I programmed computers (mostly mainframes) as a hobby and job for over thirty years, and I'm really pleased to see all the recent new developments and future possibilities with the combination of personal computers and the Internet.
As a youngster I wanted to be an astronomer, until computers seduced me, and really envy the folks doing astronomy now.
Welcome Richard -- MarkDilley
Most important recent book I have: "Rare Earth -- Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe" by Peter D. Ward and Donald Brownlee. Oversimplified summary: Earth is a much more special and unique place for the development of life _beyond microbes_ than anyone ever thought just a couple of decades ago. We're likely to be the only intelligent, technological life in any portion of the Universe we'll ever explore. (That's why I'm no longer a Seti@Home fan.)
Not having read up on the stuff, is it still assumed that life would be carbon & based on molecule-sized chemicals? That assumption seems like a stretch to me, and I often see it in "why Earth is good for life" arguments. -- BayleShanks
The book is based on mainstream science, and concerned with DNA-based life. It's about the types of life that could arise via natural processes. (IMHO this is not very limiting to the book's thesis. Sure, there might be life with some other basis, but it's not likely to be as flexible, adaptable, complex, or communicative because all the elements with the properties to allow those are already used by DNA-life.)
(If anyone says, "What about computers being a form of life?", the answer is that our silicon-based computer technology couldn't have arisen naturally. Yes, there are DNA-based computers being developed by people, but if that could develop naturally in the absence of intelligent life to construct it, it would have already happened. Computers are a tool of humans.)
Most of the universe is hostile to the development of complex life (meaning life more complicated than microbes).