A decade ago, a group of computer scientists in the Bay Area launched the first large-scale distributed computing project, SETI@Home. Its mission: to harness the power of idle desktop PCs to process raw data from radio telescopes in hopes of discovering signs of extraterrestrial life.Since then, others have followed suit, organizing similar efforts to search for cures for cancer, model climate change, and tackle complex mathematical concepts. SETI@home, though, remained the biggest, and for years the biggest such project, and for years, "NEZ" was one of it's biggest stars, a mysterious figure who had amassed 575 million hours of credits over the course of nine years, an achievement that led awed SETI users to describe "NEZ" as a god.
Turns out, he was only Brad Niesluchowski, IT director for the Higley, Arizona Unified School District. The key to his superhuman score? He'd installed SETI@home on some 5,000 of the district's machines.
District officials weren't amused. They claimed that SETI@home had led to more than a million dollars in damages from unnecessary wear and tear. Controversially, administrators also suggested that while searching for a cure for cancer was one thing, searching for aliens was something else entirely.
The reaction from the tech blogosphere was swift -- and harsh. Engadget raged:
"that's just peachy -- except that her flippant dismissal of SETI belies a complete ignorance of one of the oldest and most respected distributed-computing projects in the world, and what it's actually looking for."
Maybe so. But that doesn't explain the 18 school district machines running SETI@home in his basement.