IF YOU drop your laptop computer, a chip built into it will sense the acceleration and protect the delicate moving parts of its hard disk before it hits the ground. A group of researchers led by Jesse Lawrence of Stanford University are putting the same accelerometer chip to an intriguing new use: detecting earthquakes. They plan to create a network of volunteer laptops that can map out future quakes in far greater detail than traditional seismometers manage.

So soon we will have dramatically more interesting data about earthquakes, and you can get involved too at this Stanford website.

Curt Finch runs a project management software company in Austin, Texas.