Monday, December 07, 2009

“He Searched for UFOs, Aliens and Creatures From Outer Space”

SETI at Home
SETI: a week to forget

By Bill Cox
De Void
12-3-09

Billy COx     Gotta love the coverage of the guy who got canned this week for running Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence software at work. De Void is imagining the heads of the nation’s radioastronomers bursting like Roland Emmerich volcanoes.

Context: SETI buffs tend to hate UFOs. UFOs are slummin’. Boogers. Toilet paper matted to the heels of leather Guccis. For decades, politicians and rationalist hacks of varying pedigree employed UFOs to pound and pummel SETI believers as they struggled to make the idea of listening for ET radio frequencies palatable to mainstream science and culture.

Today, having steered the conversation as far as possible from UFOs and little green men, SETI projects have been supported by the likes of NASA, the National Science Foundation, Hewlett Packard, etc. Ten years ago, the SETI Institute in California asked the public to help find that elusive signal. It unveiled downloadable software — SETI@home — that home computers could use to sift through a crush of cosmic static stashed in its databanks.

OK. Now:

One of the guys who accepted the challenge was Brad Niesluchowski, a tech supervisor for a school district in Gilbert, Ariz. Without informing anyone, roughly 10 years ago, Niesluchowski evidently installed SETI@home in thousands of school computers. Electric bills started inching upwards, computer systems started bogging down and, well, the dude got busted this week. And the spit hit the fan.

“He searched for UFOs, aliens and creatures from outer space,” announced KPHO.com, whose logo is “Telling It Like It Is.”

“He’s accused,” blared NBC-2, “of wasting district resources totaling more than a million dollars to search for UFOs.”

YOW-za! Then, horrified district soop Denise Birdwell felt compelled to shower off. “We support educational research and certainly would have supported cancer research,” she said. “However, as an educational institution we do not support the search for ET.”

Niesluchowski resigned and may face criminal charges, amid suggestions of other irregularities. But who cares? Dominant image: SETI@home — rejected by an educational institution. The future of America. A shiver of loose plaster and dust, chunks of the ceiling like falling bombs, a wall collapses, burning beams block the doorway, a hoary old radioastronomer on his knees, flinging his hands skyward, wailing at gods with deaf ears: “Why? Whyyy? We’ve worked so haaard!”

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