Invitation from Dr. Bernard Oliver to Present My Ideas
Today, I received an official invitation, dated January 9, 1991, from Dr. Bernard Oliver, Deputy Chief, SETI Office at Ames to present my case to his people for Optical SETI. The date suggested for my visit is March 18, 1991. Dr. Oliver has kindly offered to cover my travel and accommodation expenses and pay a small honorarium. I must apologize to Clive for ever doubting him!
Both Drs. Oliver and Tarter had previously indicated that I was welcomed to present my thoughts on Optical SETI to their people. Now the invitation is official, and by suggesting a specific date and offering to pick up my expenses, they have demonstrate a real commitment. I will be responding in the next few days to Dr. Oliver's office, and making arrangements for the visit.
Over the next two months I need to broaden my rationale to think a bit more deeply about the "optical search strategy". In the letter I received today, Bernard Oliver has challenged me to forget about sharp beams, as that is well-understood, but to instead propose how I would conduct an effective "search" strategy when both sender and receiver have antennas whose gain is 10^15, and which must therefore be pointed in 10^15 directions to cover the sky. He says that "this is really the crux of the matter". Dr. Oliver certainly makes life interesting by shifting the sands of his objections, and I intend to rise to the occasion. These sands shift faster than the sands in Saudi Arabia! This challenge comes at a good time, as you will be aware from a recent message to Dr. Walter Mitchell about obtaining high- resolution data on solar spectra, and a document on "Transmitting/Local- Oscillator Lasers and Magic Frequencies" (RABOBS.16) uploaded yesterday. I am now moving into a research phase dedicated to identifying any "magic" optical frequencies, and thereby hoping to develop more efficient (more focused) optical search strategy ideas.
So look forward over the next two months to documentation fleshing out my present ideas and developing new concepts in this area. I will be looking at the Microwave Observing Project (MOP) closely, both for ideas and to see how much of that strategy is compatible with the optical search. I will also be comparing the effort and complexity of the optical search with that for MOP. I will be seeking the answers to two basic questions:
1. How difficult will the optical search be?
2. If the optical search is significantly more difficult than MOP, does that imply that "sensible" aliens would not use optics to attract the attention of emerging technical civilizations, or would they expect us to wait a while until our technology is more mature, and in a better position for successfully detecting ETI?
For those of you who don't know, Dr. Oliver is a former Vice President for R&D at Hewlett Packard, and wrote several of the early papers on optical communications, circa 1960. He even co-authored papers with Professor Charles Townes of laser fame, though he clearly disagrees with Professor Townes over his SETI approach. The invitation from Dr. Oliver was copied to Dr. John Rather, Dr. Albert Betz, and Professor Charles Townes, all of which have on-going interests in Optical SETI and/or infra-red heterodyne astronomy. Because of Dr. Oliver's distinguished microwave/optoelectronics background, I have found it difficult to fathom the cold-shoulder given to the optical approach, but we all know from history, that it is possible for professional well-qualified people to come to quite different conclusions when presented with the same facts and evidence. As I said to Dr. Rather at NASA HQ in a long Fax to him a week ago, I am sure that Dr. Oliver could run circles around me in his knowledge and professional capabilities. To be fair to Dr. Oliver, as he reminds me in today's letter, over the years he has been responsible for funding Optical SETI research work, though this has been very much a backwater activity.
We also know, that professional qualifications need not necessarily be a strong guide as to who is correct. I think we all remember a mid-twentieth century Astronomer Royal who once said that space travel "was a load of bunkum". For a more up-to-date example of drawing the wrong conclusions from accurate data, we only have to look at the green light given by this Administration and the State Department to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The evidence about Hussein's megalomaniac activities has been available to the civilized world for the better part of a decade. But despite all the evidence, our political leaders have chosen to interpret the data differently. If ever there was an own goal scored this must take the cake. Unfortunately, young Americans and other coalition members must give up their lives because the politicians have again mucked things up. Clearly, we humans have much progress yet to make in our terrene affairs before we can lay claim to seeking membership to the club of Advanced Technical Civilizations - we may be advancing in technology, but in international relationships we still have much to learn. How sad!
The next document (RADOBS.19) will express some of my present ideas for the optical search strategy.
January 14, 1991 RADOBS.18 BBOARD No. 324
P.S. For those interested in using private.radobs to critique or add to the rationale I am advancing and presently developing, any contributions longer than two pages should be uploaded by first saving the material to a file in your personal file area (this is automatic) using Kermit. The main-frame buffers overflow and computer/main-frame synchronization is lost in attempting to upload larger ASCII documents. I learnt this the hard way when I first attempted in early December to send long messages to Dr. Jill Tarter. I am expecting a 10 kbyte response from Angelo Campanella any day now.
The procedure to upload long messages is as follows: 1. Exit the menu system by typing E [enter]. 2. At the Magnus system prompt $ type "kermit" [enter]. 3. Look at the bottom middle of your Procomm Screen to see if it has E71, and type "set parity even" [enter]. If it has S71, type "set parity " [enter] (note the space after parity) 4. Type receive "filename", where "filename" is the name of the file you wish to upload. 5. Press the PgUp key. 6. Press 2 for the Kermit Protocol. 7. Give the drive, path and filename of the file you wish to transfer. 8. When the file is completely transferred type at the Kermit prompt "quit" [enter]. 9. Enter MM and the To:private.radobs, CC:, Subject, etc. 10. Press Ctrl B, the command to insert a file from within MM. 11. When prompted for the filename, type the filename used in step 4 and [enter]. I believe that file names may be case-sensitive, so type the file name exactly as you did in step 4.
You should see a prompt "[OK]" appear, signifying that the previously uploaded file has been found and inserted into your message. A large message may take 30 or more seconds before it is available to be read (and checked) on private.radobs.
May I remind those users who have slow, i.e., 300 baud modems, that if they wish to avoid getting trapped into reading my longer documents, all they need to do is to select "n" when presented with [ynq] or [npq]. For all but the shortest of documents, my headers contain in brackets, the size of the file in kbytes. You can always select "n" or "q" to skip the rest of the document after the header and the first few lines of the message are displayed. If you temporarily mark all messages in private.radobs as unread, and list all the headers, the headers of my documents will indicate their file size.
In a week or so, I intend to upload a summary table that lists all my documents by title, dates, file names, file sizes and message numbers, to make it easier to keep track of this exercise in Optical SETI. The messages written and uploaded over the past month now amount to over 240 kbytes - I am amazed myself. It is amazing what one can do when one is having fun! You are encouraged to print out hard-copy for your files and future reading. If anyone has gotten the impression that I am writing the book on Optical SETI you are not wrong! My thanks to Dr. Robert Dixon for this opportunity. Its a great way to pace oneself when involved in an extensive paper study - there are psychological aspects to this which makes it easier to keep this effort up when working alone. There is also a sense of accomplishment when I dispatch each "module" up into the ether. Perhaps bulletin boards were never set up for this purpose, but then who ever said that Stuart Kingsley was conventional! I don't believe that there is any law that says "one shall not do research on bulletin boards". At least, not yet!
The funny thing about SETI is that after a while you get to believe that what you think is actually true! That applies equally to me as to anyone else in SETI-land. This is the one branch of science where we would be completely lost if we didn't have the word "assume" in our vocabulary.
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