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E.T., you’re on your own!

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute (everyone knows to “… pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause there’s bugger all down here on earth“), a joint effort of SETI and the University of California-Berkeley‘s Radio Astronomy Lab, which uses an array of radio telescopes to search for extraterrestrial signals has been suspended for lack of funding, a spokesperson said today. The radio telescopes are located about 300 miles north of San Francisco, and the effort has been largely funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who gave more than $25 million to the project.

(An aside: if you would like to read Paul Allen’s discussion of how Bill Gates and Steve Balmer tried to “rip me <Allen> off,” you can get an “intro” on CNET, or read Allen’s book, Idea Man: A Memoir by the Cofounder of Microsoft. Those of us who lived/live in high tech will probably find NOTHING surprising about the tale. People who do are probably pretty naive, IMHO.)

The ANNUAL :-) state “budget crisis” in California and reduced federal dollars have deprived the project of funding, according to Karen Randall, SETI’s director of special projects. SETI put the Allen Telescope Array on hold about a week ago, as discussed by Franck Marchis, a principal investigator who does not work on the affected project, on his blog. SETI CEO Tom Pierson sent a letter on April 22 to donors to let them know that the array had been put into “hibernation” (“I’m sorry Dave….“) a safe state, maintained by a reduced staff, until a new funding cycle starts in 20113. That funding will cover the project until 2018.

The idea for construction of the array was conceived in 1997. Four years later, Paul Allen agreed to fund the venture, and 42 (“the answer to life, the universe, and everything”) antennas were constructed in Northern California‘s rural Cascade Mountains. Eventually, SETI plans to increase the number of “dish” antennas to 350.

Astronomer Jill Tartar, who is the current director of the Center for SETI Research, was the real-life inspiration for the character played by Jodie Foster in the 1997 movie, “Contact.”

Those of you in computer-related fields may remember that SETI was one of the early projects in distributed computing, a technique used by many projects, for good and evil, since.

Awhile ago, I tried to log in to the SETI app on my Macintosh, which I installed a long, long time ago. Eventually, I recalled my userid and password from that time.

-Bill at

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