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Aliens Steal Laptop!

Well, not exactly, but alien-hunting technology really did help locate a stolen laptop

3:35 PM -- Here's an idea for the Veterans Administration and the FBI. Why not use an extraterrestrial intelligence-gathering network to locate all of those stolen and lost laptops? That's what a Minneapolis-based software programmer volunteering with the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence ([email protected]) project did, according to an AP report.

Volunteers for SETI, a program run by the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of Calif., Berkeley, run [email protected] software on their home computers, which become part of a computing grid to help process and analyze radio telescope data gathered from radio noise in space.

When the computers go into screen-saver mode, they basically "phone home" to the Berkeley servers, which record their IP addresses. There are reportedly over a million volunteers donating their CPU cycles in search of intelligent life beyond Earth, but so far none has been found.

According to the AP report, SETI volunteer James Melin was able to locate his wife's laptop, which had been stolen from the couple's home in early January and had been running the [email protected] software, over the extraterrestrial network.

Using his other home computers participating in the program, Melin kept an eye on the [email protected] database in hopes that the laptop would do its regular check-ins with the Berkeley database. When it did, he handed the IP addresses the machine was using to law enforcement, which then traced the laptop and returned it to Melin's wife, Melinda Kimberly. The screenplays and novels she was writing on the machine appeared intact.

Seems the only tampering on the laptop were files of rap music tracks with lyrics that may have been written by the thief, according to AP. Said Melin: "It's really, really horrid rap... It makes Ludacris look like Pavarotti."

His wife's reaction to all of this: "I always knew that a geek would make a great husband," she says. "He always backed up all my data, but this topped it all. It became like 'Mission: Impossible' for him, looking for hard evidence for the cops to use... He's my hero."

Alien Steals Laptop, Geek Retrieves It!

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading