The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) got a big boost from obscure nerddom by the movie Contact starring Jodie Foster. Based on real life, the world’s biggest radio telescope in Puerto Rico would permit a few hours every month for listening for aliens, but it really wasn’t very much time, and after a few decades of not hearing anything, despite the absolutely brilliant innovation of having screensavers around the world processing the SETI data with SETI@Home, Arecibo was giving even less time. So the movie wasn’t just a hit with the box-office, it also was a hit for SETI funding, with multi-billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen, chipping in a cool $13M to build forty-two 20-foot radio dishes to listen for aliens, positioned just
west east of San Francisco (where else?) Now a 10 foot dish is what us oldtimers remember as the size needed to get decent satellite TV out in the boonies, so Allen is doubling the size to increase the signal by 4, and multiplying the number of directions to cover most of the sky, achieving 168 times the reception of that rusting yard monster.
And just like us, despite all those channels, there’s still nothing worth watching.