Friday, December 30, 2011

Searching for Intelligent Extra-Terrestrials

Do you believe that there is life on other places besides the earth?  Do you believe that there is intelligent life not on the earth (the jury is out on there being intelligent life on earth, I sometimes wonder)?  I certainly believe that there is life on other planets.  I even believe that there is intelligent life on other planets.

The earth is a very special place.  It is our home.  But the earth is not that special.  We have discovered planets around other stars in our galaxy, some of them being almost earth-like, and that search for other planets has just scratched the surface.  Are there planets out there that can support life?  Of the planets discovered so far, the number being hundreds of them, there are very few that might support life, at least life as we know it.  However, there are over 300 billion stars in our galaxy, so I think the chances are good that there are other planets that support life.

Do any of those planets support intelligent life?  There is less of a chance that there is intelligent life on other planets, but I don't think that chance is zero.  However, intelligent life has not been on earth very long.  Earth is about 4 billion years old.  Homo sapiens, our species, has been around for only 160,000 years.  That is not a long time when you compare it to the age of the earth.  Thus when we are looking for intelligent life in other star systems, those planets there may have life, but they may not have intelligent life at that time, if ever, when you consider how long it has taken intelligent life to evolve here on earth.

Does that mean that we should not look for intelligent life elsewhere.  Certainly not.  If we do detect intelligent life on other planets, we will have the answer to perhaps our most important question, are we alone.  If the answer is we are not alone, that can change how we think of ourselves and maybe how we act.  Maybe we can really act intelligent and start solving some really important problems we have, like poverty, hunger, and illiteracy, among others.

Several years ago I participated in the search for intelligent life.  I automatically downloaded data from SETI@home (SETI stands for Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) and processed the data using their software to see if there were non-natural signals in the data obtained from star systems.  I quit that search when the laptop I was using broke, and I never resumed that search on another PC until yesterday.  A couple of days ago, I read an article about SETI (if you want to read that article, click here).  Yesterday I downloaded the software, and now I am processing my first data packet.  At this moment, I am 36% complete after processing for 6 hours, and I have 8 hours of processing to go.  The software runs when your PC is not doing much else.  I don't really think I will get any hits, but the prospect of doing so is quite thrilling.

Will we actually meet aliens or talk with aliens?  I don't think so because the distances between star systems is so great.  However, just knowing that we are not alone may have a great positive impact on our society.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Web Browser

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to try the web browser by Google called Google Chrome.  I have been using the browser Firefox for quite sometime, but I have been slowly using Google applications more and more ever since I bought my Android smartphone this summer.  So I wanted to see what Google Chrome is like.  Google Chrome seems to be a simpler browser with less functions than Firefox (I can't find a way to block ads in Google Chrome like I can in Firefox), but it is a faster browser than Firefox as a result.  I have noticed that the Scrabble game in Facebook loads faster in Google than in Firefox and that web pages overall are loading faster in Google Chrome.  As a result, I have made Google Chrome my default browser, at least for now.  I may change my mind, but so far I am happy with Google Chrome.

If you want to try Google Chrome yourself, click here.

Yesterday I saw an article about "Top 10 Essential Google Chrome Apps".  If you want to read the article, click here.  I am trying one of the apps now, Wunderlist.  This apps lets you create lists of tasks you wish to accomplish, and you have the option to assign a due date.  I have even downloaded the mobile version of this app onto my smartphone.  I hope this will help me do a better job of organizing my work.  I will report later how successful I am with this app.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Man Behind the Times

As many of you may know, I primarily teach GED classes for a living.  This past week in one of my classes, I brought two laptops to the class so that two of my students could work on GED questions and problems by using the GED software on the laptops.  One of my students has used this program many times.  To my surprise, the other student had never even used a laptop, or any computer, before.  He said the only technology of any consequence he used was a cell phone that made and received phone calls and texted messages.  He was very content not to use technology in his work.  He was used to doing things that way and did not see a reason to change.  I encouraged him to learn how to use the technology of the day because it can make him more productive.  He finally said that the reason he did not use technology was that he had seen people become addicted to technology, and he did not want that to happen to him.

It has been a while since I have taught anyone how to use a computer.  Kids these days seem to know how to use technology from the time they are born.  I enjoyed showing my GED student how to use the cursor to navigate around the laptop.  I am not sure he will remember everything I told him, but he said he enjoyed working on the laptop.  He also said he wanted to continue working on the laptop, and I said I would start bringing the laptop to class all the time for him to work on.  Now that I think back on it, I was being like a drug pusher when I told my student how productive he can be using technology, and I am enabling him by bringing the laptop to class all the time.  I have put him on the path of addiction, addiction to technology.  Yes, technology can be addictive.  I even wrote a blog post this summer about my addiction to my smartphone.  There is both a good side and bad side to just about anything.  I really don't think my student will become addicted to technology, if nothing else because he is aware of the danger.  We all have to be aware of the danger.

My student being behind the times and not using technology sure blew apart one of my assumptions about people.  I thought everyone knows their way around a computer.  Even if you don't have a computer, you should be exposed to computers via school or work.  However, my student comes from another country.  Perhaps his family did not have the means to get a computer.  Perhaps the schools he went to did not have computers.  If I remember correctly, I don't think he finished 9th grade.  Perhaps he had jobs that did not use computers.  Not everyone has been raised in the environment we have in the United States, and it is not the same environment everywhere in this country.  You just can't assume everyone has the same knowledge base.  I found that out this week, for sure.

I even found out last night that I am not up to speed on akk technology subjects.  I had heard about QR codes, but I did not realize how much information they contain and how many uses there are for them.  I just thought they are another version of the barcode that we find on all the items we buy.  Not so.  They can contain contact information.  They can open up a web site for you on your smartphone.  I am sure there are other uses for QR codes.  Our knowledge base is always evolving.  If your knowledge base is not evolving, you are not learning.  If you are not learning, then you must be dead.  We are all learning something everyday no matter if we realize it or not.