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SETI@Home Install Leads To School Tech Supervisor's Resignation 621

Posted by timothy
from the totally-worth-it dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Apparently the most prolific of users in the SETI@Home community has resigned his job as a school technology supervisor after it was revealed he had the software installed on some 5000 school machines. The school claims to have lost $1 million in upkeep on the affected machines."
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SETI@Home Install Leads To School Tech Supervisor's Resignation

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  • Well, no. Those weren't his machines. Had he been fired for running it on his own PC it would be different.

    • Re:Commendable... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:49PM (#30302134) Homepage
      They were his machines to configure, as a technology supervisor. It's not like he hacked into the machines in the dark of night to set things up on the sly. Sure, his configuration may have been a failure as far as the business needs of the school system were concerned, but when TFA is claiming "there may be charges filed!!" ...

      Look, kids, it's a 1-million-dollar civics lesson. "Screw up in county-level government, and we'll sic the cops on you and paint you up as a UFO-worshipping freak or something." Uh-huh. And they wonder why the school systems of the nation can't hire anyone competent.

      • Re:Commendable... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) * on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:57PM (#30302322) Homepage Journal

        I agree, filing charges was way out of line. His only real mistake was not asking permission, and getting that permission in writing.

        • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Informative)

          by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:23PM (#30302816)

          I agree, filing charges was way out of line. His only real mistake was not asking permission, and getting that permission in writing.

          Well, that, and lying about removing the software when the problems caused by it came to light and he was ordered by previous administrators to remove it.
          ...and downloading pornography using school computers.
          ...and, on top of all that, generally not doing the job he was hired to do.

          At least, that's what he is being accused of, according to this more complete article on the story [eastvalleytribune.com].

          SETI@Home is not the only issue here.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Yes, but it was *alien* pornography. I don't think there are any applicable Earth laws..

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by marcansoft (727665)

            I'd say neither article is any good. TFA is very scarce on details and put too much emphasis on "looking for ET", while yours has some pretty silly claims. The picture of the lack of cable management is rather unremarkable (sure, it could be improved, but it's hardly a huge mess: most of the wiring looks fine, it's just that large bundle to that one switch with lots of extra wire hanging down), and the "firewall" story is bull (SETI@home probably requires a hole out, not in, which already suggests that the

      • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by caffeinemessiah (918089) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:59PM (#30302368) Journal

        They were his machines to configure, as a technology supervisor. It's not like he hacked into the machines in the dark of night to set things up on the sly. Sure, his configuration may have been a failure as far as the business needs of the school system were concerned, but when TFA is claiming "there may be charges filed!!"

        Actually, I think it falls pretty squarely under most States' ethics laws as a violation. If I set up a Bittorent tracker using government computers, then I'm using bandwidth inappropriately, which violates ethics laws. This guy set up a SETI account in his own name, for whatever joy he gets from being at the top of SETI crunch lists, and used government-paid electricity for his own purposes. Over 5,000 computers with say (conservatively) 200W PSUs, that's not an insignificant amount of electricity/dollars. If my tax dollars went into it, I'd be kinda pissed (mainly because I'd prefer donating cycles to Folding@Home, but that's another story).

        A little silly? Perhaps, but judging the degree of his "ethics violation" and the subsequent consequences is the job of a judge or jury. The fact that an "ethics violation" that breaks an ethics law has been committed isn't really debatable.

        • Re:Commendable... (Score:4, Insightful)

          by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:13PM (#30302652) Homepage
          The difference between SETI and your private bittorrent tracker is that SETI is fairly easily related to topics in science and education.

          Really, I think the people of Arizona would be better off if the school district officials were less interested in making a big showy news article about UFOs and filing criminal charges and dragging the legal system into things (and spending money on lawyers and courts and such) and more interested in just running the system effectively (let the guy go, quietly, and leave it at that). The world is a better place for everyone when we leave the legal system as a last resort. Of course, since these are officials in government service, let's ignore sense and guess which move will do more to further their career - the showy one, or the one that makes sense?

        • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by pla (258480) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:27PM (#30302888) Journal
          Actually, I think it falls pretty squarely under most States' ethics laws as a violation.

          I doubt most organization's ethics rules would cover this - Particularly since he had the authority to determine how he wanted to configure each machine, and in no way profited from his actions. As for the cost of electricity (I think we can safely write the rest of the claims of "accelerated hardware depreciation" off as complete BS, talkin' about school lab computers, not a datacenter here), although he really should have considered that, I wouldn't call it beyond the realm of possibility that he simply didn't. Keep in mind he started doing this before self-throttling CPUs became popular, meaning it made next to no difference in power consumption whether you kept your CPU idle or pegged at 100%.


          If I set up a Bittorent tracker using government computers, then I'm using bandwidth inappropriately, which violates ethics laws.

          Although most organizations actually do have rules specifically relating to network use (as opposed to what screensavers you may run, about which I've never seen anything more than "no porn walpaper/screensavers/themes"), in the absence thereof and depending on the terms of internet connection, I would arguably call that less abusive. If you have a flat fee for a fixed bandwidth, and limited your use to legitimate works (ie, no porn or copyright violations) and made sure it never interfered with legitimate traffic, such use costs the organization literally nothing. But... Beside the point.

          I will further defend this guy for having school-owned hardware at his house - Schools and local governments rarely have proper procedures in place for EOL'ing older computers. I personally had two from a local college that technically would have counted as "stolen property" if it ever came up, but I had obtained them by as close to kosher means as possible (the guy in charge of their computer labs, the father of a friend, had literally hundreds of decommissioned PCs piled floor to ceiling in a storage area and begged anyone who dropped by to take a few). So if he had a dozen brand new quad-core boxes the district didn't even know they bought, okay, problem; If he had a collection of P4s and 32-bit Athlons in various states of disrepair, I'd have a hard time returning a guilty verdict on that jury.

          Personally, the fact that they let him resign makes me wonder about the truth of the issue. Given the facts as stated - Generally abusing the hell out of his authority, outright failing to do his job, and stealing from the school - I find it mind-boggling that they wouldn't have him arrested and fired for cause, never mind the "spend more time with his family" line.
          • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudson@NOSpAM.barbara-hudson.com> on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @06:19PM (#30303916) Journal

            From the comments in this article [eastvalleytribune.com] (thanks to this post) [slashdot.org] from people who are there, it sounds like a real hatchet job.

            Salient points:

            • The computers were configured to run 24/7 by school policy. A previous attempt to get them to run only from 6am to 6pm was met with "you're not allowed to do that" by the school board, even though it was explained that it would save $90k per annum in electricity.
            • The $$$ quoted are to fix the infrastructure problems - including needing a new building - not the "damage" that was done.
            • The photo supposedly showing "bad cable management" is abut what you'd expect - it's not like schools are going to make spending money on cable management and wiring closets a high priority - this is what happens to systems that grow over the period of a decade with management saying "here's some more stuff - make it work" rather than "here's the funds and the plan on how we want this rolled out over the long term". So yes, they now say they're going to need a couple of hundred dollars a computer to "fix" a decades' worth of "just make it work".
            • Other staff have quit or been forced out
            • The timing of all this seems to have been motivated more by school district politics than anything else
            • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by tyllwin (513130) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @06:38PM (#30304220)

              Christ, I want to upmod you.

              My wiring looks like this. And for the exact same reasons: No, we can't have the downtime to move any wiring around, no we can't take the time to pull those old cables, we don't have time/money to order cables, use the wrong length cause that's what's on hand, it needs to be in production today/it's unfunded, for cable management you can use all the zip ties and velcro that you can scrounge, and multiply it all by ten years. And now they want to use it as evidence that the guy is incompetent or even criminal? Because he hasn't had the backing to incur costs and downtimes for neatness? Because he lacked the pull to make them build buildings and buy new infrastructure?

              And, knowing that he's getting unfairly accused on these counts makes me mistrust the remaining accusations as well.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Falconhell (1289630)

            I work at schools myself and have lots of old school gear at home, and scattered all around the place. I often take stuff home to work on, and such is common practice for my coleagues.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by DragonWriter (970822)

            I doubt most organization's ethics rules would cover this - Particularly since he had the authority to determine how he wanted to configure each machine

            That remains in doubt. The tech supervisor at issue probably had that authority assuming no specific instruction was received from above, but the more detailed news articles on the case relate that the district position is that this came to the attention of a prior administrator, who provided specific direction to remove the software, following which the tec

        • by bussdriver (620565)

          Does ANYBODY ever fairly calculate damages? Sometimes one has to wonder how they calculate these numbers they pull out...

          SETI costs will not be as high as the legal burden on the system; sure the FA was missing some of the details but having seen some college IT workers who largely come from the student population and few stick around-- it doesn't surprise me they'd have some issues. Some of the top guys are just the kids who didn't leave.

          As far as porn on a staff computer-- don't get me started. I'd say th

      • by Tynin (634655) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:08PM (#30302544)
        I almost lost my job when I was working in a NOC at a previous company. I was in charge of maintaining the monitoring and the machines that ran them. Really, these were workstations that were connected to a handful of monitors, all with webpages up that would refresh once a minute, they were not the servers that were running our actual monitoring software (firehunter, whatsup, big brother, etc) so since they were just running a few browsers they were never under any load. So I tossed SETI@Home on all these workstations, that no one uses, that just display browser windows, and it was all fine for several months.

        One day I came to work, and my boss was breathless (I wished physically, not just literally), he couldn't figure out why all these boxes were all running at 100% CPU. After several hours (he was SOOO slow) he figured out it was SETI. He tried in vain to prove it was me, I wasn't going to admit it, I knew that between him and HR they would hang me, over at best the theft of some company power (which is stupid because every linux admin had super shiny screensavers that their computers couldn't quite handle, and they had to be running at 100% util for 16+ hours each day once they went home). It's been a while since I've ran SETI, but what I recall is he could have figured out it was me if he knew to check the ID it was uploading the results under, then went to SETI's site and check the ID, which would have at least pointed him to the name Tynin, which since my personal email address uses tynin in it, it should have been the nail in my coffin. Luckly, he was incompetent, and missed that detail, and I sail past what would have been one of the more silly disasters of my life.

        If you are reading this Ed, please know your staff will celebrate the day you die, pizza and beer in the hallways!
        • by Ed.the.Manager (1691672) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:28PM (#30302894)

          Luckly, he was incompetent, and missed that detail, and I sail past what would have been one of the more silly disasters of my life. If you are reading this Ed, please know your staff will celebrate the day you die, pizza and beer in the hallways!

          Why you dirty son of a %$#& Ty, you'll pay for this! I knew it was you! No more pizza and beer for anyone or you're all fired!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        And they wonder why the school systems of the nation can't hire anyone competent.

        I'd like to add that a competent sysadmin would do his best to keep costs to a bare minimum, and that includes things like buying the lowest-power CPUs that can get the job done, sticking to the job's specifications for software, cycling computers into powersave when idle, and -- in a school environment -- switching the damn things off at night, when very few people have legitimate reasons to use them.

        Treating your work computers as your personal playground to install random stuff on to amuse yourself is

        • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Jezza (39441) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:34PM (#30303022)

          Buying the lowest-power CPUs?! Are you absolutely sure about that? This seems like REALLY bad advice. Needs always rise (ALWAYS) to what "gets the job done" today won't tomorrow. This advice is a crock of ****, always was. You want to be efficient? Buy systems from the middle, not the slowest, and not the fastest. The middle is usually the right choice. The slow ones will have short lives (and replacing machines is expensive - not just in machine costs) the fastest machines cost a fortune (and there is always diminishing returns at the top end).

          Now like all rules, it's there to be broken. If you don't expect the system to have a long life - consider cheaper (typical examples are harsh environments). If replacing the system is really expensive (because downtime is a problem, expensive specialists are required whatever) then consider something more expensive.

          But always buying the cheapest is just bad advice.

        • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Matheus (586080) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:53PM (#30303442) Homepage

          RTFA It says in the article that "the software was authorized by a previous administration". He did ask (supposedly) and was allowed.

          By running all of the school machines at 100% load the school used more power and network then they would have otherwise and so this situation did "cost" them. The fact that he was given approval will probably shield him from any legal action regardless of the 'change of administration'. Where they got the $1M number I'm guessing is straight out of their posteriors but who knows over 10 years what the real delta probably was.. they are just laying the groundwork for a potential lawsuit, restitution or just a cooler news headline.

          My favorite part of the article is the fact his wife sounds like she thought he was *directly spending all of his time at work searching for aliens. He should probably tell his wife how his fleet of software toys work. Gave me a good chuckle which is always worth the article read.

    • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by commodore64_love (1445365) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:02PM (#30302434) Journal

      On the other hand, his contract never said he wasn't able to run these types of background calculation programs. Even superintendent Denise Birdwell admitted, "We support educational research and certainly would have supported cancer research." So the issue is not the installation of the program, which would have been okay if the technician had installed Cancer@Home instead.

      Furthermore Birdwell said the massive software cost the district more than $1 million in added utility fees and computer replacement parts. How did he arrive at this 1 million dollar figure? Can he produce actual calculations derived from collected data, or did he just pull the number from his nether region?

      I would not resign.

      I'd tell them, "Sorry I'll uninstall everything," and if they chose to fire me then I'd drag Mr. Birdwell into court to provide proof before a judge that I actually cost the school 1 million in damages. If they can't then it would be unjustified dismissal, and in violation of multiple employee-protection laws that exist when you work for a state government.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sandbags (964742)

        OK, assuming the district had a policy in place to shutdown unneeded systems at night, and assuming he instead configured SETI to run all night, they yes, there would have been a significant power draw. Or, if he had SETI set to run at 100% and prevent idle modes, perhaps (assuming all the PCs supported a low power state). If it doesn't support sleep states (most computers in 2003 didn't, or were not configured for it if they did) then on is on and off/sleep is off, than that's about the only differences.

      • So the issue is not the installation of the program, which would have been okay if the technician had installed Cancer@Home instead.

        Anybody wants Cancer@home?

      • Re:Commendable... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:53PM (#30303448)

        I would not resign. I'd tell them, "Sorry I'll uninstall everything,"

        According to the more complete article [eastvalleytribune.com] on the story, "Former administrators, including former superintendent Joyce Lutrey, knew about the software and told Niesluchowski to remove it" and "[h]e assured them he had removed it". So, I'm guessing, that's why "I'm sorry and I'll remove it now" wouldn't have been an adequate response, even if SETI@Home was the only problem issue, and there wasn't the porn issue, and the issue of the school equipment at his house apparently being used in his home-based business.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I'd tell them, "Sorry I'll uninstall everything,"

        Apparently, he told them that the first time he was caught. And then didn't bother to actually uninstall anything.

      • I would not resign.

        I'd tell them, "Sorry I'll uninstall everything," and if they chose to fire me then I'd drag Mr. Birdwell into court to provide proof before a judge that I actually cost the school 1 million in damages. If they can't then it would be unjustified dismissal, and in violation of multiple employee-protection laws that exist when you work for a state government.

        If he also took home 18 computers for his own personal use and was downloading porn as claimed, I don't think that'd stand up in court

  • So, he configures the systems wrong and costs the school system money from electricity... sure, fire him or something if you must. I mean, you could have also just said "take it off", I'm sure he would have complied and it wouldn't have been any further problem and you'd save yourselves the cost of finding a replacement ...

    But the "criminal charges" alluded to by the article would be ridiculous.

  • Oops (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wamerocity (1106155) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:45PM (#30302060) Journal
    I did this at my brothers company too. I thought that the program "ran on minimal resources" while the computers were being used. But shortly after installing them on a dozen programs, everyone was complaining about how slow their computers were, so I had to covertly remove them to hide the true reason why they were slow. Lesson learned. At least it didn't cost me my job.
    • Re:Oops (Score:4, Informative)

      by wamerocity (1106155) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:46PM (#30302080) Journal
      Correction: I did this with FOLDING@home, not SETI. I think SETI isn't as useful.
    • by speculatrix (678524) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:14PM (#30302694)
      I used to set up dnetc on many machines, it caused the machines to run flat-out all the time, using more electricity as well as more cooling. Whilst it did only use up otherwise unused CPU cycles, it definitely had an impact on performance for higher priority processes. Modern CPUs run very fast and depend on their caches to maintain performance, and any context switching and loading other apps, even small ones, eats up memory bandwidth as well as CPU cycles. I think this goes relatively unnoticed as most people naively count CPU cycle ratios between processes.

      At work we have a large number of dual CPU/eight-core (16 with HT) machines with 24, 32 or 36GB running java VMs, and we notice there's a very big hit on performance if we try and run more than a few VMs on a machine, almost certainly due to loss of cache efficiency; this performance loss doesn't particularly show up in simply looking for CPU cycles used by the OS!
    • I know why (Score:4, Interesting)

      by The Rizz (1319) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @09:50PM (#30306482)

      I'll bet that you were running it on some of the older P4 machines with HyperThreading. If you have HT turned on, idle processing will NEVER work right under Windows, and it will cause the types of slowdowns you saw. (I experienced the exact same thing with Folding@home when I installed it on a P4 w/ HT.)

      Here's why: Hyperthreading uses a single core, but presents itself to the OS as multiple processors. If you run power-hungry software that uses 100% of the CPU time, it actually shows up to Windows as using 50% time on two processors. Add in something that runs in idle mode (like the @home programs), and they see 50% unused processor time - so they go ahead and fill up that other 50% - which puts the processor's ACTUAL usage to 200% - causing everything to run at half speed.

      Yes, this is an over-simplified and not-exactly-right explanation, but it's close enough to the observed reality to suffice.

      In any case, turn off hyperthreading and run it again, and you'll have no, or very little, slowdown.

  • That works out to about $200 per machine. In what, electricity from no CPU idle?

    Other than that, I don't see where S@H costs any more on a system than the resource hog called "Windows Vista".
    • by cjfs (1253208)

      That works out to about $200 per machine. In what, electricity from no CPU idle?

      Birdwell said the massive software slowed down educational programs in every classroom and cost the district more than $1 million in added utility fees and computer replacement parts.

    • by bzzfzz (1542813) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:52PM (#30302206)
      40 watts x 24 hours x 365 days x 10 years x 5000 machines x $.06 /kwh = $1,051,200
    • by MartijnL (785261) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:53PM (#30302228)
      Yes, because those CPU's are now running 100% load all the time. So no speedstepping down to a couple of hundred Mhz and saving power that way (which can be a lot). Plus he probably left them running 24x7.
    • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:57PM (#30302328)

      It actually does use more power running the CPU full throttle vs idle. The rule of thumb I learned was a buck a watt per year. By which $200 sounds nuts. School PCs do not have 200W worth of CPU in them.

      But..oh, over 10 years. That's $20/year/system. Very plausible.

      This guy learned the following lesson the hard way: Systems you manage are not yours. They are your employers. The potentially mitigating factor here from TFA, is that he claims he had permission. If so, whoever granted permission should be fired. $1m is real money, especially if you're a school district.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sloppy (14984)

      Let's say (pulling number out of ass) being busy vs idle uses an additional 25 Watts. They're saying it happened over 9 years. 25*24*365*9/1000 = 1971 KiloWatt Hours per machine. At $0.10 per KWH, that's a match. So then we fight over whether it's really a 25 Watt difference, really happened for 9 years, what the school actually pays per KWH, etc.

  • From TFA: "Gilbert police are now involved in the investigation and criminal charges may be filed." How is this criminal? He had legitimate access. What's special about the scale? If someone ran a single instance of SETI@home on the PC on their desk, would that be criminal?
  • I heard this story on NPR this morning.

    He probably shouldn't simply be installing software that isn't essential to his work function on machines that he does not own.

    I also heard on NPR that they found lots of equipment that belonged to the school at his residence. The criminal charges probably stem from that and not just for installing SETI@Home (haven't read the TFA so just speculating).
    • by TomXP411 (860000) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:11PM (#30302616)

      The other article linked here really should be in the story: Higley firing tied to alien-search software [azcentral.com]. This one makes it pretty clear that the guy was fired because he's a bad employee and a lousy manager, not because he wants to find aliens.

      Quite frankly, it's a little annoying that the OP's story only mentions "ET". That's irresponsible reporting, and it's why newspapers are folding all over the country; when your reporters can't even write a proper, coherent, unbiased story, people go elsewhere for their news.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ArsenneLupin (766289)

      I also heard on NPR that they found lots of equipment that belonged to the school at his residence.

      This is quite common practice in lots of schools. Maybe the guy wanted to investigate problems with the computer or install new needed software in the comfort of his home?

      Of course, the bitch that wants to fire him in order to put her own crony into his position isn't going to tell that to the media...

  • And not a single alien to show for it!
  • by bzzfzz (1542813) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:49PM (#30302140)
    Only a school district or the government could have taken 10 years to find a CPU hog running on 5,000 computers.
  • by cjfs (1253208) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:51PM (#30302182) Homepage Journal
    We just all went up a spot!
  • Only 5000 machines and they want to pay $1000000 to uninstall the software. Good grief, I'll do it for 3/4ths of that, maybe even a half! Hell, I'll even pay my on airfare!
  • AUP? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by flogger (524072) <non@nonegiven> on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @04:54PM (#30302254) Journal
    Most businesses or schools will have an Acceptable Use Policy. To paraphrase the AUP where I work, A person must have permission to install 3rd party software. This permission must come from building administration or Tech Department administration. If Joe Employee installs Seti without permission, that could be cause for termination. If I install Seti in my buildings' computers, it will be because I gave myself permission to do so. (Which I have, so I did.)

    However, this case seems to be with a difference of opinion. Ftfa: '"We support educational research and certainly would have supported cancer research," said Higley superintendent Denise Birdwell. "However, as an educational institution we do not support the search for E.T."'

    This is why the Tenure system was instituted. To prevent dismissals due to political or idealogical reasons. To say he would allow protein folding but not seti is asinine. When I decided between the two, I figured that finding ET would have a greater impact on society that a cure for cancer. Who knows, maybe ET will be able to help us cure diseases while curing diseases will not help us find ET.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kagato (116051)

      He was likely in charge of writing the AUP.

    • Re:AUP? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:09PM (#30305586)

      This is why the Tenure system was instituted. To prevent dismissals due to political or idealogical reasons.

      I'd say it's more along the lines of preventing dismissals for reasons of gross incompetence.

    • Re:AUP? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Eil (82413) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @10:29PM (#30306770) Homepage Journal

      The thing that has always bugged me about SETI is that after decades of scientifically-rigorous research, nothing has been found yet to even hint at the existence of extraterrestrial life as we define it. If we never find E.T., it may be because our definition of "life" is too narrow, or because there's really nothing else out there other than stars, black holes, and other mundane phenomena. It doesn't matter. Putting your own personal time and resources into SETI is like playing an intergalactic lottery: the payoff is mind-bogglingly huge, but the chance is winning is mind-bogglingly small. (I could expound upon the lottery analogy to further discuss why SETI is so attractive from a psychological perspective, but I think you get the point.)

      If SETI@Home were the only thing out there that I could put my unused cycles towards processing, I might go for it. But the fact is that there are plenty of other distributed computing projects that are generating data which is useful to scientists (and by extension, everyone) right now.

      They're just not quite as glamorous as finding E.T.

  • by bigbigbison (104532) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:00PM (#30302380) Homepage
    A better article starts:

    A longtime Higley Unified School District information technology director has lost his job and is under police investigation for taking computers home, downloading pornography and installing computer software throughout the district that searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.

    http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/story/147847 [eastvalleytribune.com]

  • by bobdotorg (598873) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:17PM (#30302736)

    Higley superintendent Denise Birdwell does not in fact welcome our new extra terrestrial overlords.

  • baaaaloney (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:18PM (#30302744)

    Birdwell said the massive software slowed down educational programs in every classroom and cost the district more than $1 million in added utility fees and computer replacement parts.

    Well, actually -- they claimed $1.2--1.6 million.

    The software is designed to run at the lowest priority, idle. It takes up 16-50MB of RAM while running. Given that most school labs only run web browsers, office applications, and low-quality educational games, I doubt the systems were running out of memory. Antivirus apps take up a lot more than that, as to most web browsers. So on the charge of "slowing down education programs in every classroom" -- no.

    Regarding computer replacement parts -- not really. Those machines are going to sit there no matter what, and they will fail at the same rates regardless of what software is running on them. OTOH, if they were running 24/7 and that was being done only so SETI@Home could run, then yes -- replacement costs of fans and harddrives would have gone up.

    Regarding utility costs -- they might have a point on this one.

    Bandwidth: Each SETI@Home work unit is about 0.25MB in size, padded to about 0.30MB with overhead they add to it. There aren't any stats I could find readily available online for how much network overhead is added to this, but let's say 0.35MB of bandwidth is used. Unfortunately, there's no way for us to know how much processor power is available -- so I'm going to take an estimated guess and say about 5 hours per work unit. That seems to be in the ballpark from what I've read online. So I'm going to round up to an even 2MB per computer, per day. He installed the software onto about 5,000 computers. That works out then to 9.7GB per day. Or about 294.2GB per month (remember, 4.33- weeks in an average month). That might add up to, I don't know, a few hundred extra a month if they had a leased line and a poor contract. But it's paltry in comparison to the electricity costs.

    How much power does the average computer take? Answer [techreviewer.com]. I'm going to say 80watts is pretty close. Again, just working with averages here and trying to get a ballpark figure. To convert this to a usable cost figure, we need to use these formulas: Watts=Amps*Volts Cost per hour= (Watts/1000)*(cents). Cents being the per kWh cost. This guy did this in Arizona, and conveniently enough, we know what the average kWh cost in that state [doe.gov] is: It's 10.4 right now. So, each computer, per day, uses 1.92 kWh of juice, if it runs 24/7. If they were programmed to go to standby during that time and didn't -- we'll say 16 hours of that day, or 1.27kWh, went to SETI@Home beyond what those computers would have spent otherwise. This doesn't take into consideration holidays, weekends, or anything else... Someone else could probably create a much better estimate than this without too much work, but I'm in a hurry and this is slashdot. 5,000 computers use 6,350kWh of extra juice per day doing Seti@Home, when they could have been powered off. That means $660.40 per day was being spent keeping these computers powered up. That comes to just over $20 grand a month in electricity costs.

    So, yeah... over the course of about four years, the costs could hit over a million dollars.

    • Re:baaaaloney (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Sabriel (134364) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @08:31PM (#30305830)
      I've read claims that the school policy was to keep the machines on 24/7 and the tech department's proposal to automate shutting down the machines overnight (to the tune of saving $90K/year) was rejected. If that's true, the school is standing on one foot (having shot themselves in the other).
  • SETI (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Windwraith (932426) on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:31PM (#30302964)

    I don't intend to troll but to get a response.
    Seriously, I don't believe in aliens beyond movies, and I don't understand the interest about this program. I'd like to know why would someone install this, can some users tell me about it?
    (But please no conspiracies)

    • Re:SETI (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @06:00PM (#30303548)
      I don't intend to troll but to get a response.
      Seriously, I don't believe in God beyond the movies, and I don't understand the interest about religion. I'd like to know why would someone go to church, can some god-people tell me about it?
      (But please no conspiracies)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Randle_Revar (229304)

      It has nothing to do with conspiracies and everything to do with science (I support SETI, but I don't believe that aliens have visited Earth or anything. I don't even believe aliens exist, I just believe they might exist).

      There isn't any reason there couldn't be aliens out there, and if there are, one of the best ways we know of to find evidence of them is to look for their radio signals (either for their own use, or that they intentionally broadcast in order to be found). SETI ran for many years from Areci

  • by SwedishChef (69313) <[craig] [at] [networkessentials.net]> on Wednesday December 02, 2009 @05:50PM (#30303372) Homepage Journal

    I don't know all the details of this but a decade or so ago I was a (volunteer) administrator of the IT system at our local rural school district. Sometimes I'd take computers home to install software so I could play with the kids while the software installed instead of sitting on my ass (for free) at the (empty) school and do it. Besides, they locked the schools up and wouldn't give me a key.

    I discovered that the kids could find porn so used a proxy and some regexp filters to try to keep porn at bay. But it turned out that the kids could find porn faster than I could block it so I started grepping the logs for the seven bad words you can't say on television and then adding those sites. Then I started making headway. The HS math teacher was involved in this too. We'd see a suspicious site in the log, check the site for content and if it was porn we'd block it using a regexp expression. Simple and cheap.

    But that took time... so I'd add them at home remotely (everything, including the routers, was on Linux boxes that I built and installed) but the teacher who was helping was observed after working hours going through thi process. Unfortunately the person watching thought the teacher was surfing porn (instead of checking sites for content) and turned him in. Quite the brouhaha. One parent was incensed that we used the students to "find porn". Good grief!!!

    That incident very nearly cost the teacher his job but I attended the school board meeting that addressed the issue and explained what we were doing and why (no money in the budget for servers, software, etc.). The teacher kept his job and we got to buy some blocking software to work with the proxy and I didn't have to spend an hour every night checking logs. One problem solved.

    The administrator in this particular case probably faced some of the same issues as I did. So they found school property at his house (they would have at mine too) and are investigating him for downloading porn (they would have probably done the same to me). I think getting the cops after him was overkill.

    $1M in expenses for running SETI is ridiculous. However according to the newspaper report from his home town he was instructed by a former school district administrator to remove the software and did not. Of course, that admin might just be trying to cover his own ass. But at least someone knew SETI was on those boxes prior to the new Superintendent taking office.

  • Flamebait (Score:4, Funny)

    by TRRosen (720617) on Thursday December 03, 2009 @03:20AM (#30308158)

    Has to be said

    When will they start firing administrators for installing Windows!?

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