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Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations Hardcover – March 15, 2001

ISBN-13: 063-6920000372 ISBN-10: 0596000375 Edition: 1st

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Beyond Contact: A Guide to SETI and Communicating with Alien Civilizations + If the Universe Is Teeming with Aliens ... WHERE IS EVERYBODY?: Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 350 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1st edition (March 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596000375
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596000370
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,843,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

As many earthlings already know--including more than 2 million computer users with firsthand experience--our best hope for finding extraterrestrial intelligence might just lie with an ingenious little screensaver. So it's not surprising that this introduction to searching for and communicating with intelligent life begins with some of the details behind UC Berkeley's groundbreaking, massively distributed SETI@home project, which processes intergalactic noise for pennies on the teraflop. But that's just the start of the story. Inventor and software developer Brian McConnell continues with an overview of whether and why we might find something out there, who's doing what to look for it (including the folks at Berkeley), and--once some ET picks up on the other end--what we might say and how we might say it.

This last problem, which occupies the final half of the book, proves to be the most thought-provoking, and McConnell has put together a methodical, nuts-and-bolts walkthrough of both the challenges involved and how binary code might be enlisted to solve them. If you've taken even a single computer-science class in your life, you'll probably skip ahead through explanations of data structures and Boolean arithmetic, but McConnell doesn't want to leave anyone behind in fleshing out his alien-friendly lingua numerica. The book's first half surveys various SETI projects, past and present, and includes generous sections on signal processing, what sort of radio and laser hardware has been mobilized for the search, and how exactly SETI@home works. (So, if nothing else, now you can know how your computer decides if it's talking to aliens while you're off having lunch.) --Paul Hughes


"'Beyond Contact' summaries well what is the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. I recommend it for anyone as an entry level book on the subject." -- Stephane Dumas, Physicist

"A refreshingly even-handed treatment of one of the greatest puzzles of our age, the question of our apparent loneliness in the universe." -- David Brin, author of

"Remarkably fresh ideas on how to achieve contact. Wide-ranging engrossing, enjoyable. This book is definitely a winner!" -- Dr. Allen Tough, coordinator of the Web-based

"This thought provoking book ventures boldly where I fear to tread." -- Kent Cullers, Signal Detection Team Leader, Director for SETI Research and Development, SETI Institute

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ronald W. Garrison on April 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Here's a book that superficially looks like a serious technical discussion of SETI, even to the point where many potential readers may be intimidated by the diagrams, equations, jargon, and so on. But in reality, it's very lacking in solid scientific information.
For example: On page 116, one of the factors mentioned as a limit to OSETI (finding laser beacons and such) is extinction--the attenuation of light due to dust in the intersteller medium. This, it is said, limits our ability to see laser beacons to "a few dozens light years" for visible wavelengths. Really?? Then how come you can go and see stars farther away than that with your naked eye? Oh, because they're brighter! Well, how bright does a laser beacon need to be? How much attentuation is there, in per cent, dB or whatever, at, say, 100 light years? How much does a beam spread out over, say, 100 light years? How much variation in the signal is there over time as a result of dust? Not a BIT of quantitative data on this stuff!
Like all other SETI enthusiasts I've seen, they also ignore another issue: As communication techniques get more advanced, they look more and more like random noise. Our millions of chattering cell phones and internet hosts will almost certainly be undetectable to anyone outside the earth environment, let alone the solar system: Those transmissions have no directionality, they are low power precisely because they are efficient and advanced, and their advanced modulation causes them to look like white noise. Consider a 300 bps modem, with its old-fashioned tone signaling; then listen to a 56k modem, which, except when it's hooking up, sounds almost like rushing steam.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chris from San Francisco on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I like the idea of this book, but the execution left a bit to be desired.
The first two sections ("Are We Alone?" and "Getting a Dial Tone") do a passably good job of introducing some of the basics of interstellar communication, ably introducing both the fundamentals of radio and optical technologies and the unique challenges of communicating a signal (any signal; the details of the signal to be sent are reserved for Part III) across interstellar distances.
Problems with the first two sections are:
(1) inconsistent readability: the author seems not to have found a consistent tone for the book, and wanders between wide-eyed pie-in-the-sky speculation and bone-dry technical detail;
(2) organizational flaws: the author routinely discusses a concept or entity throughout early chapters without a decent introduction or explanation, only to treat the subject in question at length (with the proper explanatory introduction) later in the text -- the discussion of the SETI@home distributed computing project is particularly guilty of this;
(3) lack of investigative reporting: almost every piece of information in these sections could have come out of a textbook or a web search, and it's clear that the author hasn't bothered to interview the movers and shakers in the SETI community and find out anything much about the "story behind the story," which might have made for some interesting reading;
(4) bad editing: there is a typo every few pages, which is a minor beef but in the age of spell-checkers hardly excusable.
Nonetheless, if you've never read a "Scientific American" article about SETI, the first two sections of the book would be educational.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Todd Hawley on May 27, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This question has confounded people for generations. Are we the only intelligent lifeform capable of space travel and communicating with others, or are there other similar races of intelligent beings in the cosmos? With the increasingly popularity of the SETI@home project, which lets PC users use a downloadable screen saver to help in analyzing radio transmissions from space it would seem numerous folk want to help in discovering if others are "out there."
This book describes in detail the "history" of SETI (Search for Extraterrestial Intelligence), its motivations for desiring contact with extraterrestials, theories on how likely extraterrestials do exist and if they indeed do exist, how likely they would be able to communicate back to "earthlings." There are also chapters devoted to how our technology would enable us to communicate, starting with radio and laser communication, signal processing, teleporting computer bits, using symbols, pictures, and abstract language as a form of communication, and how to go about translating any form of communication we would receive from an extraterrestial.
A fascinating book about a fascinating idea and while I don't expect "ET" to show up on my doorstep any time soon, at least now I know enough that if he does, I'll have some idea of how best to communicate with him.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. A Michaud on January 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Readers who want a general introduction to questions related to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence should look elsewhere. This is a highly technical book on the techniques and problems of communication across interstellar distances. People with strong backgrounds in science or engineering may find this material fascinating, but general readers soon will get lost. Overall rating (for techies): four stars.
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