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

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Sep 3 05:28:40 PDT 2007

On Sun, 2 Sep 2007, Ellis Wilson wrote:

> This is all very true, and also very contingent upon the fact that the
> postal service, roads, and phones are public items that each and every
> one of us pays for (even though there are phone companies, they pay
> taxes to the government heavily and follow its rules).  Whether or not
> it is readily quantifiable, we all most certainly pay for one government
> with one set of rules to police these commonwealth resources and ensure
> their proper use.  However, as Thomas Paine puts it, "Government, even
> in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an
> intolerable one."  Unlike roads, mail, and even perhaps telephones, I do
> not feel that the Internet is such a necessary means of communication
> (yet) that the government need interfere.

Actually, IIRC the phone companies "are" the internet, and the internet
"is" at least originally a government project (the latter being well
known -- DARPA and all).  The internet is composed of e.g. fiber optic
trunk lines interconnecting switches that almost without exception
belong to phone companies.  Use traceroute to follow the path of your
packets nearly anywhere.  Use whois (if necessary) to resolve just who a
lot of the core links are.  Recognize anyone?  And most of the
exceptions are things like NCREN -- government funded organizations as
well (who still lease the actual lines outside of their own

Don't get me wrong -- I too love (being a "romantic" after all) a lot of
the things about the way the Internet evolved as a mostly unregulated
utility that slipped between the overt regulation cracks in government
and was in fact governed by the young idealists who ran (and in many
cases still run) the core switches.  They created an anonymous resource
that the world has somehow managed to avoid monetizing, at least at the
price per packet level that would spell doom in many ways.  But that
model has broken down to some extent, largely because at any given
instant a signficant fraction of the attached client systems are
"infected", largely because the operating system they are running is a
piece of crap that openly invites invasion (nowadays it actually FORCES
you to DELIBERATELY have it invaded by things like the Genuine Windows
Authentication Tool, and whazzup with the spyware thing?  Do they
actually try to engineer in holes that can be exploited by the corporate

I can't really do another rant today, though -- gotta teach (sigh) and
really must prepare.  I'm just a bit more optimistic that "the people"
can, when they must, craft things LIKE speed limit and Do Not Call laws
that actually work, mostly, sort of.  I'm also a true believer in the
virtue of "dynamic tension" that permits the laws to be crafted in their
imperfect way and then gradually fixed until they do what we want.  What
I'm NOT optimistic about is that this is a self-healing problem or
self-limiting problem, and the extrapolation of its observed growth
should be very troublesome from the sheer viewpoint of engineering if
nothing else.


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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