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SETICON and setiQuest Summit this Saturday

This week I got a great surprise, my friend Jeff scored me an invite to the setiQuest Summit, held this weekend at SETICON in Santa Clara.  The excitement is that, after all these years, the SETI team is open sourcing their code, including the algorithms used to scan telescope data for signs of extraterrestrial life.  The radio telescope signal data has been opened since April.  All of this was kicked off over a year ago when the  Center for SETI Research Director Jill Tarter used her 2009 TED prize to make a wish:

I wish that you would empower Earthlings everywhere to become active participants in the ultimate search for cosmic company.

Aside from being an amateur scientist and a lifelong wannabe spaceman, there is a more immediate and grown-up reason I care about this.  It has longed seemed to me, and I’m sure to many others, that SETI is a natural for embracing a FOSS community.  As the original programmers, some of whom have put 20 years in to the program, near retiring, it’s an opportunity to pass on the legacy in a way that lets SETI grow and scale.  The ability to run their code on commodity hardware, and openness to contributions from citizen scientists, makes the timing natural.  It’s the kind of project that could be completely free and open, and doing that will allow for the growth of an ecosystem around it, including new businesses.

Since SETI started, we have proven the FOSS development model time after time.  SETI, being a scientific pursuit under the aegis of “in the public interest”, there is also a moral imperative to reveal all the scientific methods used … including the source code.

The purpose of this summit is to bring SETI staff together with people who truly understand FOSS development.  I’ve seen the list of attendees, I’m pretty awed by some of the Bay Area big names they have drawn, but not surprised — around the Bay Area and beyond, SETI has a particular interest for many geeks.  It’s great that two efforts for the betterment of humanity, searching of companions in the universe and keeping humanity free, are coming closer together.

For myself, I’ll be bringing whatever brainpower that I can, but I’ll also be gently inserting The Open Source Way all over the place.  As a handbook, it’s a way to get much of the knowledge that you find at a summit, but in a handy format to carry around with you.