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Is SETI@home Where Your Cycles Belong? 202

Yesterday's post about a Wall Street Journal article critiquing the current allocation of distributed number-crunching projects drew a huge range of comments, some favoring the proposition that seemingly quixotic distributed-computing endeavors (specifically, the alien-hunting SETI@home project) were diverting resources better spent on closer-to-home, pragmatic research, such as cancer or climate prediction, or perhaps best never converted to electricity in the first place. Read on for the Backslash summary of the conversation.

SETI@home is probably the best-known distributed computing project in the world. Several readers questioned not just the efficiency of spending computer cycles sifting for alien communications with SETI@home, but whether this search is based on a sensible idea in the first place. Reader TheSync, pointing to a Princeton research paper, offered an interesting case for another approach to seeking alien intelligence:

"Radio SETI is really a waste of time. Optical SETI is the logical choice because
  1. Visible light-emitting devices are smaller and lighter than microwave or radio-emitting devices.
  2. Visible light-emitting devices produce higher bandwidths and can consequently send information much faster.
  3. Interference from natural sources of microwaves is more common than from visible sources.
  4. Naturally occurring nanosecond pulses of light are mostly likely nonexistent, although there are all kinds of radio signals that could be similar to intentional SETI transmissions. Thus Optical SETI does not require grid computing to find signals.
  5. Exact frequencies of light are not required, as nanosecond unfiltered light pulses would still outshine the planet's star by over 30 times.

Optical SETI detection out to 100 light-years is doable today, with a bit more work optical SETI out to 1,000 light-years is possible."

More generally, reader theCat says he gave up on SETI@home "at the exact moment when I recognized that radio broadcast, even assuming other life forms discover it, is just a quick stepping stone toward more efficient/direct means of distribution, like wires or fiber. Or drums. Or pheremones. Or telepathy. ... SETI has always barked up the wrong tree. Not because there are no intelligent races out there — and I really do suspect there are — but because if they are intelligent in a way that we would even recognize then they've moved on to other forms of communication, or settled into a fine state of just dealing with every day as it comes and not worring about events in their version of Iraq."

Whether or not their approaches are optimal, reader exp(pi*sqrt(163)) defended the more esoteric distributed computing projects like SETI on a pessimistic ground, writing that after two years in computational chemistry for what is now GlaxoSmithKline, "I became strongly convinced that computers do not find cures for diseases - or even give you much understanding of illnesses. Molecular modeling is so far from being able to model in vivo molecules that it's practically worthless. ... [W]e already know that trials at this stage are poorly correlated with actual drug usefulness, simulations are just as much a waste of resources as SETI. ... It seems to me that molecular modeling is actually one of those hard 'macho' (but ultimately pointless) projects that gets funding because to criticize it makes you seem anti-drug, anti-therapy and anti-human-progress. (I'm not saying people shouldn't try to model molecules. This is a great blue-sky goal. But people who are trying to find drugs or therapies shouldn't be wasting their time with such techniques.)"

A persistent suggestion that SETI@home and similar projects were wasteful for failing to deliver enough tangible benefits to present-day society provoked several readers to defend the importance of voluntary participation; Chrisq compared the cycles spent on distributed science to donations to charities, writing "I don't like the way that some animal charities get more money than children's charities. Obviously the people making donations disagree. The point is the donor decides — if someone is giving something away, then they decide."

One reader suggested sarcastically "You know what's a waste of time? Gardening. You spend all this time and energy just to raise a few tomatoes that could have been bought at the store for cheap. ... People should stop gardening and focus their time and energy on solving global warming, but I don't presume to tell anyone what they should be doing with their time."

Another offered a tongue-in-cheek response providing a few facetious parallels: "It's a waste that people use their cars to go see a movie when they could be delivering food to the homeless shelter. It's a waste that people are storing ice cream in the fridge when they could be storing donated blood plasma."

Many readers, though, provided examples of projects that they consider worthy their computing efforts, either instead of or in addition to SETI.

"Personally, I always felt SETI was not very philanthropic — more like an amusing experiment in grid computing," says tedgyz, and suggests that grid.org to users who would like to spend some cycles on medical research. "They provide great features for managing all your computers that run the grid projects. You can even choose which research to participate in. And, to satiate a geek's lust for power, they have rankings for your aggregate compute time."

Perhaps the WSJ article draws a false dichotomy, however: one reader asked "Does Carl realize that it's possible to crunch more than one project at a time with BOINC? Right now I'm attached SETI, Einstein, Rosetta & LHC. It works on one for a bit and then will switch to another for a bit. And so what if SETI@home will never find anything, it's a cool looking screen saver!"

(Another reader reported dissatisfaction with BOINC: "I upgraded from the old SETI@Home client to BOINC when it became available - but the BOINC client required too much effort on my part and was getting in my way. ... I'm donating my CPU cycles to some altruistic cause, I don't want to have to RTFM. I just want to install and forget. For this reason I miss the old SETI client, and have, as a result, now stopped contributing.")

Eventual benefits aside, some readers doubt that the medical research projects' goals parallel their own: one reader writes "... I won't do the ones for the drug companies. My grandfather was denied a chance at surviving cancer in the 60's, but the big drug companies went to the FDA against the doctor who had a good success rate for curing colon/stomach cancer because one of the chemicals used was not FDA approved. The big drug companies are not looking for cures, they are looking for drugs to sell."

In response to fears that medical-research undertakings would exploit their volunteers' contributions to the data crunching, Lars Westergren several times pointed out that the Stanford-based Folding@home protein-folding project, at least, has committed itself to sharing the data generated by its volunteers, citing the project's promise (found in its FAQ) that

"We will not sell the data or make any money off of it. ... Moreover, we will make the data available for others to use. In particular, the results from Folding@home will be made available on several levels. Most importantly, analysis of the simulations will be submitted to scientific journals for publication, and these journal articles will be posted on the web page after publication. Next, after publication of these scientific articles which analyze the data, the raw data of the folding runs will be available for everyone, including other researchers, here on this web site."

In another comment, Westergren argued that "[e]ven if this worst-case scenario did happen [of donated cycles being turned into secret-formula drugs], the cycles donated would not be wasted. You would have helped advance human scientific research, and the medicines created would still be saving peoples' lives."

Along similar lines, as reader lhbtubajon puts it, "[i]f a company starts manufacturing a product so expensive that they cannot make a profit on it, they will soon cease to exist, as will the beneficial product they hoped to give to the world."

Whatever the ends to which the data is eventually put, many readers raised another objection: power consumption. Shisha outlines the inherent uncertainty of whether cycle-donation makes sense:

"All those free computer cycles are not that free. Modern CPUs consume more electricity to do more work and someone has to pay the electricity bills. Busy CPUs need more cooling and fans that run at full throttle for a year do wear out and fail (and you risk burning some important component, even if the PC is designed to shut down when it detects overheating). That's simply because desktop PCs are desktop PCs and not workstations and the assumption is that the fans will have to run at full throttle for maybe half an hour at a time. The real costs are not easy to work out, but it might, just might be more efficient to donate the money to charity."

(This analysis, according to another reader, "[underestimates] the quality of a desktop PC. I ran SETI and climateprediction.net for about 4 years straight on a dual G4 PowerMac. Ran like a champ. 100% CPU for months straight. Never had a problem. They can take abuse.")

Placing the WSJ article into context, FlynnMP3 pointed out that author Gomes isn't trying to force anyone to change their computing behavior, and suggested an argument that SETI@home might specifically hold greater worth than can be divined from its success rate so far:

This is merely an opinion piece. It's easy to take the pragmatic road and donate personal computing cycles to cancer research or something as equally earth based, citing return-of-results arguments.

I postulate that the returns for finding out if there is intelligent life in outer space has greater implications for the world's population. Not immediate concerns mind you (unless something extraordinary happens), but the practical usage will eventually seep out of the acedemic and scientific circles and benefit the population in ways that we cannot possibly imagine."

More succintly, another reader's understatement may explain just why so many people are happy to donate a few watts in the quest for E.T. life: "Odd, I can think of few things that would change life on earth more than a verifiable intelligent signal from outer space. This story reminds me to go download SETI@home again."

Thanks to the readers whose comments helped inform this discussion, especially those quoted above:

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Is SETI@home Where Your Cycles Belong?

Comments Filter:
  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <tepples@@@gmail...com> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:26PM (#15629672) Homepage Journal

    So it's "aitch tee tee pee colon slash slash back slash dot slash dot dot org" now.

  • I use... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    http://www.worldcommunitygrid.org/ [worldcommunitygrid.org]
  • by indiancowboy ( 637150 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:28PM (#15629694)
    After if aliens where found, they'd may be already have a cure for cancer, global warming, etc.
  • by gasmonso ( 929871 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:28PM (#15629698) Homepage

    They're already here I tell ya! I have a sore ass to prove it.

    http://religiousfreaks.com/ [religiousfreaks.com]
  • Good story (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Henry V .009 ( 518000 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:30PM (#15629726) Journal
    I like this Backslash—the comment quality is what separates slashdot from digg. On slashdot, there is are a lot of crap comments, but there are often some gems mixed in too.

    As far as SETI goes, I suppose what I'm most interested in is the leak comment in the main story. Is there really only a few hundred year window to find advanced technological socieities from their radio waves? Does everybody really switch to cable TV instead of broadcast?

    I have a physicist friend who is enamoured of the rare Earth hypothesis—that the universe is mostly inhospitable to life and that we're it.
  • Of course it looks like a waste, so do any of the other things you can contribute to... until they hit their mark. Now while I'll agree that protein folding has more immediate advantages to cures, etc. , SETI discovering a real intelligent alien signal would generate a flurry of spending that would likely yield many more inventions, something like what the first space race did for technology.
    • Alot of people wait there whole life for something that never comes. This seems like one of those projects. SETI is not all useless but it should definitly have a lower priority than climate or helth. I can't see an ET signal benifiting mankind more than a cure for cancer even if SETI did find something.
    • By the time such a radio signal arrives, it would probably be many hundreds or thousands of years after the original transmission.
    • Of course it looks like a waste, so do any of the other things you can contribute to... until they hit their mark. Now while I'll agree that protein folding has more immediate advantages to cures, etc. , SETI discovering a real intelligent alien signal would generate a flurry of spending that would likely yield many more inventions, something like what the first space race did for technology.

      Perhaps the alien life forms we encounter with SETI will already have the cure for cancer, AIDS, and anything else we
      • Perhaps the alien life forms we encounter with SETI will already have the cure for cancer, AIDS, and anything else we seem to have epidemically infected our society with.

        Or maybe they will have the same problems we have and are hoping we will solve their problems.
        • Or maybe they will have the same problems we have and are hoping we will solve their problems.

          And when we tell them we have the same issues we can combine our resources to solve both our problems.

          Why does that sound familiar?

          • And when we tell them we have the same issues we can combine our resources to solve both our problems.

            Now after 500 years, the amount of time it took to communicate that back and forth, they were destroyed by their problems and we have to look else where.

            This is a fun game someone continue the story.
            • But in the mean time, we decide that they count as 'THEM' and everybody on earth counts as 'US'. This allows us to turn all of your military/industrial complex to the creation of space faring warships so that 'WE' can protect ourselves from the evil 'THEM'. As the tech eventually ends up trickling down to corporations, we soon become a space faring race, and our genetic code servives when the sun expands to consume the earth. Woohoo!
  • shame (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:32PM (#15629750)
    "It's a waste that people use their cars to go see a movie when you could just download it and spare the pollution."
  • Off-topic, but... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:33PM (#15629767)
    I REALLY don't like this Backslash idea. I think the Slashback features are good enough. There's a reason the moderation system is in place, and that is to highlight the good comments. It seems that the admins feel that they do a better job moderating the comments than we do.
    • So don't read it.

      I'll freely admit that I'm lazy (and given the fact that a lot of others here are developers, I'd say they are too) and being so, its nice to have the entire discussion summarized. In some of the larger discussions, its easy to get lost

    • by barawn ( 25691 )
      There's a reason the moderation system is in place, and that is to highlight the good comments.

      True. But that moderation system doesn't build the consensus comments into a readable story. That's what Backslash does.

      Essentially they're taking the results of the moderation system and building them into a readable summary. It's not perfect yet - timothy's summaries jump around a bit - but I think it's entirely reasonable to expect it to get better.

      The outputs of the moderation system are fairly "raw." This jus
    • Go here [slashdot.org], click the button that makes Backslash go away, and hit save.

      Slashdot has a lot of filtering features.
  • According to http://www.alienvideo.net/seti-makes-contact.php [alienvideo.net], SETI has made contact, they are just not publishing it yet. This was on digg earlier, but it has since been removed so take with appropriate lump of salt.
  • by aztektum ( 170569 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:38PM (#15629811)
    Considering we live in a world of trite devices like the Clapper, pop music, and a population that is overweight. Our entire economy is becoming one based upon ease of living, not social responsibility. I would put SETI pretty low on my list of priorities to goto war over about what we spend our time/money supporting. Sure the overall goal of SETI may seem farfetched, but then again I know people that think NASA is a huge waist of money when there are starving and homeless. Yet they don't realize the accidental achievements we've made because NASA exists.
  • Folding@Home (Score:5, Informative)

    by Grym ( 725290 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @02:39PM (#15629823)
    Amazing... the submitter laments the pie-in-the-sky goals of SETI@home and never even mentions the most obvious alternative Folding@Home [stanford.edu]. Folding@home is a distributed computing project attempting to model how proteins interact and ultimately form their tertiary and quaternary, 3-dimensional structures. Understanding this process holds the key to very tangible benefits for biology, medicine, and the broader science of nanotechnology. The project is managed through Standford university and has already yielded some very good results.

    Personally, I've been submitting my space cycles to Folding@home for about five years now. Since I'm a gamer and don't want to risk my cycles being used during gameplay, I use the screen saver version, which comes with the added advantage of having pretty cool visuals of the folding process that always prompt questions from my friends.


    • Re:Folding@Home (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Oxen ( 879661 )
      While folding at home aims to understand the mechanism by which a protein folds, the project is not very amenable to protein folding. The problem is that protein folding is a linear process, so it doesn't work very well. A similar approach, Rosetta@Home, led by the most respected protein folding group in the world, The David Baker Lab, uses an algorithm with is much more likely to yield useable results. Last year they used distributed computing to vastly outperform every other protein folding lab in the
    • Personally, I've been submitting my space cycles to Folding@home for about five years now.

      I would think space cycles are much better equipped to find extraterrestrial life. How can I get me one of those?
  • I really wish some of these projects would do a better job of compiling for different architectures. My friends and I would love to be able to help some of the more interesting projects with the extra cycles on our servers but very few of the projects are compiled for Alpha and fewer still will let us do the compiling. We have quite a bit of CPU power to give but the only projects we can find to support us are SETI and Distributed.net, neither of which rank very high in what we consider useful. Does anyone
  • Screw you, they're my "wasted" cpu cycles, I'll do what ever I damn well please with them. Altruistic bastards. Go practice what you preach!
  • Einstein@Home (Score:2, Informative)

    by Wormholio ( 729552 )
    Both the WSJ article and the slashdot discussion which followed failed to mention that with BOINC one can quite easily donate cycles to other efforts besides searching for ET, such as Einstein@Home: http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/ [uwm.edu]
  • and use pretty much the same justification for both - that it makes me happy to simply think about possible success, no matter what the odds.

    Although on new machines, I've switched over to the einstein@home gravity wave thingamajig, because it's awesome.
  • SETI@home essentially invented donated distributed over the internet, over a dozen other projects are benefiting from it in the form of BOINC and the WSJ is upset because people don't donate cycles with presumed morally superior choices the WJS sees. I have noticed an up-tic recently in attempts to kill SETI research of any kind. The reason is always "it's a waste of time." In other words the opponents of SETI always know better that it is a fruitless search than the proponents, but they have no scientific basis for making that assertion other than that's the way it feels to them. Granted pro-SETI people similarly have little evidence that ET will be found soon -- but there are no wasted inquiries in science. If you search and fail to find something, you have still learned something, you now have a number and you can put some bound on a phenomenon. No one tells physicists to give up searching because they haven't found the Higgs Boson yet, or at the lower energies they initially predicted.

    Most likely a signal won't be found in the next decade or two, but I still donate my free cycles to SETI@home. I believe that while in the short run the odds are not high, there are few other discoveries that could be so transformative as this -- and although they won't say it, this is why the opponents of SETI are so rabid to shut it down. SETI is the ugly step child of science, it will never get the support other branches will. This is why a volunteer effort is so important. Of course if a signal is ever found, well then step back and watch all the money and resources that will get thrown at it, then your cycles won't be needed. Also be prepared to hear all about how many politicians where a friend of SET way back when.

    WSJ suggests inertia to explain why we give cycles to search for SETI, that and the pride of placing high in the SETI work units competition. WSJ suggests that competition is the main reason for SETI@home's success, and had another project come along first to set up as competition for bragging rights about how many work units accomplished all the cycles would be goin to that project instead. Rubbish. The same people that download OSS apps and care about matters scientific are the very people that care about SETI. I donate my cycles because I care about SETI, which has I have already mentioned is an unpopular science with the general public. It is seen as an underdog by the hacker community, it appeals to their sense of adventure and wonder.

    Ironically I had just posted on this subject in a new blog project Brink [jaytv.com] with the entry SETI: First Detection [jaytv.com]
    • you search and fail to find something, you have still learned something, you now have a number and you can put some bound on a phenomenon

      This is especially true of SETI, as it would be quite handy to know the right hand side of the Drake equation. However, unless it finds something, SETI has quickly diminishing returns - it takes exponentially longer to check each digit in the exponent of percentage of planets with intelligent life.

      But everyone has the right to run whatevery they want to with those spare C
    • Which came first, SETI@Home or distributed.net [distributed.net]?

      I know dnetc's been running on at least one of my machines since 1997 or thereabouts.
    • this is why the opponents of SETI are so rabid to shut it down

      Or maybe they are dying of cancer.

      Who knows why someone might think SETI is a gross waste of our global computational resource? Perhaps they hate science, but maybe it's a far more wholesome reason.
    • All fine, but there is an extremely small chance that we are going to find a signal. The number of planets in listening range is small (the rest is drowned out by background noise) and thus we cannot expect a lot of life. Intelligent life on other planets may very well be a million years ahead or late with respect to us. A couple of hundred years difference (either way) is enough to guarantee that they were not broadcasting radio signals at the time we're hearing. So, 20 years is not enough to find a signal
    • Maybe WSJ and I are on the same wavelength.

      I used to have SETI running, but eventually the project came to an end. (As far as I could tell from the So Long And Thanks For All The Fish sorta letter I got.) I've tried setting up BOINC, but it's not at all clear to me if it's set up correctly. Most of the time it doesn't even seem to be doing anything. Use of the Console is bizarre, in the sense it isn't clear if I've got it set up correctly and how to temporarily disable it if I don't want it popping up a

  • I can say I don't do much Seti work because my computer is in the room I sleep in (dorm). Why should I leave it on? So I can watch a number count up?

    If someone made a plugin to some starmap software (like that one FOSS program) where, after a packet was completed, I could check out which part of the sky this packet referred to...then I could go "hey, my computer just determined that for the last year, there have been no signs of life in that solar system." Something to personalize it, make it more real, and
    • Re:Motivation (Score:3, Informative)

      by budgenator ( 254554 )
      What you want is TKSETI [freshmeat.net], it's a front-end for the client, start, stops, pauses on command and by schedule and has a starmap in it that'll show the locations in the sky of all the work units you have done while tkseti was running. It also keeps track of your top scores and will connect to seti@hmoe and tell you if your friends made official top users spikes or gaussians. I thought it was what made running seti at home fun. you need Tcl/TK and a seti cient to run it, but I don't know if it works with the new-
  • ...a inter stellar space faring civilization that would be able to visit us would not use lasers or radio waves to communicate. In order to travel that far of time and space they will need to find some sort of other method like worm holes or something else that gets around E=MC^2 limitations.

    Otherwise we'd be able to get a signal, but by the time we send a message back the other civilization could be dead and gone as well as us.
  • SETI has always barked up the wrong tree. Not because there are no intelligent races out there -- and I really do suspect there are -- but because if they are intelligent in a way that we would even recognize

    That's a very insightful critique. It was even better when I said it [slashdot.org] several hours earlier.


  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:04PM (#15630074) Homepage

    One big problem with SETI work is that it's looking for obsolete forms of radio. SETI@Home's algorithms should be able to detect an AM or FM signal. Maybe TDMA. CDMA, no way. OBIC, probably not. Digital HDTV, probably not. So we're looking for an advanced civilization that uses 1940s radio technology.

    Older radio technologies (AM audio, FM audio, analog TV (which is AM video, FM audio)) had a strong "carrier", a big sine wave component. Most of the RF power wasn't really carrying any information. But it was easy to detect the signal. Newer technologies look like noise unless you know what to look for. It's like listening to telephone modems; the data from modern modems just sounds like a hiss. It has the statistics of pure noise unless you know what to look for. Early, low-speed, modems sounded like beeps and warbles, and were easy to identify as modem signals.

    Remember, SETI@Home is looking for signals against a very noisy background. You could pick out an AM or FM carrier easily, because you can see it over a large number of cycles. There's a dumb, obvious redundancy in the carrier. But a modern noise-like RF signal against a noisy background is really hard to detect unless you know what you're looking for. If there's redundancy to get through the noise, it's probably more subtle, like data for forward error correction. To even detect that is tough.

    • Is there so much random noise out there? I mean, there is dark radiation at 3k, and there is some emission from sky bodies. None of those seem random to me.

      I guess that the hardest task while detecting an alien transmission on a modern pattern would be telling it apart from human transmissions. But there may be a way to do that.

  • The fold@home [stanford.edu] project is a thousand times more useful to society. Don't look for little green men until the native men, women, and children of this planet are leading healthy, decent lives.
  • I didn't respond on the original /. articel about it, because I thought: "Ah, what the heck, I'm not going to point out the obvious." But here it comes again, with all the same crap.

    In the original article, at the very beginning, it says:

    "Yes, it's true that even without the Seti@Home crowd bigfooting the world of distributed computing, we probably still would have incurable diseases and dangerous climate change. But we'd be a lot closer to solutions than we are now, don't you think?"

    Well, no, I do not thin
  • CPU is power (Score:4, Insightful)

    by btempleton ( 149110 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:07PM (#15630108) Homepage
    The CPU chip is the main draw of power now, and to help this they've worked hard to make the chip draw less power when its idling. It's not just wear and tear on the fan. In places with expensive electrictiy, like California, the power bill for a machine can be the most expensive component. The most extreme chips draw as much as 70w on full, I think, which is 600 kwh a year, at the incremental 19 cent cost in California that's over $100 per year.

    There is a terrible irony in the idea of people burning vast amounts of electricity like this in the effort to deal with global warming.
  • I stopped participating in Seti@home a few months after they switched to BOINC. I found that BOINC kept hanging my Windoze box and had to turn it off. Since most of the other distributed projects are also using BOINC, they don't get my cycles, either.

    Give me an interesting project and some software that doesn't crash my machine and I'll throw in a few cycles.
  • Does anyone know how to disable the user-quoting bullshit at the beginning of stories like this? It's really fucking annoying to have 4 pages of badly-quoted and out of context comment before I even get to the meat of the discussion. REALLY ANNOYING!
  • Let's try again... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by CODiNE ( 27417 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:26PM (#15630288) Homepage
    Last time we had this article I noticed many post strongly defensive for the use of SETI. However it could EASILY be argued that it's a complete waste of time. I'm not going to say "No intelligent person runs SETI" ;-) But I will say this again... it got me marked Troll before, but maybe kinder eyes will see it this time.

    Imagine instead of the article complained that most distributed computing computations were devoted to a wasted cause... SFAW. (Search For Angel Whispers) Now is it a little more understandable how those who don't share the same set of faith might feel SETI use is a huge loss of resources?
  • Boinc (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Wellington Grey ( 942717 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:27PM (#15630295) Homepage Journal
    I use Boinc, which lets me divide my time between a bunch of projects. I give about 99% of the time to medical research and 1% to SETI. I think of SETI as the lottery: it's fun to play, inspiring and would change my life if I won, but it's not worth spending a lot of time on. I spend just enough to be in the game.

    -Grey [wellingtongrey.net]
  • Duh..

    BOINC allows you to allocate all, some or none of your cycles to any of a number of projects. He's quite welcome NOT to contribute to seti@home if he does not want to, but to dump on other people because of THEIR beliefs don't match his beliefs is well.. goofy.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, BUT just because I can't PROVE flying pink elephants don't exist does not mean that they DO exist.

    Basically you can say absolutely NOTHING about which you have no information. So far we have no dat
  • Is nobody concerned anymore that all "those" clients are binary only ... I surely won't install such a thing: taking most cpu cycles, sending back and forth over the net and I don't have the source code.

    They defend it by saying, hacking would be too easy, but hacking is always easy ... To really defend: just distribute the same calculation to more people and take it in conideration if a certain number has the same answer ...
    • Is nobody concerned anymore that all "those" clients are binary only...

      SETI@home [berkeley.edu] is GPL. Has been for some time. BOINC [berkeley.edu] is LGPL. Has been for some time.

      Which are "those" clients that you are talking about?

  • Just because of this article, I think I'm going to go run SETI@ on all my servers and home desktops now.

  • For all of those who are attracted to participating in SETI@home, there is always YETI@Home [phobe.com] which deals with issues closer to, well, home.
  • Bastards... (Score:2, Funny)

    by PunkFloyd ( 817784 )
    I was a few weeks shy of reaching 10,000 units for SETI@home when the bastards did the switch to the BOINC model. I will never forgive them for that. I'll show them and not name my first born Seti.

    I've now decided just to power down my system and save the energy.
  • Go SETI (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chord.wav ( 599850 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:55PM (#15630649) Journal
    I choose SETI cause I feel (wich may not be true, but it's what I feel) that many of the others directly benefit greedy health corporations masked as foundations.
    I'm not going to give away my CPU cicles for free if they don't agree to donate the AIDS vaccine, or whatever, to mankind when they have it. Most probably they will sell it for a fortune.
  • by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Thursday June 29, 2006 @03:56PM (#15630665)

        At least not for me. I used to be pretty darn high in the SETI rankings, having quite a number of machines at my disposal. But after a lot of thought, I decided to shut off all of the clients for good.

        You see, consuming those extra tens of kilowatts means more pollution, and around here, more consumption of non-renewable resources. Between the low possibility of finding a remote signal, and the imminant possibility of crapping up the environment (MY environment, my local environment) long before anything could be done about the signal, I chose to try and keep this place clean.

        Not only do the CPUs consume less energy without being fully loaded, with cool-n-quiet, they can consume MUCH less. And the building AC runs less to keep the place cool. Now, does this make a huge difference? I don't know. I still drive to work each day - alone in my car, as there isn't a public transit option, and I don't work the same hours as anyone else, and I still run an air conditioner all day long to keep my house cool for me, the wife, kid, and dogs.

        I suppose that for a really good cause, like folding@home, I might feel alright about it. But for now, I like having the place quiet, and the electrical draw low.
  • ... the sum of all these high-minded "your DC project is misdirected fluff" arguments really point to getting all those wasted cycles back to the machines' typical prime missions.

    Which apparently are gaming and pr0n.
  • by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <ckratsch AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday June 29, 2006 @04:13PM (#15630895)
    First you want my CPU cycles, next you'll be trying to sap my precious bodily fluids!
  • The whole reason a lot of Mac clients dropped out a while back is because SETI officials REFUSED to update the client to take full advantage of the PowerPC G4 and its SIMD unit(s). What's the use of running a client that doesn't efficiently run on the system. It then becomes a waste of CPU time and power.

    Does anyone know if recent clients are _fully_ optimized for the PowerPC G4, PowerPC G5 (dual cpu and dual core), and Intel Macs (Universal Binary and dual core) ?
  • Enough people enjoy gardening that I'm hestitant to agree that it's a waste of time. It could well be a waste of money [amazon.com], however.
  • Well, in agreement with parts of the article, I have to second that some are a waste. I used to use Prime95. I even thought once I had a prime, though apprently not (I can only assume some hardware error creeped in there and it failed verification.) It always bugged me that I was decreasing the overall lifetime of my CPU just to find large prime numbers though. I suppose there may be some application for it out there, but, overall, it's just not worth much to the world when they find a new number. Even
  • I've contributed a lot of computing time to Seti@home, but I'm not doing it anymore. I did some for climate prediction, but now I'm pretty much just doing protein folding. Protein folding, to me, seems to be the best use of time.

    I'm more or less convinced SETI@Home will come up dry and have been so convinced since it began. That doesn't mean it's not worthy of computer cycles. It doesn't hurt to rule out possibilities. After doing some basic statistical analysis, though, it simply doesn't make sense for the
  • I think a great idea for a project is finding intelligence in Washington DC. We would need every available computer to achieve this result so start hacking today and get the alphabet agencies involved too. Seriously though,we do need to start looking for brains in our own backyards before we find any in outer space or whoever we find there "ain't gonna come over to play anyhow", and would likely get rid of us so we don't hurt them. Or maybe we could run a search for the best person to be president without t
  • by mstone ( 8523 ) on Friday June 30, 2006 @01:43AM (#15634343)
    Nobody seems to have looked at the basic economics of this whole thing.

    SETI@home exists because no company or government would fund computing resources on that scale for that project. If everyday people don't crunch the numbers in their spare time, nobody will. Therefore, the founders of the SETI@home project found a way to harness the power of the Long Tail efficiently.

    Medical research, OTOH, has a high expected payoff. If everyday people won't decidate CPU cycles to protein folding problems, drug companies will build their own clusters to handle the load.

    So on the one hand, we have a project that will either be done through the efficient aggregation of support from anyone who happens to feel like chipping in a few CPU cycles, or not at all. On the other hand, we have research that attracts both private and government funding, and will be done whether the general public decides to participate or not.

    Now comes Lee Gomes -- noted astrophysicist and expert on the allocation of computing resources -- to tell us that the SETI program should be abandoned. It's worthless, and anyone who supports it is wasting precious resources while people die.

    The entire article, from start to finish, is hard-packed bullshit, folks. It's only a small step removed from the 'Email/The Web/[Fill In The New Technology Here] Costs Business $N Billion In Lost Productivity Per Year' crap that comes out every 18 months or so. The methodology is exactly the same: point at something people time or energy doing, declare it 'nonproductive', then write a thoroughly unrealistic screed about how great the world could be if people devoted those resources to something 'useful'.

    It would take only a small extension of his reasoning to argue that all the CPU cycles 'wasted' on computer games should be devoted to 'important' medical research. One could take the same basic template and argue that Linux and F/OSS are a waste of time and effort: if all those coding resources were channeled into Microsoft's Shared Source program, they could be doing something worthwhile for the vast majority of people who use computers every day.

    The fact that the article was posted to Slashdot by a WSJ employee smacks of outright click-whoring. The article itself lacks any meaningful substance. It fails to raise any issue worthy of discussion. It merely defines millions of people as stupid and wasteful because they don't happen to share Lee Gomes's personal set of priorities. It's a long-winded example of hypothesis contrary to fact, with a disingenuous and insulting "not that I'm telling anyone what they should do" coda at the end.

...there can be no public or private virtue unless the foundation of action is the practice of truth. - George Jacob Holyoake