01/08/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: O'Reilly. 417 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $36.95 (CAN). ISBN: 0-596-00037-5).
check out website: http://oreilly.com/
Although 'Beyond Contact: A Guide To SETI And Communicating With Alien Civilizations' by Brian McConnell is now eleven years old, this is still an important book, especially if you're planning to use what is known in our current reality for any Science Fiction first contact stories. After all, no alien species is going to arrive unannounced, they're going to see our 'postcards' first from either television transmissions or responding to any signals we send out into the cosmos. Both of them are crucial elements to what we are sending out now.
McConnell explains all these operations and especially how the SETI and CETI communications are going as well as giving the necessary links if you want to use your own computer screensaver time to assist in scanning the received data at http://setiahome.berkeley.edu .
Much space is also given to the examination of other star systems for planets and you will come away with the workings of Doppler shift and how giant planets have an effect on their associated stars. I did have a ponder on these wobbles and think that they are probably more detectable at a distance than close up.
The examination of the Drake Equation and its revision by David Brin is something that I've seen before but the depth is greater here. As I'm looking at this book for research, I did wonder how the figures would change with our first alien encounter and what numbers they could offer into the equation. Saying that, we would have to be very lucky to encounter an extra-terrestrial species that would be anywhere close on our technological level. They are going to be heavily more advanced than us and we should hope against Stephen Hawking's assertions that they will be at least benevolent.
McConnell also spends some chapters explaining how binary messages are sent and even elementary computer programs. If you've ever written any in BASIC, then these aren't difficult to understand. I always think it's a shame that BASIC isn't included with all Windows operating system just to give a start to potential programmers an interest in the subject.
One area I did get a little concerned about is the sending of photographs or even a little film. McConnell forgets that although we people in the west see things moving left to right, the Middle East read from right to left as witnessed a couple decades ago when sales of a particular washing powder dropped because from their interpretation, you put clean washing in and it came out dirty. If the aliens have a similar mindset, they might well see things differently.
That said, this book should stand proud on your bookshelf and an ideal reference to what you need to sending a message out into the cosmos. Just a shame it would take more than a life-time to get a message back.
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