01 Feb. 2009
SETI League
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I don't blog for a living.  Although this blog seems interminable, and hopefully it will not terminate any sooner than I do, I have other activities in my alleged life.  Most obviously, I spend my time waiting for the electricity to fail so I can run to the garage and plug in my Prius for house power.  But even that doesn't consume all my time!  Between evaluating (and occasionally repairing) pastries, staying on the alert for errant zombies, neologizing, lesnerizing, and trying to avoid falling snarge, I try to eke out a meager living at my place of striving, offer free advice to people who are happier than I am, and, of course, try to find space aliens.  Oddly enough, I have been successful at all these endeavors except for the last.  I have found no space aliens despite my 15 years of being involved in the Search.  And yet, despite this failure, I am

Not Discouraged.

Am I an idiot, having spent 15 years and many dollars involved with the SETI League, one of the few organizations whose mission it is to discover extraterrestrial intelligence?  No!  At least not for that reason.  When NASA dropped SETI by Congressional fiat, a number of groups leapt into the breach.  The SETI League, of which I have the pleasure of being the founder, was one of them.  Our existence began in 1994, a fact of which I have been reminded several times by the companies that offer anniversary stickers! 

Looking back over those fifteen years, I have a number of memories.  Included in the memories are a dinner at an AAAS convention where all the SETI scientists were present.  Frank Drake was there, the originator of the famous Drake equation and the first person to actually look for an ET message.  So were Jill Tarter and Kent Cullers and the usual host of others.  Of course that's not "all" but it sure seemed that way to this neophyte.  I had the opportunity to visit the Arecibo observatory while the SETI Institute's Project Phoenix was under way.  The observation was scheduled for late at night, and I stayed up long enough to watch the computer programs parse some random noise.  It would certainly have been a stunning coincidence to just happen to receive a message that night.  No such luck; I repaired to my "visiting scientist"(!) cabin after a couple of hours.

I remember attending several of the SETI League's "SETICon" meetings, organized by our now-volunteer executive director, Paul Shuch.  I even delivered a "paper" about gravitational lensing, a subject which I believe I can at least pronounce correctly, and finding that scientist and mathematician Claudio Maccone thought enough of it to incorporate it in one of his books.  And I remember those heady days of the late '90s and early oh-ohs during which the SETI League was well funded, both with contributions from flush foundations and individuals, and by the overnight doubling of our ranks as new members were inspired after seeing the movie Contact.  (An asideif you saw it, you might have noticed Jody Foster manipulating the controls of an Eventide DSP4000 Harmonizer while tuning in the Message.)  But most importantly, I remember a number of earnest SETI League members doing what I had hoped all along would be accomplished when I envisioned the organization:  setting up their own observing station and searching for that elusive signal. 

They haven't found it.  Despite a massive search by other SETI groups as well, nobody has found it.  Why, then, am I not discouraged?  15 years is a pretty substantial life fraction, and I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't at least disappointed.  But despite the Fermi Paradox, despite the Unique Earth naysayers, despite even my speculation about the Nirbs, I am encouraged that success is around the corner.  Every year our search capability increases.  Every year we learn more about the universe and cosmology.  And, I hope, that SETI League members are even now, with or without their small dishes and inexpensive hardware, thinking about the problem as innovative amateurs usually do.  Will the big guys make the Discovery?  Will we, the little guys?  And how soon?  I have no prediction - "the corner" could be anywhen.

The section above has been printed with minor changes in the SETI League annual report.  Surely you didn't think I'd write something and not use it as a blog, did you?  Remember the Law of Conservation of Text!

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