July 8, 1999

SETI@home

I just finished downloading and installing the SETI@home program. SETI stands for

Search for
Extra-
Terrestrial
Intelligence

and the "home" part refers to the (presently) over 600,000 personal computers participating in the project.

This is how it's described on their web page: http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that harnesses the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. There's a small but captivating possibility that your computer will detect the faint murmur of a civilization beyond Earth.

To a baby boomer who grew up to the sounds of "Uncle" Walter Cronkite narrating the space race, this is an irresistible temptation. For some reason I cannot fathom, those born after (let's say) the moon landing just don't have the fascination and affection for the space program that we boomers do. When the very first space shuttle landed for the very first time, so majestically, I cried (I NEVER cry!) but being 7 months pregnant might have had something to do with that too..

Anyway, SETI has incredible cartloads of data to analyze, so they planned to farm it out in small chunks to volunteers, who download these chunks off the internet, and leave it to the computers to work on while their screensavers are on (ie the computers aren't being otherwised used!) If you DO find something your name will go onto the discovery along with the names of the research team.

That's really not the attraction, though, and I really DON'T think they'll find anything.. it's just the idea of being able to lend my resources to a space project, and the idea of hundreds of thousands of computers (in over 200 countries) collaborating on something other than the best way to build pipe bombs or the best porno site... and maybe furthering the progress of the internet as a useful, positive force in society (for which its potential is mind-bending) instead of the cesspool as it's perceived by too many.

I'm sure the kids will have a coniption when they see the screensaver.. it's got a cool colourful moving graph and progress lines and a green satellite icon-thingy in the taskbar. Of course hubby is already making jokes.. Mommy is talking to the aliens.. but I ignore that.. he'd be the very first one to do this too, if he knew how to turn the computer on!

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