Man Tracks Down Lost Laptop While Searching for Aliens

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It’s really amazing to see the myriad roles that technology plays in our life. Sometimes just installing and running a simple application on your machine can help you out in ways you never would have even imagined. A living example of such an occurence is James Melin, a software programmer for a county government agency in Minnesota. Melin runs SETI(at)home on his seven home computers, which periodically check in with University of California servers. Whenever that happens, the servers record the remote computer’s Internet Protocol address and file it in a database that people running the SETI software can view.

SETI(at)home, uses volunteers’ computers when they go into screen-saver mode to crunch data from the Arecibo radio observatory in Puerto Rico. The computers are trying to spot signals in the radio noise from space.One of the computers on which Melin installed SETI(at)home is his wife’s laptop, which was stolen from the couple’s Minneapolis home on 1st Jan.

Annoyed – and alarmed that someone could delete the screenplays and novels that his wife, Melinda Kimberly, was writing – Melin monitored the SETI(at)home database to see if the stolen laptop would “talk” to the Berkeley servers. Indeed, the laptop checked in three times within a week, and Melin sent the IP addresses to the Minneapolis Police Department.

After a subpoena to a local Internet provider, police determined the real-world address where the stolen laptop was logging on. Within days, officers seized the computer and returned it. You can read the full story here. Now this is certainly one of the most amazing uses of a software application orginally designed for an altogether different purpose. If you too are tempted to use this software, then go ahead and be a part of the SETI@home project which is the second most powerful supercomputer in the world if you consider it’s entire distributed computing power as one. You can find the information you need to be a part of this initiative here.

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