Below I’ve pasted a BC post I had intended to publish during the time when the email posting system stopped working for me and before I discovered the wonders of the Word 2007 feature. I had a couple of others written then that I found yesterday while reorganizing some files but they seemed a bit too attached to a specific time or date so I’m leaving them out and will release them in the special collectors’ edition with the lost material at some point when I’m more famous and can make money from such a work .
A number of years ago, a colleague of mine introduced me to the SETI at Home project. SETI, for those less geeky than me, stands for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence and, if I remember correctly, the project lives at Harvard University. SETI software listens for patterns in the background noise of the universe in order to hopefully find something not random and, therefore, a sign of an intelligent source.
SETI’s greatest actual contribution to the world of science has nothing to do with ET trying to come home but, rather, came in the form of a distributed computing project called SETI at Home. This project gave users interested in the project a screen saver to download and chunks of data for it to crunch upon. The more people who installed the software, the greater the overall power of what had turned into the largest massively parallel super computing system would become.
I loved the idea of people installing software at home or work that would use idle time to process compute intensive projects. I did not, however, think that using all of this power to listen to noise in order to find a pattern was a good use of electricity. Shouldn’t such a massively powerful system work on cancer, AIDS or DNA research rather than trying to find a radio signal that may have emanated from some planet of near incomprehensible distance at a nearly incomprehensibly long time ago. By the time researchers could respond to the signal they heard, the solar system from which the signal came may have collapsed or any other catastrophe that might occur in a few million years may have caused said intelligent life to go extinct. True, simply learning that some other intelligent species may have existed in the past or may still live today would be of tremendous interest but little value to our species.
A year or so ago, my buddy Sina introduced me to another project like SETI at Home but worked on protein folding and can be found at the Folding at Home web site. This project, based at Stanford University works on very complex problems with potential outcomes that can cure many different diseases and do a lot to improve the health and quality of life of actual humans.
There are a number of other “at home” projects that work on problems I think are important but I chose folding at home and I stick with it. Today, I am proud to announce that I have broken into the top 8% of individual contributors on the project which has nearly 1 million members. I don’t know if anything my various computers contributed has done anything to move someone’s research forward but, in this case, negative results are as valuable as positives as they can help eliminate trials shown to have little or no value.
As a lot of these “at home” programs work in the background, I suggest you find something cool and useful and sign up. You will not notice any sluggishness if you are running a reasonably current computer and joining a massive computer to solve health and other problems and your idle time will add value to something quite worthwhile.
I accept that trying to find ET is a bit more glamorous than finding a folded protein of value but your probability of making a significant contribution to the world is much higher with the projects working on “real” science.
I have an original Braille Blazer from the old Blazie days. It is loud and slow but it is working perfectly. If anyone wants it, I will accept any offer over $150 (plus shipping) and will contribute the entire sum (except shipping) to either Southeastern Guide Dogs or to bookshare.org, whichever the buyer prefers.
A few weeks back, I wrote an article called, “Three New Products,” in which I mention that I had started calling my Victor Reader Stream simply “Vic” in honor of my Uncle Victor Bastek who had fought in both the second world war and in the Korean conflict. A person named Mark Bastek posted a comment to the blog wondering if we might be related and, indeed, we are. Unfortunately, Mark Bastek did not include a personal email address to which my sister, who is really into the family history, and/or I could respond. We’re hoping this shout out results in Mark finding me again but using the information under the “Contact Me” link instead of posting a comment to which I have no way to reply. We would really like to get in touch with Mark as our mother grew up with his father in Jersey City and, somewhere in my very distant memory, I recall meeting him too.
Finally, I’m starting to get involved heavily in the accessible instructional information side of the world of technology used by people with vision impairment. Any pointers or tips to GPL (or similar) Daisy readers would be greatly appreciated.
2 thoughts on “Lost Post”
BC has been playing with his Vick too much because it seems he has lost his mind with respect to the importance of SETI. Yep! I have a boner to pick with him on this one. First, SETI doesn’t utilize government funds, but it was in the vanguard of “thinking out of the box” in many areas, distributive computing, creative public relations and even hiring blind astronomers at a time when such an idea seemed just as nuts as discovering ET somewhere in Florida. Actually, Florida may be an excellent place to look for aliens, but I digress. The point is that just receiving a signal from an intelligent civilization somewhere outside our solar system would be a monumental discovery leading to a total re-ordering of our view of humanity, religion and politics. Being able to get an answer is beside the point. Judging from the madness in Tibet, the US Presidential race and network television, discovering that “intelligent life” exists beyond Earth will answer a fundamental question. There’s been one intelligent civilization that existed in this universe. We don’t really qualify just yet. I would have commented sooner, but I’m in federal court with Cap Metro, and I am suffering with a stubborn prostate infection. Onward through the fog!
Power to the Peeps!
PS: Incidentally, my illness has inspired me to write as sure fire hit screenplay called, “Broke Dick Mountain.”
It’s funny you bring up SETI at Home, I was thinking of that project the other day! I come up with a lot of good ideas I think, it’s just I don’t devote the time and money to see many of them threw. One such idea that came up from thinking about how SETI at Home work was. Take a large company with thousands of work stations and a main server room with 90 to 150 servers. Now instead of using the processing power of those server split that up among the thousands of work stations. So you might end up with 10 servers and 1000 work stations working on calculations in between idle time and on brakes, lunch, and in the evening. I think it’s a cool idea but I imagine there are all kinds of security issues there as well!