[Beowulf] [tt] World's most powerful supercomputer goes online

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Sun Sep 2 08:38:44 PDT 2007

The following is yet another in a long line of:

<r(ant, )b(y )g(od! offtopic_index=99 amusement_index=-1>

and can be skipped by the terminally busy...;-)

On Sat, 1 Sep 2007, Ellis Wilson wrote:

> My own "solution" to this is pretty draconian -- a "final solution" of
> sorts.  I would legislate an "acceptable use agreement" for the Internet
> at the federal level (to be used for state models as well).  It would
> not be worded to compromise the rights to free speech, it would leave
> pornography mostly alone (tempting a prize as that would be to idiot
> lawmakers) and would focus strictly on the issues above that are clearly
> attacks and which clearly cost a fortune.
> -----------
> I personally feel that attempting to establish which actions online
> are within the realm of attacks is a job that will be unfortunately held
> (and run poorly) by human beings.  Perhaps in the beginning all will be
> well, and indeed free speech will continue to reign.  However, I would
> not at all be suprised if the entire system went awry and some federal
> body (I presume you are making this argument American centered, which
> also presents an interesting thought:  America filters "acceptable"
> action on the net; China anyone?) decides to waver from its obviously
> unbiased stance and attempt to benefit a company moreso than another.
> Take this example.  Let's say such an agreement was established at the
> "beginning of the internet" (yes, I know, I'm young :).  One of the
> markets that seriously suffered (I'm talking billions here too) was term
> life insurance.  One of those pesky sites came along, simply presenting
> the rates of each of the many companies in a quickly rational table,
> making competition much more steep.  Previously, the haziness of truth
> had allowed these companies to avoid competition largely, but alas, the
> internet brought a swift and complete end to that.  Let's also assume
> that as this was coming together, someone in the federal governement of
> wherever decided that this action would "clearly cost a fortune" to
> certain persons he/she was in league with, and thus, it would "clearly"
> constitute an attack.  Thats the end of that site.
> To us, clearly, the above would abruptly disrupt free speech.
> However, it is of my belief that clarity is often viewed through a
> dollar bill (or other paper currency).  The clarity of a Duke professor
> or say, a college student such as myself, might be well estranged from a
> money hungry politician, and thus able to achieve fair objectivity.
> Unfortunately, the "feds", run by politicians in large, I believe have
> an alterted slide rule to help them understand objectivity.
> Call me an internet darwinist.  I certainly don't think taking over
> computers (even if they are largely unprotected) is awesome, and
> definitely don't make a past time out of it.  However, if that is being
> done, and those victims cannot defend themselves properly, that is
> completely due to the lack of security on the victim's part.  I don't
> care whether the code is "good" or "bad", if such things exist, I just
> cannot see (even the most well intended) restrictions on the internet
> ending up unabused.

An excellent essay and rebuttal!

Let me clarify -- it isn't the money per se that motivates this view on
my part.  It is (since you seem inclined to pit "human rights" such as
free speech against the humble dollar) a matter of things like the
"right" to privacy, the "right" of human ownership, to be able to the
use resources that we paid for, the "right" to be able to specify the
rules for the use of resources purchased in the commonwealth.

There is a lovely old Sci Fi classic book you might read called "The
Space Merchants", by Pohl and Kornbluth.  In it, in some not so great a
time into a future, where the world is literally run by giant
multinational corporations and where the only career path open to poets
is to become a copywriter, it is quite literally illegal to inhibit
advertising, including advertising that is projected onto your eyeballs
by means of holography while you are driving or riding in a car.
Hmmm... don't we live in a world dominated by giant multinational
corporations already?  Don't we fight a perpetual war against those
corporations now to ensure that every single square foot of interstate
visible from the road isn't taken up with a billboard?  Hasn't the ratio
of actual television to advertisement slowly deteriorated in my lifetime
to the point where (extrapolating the curve) my grandchildren will
likely watch more ads than show?  Oh wait, there are now several cable
channels that are NOTHING but ads.

Also note that the "rights" you are defending are the rights of soulless
barbarians to insert software and data onto hardware that I own.
Soulless in the literal sense -- this discussion is about BOTS, not
people.  If somebody wants to take the time to sit down and type out a
lovely personal email to me, one character at a time, I am pleased to
receive it, even if it is advertising.  The problem with the internet
and computing is that anybody at all can craft a program that does
nothing whatsoever but email at the maximum sustained bandwidth at their
systems' point of presence.  Some of us with high bandwidth and big
clusters could (were we soulless barbarians) absolutely saturate your
mailbox, I promise, with junk email.  Somebody already is.

Now I personally deny that any sane statement of human rights includes
the right to send robot cars to drive by and wedge their physical
mailbox (on the street) full of manure (literally), to insert bombs
therein that blow the mailbox up, to create a line of robots seeking to
deliver mail so long that the legitimate postman has a hard time getting
through, to send me letters containing deadly anthrax or just the common
cold, to send so much stuff that I'm forced to employee a full-time
professional to open and presort my mail for me in order to NOT be
infected with herpes, in order NOT to inadvertently open a box filled
with cockroaches wired with little cameras and microphones ("The Fifth
Element"), in order not to have my sanity overwhelmed.  Mail of all
sorts is a human invention intended to be useful -- surely we have the
"right" to set it up and regulate it so that it can perform that
intended use?  Noting well that Federal Law in at least the United
States actually makes doing nearly any of the things listed above a
fairly serious crime.

The only reason advertising via paper mail hasn't been overtly regulated
is that it is not a zero-marginal-cost expense to would be advertisers.
And don't think that people haven't thought about it.  Six years ago I,
like most Americans, was in the process of quietly being driven nuts
because direct phone marketing was out of control.  We were literally
getting anywhere from five to ten advertising phone calls a day, and
naturally they always occurred during dinner and one always has to at
least stand up and go look at caller ID even to filter them without
answering, and of course phone advertisers know this and would always
"block" their incoming phone number so we were forced to answer if only
to find out whether or not it was bad news about a relative.  People
revolted.  Legislation was passed.  The national "do not call" list was
created -- a silly enough concept since who in their right mind WANTS to
be called during dinner by strangers wanting to sell them yet another
credit card?  Now I and pretty much everybody I know eats dinner in

In other words, once again we ALREADY have regulations prohibiting the
abuse of a commonwealth resource (phones being a public utility) to
violate the reasonable expectations of privacy and acceptable use on the
part of us, the members of the commonwealth.  Indeed, as things stand
right now there are already regulations prohibiting nearly everything I
suggest that we make a stronger effort to control at the federal level.
Just about every citizen or corporation who is attached to the Internet
in any way inherits one form or another of the toplevel acceptable use
agreements of the backbone providers.  In many if not most cases, there
are additional contractual obligations added on top of these AUAs.

So what I'm really calling for is making "Acceptable Use" clear at the
level of law, not just contract, and to impose criminal penalties in
addition to the more or less nonexistent sanctions available to the
toplevel providers.  All a provider can do, basically, is disconnect
you, and as we have long since seen, the Resident Evil on the Internet
just reconnects, new name, new IP number (and in many foreign countries
with even less regulation and toplevel administrative control than we
have here there isn't even that).

As for your last two remarks, that this is somehow something that can be
blamed on the victims, that I'm responsible for building a chainlink
fence around my house and hiring poor people to sit at my gate as
footmen and butlers to selectively admit those who have a "card", and
the bit about Darwin:

The first is clearly absurd.  Anarchy is not freedom, and life in a
state of nature (which you seem to advocate) is indeed ugly, nasty,
brutish and short.  Do you really want an "Internet" where the rich and
strong can do anything to your system that they can get away with?
Where if I'm clever enough to write a program that figures out how to
intercept your personal and professional email messages and append an
advertising message (so the actual content is embedded inside an offer
for a really great credit card) well then I DESERVE to get rich from it?
Where inserting spyware via web connections is "just part of the cost"
of using the web (and besides, if I really wanted to control it I'd go
ahead and pay a third party $50+ a year, right -- buy myself a butler
and footman, like everybody else, buy a firewall (or take the human time
to set one up -- even open source firewalls aren't "free") to act like a
chain-link fence around my property)?

The second -- well, the beauty of Darwin is that he is SO right that he
is inescapable.  We DO live in a state of nature at all times.  As
Hobbes and his philosophical successors clearly observed, the things
that we call "human rights" are really just the axioms we INVENT upon
which to base a society and are ultimately consensual fictions imposed,
in fact, by brute force.  Perhaps that force is exerted by the tyranny
of the "majority", perhaps it is a reasoned and highly functional
fiction (so that it >>survives<< in a hostile world) but evolution
happens whether or not one believes in it.

Memetic evolution (the kind that governs human rights themselves and
more practically human law and contract) is an ongoing process whereby
we can in fact propose new ways of doing things.  I absolutely agree
that there are infinite opportunities for governmental control over the
Internet to go awry -- to try to make sending pornography over the net a
federal crime, to legislate the use of crackable encryptions ciphers so
big brother can watch over us, to LEGALIZE SPAM (remembering that those
giant multinational corporations have a strong interest in doing so, or
would if they ultimately weren't made up of human beings too).  But I do
not see a stark choice -- no regulation at all, a continuing degradation
of Internet functionality, the waste of billions of dollars worth of
PRIVATE resources (remember that those bots invade personally owned
systems, and that private parties are forced to spend large amounts of
money to defend them) OR the end of "freedom" on the Internet.

This is simply a matter of reality.  The "freedom" of the Internet is
already largely an illusion, especially for the private citizen.  You
want to see Federal control in action, try sending kiddie porn out to
somebody and prepare to have your door kicked in and computer seized.
You want to be ignored?  Craft a letter that begins "Hello dear friend.
I am writing you because my third cousin, Hailie Sumboddy, recently
passed away leaving behind $37,000,000 that alas My Government wishes to
seize..."  Or send out a letter offering to show somebody your (implied)
nude pictures if only they would click the following link.  Or hell,
just send 'em an exe that will directly invade their system -- there
must still be SOMEBODY stupid enough to click it, if only an eight year

To me this is a no brainer.  I am on the goddamn front lines.  Largely
because of ten years of participation on this list, my email address is
on every spambot's list in the known universe, grazeable eight thousand
different ways from archives, reposted lists, web links, whatever.  I
have spam assassin fronting my mailbox with evolutionary rules.  It
works -- 50-100 megabytes A WEEK of SPAM is removed as noise (along with
some unknown amout of signal, but I'll be damned if I go through that
mess looking for it).  That cuts it down to where only 50-100 messages A
DAY make it THROUGH.

Is it "my fault" that I have to waste hours of every week sorting it out
and deleting it by hand?  Is it a "lack of adequate security" on my part
(let's blame the victim, yeah)?  I hope not -- I've been a Unix sysadmin
for over twenty years, sat in on two committees that helped establish
Duke's security and acceptable use policy, ran a gopher drop that became
a website that distributed about twenty key documents associated with
network security for a decade or so, and have directly defended against
internet attack with successes and many, many failures over all that
time.  In fact, part of my salary and time over those years is just ONE
of the costs of security for many other users.  If my security is
"inadequate", then God help the 99.99% of all internet/computer users
who don't actually know what the Morris worm is, who are clueless about
buffer overwrite attacks, who think that it is "normal" to have to buy
an antivirus program to paste a thin veneer of "security" over what is a
badly, badly broken operating system.

I'm fed up with it.  In my opinion we have long since passed the point
where we need real police and real penalties that pass the real costs
back to the freeloading soulless bastards that fill up my email box with
crap, that periodically shut down the net with timed viruses, that steal
identity, invade private medical records, steal privately owned computer
systems and networks for their own use, that force every corporation to
effectively hire "private police" (in the form of security tools,
hardware, and systems administrators) in order to function because there
ARE no police out there in the grand old anarchy of the Internet.

The wild wild west was a lot more romantic and attractive in retrospect
than it was in reality -- that's why it went away when the law moved in.
People don't, really, think that being shot down in the street, with
bullets zipping by and sometimes striking the innocent, is a "price of

</r(ant, )b(y )g(od!>


Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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