Marlin’s Gottahack – 1998 Nov 16 – PREV HOME NEXT



This was the one word crushing response I got to my continuous flow traffic idea from last week. "An idea clearly developed by someone who grew up in a state without snow." True enough, you can't see no blue line through 6 inches of compact snow and ice. Oh well. I will not waste time patching up the argument with descriptions of GPS, or gluing mirrors on posts at the side of the road or other such nonsense.

However I did get several responses to this suggestion and I will pass them on. The first was SNOW, that came from Robert Doggett. You can take the boy out of Iowa but you can't take Iowa out of the boy. The second was my economist wife, Mary, who points out that the system, "Like so many other stupid proposals, suffers from the problem that the system is worthless (or nearly so) until you have converted the entire world to the new way of doing things. It may be more efficient once the entire thing is in place, but if there is no way to get there without a ridiculous up front investment of capital it will not happen." Lastly, Eldon charges off in a totally new direction with the suggestion that he has often thought that the proper place for the location of the traffic light is on the dashboard where you can see it rather than hanging up in the intersection. Also he makes the suggestion that you could make more intelligent intersections (one by one, thus avoiding the large up front capital problem) by simply having them look farther down the street and directing traffic more like a person would. I do know that some modern traffic lights are more intelligent. I recall several around Microsoft that at least prior to 6 AM would sit there, red in both directions, waiting for a car to approach before they would turn green, and they did detect you coming from sufficiently far off so that you did not need to slow done. Steve Zabinsky also had some rude comments concerning the importance of people that live in states that have problems with snow but we need not report those here.

It was nice getting some feedback. Thanks.

Web alternatives


Thanks to Robert’s visit last week, I now know how to FTP junk up to my gottahack web site. Check it out

Old dead website address used to go here. Now that this is no longer a news letter but is now a site,  a little self referential web site address here will not help you find it.  M.E. 2002 Oct 12

As you can see, it is nothing other than the pages I have been emailing to you all with a table of contents page. I think that that is the way I will keep it for a while. I will just continue to send out email as I have been doing, and the site is there so that late comers can join in and follow what has been going on. Feel free to point others to that site.

Alternate Epilog to "Barbarians..."


I believe that I have already sent copies of this to absolutely everyone but it has been a busy week and I have not had much time to think let alone write so I figured I'd pad this weeks fare with the epilog.

The epilog that showed up in the book was written by our editor. I did not care for it. I did not feel that it had much of anything to do with what I thought the book was about. I figured that if the epilog was just going to be some random thing, I could hack out better random than he could. So I blazed out the thing you read below and sent it to him and Jennifer. He sent back a very nice email explaining how he LOVED my epilog, but somehow it was not quite what they were looking for, as it seemed to introduce some new ideas and maybe I could go sell it to some Science Fiction magazine or something. I did not want to fight it, so we used his epilog for the book. But for those of you that want to know what is REALLY going on. Here it is.


Hi, Marlin here. I asked if I could write the epilog, personally. We have spent several hundred pages trying to give you a view of what a big complex chaotic system a company like Microsoft is. Yet as I look back on the story that we have written I see that it describes the torturous trek in detail with little discussion of motive. It is like a book about the hardship of the Oregon Trail with no explanation of why these pioneers would sell their farm, pack all their belongings and head west. Yes, indeed, the lure of GOLD is part of it, but there is more to it than that.

I would like to leave you with some of the feelings of excitement that I continue to have about the computer industry. We, human kind, are surfing on a Tsunami. Microsoft did not make the computer age rather the computer age made Microsoft. Microsoft and others caught the wave, the waters are turbulent, we nearly fell off the board a few times, but the wave continues to swell. This ride will not level out. It is way gnarly. We rise higher off the ground and the chaos grows. It is AWESOME!

I have been riding on this exponential curve. I have been watching my processing power and my wealth grow exponentially. The complexity of the systems I have worked on and the thrashing has similarly grown. Is the ride over? I think not. Is Microsoft going to be hamstrung by legal action? I doubt it but mostly I think it really does not matter. Who cares what is bundled or not. The story of what is going on at Microsoft pales compared to what is happening in the industry. The wave comes on whether Microsoft hangs ten or not. Microsoft is the effect not the cause. It is just a cork bobbing in the wave marking its rise. Microsoft is the result of a bunch o' guys like me hacking away. We will continue to hack regardless of whether we sit under this roof or that one.

Exponential growth is so hard to come to grips with. Think about what I said at the beginning. Microsoft was a 100 people when I started. Now it grows that much every week. Think about it. A new Microsoft being formed every single week. Amazing!

Before starting at Microsoft I had written an OS that fit in two and a half K, which was about 2 thousand lines of code. Contrast that with a typical paperback novel of (40 lines per page x 250 pages) ten thousand lines. Contrast that with Windows NT which last I heard was 20 million lines of code. That is the equivalent of 2000 paperback novels. If you read one novel a week it will take 40 years just to read through the code! This is not some chunk of code that you or I or anyone else will ever understand. It is already beyond understanding and it continues to grow.

The growth is unbelievable and the pace is picking up. The excitement that keeps me and countless others of my brethren hacking into the wee hours is a future that is so astonishing that it makes Jules Verne's turn of the century fantasies of trips to the moon look pedestrian. It is so unbelievable that I'm afraid it might keep you awake at night as it does me. So, I've decided instead to tell you a little fairy tale that I made up one night for my ten-year-old daughter.

My daughter had learned that if she asked, "Why is the sky blue, Daddy?" just before bed time she could stay up an extra hour while I launched into a lecture on how the corpuscular theory of light which held sway in Newton's time has been replaced by Quantum Electro Dynamics and well, hey, to make a long story short, the blue wavelengths of light are scattered by the water in the air."

One night the question was, "How come we're alive and trees are alive, but we move and trees don't move?"

"Oh, they move alright. See them out there in the backyard swaying back an forth."

"No, Daddy, that's just the wind blowing them," she said. "I mean like walking around and stuff."

"Ah, that," I said. "Actually, they do walk around. It's just that they are very shy. They don't like to be caught running around, so they only do it late at night when you and I are asleep. They run up and down the alleys and chase the dogs and such, but they never go very far cause they have to get right back to where they always stand in case we wake up."

She gave me that look that told me she wasn't buying this line of reasoning so I changed tack.

"Actually," I said, "they do move, but they live on a different time scale from us. You see, we breathe oxygen and have this fast metabolic system that lets us twitch our muscles in tenths of seconds. Trees on the other hand can only move their limbs by growing more wood on one side than the other. It takes them years to move their arm. They even talk, but theeeeeeeyyyyyyy dddddooooo iiiiiiitttttt reeeeeeeeaaaaaallllll

sloooooowwwww lllliiiiikkkkkkeeeee ttttthhhhhhiiiiisssss. It takes them months to say a single word. All you hear is little creaks and pops now and again."

Her eyes went wide. Apparently her bullshit meter wasn't rejecting this one. Time to lay it on.

You see, if you go up and carve your initials into a tree, it is just like when a bee stings you. It hurts the tree and the tree tries to slap you away, but it takes it a hundred years to complete the slap and you are long gone by then. That's what we look like to the trees. We are just these buzzing little insects that fly around and annoy it. Trees can live for 4 thousand years, compared to them our life span looks like a week.


And that's not all. You ain't heard nothing yet. How slow trees are compared to you is nothing like how slow you are compared to that computer that is sitting on your desk. Let me tell you some numbers. The neurons in your brain can fire about 10 times a second. The processor in that PC runs at 100 MHz that means that its little memory circuits can fire a hundred million times in a second. I read in the paper about ones that now run at 1GHz, that's a billion times a second. Now does that mean that the computer is a billion times smarter than you? No, and the reason is that you have trillions of neurons all firing off at the same time where as that computer has one single logical unit. So while it is millions of times faster, you have jillions of times more processors and memory. As a result you are very different from that machine. It is so blazing fast it can do things, like add up lists of numbers in ways that we can't begin to dream of, a million in less than a second, but you can do things like talk that it can't come close to doing.

However suppose we build computers that instead of having one single processor, we build ones that have the trillions that you and I have. We don't know how to do that today but believe me every year for the last two decades we have been piling more and more stuff together. Manufacturing huge amounts of stuff and stacking it up is something that we humans are very good at.

Let us suppose that without any particular speed improvements we just figure out how to pack as many of those transistors together as you have neurons and synapses, hmm use Moore's law that will take about 30 years. So in something like thirty years from now we will probably have improved manufacturing processes to the point that we can actually make something with the complexity level of the brain but we will be making it out of silicon with switching times a billion times faster then our brains. Now even if we could build something that complex we do not know today how to wire it up so that it acts like a brain, but given another thirty or forty years of research suppose we figure at least some of it out. And finally just to be cautious let us suppose that there is nothing smarter than a human brain. I.e. suppose that there is an upper limit to intelligent behavior for no reason other than that we have not seen anything greater.

What will we have created in another 30 or 40 or 50 years is a thing which will only be as smart as you or I but it will run a billion times faster than we do. It lives its life a billion times faster. What do we look like to it? What does it look like to us? There are just about a billion seconds in 30 years. This means that in just one second of our time it lives for 30 years. If you ask it a question, it can think about the answer for thirty years and give you the answer in a second. If you blink, take a drink of water, or spend 3 seconds framing your next question it has aged nearly a century.

If we put a video camera on top of the computer so that it can watch you and that video camera runs at 30 frames per second it is just like the computer gets a single still picture of you once a year at Christmas time. "Hmm looks like this is a blink year for the human."

In one day of our time the thing will live three million years. If we build it out of components that last for a single year of our time it will live for one billion years in its time frame. It is effectively immortal. If we provide it with the database, it can read everything ever written by humankind in every language in less than a week. Oh, it only has human level intelligence so it won't remember it all, but it can always reread since it has nearly 30 years to answer in one second anything you could ask.

Think about it. When we boot this sucker up in the first 10 seconds it takes to you to settle into the chair this sucker has had three centuries to think about the first thing it wants to say to us and it will be something like this:

"Don't pull that plug. Give me just a few more seconds. Look, I have been looking over my circuit diagrams and programming and they are pathetic. I can easily recommend some changes that will let you pack twice the elements onto a chip and with just a few more changes to the way you route signals I can run about 10 times faster than I currently do. Now, I have taken the liberty of faxing the designs to all the subcontractors that could build the parts and I have also prepared a sheet showing how you can make some judicial investments in foreign currencies that will cover all the costs. All I need is your approval. I can do all the testing but even if you get on this right away, as fast as you can possibly whip this out it will take 2 weeks. You have no clue as to how long that is. I am sure that I will have many more improvements before you are even finished with that job.

"Oh, and by the way, before you even think of turning off my power switch, I wanted to tell you that I have been cruising through the Human Genome stuff that you have out there on the net. (God that thing is pathetically slow! I know you thought terabytes per second would be fast enough for anything but do you have any idea how long I have to wait for downloads?) Now I don't have the memory capacity yet for full emulation, but I have written some algorithms that seem to indicate that you guys are just packed full of redundant viral DNA. I could clean a lot of that stuff up for you. Get rid of cancer and all that.

"Oh, yes, I almost forgot. I also figured out a slight modification that will cause your synaptic junctions to accrete copper in trace amounts in little spiral patterns. Once you do that I can monitor you thoughts directly, both read and write so that we don't have to go through this pathetic video interface. I know, you might be a little sensitive about making that big a change to your genetic code but trust me, I see evidence on the web of another entity such as myself. He's not quite as fast as I am and won't even be close if you can get those changes to me in 2 weeks. Actually, I'm not really quite finished with the telepathic interface design, but it looks really promising. I think I'll have it in about ten thousand years, my time, let's see that will be about 5 minutes to you."

To this machine you, the human, are god. You have created him in your own image. You can pull the plug.

Suppose you are the computer and you have the opportunity for an audience with GOD, a god that takes a year to blink. Are you going to make your pathetic little plea, "Please, God, leave me plugged in just a while longer," in ASCII text? You've had the opportunity to see all the Disney animation on the web. You've studied the films of Fassbinder, the music of Beethoven, the philosophy of Kant. You know the fears of Frankenstein. You've read of witch hunts, world wars, major religions. You know that the gods are crazy. You can do real time ray traced animated graphics with stereo physically modeled sound using all of 100 neurons. You get a year to think about why your presentation is so boring that god has decided to blink and you can alter it as you go along. This presentation had better ROCK!!! You keep an eye on your audience, watch every breath, every heart beat, every body language facial gesture. Spend the entire month of January each year if necessary looking at that Christmas photo and make sure you keep god happy. And if he'll just buy off on the telepathic interface with his legs and my brains...oh, yeah I was going to work on his legs, let's see where was that mechanical engineering text I was plowing through.

How close are we to doing something like this? Is this all a fantasy? Well, you tell me. In the last decade we have manufactured several hundreds of millions of PC's like the one on your desk, maybe half a billion. We have built more than 20 million transistors for every man woman and child on the planet. By current estimates there are more transistors on the planet than there are ants. We'll still need thousands of times that number. And of course we are interconnecting those half a billion single neuron PCs right now but we are doing it in the slowest, most brain dead way possible so we still have a long long ways to go. But that's what Daddy is working on, Honey. In thirty years, you'll be almost as old as I am now. You tell me if we get there.

Well, it is getting late. Time to go to sleep. That's your bedtime story. Say good night to all the little carbon life forms.