FAQ and comments about the Higley School District controversy


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Eric KorpelaProject donor
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Message 952163 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 2:30:42 UTC
Last modified: 5 Dec 2009, 0:56:18 UTC

I've been getting a lot of questions and comments about the forced resignation of an IT administrator in the Higley School District in Arizona. There's a lot of misinformation flying around, mostly due to poor reporting. First lets start with the facts we know: NEZ (Brad Niesluchowski) was an IT administrator at Higley school district. He allegedly installed and ran BOINC and attached to the SETI@home project. The district alleges damages of $1.2M to $1.6M because of the use of SETI@home both due to wear and tear on the processors and electricity usage. Niesluchowski claims that the district administrator has a personal vendetta against him.

Category: Questions about SETI@home

Q. Do I need permission from my employer to run SETI@home on computers at work?

A. Yes! Of course! We've been saying that for 10 years, and despite what some bloggers have said, Niesluchowski wasn't the first person to lose his job over this. The first time was many years ago.

Q. Does SETI@home really cost that much to run?

A. The cost of running SETI@home is not zero. When a computer performs calculations, it draws more power than it does when it is idle. A typical desktop machine might draw about 60 watts more when active than when idle which is about the same as an incandescent light bulb. If run 24/7, that machine will consume an additional 525 kilowatt hours (kW*h) in a year. At an average cost of $0.12 per kW*h, that's $63.11 per year. That's pretty small compared to the cost of your computer, and maybe about the same as your monthly cable bill, but it's pretty big compared to the cost of can of soup. At that rate, you could spend $1.6M on power by running 25,000 computers for a year, or 5000 computers for 5 years. This is in addition to the power usage of an idle machine, which can also exceed 60 watts. If a school district really wants to save power and money it should implement a policy to turn off computers at night. If SETI@home cost them $1.6M as they state, they would have saved $3.2M if such a policy had been implemented.

Q. Does SETI@home damage your processor?

A. I am not aware of any study that indicates that fully utilizing a CPU's processing power for a long period of time will cause it to fail sooner than it normally would, provided that the CPU is kept in the normal temperature range for operation. A CPU's temperature us usually controlled by a heat-sink and fan. If the heat sink or fan fails a CPU can be damaged whether SETI@home is running or not. Most desktop computers emit an alarm sound if the CPU fan fails. Most laptops and some desktops have a thermal protection system that slows down the processor if it overheats. If your machine is running slowly, check the fan.

Q. Does BOINC or SETI@home interfere with electronic whiteboards or their software.

A. Nobody has reported such a problem. In the past several days I have had many teachers inform me that SETI@home works quite when on machines that also control electronic whiteboards. I think this could fall into the next category of "Bad Reporting." Many articles said that SETI@home was discovered on these computers while looking for the reason that electronic whiteboards were shutting down after periods of inactivity. I didn't see any that indicated that SETI@home was the cause of those shutdowns. Most likely the whiteboard device drivers or their control software were configured in a way that allowed the computer to shut off their power after a period of inactivity. It is my understanding that there are also a lot of inferior electronic whiteboards that have been sold to school districts that are required to accept the lowest bid when purchasing equipment. That is also a possibility.

Q. Did SETI@home slow down other software as was reported?

A. Probably not. If BOINC is configured not to run applications while the computer is in use, it should not cause a slowdown of other software. If there's one thing IT personnel like, it's blaming slow computers on viruses, spyware, or "too much stuff on the hard disk." That might be the case, but those are just a case of poor computer maintenance by the IT personnel which is the most common cause of slow school or work computers.

Q. Does BOINC and SETI@home prevent you from installing a firewall?

A. No. BOINC and SETI@home do not require that a computer not have a firewall, nor does it require holes in your firewall settings. BOINC and SETI@home use the same IP port used by web browsers. If your firewall allows you to use a web browser, you can run SETI@home. Remote access to BOINC (which allows you to control the BOINC client running on one computer from another) does require a single IP port to be opened, but this feature is disabled by default. The district administrator, Dr. Birdwell, is mistaken if she believes that BOINC is incompatible with firewalls.

Q. Dr. Birdwell says "You can't just press a button" to uninstall BOINC and SETI@home. Is that true?

A. It depends. Do you mean literally true? Then yes, most computers ship without an physical button labeled "Uninstall BOINC." To uninstall BOINC, you do the same thing you would do to to uninstall any program. On windows that means click the "Control Panel" icon in the Start Menu. Then double click on "Add or Remove Programs." Then select "BOINC" and click the "Remove" button. That's five mouse clicks, but the entire process takes less than a minute to accomplish. Not exactly a button push, but I wouldn't place it in the "difficult" category.

Q. Does running BOINC or SETI@home make your computer susceptible to viruses?

A. If you download official BOINC binaries through boinc.berkeley.edu and attach only to reputable projects there is very little danger of getting a virus from BOINC or the project. In fact we are not aware of any cases of a computer getting a virus through BOINC or SETI@home in our 10 year history. You are far safer running BOINC than you are reading your email.

Category: Just Plain Bad Reporting

Q. I saw an article that said that SETI@home caused $1.6M in damage to computers a school district. Is that true?

No. In that article the reporter either mistook the legal concept of "damages" with actual physical damage, or was such a poor writer that they couldn't explain the difference.

Category: Questions We Couldn't Possibly Answer

Q. Did Niesluchowski have permission from a prior administrator to run SETI@home or to take computers home from work?

A. I don't know. How could I know that?

Q. Did the school district confiscate NEZ's family computers along with the district computers?

A. Beats me. Since I don't see it in the articles, but in comments to the articles posted by readers, I doubt that you can lend it much credence.

Category: My Personal Opinions (not those of my employer, of the SETI@home project, or of its participants.)

Q. What do you think about the district administrator, Dr. Denise Birdwell's comment that "We support educational research and we would have supported cancer research but we however as an educational institutional do not support the search for E.T."?

A. I think that Dr. Birdwell's comment is insulting to me, to the University of California, and to the millions of people who have run SETI@home in the past 10 years. Dr. Birdwell is ill informed about SETI, SETI@home and volunteer computing. I think its likely the cancer research she claims to support would probably not be happening if SETI@home had not popularized volunteer computing.

I would point out to Dr. Birdwell that the University of California is a world renowned educational institution, and that regardless of her opinions, SETI@home is still the largest volunteer computing project on the planet. I will also gladly point out that the NASA Exobiology program and the National Science Foundation Astronomy division apparently do not agree with her assessment.

That said, I'm not at all upset about the bad press she is sending our way. There are a lot of school districts in the world, and she only runs one. However, I do wonder whether the Higley School Board agrees with the opinions she espouses so loudly.
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Message 952175 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 3:22:46 UTC
Last modified: 4 Dec 2009, 3:49:51 UTC

Time to give explanation right Sir =)

If there is no BOINC & SETI@HOME, there would be no cancer research too. Let her read this
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Message 952179 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 3:41:45 UTC

Thank you sir. I have been trying to follow this and have been reading about it on numerous websites. From what I've seen, even those articles in the press that paint SETI as the bad guy in this have a comments section filled with people defending us. At the same time many of the comments are not nearly as kind when speaking about Dr. Birdwell.

I did make a suggestion that after Nez wins his lawsuit he should donate a few new servers to the cause. :-)
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Message 952412 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 19:27:26 UTC

Dr. Birdwell should be terminated for hiring his WIFE to replace Brad. A conflict of interest where he is now basically giving Brad's paycheck to himself. Someone should send Birdbrain and the cub reporter a link to the BOTD as a comparison of what is actually reliable information. ;)
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Message 952419 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 19:37:05 UTC - in response to Message 952412.

Uhhh misfit, I know it's hard to tell from the picture but Dr. Denise Birdwell is a female.
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Message 952431 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 20:26:31 UTC - in response to Message 952419.

Uhhh misfit, I know it's hard to tell from the picture but Dr. Denise Birdwell is a female.

HA! Yeah it is hard to tell, I just figured that out from a video. In the original thread there was a link to an article where it was stated that his wife was hired as a replacement. Perhaps it was a different school official. (Or perhaps Arizona isn't California on the issues of marriage.)
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Message 952492 - Posted: 4 Dec 2009, 23:46:11 UTC

since some users were concerned about the bandwidth cost S@H might cost, maybe add this to the FAQ? Since my traffic is limited to 5 GB a week because I'm connected over the campus net of my university and they don't want to pay for more I'm carefully monitoring my traffic usage.

I found that Seti@home uses something below 20 MB/day. Just being logged in in Skype (no messages, not to mention video calls), uses more than 10 times of this. I think if you surf the web for half an hour you will already have used more traffic than S@H uses the whole day. (Just imagine all the bored students during the lessons! what damage would THEY cause) No surprise though since BOINC isn't permanently connected and connects about once in an hour for up/downloading WUs and doing scheduler requests.

Conclusion: the bandwidth used by Seti@home can be ignored.

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Message 952500 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 0:01:33 UTC - in response to Message 952163.

I can see a very difficult situation for both sides...

there is a major problem if any prohibited use of a commercial/educational used system will take place.

I´m working here in germany in the IT-section of germany´s 5th largest bank.

If i would use our complete server (the servers spare time) for some private use, i guess i would do it just if i have everything written an signed in my own hands.

Our servers are running 24/7 because of our local dependencies around the world.

if you know that IT brings more cost to our company than almost 12000 employees you might understand the trouble that Niesluchowski has affected.

all this is no excuse for some "flaming" about seti or boinc.

in the day of light you could only see some unallowed use of this certain computers, but this does not affect research at all.

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Message 952525 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 0:40:44 UTC

Just a thought in hardware matter;

Yes, a fully loaded computer drain mores energy than an idle one. No, it wont damage your cpu or any other hardware; I ran s@h for 10 years in hardly o/c cpus 24/7; none of them (more than 30 cpus) ever fail because of that intensive use; all of them where abused since day one and all of them retired because they where obsolete, after a prodly life dedicated to science.
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Message 952531 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 1:00:00 UTC

It is me, or why do I think the next thing we are going to hear from the Higley Schools is that they are dropping the teaching of evolution in favor of creationism?

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Message 952591 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 4:23:07 UTC - in response to Message 952163.

Q. Does running BOINC or SETI@home make your computer susceptible to viruses?

LOL, i would never give a teacher my email address, "they" are full of viruses.

Dr. Denise Birdwell's comment that "We support educational research and we would have supported cancer research but we however as an educational institutional do not support the search for E.T."?

I'm suprised they whouldn't support climate prediction!

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Message 952618 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 7:10:59 UTC - in response to Message 952163.

Q. Does BOINC or SETI@home interfere with electronic whiteboards or their software.
A. Nobody has reported such a problem. In the past several days I have had many teachers inform me that SETI@home works quite when on machines that also control electronic whiteboards. I think this could fall into the next category of "Bad Reporting."

To be fair to the reporters, it seems the school administrators played up the whiteboard story quite a bit while explaining the firing.

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Message 952647 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 10:09:31 UTC

if NASA and the National Science Foundation are funding S@H, why then they don't appear on the sponsors page?

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Message 952651 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 10:24:08 UTC - in response to Message 952531.

It is me, or why do I think the next thing we are going to hear from the Higley Schools is that they are dropping the teaching of evolution in favor of creationism?

Nowadays it's called Intelligent Design. It's the followup class to Ebonics.
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Message 952652 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 10:31:47 UTC


Confused school district fires sysadmin for running SETI@home: 'As an educational institution we do not support the search for E.T.'

(By Nilay Patel posted Dec 2nd 2009)





http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/02/confused-school-district-fires-sysadmin-for-running-seti-as-an/


.

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Message 952682 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 14:48:36 UTC - in response to Message 952647.

if NASA and the National Science Foundation are funding S@H, why then they don't appear on the sponsors page?

As I recall, NASA stopped funding SETI many years ago when its own budget got slashed by congress. I don’t recall the history of NSF grants for SETI primary software.

At the bottom of the SETI Beta site you will find "AstroPulse is funded in part by the NSF through grant AST-0307956"

BOINC which is an offshoot of SETI-Classic is supported by the NSF through awards SCI-0221529, SCI-0438443, SCI-0506411, PHY/0555655, and OCI-0721124 per its home page.

Perhaps Eric could clarify.

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Message 952710 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 16:08:33 UTC - in response to Message 952647.

if NASA and the National Science Foundation are funding S@H, why then they don't appear on the sponsors page?


They probably should be. They are mentioned at the bottom of the main seti@home page.

I'll clarify more a bit later.

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Message 952727 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 16:59:28 UTC



another Note: just wondering 'if' said school district will have 'trouble' with the un-installation of said software -

a direct reference to the Registry's ERROR 1714


. . . wondering out loud ;)

OT - 'ello Dr. Korpela . . .




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Message 952728 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 17:08:26 UTC - in response to Message 952710.

if NASA and the National Science Foundation are funding S@H, why then they don't appear on the sponsors page?


They probably should be. They are mentioned at the bottom of the main seti@home page.

I'll clarify more a bit later.

NASA isn't mentioned at all, just NSF.

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Message 952754 - Posted: 5 Dec 2009, 19:03:10 UTC - in response to Message 952728.

I've fixed that oversight. The NASA grant is a relatively new thing. Together with the NSF grant they'll cover about 35% of our budget for the next year.
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