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Noise, Memory, Vision, and the Pieces

January 22, 2009

Today was noisy.  In many ways, the noise just seemed to permeate my day.  The most memorable of all of today’s noises were the hundreds of fans cooling the servers at Intel.  I’ve been in server rooms before, but never one this big, with so many servers, with so much noise.  I was left with more questions than answers.

The thing that struck me hardest however is the concept of the shear power wrapped up in the Internet.  I wonder how many server arrays, how many servers, how many miles of wire, how many hard drives, how much power consumption, and how many people are employed in today’s information revolution.  The machinery I saw today isn’t even involved in production.  These were merely test bays.  My mind cannot even grasp the immensity of the Internet.

I remember just a few years ago (around 1990) when my friend and colleague first demonstrated the World Wide Web to me.  At that time, you, nor I, had never heard of Netscape, and Google was just a twinkle in someone’s neo-cortex.  The Internet at that time was mostly an academic/scientific prototype, hardly used by us mere mortals (unless you used CompuServe).

I remember touring the Aloha Intel plant in the mid-80s and seeing how chips were made.  At that time, I didn’t even know who Intel was, or what they did.  It was unfathomable that any company would be doing what they do.

I remember my first time in Tektronix, in the mid-70s.  Even a leading-edge company, like Tek, was limited in technology, at least by today’s standards.  Today, as I listened to my host, @drnormal, explain the hardware, I had the strange sensation that I was living in a Sci-Fi flick.  I dared realize that this was reality and that he was using actual language.  It was actually surreal to me that this kind of raw processing power existed.  My brain was salivating as I consumed the information.  I drank it in like a thirsty man in the desert.

I left Hillsboro, and soon found myself driving through the forest of the Oregon Coast Range.  The contrast was not subtle, I was no longer in the Silicon Forest, I was now in the forests of my forefathers.  There was a time when men worked in the woods, falling timber and hauling it to the mill.  Today, packets of data do all the work.

This photo doesnt even do justice to what I saw today. The ad hoc organization couldnt wtih the orderly systems and the hundreds of miles of Cat5/6 an Fiber wire.  All crammedinto an area about the size of a hocky rink.

This photo doesn't even do justice to what I saw today. The ad-hoc organization coupled with the orderly systems and the hundreds of miles of Cat5/6 and Fiber wire. All crammed into an area about the size of a hockey rink.

Even as I sit here keying in the words, I am struck by the journey these ideas will travel.  Each keystroke travels thousands of miles before you ever read them.  I enter these letters and they travel the Interwebs to servers somewhere and back – then instantly appear on my screen.  All of this is so fast, that I am left with the impression that my words are “typed” right onto the screen.

I remember the sound of the two-cycle engine that powered the Hurst Tool (aka: “the jaws of life“).  Late at night, off the side of some lonely road and in the brush, we would work furiously to free the trapped victims of a high-speed car wreck.  The smells of oil, gasoline, alcohol, blood, and that nasty little two-cycle engine would blend into one unforgettable odor.  If I could replicate the smells, the sights, and the sounds for others, I’ve often wondered if it would reduce the carnage.

The red lights flashing, the spot lights creating a bubble of light, and the sound of that Hurst Tool grinding in the background.  The emotion, the sickening smell of impending death, and the cold fog of the very early morning, all of this too routine to ignore.

A memory is a powerful tool for the introspective individual.  The memory of those dark nights will haunt me forever.  But it is the vision of the future that I grasped today that will direct my steps forward.  The vision, of things not yet realized, now that is a powerful motivator.

But today, it is the memory of sound of the servers that stays with me.  Data is passed from one device to the next at ever increasing speeds.  The data in that room traveled a million times faster than the data to and from this PC.  The data in that room was transfered over fiber-optic cables, but the data that travels into and out of my PC squeezes through a single twisted-pair of copper wire.  Amazing.

I am left wondering where this is headed and the abilities that are yet to be realized.  As Moore’s Law continues to be realized, I’m beginning to think that Isaac Asimov was not too far off.

What did you see today?  What did you hear?  What did you see in the Tomorrowland of your vision?

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