[Beowulf] how Google warps your brain

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Fri Oct 22 13:12:51 PDT 2010

On Fri, 22 Oct 2010, William Harman wrote:

> Rgb makes many good points (and should change his profession to that of a
> futurist (compliment intended)) but one thing I believe needs to be put in
> place, for the omnipresence of this type of technological world - in a word
> - power.  Whatever device you use and wherever you use it, you need a source
> of power.  Devices or appliances that have power for a few hours or days
> will not cut it.  I still prefer good old hard cover books to ebooks, which
> I can read after the evening meal and outside with some fresh air, no
> extension cord needed to keep my notebook juiced up.  Now if I had a cold
> fusion battery pack that lasted for years, (or extracted power from the
> ether) I could take my notebook, netbook or any other device and go and live
> happily ever after :-)

You can read a kindle for maybe two or three weeks on a charge.  e-ink
consumes no power except when pages change.  I don't know why they don't
sell it with a solar cell covering the back.  It would run forever if it
recharged and stayed charged every time you put it down with the cell
facing the light.

A kindle holds well over 1000 books.  Try jamming those into your
backback when you go camping or on vacation.  And this is passe -- if
they'd built the kindle with a SD slot, they'd hold an infinite number
of books -- a rather large book, formatted, with some pictures, is a MB.
Who can read 64,000 to 100,000 books (what a Kindle with a 64 GB static
memory would hold)?

Finally, you can fill your Kindle for free -- most of the greatest works
of human literature are out of copyright and available for free at
project Gutenberg and elsewhere.  If there is one more motivation
required, if you do manage to read the last book stored, you can power
up its wireless and suddenly it is a bookstore, and in two minutes you
can be reading the latest bestseller, usually for less money than it
would cost in paper.  I've bought books on long bus rides, right there
from my seat on the bus in motion.

The Sony and Nook have basically the same advantages.  Ipads I agree
don't have the longevity, but there are lots of people working on
ultra-low power, fast, color displays to compete with or replace
relatively slow E-ink.

I love books.  I have a personal library with well over 1000 novels (it
fills four or five full size bookshelves, most of the shelves stacked
two deep with paperbacks and with stacks left out all over the floor in
one of the rooms of my house.  But books are deader than a doorknob.  I
>>wish<< I could put them all on a single device and have my library
with me, the same way that my entire music collection is sitting next to
my right elbow at this moment, playing Live Dead at the Fillmore,
instead of being on perishable media that deteriorates over time, is
easy to break or lose, and that you have to repurchase every time
somebody fiddles the distribution/playback mechanism.

If I could feed them into a scanner that would translate every one into
latex and thence into formatted, readable pdf or epub, one page at a
time, I'd be in there tearing them to pieces to feed the maw.  Except
for old hardbacks and books of particular value.  Maybe.


> - cheers
> Bill Harman,
> P - (801) 572-9252;  F - (801) 571-4927
> billharman at comcast.net
> billharman1027 at gmail.com
> skype name: harman8015729252
> skype phone: +1 (801) 938-4764
> -----Original Message-----
> From: beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org [mailto:beowulf-bounces at beowulf.org] On
> Behalf Of Robert G. Brown
> Sent: Friday, October 22, 2010 6:39 AM
> To: Beowulf Mailing List
> Subject: RE: [Beowulf] how Google warps your brain
> On Thu, 21 Oct 2010, Mark Hahn wrote:
>> I find myself using my desktop more and more as a terminal - I hardly
>> ever run anything but xterm and google chrome.  as such, I don't mind that
>> it's a terrible old recycled xeon from a 2003 project.  it would seem
>> like a waste of money to buy something modern, (and for me to work
> locally)
>> since there are basically infinite resources 1ms away as the packet
> flies...
> Again, an ancient (well, as much as anything in computing ever is:-)
> paradigm.  The interesting thing is that people have been engineering,
> designing, selling lightweight/thin computing models in the personal
> computer game since maybe 1983 or 1984.  I bought one of the very first
> ones -- it was a straight up PC motherboard-in-a-box with a custom (and
> enormously expensive) coax-based network interface that ran back to the
> PC.  It leeched all of the devices and some of the software off of the
> PC.  Then there were the Sun offerings -- SLC and ELC diskless machines
> (or really, any Sun system you liked run diskless) on real networks,
> where they still booted their OS over the network as well as the
> software they ran, but were consistent with the "network is the
> computer" slogan.  There was yet another burst of enthusiasm around the
> time of the release of java -- java was supposed to enable a new kind of
> thin appliance (and in fact did IIRC -- a few were sold but were a
> commercial failure).
> However, none of these models succeeded in the long run.  The only
> thin/remote computing model that has persisted is the xterm/rsh/ssh
> model on top of Unix (with its many enhancements and variations,
> including for the most part beowulfery, which with a few exceptions
> relies on e.g. ssh for remote job distribution and control).
> I think that this has finally changed.  Google in particular is intent
> on fundamentally changing it and >>really<< making the network (or
> rather, remote computing cloud) into the computer.  Finally, I think the
> conditions are right for them to succeed where everybody else has
> failed.
> It's interesting to think about the conditions that enable this to work
> (and how they differ from those that faced people in the 80's, 90's,
> even 00's).
>  a) Computers are now fast enough that it is possible to create a
> DOUBLE breakout to isolate software from both the hardware (which is
> what operating sytems were supposed to do) and from the operating system
> itself, which hasn't done so since people learned that they could make a
> ton of money selling operating systems and controlling the software
> market.  Up until the last decade, at least some of what people wanted
> to do required "native" code, written for and compiled for a particular
> operating system and often for a particular hardware environment
> underneath the operating system.  That is still true for a few things
> (notably high end games) but very little of the rest of what people do
> isn't accessible with interpreted or emulated pseudocode.
>  b) Networking is no longer much of a bottleneck.  As you say, things
> are a few ms away as the packet flies.  Or, as I sit here, 16 ms ping
> time away from my desktop at Duke, where I'm sitting at home inside a
> network with a 7 Mbps pipe to the world.  Slashdot has Google preparing
> to build a 1 Gbps broadband network for Stanford undergrads.  TWC and
> other communications companies are furiously laying fiber to
> neighborhoods if not homes.  It's easy to see their motivation.
>  c) HTML, which was never REALLY intended for it, has morphed into a
> device independent presentation layer.  Browsers, which were never at
> all intended for it, have morphed into a de facto user extensible
> psuedo-operating system, capable of downloading and running software
> both transient and permanent (plug-in extensions as well as e.g.
> straight up programs).  The software for this isn't all quite hardware
> layer independent yet, but a lot of it is and there is a SEPARATION
> between the hardware sensitive part and the interface that if nothing
> else makes it easy to write things that will run on top of plug-ins, not
> the actual operating system, in an operating system independent way.
>  d) Servers were once expensive and represented a massive investment
> barrier to remote computing.  Only crazed, uberhacker-skilled
> individuals would set up servers at home, for example.  Those services
> that were remote-offered in home environments or small offices were
> trivia -- click-controlled shared printer or file access.  Only Unix
> (and ssh/rsh) provided a real remote login/execution environment, and
> even a Unix tyro was uberhacker compared to a Windows Joe User or an
> Apple Semi-Luddite User.  Providing MORE resources to an unskilled user
> desktop than the desktop itself could provide to the user by simply
> spending money on local software required an enormous investment in
> hardware and near-genius systems engineers -- in other words, resources
> that only existed inside large corporations, universities, governments,
> and of course crazed hacker households (like many of ours:-).
> Google in particular engineered a truly scalable cheap superserver,
> patiently building the infrastructure from the metal up so that it was
> virtually infinitely extensible at linear cost.  I can't imagine what
> their server-to-human ratio must be, but I'm guessing thousands to tens
> of thousands -- orders of magnitude better than the best of the
> supercomputing centers or corporate or government or household server
> collectives.  No doubt it was expensive to get it all started, but at
> this point they are reaping the benefits of infinite scalability and it
> isn't clear to me that ANYONE is going to ever be able to touch them in
> the foreseeable future.
> Put all of these together -- oh, and let's not forget to throw in e),
> the advent of phones and pads and ebooks and so on that are little more
> than a browser on top of a minimal software stack and a network -- and
> things truly have changed.
> Who cares if you are running Linux or Windows or MacOS any more if you
> are running Google Chrome and it "contains" an integrated office suite,
> manages your browsing, plays your music and videos, lets you run a wide
> range of games, and does it all transparently identically, for free, on
> top of any operating system?  Google, and Mozilla/Firefox in direct
> competition, have basically replaced the operating system with an
> OPERATING system, because computers are finally fast enough to make 99%
> of all users happy with a fully emulated/isolated translation layer,
> because the reliance of the environment on the network is no longer
> bottlenecked so that many compute-intensive tasks are executed
> transparently remotely (with the user not knowing or caring what is
> done where), because the environment is powerful enough to do anything
> they really care about doing including playing lots of games, because
> they will soon be able to do most of it on a wide range of handhelds
> without altering their environment.  Indeed, even storage isn't an issue
> -- Google will cheerfully provide you with as much as you are likely to
> ever need more cheaply than you can provide it for yourself in exchange
> for subtle and inobtrusive access to your heart and mind.
> Which they already have.  An anecdote.  I am shopping for a telescope,
> since I have a PDA at Duke that I have to spend down before next
> semester lest it hit the 'have to give some back' threshold and I'm
> teaching astronomy these days.  A good telescope -- I'm planning to
> spend ballpark of $2600 for an 8" Celestron Schmidt-Casselgrain capable
> of decent astrophotography, some good lenses, a cheap (starter) CCD
> camera.  So I've googled/browsed several vendors looking at their
> offerings.
> In my igoogle page, guess what ad is insidiously placed somewhere on my
> screen in one of my add ons, every day?  When I visit remote sites that
> have nothing (on the surface) to do with Google but that have adds
> placed on the screen, guess what ads are there?  It's really remarkable
> to pay attention to this, because my own entrepreneurial activities have
> often been related to predictive marketing and the paradox that however
> much we dislike SPAM and direct marketing advertising in general, it is
> really because it is all noise, little signal.  Google's mobile Orion
> telescope ad is not noise.  It is indeed directly focused on what I'm
> interested in buying.  It isn't lingerie (hmmm, buying that might be fun
> too:-) or machine tools, or video cameras -- although I'll bet I could
> stimulate these to appear instead with the right bit of browsing.  It is
> the most expensive (highest margin) thing I'm actually looking at and
> for.
> I can't tell if Google is the second coming, arriving at last to kick
> the butt of the Microsoft antichrist and usher in the millenium, or if
> they are the antichrist who is simply preparing to eliminate all of the
> lesser devils and bring about the apocalypse.  The scary thing is that
> Google is a significant portion of my brain -- with its new
> type-and-it-appears answering system, all that's missing is a neural
> interface and the ability to back up my memories to a remote silo and I
> might not even notice my own dying.  I cannot imagine living and working
> without it, but it is starting to remind me of some very scary science
> fiction novels as what could possibly provide a better opportunity for
> mind control than an interface that is effectively part of your mind?
> So what can one do?  Google is offering up Chrome-crack with the lavish
> and unspoken promise -- that I have no doubt that they will keep -- that
> it will be the last operating environment you ever, um, don't actually
> buy, that inside a year or two we'll see Chromeputers that may well run
> linux underneath -- but no one will know or care.  That through its
> magic window you will be able to get to all of your music and movies and
> personal or professional data (efficiently and remotely stored, backed
> up and sort-of-secure).  That within it PDFs will "just display", movies
> and music will "just play", email will move, news will be read,
> documents will be word processed, games will be played, and if you
> borrow a friend's computer for a day or use your phone or your pad,
> everything will be right there with nothing more than the inconvenience
> or convenience of the particular hardware interface to surmount or
> exploit.
> It won't end there.  Who can provide remote computing resources even for
> actual computations cheaper than Google?  For them, adding a server
> costs what, five FTE person minutes plus the cost of the cheapest
> possible hardware itself -- assembly line server prep plus somebody
> plugging it in?  Who can provide server management at their ratio of
> humans to servers?  Who can fund/subsidize most of the power and
> management cost for your tiny slice of this resource for the right to
> insert subtle little advertising messages into your brain that are NOT
> noise, they are indeed things you are likely to buy and hence pure gold
> for the advertiser?  Microsoft is only now starting to realize that
> Windows 7 might well be the last Windows ever released and is scrabbling
> to cut a too-little, too-late deal with Yahoo and/or Adobe to try to
> transform themselves into something they only dimly perceive and
> understand and cannot now duplicate in time.
> One thing that has often been discussed on this list is marketing the
> supercomputer center.  People have proposed setting up a big
> supercomputer center and renting it out to companies or universities
> that need this sort of resource.  In general, the few times this has
> been tried it has failed, for all sorts of good reasons.  As Bill noted,
> it is difficult enough to set up a center WITHIN a closed environment
> with captive users and real cash flow -- even though beowulfish clusters
> are quite scalable, only rarely do they achieve the 1000 node/systems
> person scaling limit (and then there is the infrastructure cost,
> depreciation and maintenance and replacement and programming support
> and the fact that a general purpose center achieves generality at the
> expense of across-the-board price-performance compromise).
> Google, OTOH, could do it.  In fact, they could do it almost as an
> afterthought, as a side effect.  Inside a decade, I can see Google quite
> literally owning the data Universe, dwarfing Microsoft and Apple
> combined and making both of them pretty much irrelevant if not bankrupt.
> And not just in the United States -- worldwide.
> Few things in computing have actually scared me.  Microsoft is pretty
> scary, but it is the scariness of a clown -- its monopoly was never
> really stable once Linux was invented and I think it may have peaked and
> at long last be on the long road do oblivion.  Apple isn't scary -- it
> is genuinely innovative for which I salute them, but its innovations
> provide at best a transient advantage and its vision has been too local
> to take over the world.  Even Linux with its avowed goal of world
> domination hasn't been scary, because ultimately linux belongs to the
> world and as long as the computers being run on also belong to the
> world, control remains where it belongs, with the people of the world.
> Google scares me.  It has quietly ACHIEVED world domination, and is
> about to transform the world in a way that will be shocking, amazing,
> dangerous, liberating, captivating -- and supremely beyond the control
> of anybody but the people running Google.
> Be afraid, be very afraid.
> Happy Halloween!
>    rgb
> P.S. -- C'mon, haven't y'all missed my 10K essays?  Admit it...;-)
> Alas, now it is off to grade papers and disappear again.
> 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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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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