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SETI@home Project Responds To School Firing 295

Posted by Soulskill
from the correcting-dim-reporters dept.
SETIGuy writes "SETI@home Project Scientist Eric Korpela has responded to many of the allegations made by Higley Unified School District administrator Denise Birdwell regarding the difficulties caused by the installation of SETI@home, which led to the recent firing of the school's technology supervisor. One of the project's founders, David Gedye, takes issue with Dr. Birdwell's claim that 'an educational institution ... cannot support the search for E.T.' Meanwhile, the fired supervisor denies misusing school computers."
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SETI@home Project Responds To School Firing

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:07PM (#30332198)

    Who knew leaving a bank of computers on 24/7 costs money?

    • "Who knew leaving a bank of computers on 24/7 costs money?"

      It doesn't. It saves money. Computer failures are much more likely as a result of regular power cycling than extended use, and the cost of parts replacement and down time far outweighs the cost of powering them regularly in low power mode.

      • by mpe (36238)
        Computer failures are much more likely as a result of regular power cycling than extended use, and the cost of parts replacement and down time far outweighs the cost of powering them regularly in low power mode.

        Though in such a low powered mode they are unlikely to be running BOINC or anything else.
    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @02:16AM (#30333264)

      Who knew leaving a bank of computers on 24/7 costs money?

      Answer: The school administrators, who turned down a previous IT request to turn the machines off when not in use and impliment a power management policy some years prior to this incident.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Xacid (560407)

      If it's anything like the schools I've been to then there's a LOT of wasted potential in those machines - they're always on ANYWAY.

      I don't see how this was a firing matter unless there's more to the story than we're getting. An educational institution SHOULD be supportive of research. Granted I wouldn't have used Seti - something like Boinc has served me well in the past allowing for control over the projects I want my CPU time to go to - including seti.

  • by DaMP12000 (710387) on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:13PM (#30332228)
    I guess they're too busy allocating all their resources trying to find intelligent life in their class rooms...
  • From TFA: '"Unfortunately it says a lot about people who are theoretically educating our children," said Dave Farber, distinguished career professor of computer science and public policy in the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon.'

    It seems that the folks who are in charge of education become further and further detached from technological advancement as time goes on. These are the same individuals who are given access to technology for use in the classrooms and barely use it for more than a glorified typewriter. Add to that those who refuse to utilize the technology either out of ignorance (don't know how to use it) or fear (refuse to know how to use it), you have a large number of classrooms with expensive space heaters.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:34PM (#30332338)

      There's no ignorance in her remarks, she knows exactly what she is doing. I've worked at a school district in Arizona for the past 5 years and what is happening here is typical. A new superintendent comes in and wants to fill all the high paying jobs with cronies. This guy just didn't leave quietly so they trashed his reputation (they do that all the time). Arizona school districts are some of the most corrupt organizations that i've ever dealt with. BTW don't feel too sorry for him, he more than likely got his job the same way, its the way things are done here.

      • by Trekologer (86619)

        "There's no ignorance in her remarks, she knows exactly what she is doing."

        I'm not too sure about that. All of the quotes sound like they came from an empty shirt who thinks she knows everything just because she has some paper and got to where she was not by achievement but who she knows. Similar to all the CxO's who run companies into the ground, escape with the golden parachute then land another cushy job to do the same thing over again.

      • by Shakrai (717556) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:49PM (#30332704) Journal

        Arizona school districts are some of the most corrupt organizations that i've ever dealt with.

        I assure you that Arizona doesn't have a monopoly on school corruption.

        Want to hear an example of how it works in my state? There's quasi-state agencies called 'Boards of Cooperative Educational Services' (BOCES) that provide various services to the school districts that join. The theory is that shared services between districts will offer cost savings. Good theory, but it comes with a few catches. Once a district joins BOCES they can't ever leave and must continue to pay their membership dues even if they elect not to use any of the services offered.

        I used to work for a company that was contracted with two local districts to supply internet services, workstations and servers. We were always able to beat BOCES by a fair margin when the annual bids rolled around. Then New York State changed the law so that the school districts couldn't receive matching funds from the state unless they went with BOCES, even if the overall cost of doing so was higher.

        The internet services that we were offering were cheaper, provided more bandwidth and were eligible for a large amount of Federal funding out of the universal service fund. The internet services offered by BOCES were more expensive, provided half the bandwidth and weren't eligible for Federal funding. But the districts had to choose them anyway, because they were "cheaper" (due to the state matching funds granted exclusively to BOCES) and the fact that they were wasting their contribution dues to BOCES if it didn't use their services.

        In effect, my state is subsidizing a monopoly to do a worse job for more money. In the end almost everybody loses -- the school districts, the taxpayers and the private enterprises that could offer a superior product but find themselves shut out of the market. The only winners are the employees of BOCES. Our local one happens to be staffed with ex-politicians at the administrative level and their cronies at the lower levels. Nice, isn't it?

    • This sad truth will continue to occur until intelligent, capable people begin to devote their lives toward the education of our children. Unless that happens, the majority of our public educators will forever be the people who couldn't pass math because they weren't able to figure out their calculator.
      • by selven (1556643)

        people who couldn't pass math because they weren't able to figure out their calculator.

        Or, alternatively, people who were given a calculator way too early and thus couldn't pass math because without one they couldn't say what 7*9 is.

      • by ae1294 (1547521) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @12:30AM (#30332904) Journal

        This sad truth will continue to occur until intelligent, capable people begin to devote their lives toward the education of our children. Unless that happens, the majority of our public educators will forever be the people who couldn't pass math because they weren't able to figure out their calculator.

        Bullshit, my wife is a teacher here in NC. Been teaching for 7 years now and she makes under 35k a year and spends 60+ hours a week at school. She loves teaching but has had to go back to graduate school in order to escape the bullshit pay, no planing period, no assistant and the ridicules paper work. Why don't you go become a fucking teacher and take care of 20 to 30 children with little to no help from anyone for less than what you could make at Wendy's flipping burgers...

        You want good teachers? Fucking pay them. Not the text book companies or all the other leeches.. Pay the fucking teachers.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          This sad truth will continue to occur until intelligent, capable people begin to devote their lives toward the education of our children.

          She loves teaching but has had to go back to graduate school in order to escape the bullshit pay... You want good teachers? Fucking pay them.

          My impression is that, even if you go back to grad school, you're still not going to be paid anywhere near what you'd get paid if you went and got a job in industry with that same masters or PhD. As long as our society expects bright people to suck it up if they want to teach, we're not going to get as many of them to teach as we'd like.

          Of course, I still don't understand why we require teachers to have a bachelors or masters degree to teach grade school, or why schools need so damn many administrators and

          • by ae1294 (1547521)

            My impression is that, even if you go back to grad school, you're still not going to be paid anywhere near what you'd get paid if you went and got a job in industry with that same masters or PhD.

            She has a degree in Psychology as well as her K-6 teaching license and national board certification. She will triple her pay by leaving teaching public school and have time to live a life outside of the classroom...

            Anyone thinking of becoming a teacher.. don't... it's not worth it, no one cares about the children regardless of what you might have heard...

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by deprecated (86120)

          I love the part in "It's a Wonderful Life" when you sucker punch George Bailey and Martini kicks you out of his bar. You were totally believable.

        • by techno-vampire (666512) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @03:49AM (#30333536) Homepage
          Why don't you go become a fucking teacher

          I'd love to, but none of the schools around here have courses in fucking for me to teach.

  • by kj_kabaje (1241696) on Friday December 04, 2009 @10:46PM (#30332394)
    Not only does the lady who fired the guy demonstrate how ignorant she is, the reporters demonstrate astounding ignorance too: http://www.fox5vegas.com/video/21785181/index.html [fox5vegas.com]

    How the fsck do people not know about this program or not consider it research? My wife (not a technically adept person) has run this program for years and in schools, too. Ask the guy to uninstall it if it costs to much in a recession (he had approval of the previous administration to run it though!). Don't fire him because you're stupid.
    • by iamhassi (659463) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:02PM (#30332486) Journal
      "Don't fire him because you're stupid."

      Agreed. Have they thought how much it'll cost to replace him? He's been there 10+ years, he built the network they're on, he knows everything there is to know about the system, how do you replace that? They're probably going to hire whoever pretends to know what they're doing the most and get nothing done. How do you know the next guy won't do something far worse? This is a witch hunt that will end up costing the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of embarrassment.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by phantomfive (622387)
        It might actually be cheaper to replace him, given how pay scales work in some school districts. In downturns, some schools look for any excuse to fire teachers who have been around the longest, because they cost the most money. Then they can hire a new teacher for a lot cheaper.

        The entire hiring and firing for teachers and school employees is extremely messed up, at least in California. According to some of the comments in this story, it's just as bad in Arizona.
  • The school should take pride in assisting with research and promote itself on the idea that it is the leading school in searching for alien life on other planets.
  • Devil's advocate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brusk (135896) on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:46PM (#30332690)
    I think SETI@home is great and all, but it sounds like the school board didn't authorize this person to install the software on the machines in question. Whatever the pros and cons are in the abstract, he shouldn't have unilaterally decided to do this. It does cost money to run CPUs at 100% (the SETI@home FAQ estimates over $60 a year) and if there were thousands of machines running it, as there apparently were, that's hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run. Maybe the school district wants to spend its money on that, but it should be decided by the board, not by one employee.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      I think SETI@home is great and all, but it sounds like the school board didn't authorize this person to install the software on the machines in question.

      The man was not some local school tech with a screwdiver or rogue physics teacher - he was the technology supervisor for the school district. If minutia like what software to run is something that the school board must micro-manage, then his job is a no-op. So, either the board is seriously dysfunctional to the point of needing to be disbanded and reorganized with brand new people, or he had plenty of authority to decide all on his own.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by apoc.famine (621563)

        seriously dysfunctional to the point of needing to be disbanded and reorganized with brand new people

        This. School boards are little fiefdoms, filled with people who desperately want to be important. The school board for the school I worked for was just like this. There was a conference that some students were going to go to. The teacher for the subject couldn't make it, but since it was on a saturday, and not a contract work day or event, it wasn't a big deal. The school board disagreed, and ordered him to write a letter of apology to the students who went. Yes, he had to apologize for not doing something

  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) * on Friday December 04, 2009 @11:49PM (#30332708) Journal
    It isn't so much the application to find E.T. that astounds me, its the use of a distributed networking. I don't follow SETI, but I assume the power they have in distributed computing is something like or above a Super Computer. The students can learn about distributed computing, and maybe be the guy who builds the next big network. I mean, imagine a commercial system that pays for processing. So you turn your computer and get paid by the team. The team in turn gets paid by scientists with very difficult problems and need distributed computing.

    Don't focus on it being "searching for aliens", focus on it being "distributed computing".
    • by jonnythan (79727) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @12:05AM (#30332768) Homepage

      And the first time any administrator champions his school's or school system's use of distributed computing, his boss (school board, taxpayers) will say:

      "Great! Good for us. Now, exactly how much are we spending on this, who is overseeing it, who authorized it, and where are these funds being allocated in the budget?"

      And that administrator will not have any answers because no one authorized it and they're dead-ass broke. Then someone would get fired. They can't afford to spend some unknown amount of money on supporting SETI.

  • Why say more? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rudy_wayne (414635) on Saturday December 05, 2009 @12:55AM (#30332986)

    Q. Do I need permission from my employer to run SETI@home on computers at work?

    A. Yes! Of course! We've been saying that for 10 years, and despite what some bloggers have said, Niesluchowski wasn't the first person to lose his job over this. The first time was many years ago.

    This should have been the beginning and end of the Q&A. Regardless of the relative merits of SETI@Home or what it does or doesn't do to a computer or network, the bottom line is pretty simple: Install unauthorized software on computers that aren't yours and you get spanked.

  • I am yet still waiting to hear a response from the EFF on this matter.

  • Sure, Niesluchowski screwed up by installing the Seti@Home software on the district's computers without permission. I would expect that his lawyer is now going over the district's AUP with a fine-toothed comb to see if there was an actual policy violation to justify his firing. A reprimand should have been the first step; firing should have been the final step. I'd tell the guy to take the software off all the systems on his own time before I'd fire him. I'm betting that there must have been some long-term

  • If there were so many resources squandered over a decade then the loss should have been apparent immediately. Since this fellow adequately managed the school districts IT resources all of this time, then clearly he should be the best judge of the demand. And since he works for executives and a school board that are responsible for the oversight of all resources, then either Seti@Home had little or no noticeable impact on the operations, or else it would have been an issue in a few weeks. To say that after 10 years of complete oblivion that now suddenly, this is grounds for dismissing a 10 year veteran, is total and complete political bull pucky. These ego-maniacal incompetent power trippers are simply embarrassed at the fact that they were completely clueless about their school districts involvement in something clearly present in any search engine: Their network listed as the number one seti@home support. Clearly this is an educational usage, was not an embezzlement of resources, and contributed to a very credible UC Berkeley experiment. One must bear in mind that when Seti@Home was first released that its appeal was how it functioned as an internet wide application that utilizes unused CPU headroom. That concept does pertain to IT management of resources, irregardless of merit of alien white noise. I think these jokers showed exactly how clueless you have to be in order to fix a decade long IT problem by firing the guy who demonstrated that its clearly not a problem.
  • Is it possible this guy was fired for trying to help prove something that would offend the religious beliefs of the supervisor - who may believe that we are alone in the universe because we were specially created by god?

    'an educational institution ... cannot support the search for E.T

    Is this in the same vein as "An educational institution cannot support the teaching of evolution" ?

  • Despite his intentions, the fact is if someone installs an unauthorised application on 2000 PCs, one which consumes 100% CPU when it feels like it, that person IS causing harm to the school district. At the very least they are jacking up power bills because PCs are running full blast more ofte but also support calls as people complain their machine is locked, slow or otherwise less responsive than it should be.

    I think he should have gotten permission. He could have argued that BOINC (not just S@H) can do

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