Sci]