An Appetite for Discovery

Looking at the skies for stars and aliens can both be done on Linux systems.
Happy Stargazing

Finally, why not join in the greatest adventure of them all: SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence? Your Linux system is ideally suited to this task. Since you are running a true multi-user system, it is possible to have a setiathome process running in the background (reniced so it doesn't draw too heavily on your system resources). Who knows? You may be the one who decodes the first signal from a distant civilization, like California—I joke, seulement, non? Nevertheless, visit the SETI@home pages, register as a SETI explorer, download your client and do your part in exploring what may be humankind's most exciting new frontier. [You can join the Linux Journal Reader Group too.]

There is no compiling or linking to do. You simply download the client and untar it. For instance, I downloaded the 2.4 version of the client. After untarring the bundle, I renamed the directory (you will see why) and ran the client from there.

tar -xvf setiathome-2.4.i386-pc-linux-gnu-glibc2.1.tar
mv setiathome-2.4.i386-pc-linux-gnu-glibc2.1
cd setiathome

You can also launch the program from a crontab (as I do) and just leave it running in the background. Here is my crontab entry:

0 * * * * cd /root/setiathome; ./setiathome\
-graphics<\n> -nice 19 > /dev/null 2> /dev/null
Currently, SETI@home runs with a text-only client, but the latest version also comes with an experimental “screensaver mode” program called xsetiathome. The -graphics option in the crontab above is required if you wish to use this experimental “xsetiathome” GUI front end. Even before this GUI feature was added, Linux SETI users were creating their own GUI clients to give setiathome a friendlier face. One of my favorites is still TkSETI from Rick Macdonald. You can download TkSETI from One of the things I like about it is the ability to check my progress against my other friends who run SETI@home. At this moment, Chef Marcel's lovely wife, Sally, is way ahead, but François is way behind.

Figure 2. Keeping Tabs on SETI@home with TkSETI

Oui, mes amis, it is that time again. I hope you enjoyed the items on today's menu and that you will find yourselves exploring other tasty avenues on your own. In the meantime, it is a clear night and Chef Marcel has the telescope set up out back. If you wish to join me, François will pour you a final glass of wine and we will savor the Chablis while we search the heavens. Join me again next time at Chez Marcel. Bon Appétit!


Marcel Gagné ( lives in Mississauga, Ontario. In real life, he is president of Salmar Consulting Inc., a systems integration and network consulting firm. He is also a pilot, writes science fiction and fantasy and edits TransVersions, a science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine. He loves Linux and all flavors of UNIX and will even admit it in public. You can discover many things from his web site at


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