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COMPUTING

ET, are you home?

March 3, 1999
Web posted at: 8:33 a.m. EST (1333 GMT)

by Jason Meserve

From...
Network World Fusion

(IDG) -- For those looking to use their computer's idle cycles for something more understandable than higher math and code cracking, SETI@home is the perfect answer.

alien

 ALSO:
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     'Closer to God'


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Do you plan to participate in the SETI@home project?

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SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) is out to answer a single question: Are we alone in the universe?

Organized by the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif., the SETI@home project will use thousands of Internet-connected standard PCs to help scour radio wave data collected from the Arecibo Radio Telescope in Puerto Rico. The telescope is currently collecting around 40G bytes of radio data per day. This is not part of the research program of the SETI Institute but is part of Project SERENDIP, which the SETI Institute supports.

Currently, SETI uses a specially built supercomputer to do its frequency analysis. It hopes to expand its processing power without having to purchase or build another expensive computer system.

"We think our goal is something that will be more of interest to the average person than code breaking," Anderson says. "Code breaking does not answer a question of any type. It just shows that a code can be cracked if you throw more computing power at it."

Users hoping to find out if ET exists will be able to download a client that will sort through the digitized radio waves from space looking for any anomalies.

According to David Anderson, SETI@home's director, the client can run as a screen saver or in the background, similar to Distributed.net's clients.

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Clients will connect to a central core of servers located at in Berkeley, Calif. to download a 250 kilobyte block of data on which to work. The client will use the Web-standard HTTP protocol for its communications, meaning computers behind firewalls will be able to participate as well.

Anderson says the screen saver mode of operation is better suited for crunching the block since the software requires approximately 15M bytes of memory to juggle its computations. Running such a memory monster in the background could cause paging problems and overall system sluggishness, slowing down the average users' computer.

A Windows client is currently in beta testing, with a Macintosh client soon to follow. The server applications, currently in beta, run on donated Sun UltraSparcs.

Anderson hopes to start rolling the project out by late April of this year. He adds that 200,000 people have already signed up to receive the client software when it becomes available.

To sign up for SETI@home please visit http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/.
Jason Meserve is a staff writer for Network World Fusion.


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RELATED SITES:
SETI@home
The SERENDIP project
Distributed.net

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