Eric's quadrennial post #9: Arecibo funding crisis.


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Message 641279 - Posted: 14 Sep 2007, 18:02:21 UTC
Last modified: 14 Sep 2007, 18:02:46 UTC

As some people noted in other parts of the forums, there was an article in the Washington Post this weekend about the crisis in NSF funding for the Arecibo Observatory (and, perhaps, radio astronomy in general.) I just want to let everyone know that we are aware of the situation and are planning to fight for Arecibo's future.

Dan and some others that I work with were in Washington this week attending a meeting to discuss the scientific future of Arecibo. The observatory does have unique capabilities, primarily because of its size. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) currently has 42 dishes (not all have yet been operational), but the combined collecting area of those dishes is about 1.5% of the area of the Arecibo telescope. If ATA is able to get funding for an additional 40 dishes that will be 3% of the Arecibo collecting area. Even at the initially proposed 300 dishes (which won't happen any time soon) it is a small fraction of the collecting area of Arecibo. ATA's power comes from being able to focus in on smaller areas of the sky, which makes it an excellent instrument for looking for signals from specific stars, but inappropriate for surveys of large sky areas like SETI@home. Only when the Square Kilometer Array is fully operational (scheduled for 2020, but who knows) will Arecibo's capability be surpassed.

What led us to this funding problem? Primarily a combination of flat budgets for astronomy research and expensive new instruments. The National Science Foundation budget for Astronomy is about $200 million dollars per year, and prior to this year, the budget for Arecibo was about $10 million. Neither of those numbers are chump change, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. If the NSF doesn't get a budget increase for Astronomy and doesn't close some facilities, there will be a $30 million dollar shortfall, so Arecibo isn't the only facility in trouble.

What does make Arecibo different is that most of those other facilities are in states, whereas Arecibo is in a U.S. protectorate. Puerto Rico doesn't have Senators to help protect budget appropriations. It does have Representatives, but the last time I checked, their representatives are not voting members of the Congress.

On the other hand, there is the National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO) which has facilities in West Virginia (home of Senator Byrd) and New Mexico (home of Senator Domenici). Arecibo is NOT part of NRAO. A couple years ago the director of NRAO called his senators and said NRAO needed $2 million more than NSF was going to give it. So Byrd and Domenici earmarked $4 million (yes $4 million) in additional funds for NRAO. Of course that money had to come from somewhere else in the NSF astronomy budget. That was when Arecibo's budget was reduced by $2 million. I don't know where the other $2 million came from.

The directory of the Planetary Society said, in the Post article, that an earmark might be a good option for keeping Arecibo open. I'm not so sure, given that any money earmarked for Arecibo will come from some other Astronomy program. A better option is a 15% (constant dollars) increase in the NSF Astronomy budget over the next 5 years.

I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well. We may organize a full letter writing campaign in the near future to help get our point across to Congress, but there's no need to wait for that. Letters work better than emails, and personal visits work best of all, if you happen to be traveling to Washington DC.

For those of you outside of the U.S., should all of our efforts fail, there may be a place for international cooperation in funding Arecibo. If the U.S. government doesn't want it, maybe the E.U. does. We'll let you know how it goes.

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Message 641805 - Posted: 15 Sep 2007, 15:39:59 UTC


Thank You Eric - Interesting Post - It is Much Appreciated Sir!

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Message 641863 - Posted: 15 Sep 2007, 18:25:29 UTC

Maybe if all your efforts fail, then all the Canadian users on SETI@Home could write to the Canadian Space Agency to pick up the budget of Arecebo. I am sure that this would fit in with its mandate of space exporation. Just a thought.
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Message 642023 - Posted: 16 Sep 2007, 0:40:58 UTC


eh Eric - Is there a 'Portion' of your Letter or a Draft that You may have for

others that they can use - as a basis for theirs? Might make it easier and/or

more appropriate to send something that more or less is placed in Context with

the situation - rather than something that may not be appropriately written -

don't you think?


Thank You for Your Time and Consideration

snip

I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well.

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Message 643075 - Posted: 17 Sep 2007, 17:07:02 UTC - in response to Message 642023.


I will post an "open" version (i.e. with some personal or private details redacted) of the letter in the next couple of days for others to use as a starting point. Thanks for the idea.

Eric



eh Eric - Is there a 'Portion' of your Letter or a Draft that You may have for

others that they can use - as a basis for theirs? Might make it easier and/or

more appropriate to send something that more or less is placed in Context with

the situation - rather than something that may not be appropriately written -

don't you think?


Thank You for Your Time and Consideration

snip
I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well.


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Message 643236 - Posted: 17 Sep 2007, 21:54:23 UTC - in response to Message 643075.


I will post an "open" version (i.e. with some personal or private details redacted) of the letter in the next couple of days for others to use as a starting point. Thanks for the idea.

Eric

eh Eric - Is there a 'Portion' of your Letter or a Draft that You may have for

others that they can use - as a basis for theirs? . . .
snip
I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well.


Good idea, thanks for that.

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Message 646724 - Posted: 22 Sep 2007, 21:20:49 UTC

Good. go get money that is deserving.
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Message 664708 - Posted: 22 Oct 2007, 23:58:32 UTC - in response to Message 643236.


I will post an "open" version (i.e. with some personal or private details redacted) of the letter in the next couple of days for others to use as a starting point. Thanks for the idea.

Eric

eh Eric - Is there a 'Portion' of your Letter or a Draft that You may have for

others that they can use - as a basis for theirs? . . .
snip
I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well.


Good idea, thanks for that.


I would like to hear some rationale as to why there are two SETI thrusts at Berkley--may well relate to funding from any source.

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Message 665472 - Posted: 24 Oct 2007, 3:07:19 UTC - in response to Message 641863.

Maybe if all your efforts fail, then all the Canadian users on SETI@Home could write to the Canadian Space Agency to pick up the budget of Arecebo. I am sure that this would fit in with its mandate of space exporation. Just a thought.


Tap me on the shoulder or something next time. lol I'll get the boys involved and see what we can brainstorm. But don't expect miracles from a minority conservative government.

PS Thanks for the shirt, Eric.
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Message 673226 - Posted: 7 Nov 2007, 0:12:37 UTC - in response to Message 641279.

As some people noted in other parts of the forums, there was an article in the Washington Post this weekend about the crisis in NSF funding for the Arecibo Observatory (and, perhaps, radio astronomy in general.) I just want to let everyone know that we are aware of the situation and are planning to fight for Arecibo's future.

Dan and some others that I work with were in Washington this week attending a meeting to discuss the scientific future of Arecibo. The observatory does have unique capabilities, primarily because of its size. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA) currently has 42 dishes (not all have yet been operational), but the combined collecting area of those dishes is about 1.5% of the area of the Arecibo telescope. If ATA is able to get funding for an additional 40 dishes that will be 3% of the Arecibo collecting area. Even at the initially proposed 300 dishes (which won't happen any time soon) it is a small fraction of the collecting area of Arecibo. ATA's power comes from being able to focus in on smaller areas of the sky, which makes it an excellent instrument for looking for signals from specific stars, but inappropriate for surveys of large sky areas like SETI@home. Only when the Square Kilometer Array is fully operational (scheduled for 2020, but who knows) will Arecibo's capability be surpassed.

What led us to this funding problem? Primarily a combination of flat budgets for astronomy research and expensive new instruments. The National Science Foundation budget for Astronomy is about $200 million dollars per year, and prior to this year, the budget for Arecibo was about $10 million. Neither of those numbers are chump change, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. If the NSF doesn't get a budget increase for Astronomy and doesn't close some facilities, there will be a $30 million dollar shortfall, so Arecibo isn't the only facility in trouble.

What does make Arecibo different is that most of those other facilities are in states, whereas Arecibo is in a U.S. protectorate. Puerto Rico doesn't have Senators to help protect budget appropriations. It does have Representatives, but the last time I checked, their representatives are not voting members of the Congress.

On the other hand, there is the National Radio Astronomy Observatories (NRAO) which has facilities in West Virginia (home of Senator Byrd) and New Mexico (home of Senator Domenici). Arecibo is NOT part of NRAO. A couple years ago the director of NRAO called his senators and said NRAO needed $2 million more than NSF was going to give it. So Byrd and Domenici earmarked $4 million (yes $4 million) in additional funds for NRAO. Of course that money had to come from somewhere else in the NSF astronomy budget. That was when Arecibo's budget was reduced by $2 million. I don't know where the other $2 million came from.

The directory of the Planetary Society said, in the Post article, that an earmark might be a good option for keeping Arecibo open. I'm not so sure, given that any money earmarked for Arecibo will come from some other Astronomy program. A better option is a 15% (constant dollars) increase in the NSF Astronomy budget over the next 5 years.

I'll talk to the people who attended the meeting next week. I've written my Senators and Congressmen already and used some back channels to make the chair of the House Appropriations Committee aware of the situation. It would probably help if you wrote yours as well. We may organize a full letter writing campaign in the near future to help get our point across to Congress, but there's no need to wait for that. Letters work better than emails, and personal visits work best of all, if you happen to be traveling to Washington DC.

For those of you outside of the U.S., should all of our efforts fail, there may be a place for international cooperation in funding Arecibo. If the U.S. government doesn't want it, maybe the E.U. does. We'll let you know how it goes.


Hi Eric,

I know this is tenuous but I thought it might be useful for 'Spin Doctoring'. The BBC website just announced that Folding@Home has entered the Guiness book of Records for their PS3 code giving them Petabyte processing power. Article Here.

What caught my eye was the phrase,

"One of the most high profile projects is seti@home, which uses computer cycles to search through thousands of hours of radio telescope signals for signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence."

Perhaps the notoriety can be emphasized?

or with a little user support on the coding side Seti could challenge the record with it's own potential PS3 code and huge user base? That's gotta be worth a few bob of sponsership?

Just a thought... no strings attached etc :-)

Good luck and thank you for all your efforts.

Regards,

Keith

PS: Posting the link on the "Number Crunching" forums in the hope a PS3 coder is around :-)

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Message 673289 - Posted: 7 Nov 2007, 2:21:13 UTC - in response to Message 673226.

We've been looking for a PS3/Core porter for some time. We talked to Sony about doing it, but their lawyers had problems with the licensing terms. By they time those were resolved, the personnel at Sony who were planning to do the port had moved on to other projects.

If anyone knows a PS3 guru, let me know.

Eric
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Message 674533 - Posted: 9 Nov 2007, 6:00:06 UTC - in response to Message 673289.

What about installing linux onto the PS3 and using SETI's linux client?
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Message 674582 - Posted: 9 Nov 2007, 10:58:36 UTC - in response to Message 674533.

What about installing linux onto the PS3 and using SETI's linux client?


You wind up wasting all those 'co-processors'. If it's not written specifically for the PS3 it only uses the primary processor and ignores the others.

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Message 677218 - Posted: 13 Nov 2007, 15:27:03 UTC - in response to Message 673289.

We've been looking for a PS3/Core porter for some time.


How about the GPU client?
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Message 690446 - Posted: 10 Dec 2007, 23:16:11 UTC


@ Eric - did you get any of the 'form letters' ready? (for Funding & Publicity)

gmail 2 mi . . . Thanks Sir . . .


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Message 690460 - Posted: 10 Dec 2007, 23:39:36 UTC

DrCeti- you may wish to check the Technical News forum post from Matt
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Message 690463 - Posted: 10 Dec 2007, 23:47:57 UTC - in response to Message 690460.


DrCeti- you may wish to check the Technical News forum post from Matt


Pete - that's NOT what i was referrin' to - Eric knows what i mean Sir . . .

ps - note Matt's Post - i Posted back to 'im as usual too awhile ago . . .

but, Thank You for bringin' THAT up (Donations?) i did another $ - but it hasn't updated for some reason
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