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Searching for aliens in your spare time

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Yeah, yeah, three-quarters of the population of the US believe they have been secretly abducted by aliens who have escaped from Area 51, that secret UFO base near Roswell (see for example, taken at random, Joe Tripican's The Official Alien Abductee's Handbook, Andrews and McMeel, US$7.95). None of this is helped by the fact that astronomers now say there are probably billions of planets out there, quite a few of them like ours. The corollary is that some must be inhabited by aliens and that it is only a matter of time before we all get together.

According to lots of the aforementioned Americans and, apparently, a lot of Brits, we almost certainly already have.

Whatever. Several million people are helping to check data from a radio telescope in Puerto Rico for signs of alien intelligence in distant galaxies.

Distributed computing, it is called, although the grander word metacomputing has gained a terminological foothold. It uses the time your computer is inactive to do bits of is-it-alien computation which are then assembled back at base. Think of the way a graphics rendering farm works - or the Linux Beowulf project, which turns lots of connected cashiered 486 PCs into the equivalent of Cray supercomputers. Practices seeking client lists from further afield should look at www.seti-inst.edu/science/setiathome.html.

While we are on the subject of searches, I have not asked the Google search engine people but I have just discovered that a googol is the number 10 .The implication is, presumably, that Google (if indeed this is the origin of its name and, OK, it is spelt differently) has access to squillions of bits of information. To be fair, it probably does.

It's the one I, and lots of my mates use.

Why? The test most reviewers apply is to enter their own name. Naturally they recommend the search engine which comes up with the greatest number of references to themselves. Now you know.

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