The last three months

I must apologise for the lack of updates over the past while — real life suddenly got very, very busy.  I’ll sum up what I’ve been up to:

Work stuffs

I left Web Africa at the end of November 2013: several internal changes made in 2013 transformed the company from an awesome place to work to a totally hideous place to work.  (And, from general sentiment on MyBroadband, a totally hideous place to do business with as well now.)  I’m now over at Khanyisa Real Systems, which is another awesome place to work: small, everyone has fun while working hard at the same time, new technologies to play with, I’m no longer bored out of my skull… it’s how the development department at Web Africa was before upper management wrecked it.

Of course, this means that I have to update the About Me page again.  I’ll do this Soon™.

Family stuffs

Some of you reading this already know, but for those who don’t: Little Annoying Sister is expecting her first child in late June.  Tim, Kelle and Amy have already taken to calling me “Uncle Won-Won”… yeah, that title isn’t going away any time soon.

Relationship stuffs

Amy and I have been up to all kinds of awesome/crazy things lately — an awesome weekend going back in time to the Victorian era at Matjiesfontein, acting like tourists in our own city — it’s been fun.  I’ve obviously been slacking with putting write ups on here, but Amy has been posting our adventures on her own blog, so I’m just going to redirect you all there.

Location stuffs

Due to (1) new work location, (2) proximity to Little Annoying Sister and her Future Spawnling and (3) proximity to Amy, I’m relocating back to the Southern Suburbs (specifically: Rosebank) at the end of this month — though, I’m going to really miss living with Tim and Kelle.  Blog updates will probably stop dead again until Telkom wires my new place up.  Probably in a few years or so.

World of Warcraft stuffs

We had a lull since my post detailing our Kor’kron Dark Shaman kill due to people not being around due to end of year work pressures, then people not being around for December/January holidays, then people deciding not to raid any more and me having to recruit new people and gear them up.  We’ve slowly ramped back up since mid-January though, and are currently working on Siegecrafter Blackfuse.  After that’s killed, it’s just the Klaxxi Paragons (which, from my experience on the “tourist” difficulty levels, should be dispatched without too much trouble) and Garrosh (which, being the last raid boss, will be a nightmare) left until we’ve cleared Siege of Orgrimmar (on normal anyway, we’re not going to get very far on heroic, I’m afraid).

I’ve been considering setting up a separate blog for the World of Warcraft stuffs, but if I’m slacking on maintaining this one…

Miscellaneous stuffs

  • One of the PCF admins got in touch with me requesting a patch for a user-requested feature, so I wrote and submitted it.  I took a quick look around the place while I was there, and Panorama Publishing has totally ignored the place since my departure, which I had predicted.  They seem totally uninterested in having someone around to keep it going, and since my patch met with a frosty reception (evidently, some users still have the mindset of me being responsible for Panorama’s mismanagement), my feeling towards the place is now: let it burn.  Good riddance.
  • I managed to turn my mother into a planespotter when British Airways sent an A380 to Durban for crew training for around two weeks.  (There’s a video of it landing here, which is well worth watching for any aviation enthusiasts lurking here.)
  • If you ever visit the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, don’t pull a Jeremy Clarkson and run out of petrol in Pripyat.
  • A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck would chuck wood.

Download All The Things, Round II

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may recall Download All The Things!, where I investigated the feasibility of downloading the entire Internet (lolcats included, of course).  I’ve decided to revisit this, but with one small (or not so small) difference: change our estimation of the size of the internet.

For Round II, I’m going with one yottabyte (or “yobibyte” to keep the SI religious happy).  This is a massive amount of data: 1024 to the power 8 (or 2 to the power 80) bytes (and no, I’m not typing the full figure out on account of word-wrapping weirdness); it’s just short of 70,000 times the size of our previous estimate.  To give a more layman-friendly example: you know those 1 terrabyte external hard drives that you can pick up at reasonable prices from just about any computer store these days?  Well, one yottabyte is equivalent to one trillion said drives.  A yottabyte is so large that, as yet, no-one has yet coined a term for the next order of magnitude.  (Suggestion for those wanting to do so: please go all Calvin and Hobbes on us and call 1024 yottabytes a “gazillabyte”!)

There’s two reasons why I wanted to do this:

  • Since writing the original post, I’ve long suspected that my initial estimate of 15 EB, later revised to 50 EB, may have been way, way too small.
  • In March 2012, it was reported that the NSA was planning on constructing a facility in Utah capable of storing/processing data in the yottabyte range.  Since Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding NSA shenanigans, it’s a good figure to investigate for purposes of tin foil hat purchases.

Needless to say, changing the estimated size of the internet has a massive effect on the results.

You’re not going to download 1 YB via conventional means.  Not via ADSL, not via WACS, not via the combined capacity of every undersea cable.  (It will take you several hundred thousand years to download 1 YB via the full 5.12 Tbps design capacity of WACS.)  This means that, this time around, we’re going to have to go with something far more exotic.

What would work is Internet Protocol over Avian Carriers — and yes, this is exactly what you think it is.  However, the avian carriers described in RFC 1149 won’t quite cut it out, so we’ll need to submit a new RFC which includes a physical server in the definition of “data packet” and a Boeing 747 freighter in the definition of “avian carrier”.  While this is getting debated and approved by the IETF, and we sort out the logistical requirements around said freighter fleet, we can get going on constructing a data centre for the entire internet.

As for the data centre requirements, we can use the NSA’s Utah DC for a baseline once more.  The blueprints for the data centre indicate that around 100,000 square feet of the facility will be for housing the data, with the remainder being used for cooling, power, and making sure that us mere mortals can’t get our prying eyes on the prying eyes.  Problem is, once the blueprints were revealed/leaked/whatever, we realised that such a data centre would likely only be able to hold a volume of data in the exabyte range.

Techcrunch told us just how far out the yottabyte estimate was:

How far off were the estimates that we were fed before? Taking an unkind view of the yottabyte idea, let’s presume that it was the implication that the center could hold the lowest number of yottabytes possible to be plural: 2. The smaller, and likely most reasonable, claim of 3 exabytes of storage at the center is directly comparable.

Now, let’s dig into the math a bit and see just how far off early estimates were. Stacked side by side, it would take 666,666 3-exabyte units of storage to equal 2 yottabytes. That’s because a yottabyte is 1,000 zettabytes, each of which contain 1,000 exabytes. So, a yottabyte is 1 million exabytes. The ratio of 2:3 in our example of yottabytes and exabytes is applied, and we wrap with a 666,666:1 ratio.

I highlight that fact, as the idea that the Utah data center might hold yottabytes has been bandied about as if it was logical. It’s not, given the space available for servers and the like.

Yup, we’re going to need to build a whole lot of data centres.  I vote for building them up in Upington, because (1) there’s practically nothing there, and (2) the place conveniently has a 747-capable runway.  Power is going to be an issue though: each data centre is estimated to use 65 MW of power.  Multiply this by 666,666, and… yeah, this is going to be a bit of a problem.  Just short of 44 terawatts are required here, and when one considers that xkcd’s indestructible hair dryer was “impossibly” consuming more power than every other electrical device on the planet combined when it hit 18.7 TW, we’re going to have to think outside of the box.  (Pun intended for those who have read the indestructible hair dryer article.)

Or not… because this means that our estimate of one yottabyte being the size of the internet is way too high.  So, we can do this in phases: build 10,000-50,000 or so data centres, fill them up, power them up, then rinse and repeat until we’ve got the entire Internet.  You’ll have to have every construction crew in the world working around the clock to build the data centres and power stations, every electrical engineer in the world working on re-routing power from elsewhere in the world — especially when one considers that, due to advancements in technology (sometimes, Moore’s Law is not in our favour), the size of the Internet will be increasing all the time while we’re doing this.  But it might just about be possible.

That said: even due to the practical impossibility of the task, don’t underestimate the NSA.

Or, for that matter, Eskom:

This doesn’t do what you think it does

Earlier this week, I noticed some folks over on Facebook sharing a video of a red hot ball of nickel being dumped in a bucket of water, so out of sheer curiosity, I decided to take a look.

It doesn’t do what you might think it does.

Of course, this made me even more curious, so I did some Googling, and found this explanation:

For those of you who don’t know, this is an example of the leidenfrost effect. The ball is so hot that the water touching it immediately evaporates and the vapor around it insulates it from the rest of the water (the vapor is a much worse thermal conductor than liquid water). This is why you can stick your hand in liquid nitrogen for a short period of time. However, eventually the nickel ball cools to a point where it’s not hot enough to instantly vaporize the water and it stops.

The Wikipedia article on the Leidenfrost effect has a more detailed description of what’s going on:

The Leidenfrost effect is a phenomenon in which a liquid, in near contact with a mass significantly hotter than the liquid’s boiling point, produces an insulating vapor layer which keeps that liquid from boiling rapidly. This is most commonly seen when cooking; one sprinkles drops of water in a pan to gauge its temperature—if the pan’s temperature is at or above the Leidenfrost point, the water skitters across the metal and takes longer to evaporate than it would in a pan that is above boiling temperature, but below the temperature of the Leidenfrost point. The effect is also responsible for the ability of liquid nitrogen to skitter across floors. It has also been used in some potentially dangerous demonstrations, such as dipping a wet finger in molten lead[1] or blowing out a mouthful of liquid nitrogen, both enacted without injury to the demonstrator.[2] The latter is potentially lethal, particularly should one accidentally swallow the liquid nitrogen.

The article then goes into detailed scientific formulae on calculating the Leidenfrost point, heat transfer correlations and that kind of thing, but for us laymen, the synopsis above is perfectly good enough.

What really interested me afterwards is that, while attempting to hone my rather non-existent cooking skills, I have seen this before; I just didn’t know what it was, or indeed give it any second thought, until now.  In fact, this can easily (and relatively safely) be reproduced in your kitchen: heat up a stove plate to full, then put a drop of water on it.  (Just don’t try any of the potentially lethal demonstrations with molten lead or liquid nitrogen, unless you’re presenting an episode of Mythbusters.)  This free image from the Wikimedia Commons shows what happens when you try this:

Leidenfrost droplet

You learn something new every day.

Have a break, have… an Android?

Fresh from this morning’s Slashdot news feed is this:

Today Google revealed that the next major version of the Android mobile operating system will be called ‘KitKat.’ The naming convention has always used sugary snacks in alphabetical order — Jelly Bean (4.1 – 4.3) followed Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), which followed Honeycomb (3.1 – 3.2), which followed Gingerbread (2.3), and so on. Unlike the previous releases, KitKat is named after an actual product, rather than a generic treat. Thus, Google contacted Nestle, who was happy to jump on board and take advantage of the cross-marketing opportunities. According to an article at the BBC, the Android team was originally going to use ‘Key Lime Pie,’ but they decided it wasn’t familiar enough to most people. After finding some KitKat bars in the company fridge, they made the choice to switch. Nestle was on board ‘within an hour’ of hearing the idea.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist finding and posting this:

I'm not sure who to credit for this image, since it's propagated through the intarwebs at a rapid rate of knots.  If you do know, or if it's you, please get in touch.

The New Bane Rises

I don’t normally get into discussions about politics and all of that, but I couldn’t help commenting on Julius Malema’s new political party (the Economic Freedom Fighters, abbreviated to EFF — which confuses the hell out of my geeky mind, which associates the acronym EFF to the Electronic Frontier Foundation), and more specifically, their draft manifesto.  Anyway, ol’ Juju has taken his rather radical rhetoric to his own platform after being booted out of the ANC, as can be seen by what they’re pushing for:

  • All land should be transferred to state ownership.
  • All African borders should be dropped.
  • Certain criminal records should be scrapped.

Now, this sounds rather familiar.  One might be thinking about Zimbabwe, who went down a similar path (and look how well it turned out for them!), but if, like me, you’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises, it probably sounds even more familiar.

To this end, and courtesy of some photoshopping that the MyBroadband community has done, I present: Bane 2.0!

Julius "Bane" Malema

Thankfully, it’s quite likely that this story will have the same ending that the film did.  If not, then… “there’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

What if: every class in World of Warcraft had an additional spec?

Back in the earliest days of World of Warcraft, every class in the game had three specializations, and had to choose one of them.  Some specializations had the same role but different flavours to it (e.g. hunters are pure damage dealers, but with very different playstyles based on whether they choose the beast mastery, marksmanship or survival specs), and others had different roles entirely (e.g. paladins have protection for tanking, holy for healing, and retribution for dishing out damage).  Of course, some had been badly broken (shamans before the Burning Crusade expansion being a really good example), but over time, things have been balanced quite well (and even more so when we were able to choose a secondary spec as well in Wrath of the Lich King).  However, with the newest Mists of Pandaria expansion, Blizzard realised that with druids, combining melee damage dealing and tanking into one specialization was far too difficult to balance properly, so they split it out, making druids the only class in the game with a fourth spec.

So, we’re currently having a hypothetical discussion on Maintankadin: if all classes currently in the game had a fourth spec, what would that spec be?  (The key word is “hypothetical”, because druids were a bit of a fringe case, and it’s unlikely that Blizzard would do this — in fact, I vaguely recall that they explicitly mentioned that this would probably never happen — but hey, it’s great to let minds wander from time to time!)

(Disclaimer: although some of these ideas are my own, not all of them are.  Credit to the various posters over at Maintankadin where credit is due.)

Death Knights

What they have:  Blood is the tanking spec.  Frost and Unholy are damage dealing (in game, we call them “DPS” specs, for “damage per second”) with different attributes:  Frost players can either equip two one-handed weapons and dual-wield them for fast melee strikes or a two-handed weapon for slower, harder-hitting strikes, whereas unholy resolves around putting diseases on the target and letting the damage-over-time effects do the dirty work.

What they could get:  Pretty much the unanimous suggestion so far is to split Unholy.  Unholy also has a “pet” component, where the Death Knight can summon an undead minion to do his master’s bidding, so split this out, flesh it out, and then have a “necromatic spellcaster” spec that would stay at range and decay their enemies with unholy power.  (This fits into death knight lore, as the death knight units back in WarCraft 2 would do this.)  And hey, it would also mean that there would be another use for intellect plate gear besides holy paladins.


Well, as already mentioned, druids already have four specs: Restoration for healing, Balance for ranged DPS, Feral for melee DPS and Guardian for tanking.  And that’s all that I’m going to say about druids.


What they have: the Hunter is a pure ranged damage-dealing class.  Beast Mastery puts the emphasis on the hunter’s pet, Marksmanship puts the emphasis on the hunter’s weapons, and Survival puts the emphasis on the hunter’s survival skills (well, doh).

What they could get:  There’s two main schools of thought here.  The one that I belong to advocates giving the hunter a melee spec.  In fact, back in ye olde days, Survival was intended to be a melee spec — this didn’t turn out very well, but if Blizzard put some thought and effort into it, hey, it could work.  The other school of thought would be to give them a healing spec, the inspiration coming from Aragon’s healing powers in The Lord Of The Rings — though, personally, I struggle to match this up with existing in-game hunter lore.


What they have: Arcane, Fire and Frost.  According to one of my friends who plays a mage, pretty much all mage abilities revolve around (1) blasting your target before it can get to within melee range of you, and (2) getting the hell out of dodge if you failed at doing that.  The three specs just do this in different ways.

What they could get: We came up with a very unique healing specialisation (since mages are effectively wizards, it would make sense that they could have some healing capability).  They wouldn’t be able to call on nature like a druid, on holy powers like a priest and that sort of thing, but since they’re magical in nature, we came up with the idea of a mage healer that would heal by magically altering time itself.  Anyone who’s experienced the hourglass mechanic on Muruzond in the End Time dungeon has an idea of what I’m getting at.

We even fleshed this out further and came up with some example abilities for this:

  • Freeze Time: Places an area-of-effect bubble within 20 yards of the caster.  All buffs on friendly units will have their time to expire frozen, but will still continue to operate (heals over time would keep on ticking).  Very useful raid cooldown.
  • Time Capture: Saves the current status of a player that allows the mage to “reset” a player’s buffs/health/mana later in the fight (sort of like a combination of the aforementioned hourglass mechanic and the paladin’s Lay On Hands ability).
  • Reverse Time: A channelled heal that “reverses” all damage received in the last X seconds (say a tank takes hits for 50K, 100K, 80K over 5 seconds, Reverse Time would heal for 80K, 100K, 50K over 5 seconds, which could be sped up with haste).

Of course, this is so unique and radical that it’s impossibly likely that we’ll see this in the game — the effort to design and balance this would be immense.  But it’s still fun to think about.


What they have: Brewmaster for avoidance-based tanking, Mistweaver for healing (with a bit of melee thrown in), Windwalker for melee DPS.

What they could get: a caster DPS spec.  Quite possibly with a healing component, but more focus around doing damage (damage done would heal you, but it would be supplementary healing and wouldn’t replace someone else dedicated to healing).  Pretty much the inverse of Mistweaver.


What they have: Protection for tanking (this is what I play as!), Holy for healing, Retribution for melee DPS (this is what I try — and fail — at playing as when I’m not tanking!).

What they could have: A caster based DPS spec.  Back in the pre-Cataclysm era where players could mix and match from different specializations, some adventurous players actually tried this (bringing about the “shockadin” concept) — of course, it was a “jack of both trades, master of none” character build and never officially supported, but apparently was loads of fun.  And of course, it adds another use for intellect plate to the game.  This is another idea that’s pretty much unanimous.


What they have: two healing specs, Holy and Discipline.  Both have totally different styles: Holy is more “traditional” healing, while Discipline focuses on damage absorbtion.  The third spec, Shadow, is a damage-over-time spec.

What they could have: a second DPS spec, but more around “smite DPS” than damage over time.  It’s kind of already in the game with Atonement, but making it into a full-blown spec on its own would give the damage-dealing priest a choice in how to deal damage.


What they have: Assassination, Combat and Subtlety.  All themed around being extremely sneaky with regards to killing their target before their target knows that they’re dead.

What they could have: since rogues are sneaky, slippery and sly little buggers, give them a ranged “Sniper” spec (they could “borrow” weapons from hunters in sneaky, slippery and sly ways — and by that, I mean they’d give the hunters some loot competition).  I pity the poor Blizzard employee who has to balance this for player vs. player though.


What they have: Elemental for caster DPS, Enhancement for melee DPS, Restoration for healing.

What they could have: since shamans can equip shields (along with paladins and warriors), they could conceivably have a tank spec.  As in the case of the “shockadin” I mentioned earlier, this was something that adventurous players tried back in the day, and it would be great to see this officially supported.  Once again, we have almost unanimous agreement on this.


What they have do: destroy their opponents with use of the Dark Arts.  That’s pretty much all I know about warlocks.

What they could have: since warlocks can summon demons and have a connection with the demonic side of things, here’s an idea — have a tank spec where the warlock can transform into a demon himself.

However, there’s one problem with this, and it comes from a lore perspective.  There are characters that can temporarily metamorphosize into a demon, but those are Demon Hunters, not warlocks (Illidan being the most famous example).  And quite honestly, I think that we’ll be having a massive showdown with the Burning Legion in a future expansion (after all, Sargeras is still out there somewhere, and Wrathion seems to know that some massive event along these lines is on its way), and when that expansion hits, Demon Hunters would become a separate playable class.

It’s still nice to think about though, particularly that I haven’t seen any better ideas and can’t think up any myself.  Mind you, what I know about warlocks is dangerous, so maybe it’s a good thing that I don’t think too hard about this one.


What they have: Protection for tanking, Arms and Fury for the “RAWR, I HULK SMASH PUNY GOD OPPONENT WITH WEAPONS!” brigade.

What they could have: There’s two ideas there.  One would be to give them a second tank spec (much like priests have two healing specs) — only, while Protection focuses on damage avoidance, this second tank spec would be based on mitigating damage by regeneration effects and sheer bloody-mindedness.  We’ve seen these concepts in Dungeons and Dragons over the years: the barbarian dumping armour and relying on sheer hit points, the frenzied berserker that just won’t die as long as he’s raging… something like that.

Alternatively, Fury has two distinct playstyles within the specialisation: Titan’s Grip for dual-wielding two handers, and “single-minded fury”, for, you know, being that frenzied berserker in a damage-dealing role.  It can (and has) been argued that warriors already do have four specs, but they’ve been too pre-occupied with aforementioned hulk smashing to have realised it just yet…

Trance on guitars

Earlier this week, I discovered some videos of some guitarists taking some trance classics, and reproducing them on their guitars.  Even if you don’t appreciate trance, or guitars, you have to admit that there’s some serious skill here.

For reference, here’s what our guitarist based his performance on:

1998 (Matt Darey Remix) by Binary Finary on Grooveshark

Not to be outdone, another guitarist (or is this Raiden?) has done an original “trance guitar” song here:

Question for the readers: any idea what to call this “genre”?  For some reason, my brain is rather disconnected at the moment, so I can’t think of any worthy name right now…

Download all the things!

One of my friends over on my crappy little forum recently received the following support ticket (and, quite understandably, facepalmed):

Can you please download internet on my system?

Rather than partake in some sympathetic facepalming of my own, I thought I’d come up with a quite literal answer, in xkcd’s “What If?” style.*

The first question we have to answer is: what is the size of the Internet?  Any answer will be an estimate at best (and wild speculation at worst), because the cold, hard truth is that no-one knows.  That’s because of the distributed nature of the Internet (as well as the underlying TCP/IP protocol suite that the Internet is built on) — with quite possibly millions of servers connected over the world, it’s hard to measure for sure.  The other problem: what would count towards the size requirement?  Certainly content served over HTTP/HTTPS would count, but FTP? SMTP? NNTP? Peer to peer filesharing?  And would any content accessible indirectly (such as data stored in a backend database) count?

The only thing that we have to go on is an estimate that Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, made back in 2005; at the time, he put the estimate at around five million terabytes (while I’ll round up to 5 exabytes).  At the time, Google only indexed 200 terabytes of data, so Schmidt’s estimate probably took e-mail, newsgroups, etc. into consideration.  Due to our world becoming more connected in the interceding 8 years, that figure has likely shot up, particularly with sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, The Pirate Bay et al coming into the equation.  I’m going to throw a rough guestimate together and put the figure at 15 EB today, based on my gut feeling alone.  (Yes, I know it’s not terribly scientific, and I’ve probably shot way too low here, but let’s face it — what else gives?)

Currently, down here on the southern tip of Africa, our fastest broadband connection is 10 Mbps ADSL.  In reality, our ISPs would throttle the connection into oblivion if one were to continually hammer their networks trying to download the Internet like that (contention ratios causing quality of service for everyone else to be affected and all of that), but let’s assume that, for the purposes of this exercise, we can sweet-talk them into giving us guaranteed 10 Mbps throughput.  15 EB of data works out to a staggering 138,350,580,552,821,637,120 bits of data, and given that we can download 10,000,000 of those bits every second (in reality, it will be lower than this due to network overhead, but let’s leave this out of the equation), it would take almost 440,000 years to download the Internet over that connection.

But actually, with that length of time, you’d never be able to download the Internet.  Considering that the Internet went into widespread public use in the early 1990s (not considering the decades before when the Internet was pretty much a research plaything), the Internet is growing at a faster rate than one can download it using a 10 Mbps connection.  Plus, given the timeframe involved, the constant status update requests on the support ticket would drive all involved to suicide, even if (actually, particularly if) we discover a way of making human immortality a possibility in the interim.  Clearly, we need something a lot faster.

Enter the WACS cable system.  It’s a submarine cable that links us up to Europe via the west coast of Africa, cost US$650 million to construct, and has a design capacity of 5.12 Tbps.  If we could secure the entire bandwidth of this cable to download the Internet, we could do it in a little over 10 months.  While we may still have the aforementioned suicide problem, this is far more like it.

But of course, what point would we have downloading the Internet if we can’t store the data we just downloaded?

Currently, the highest capacity hard drives have a capacity of 4 TB (here’s an enterprise-level example from Western Digital).  We’d need a minimum of 3,932,160 such drives to store the Internet (in the real world, we’d need more for redundancy, but once again, let’s not worry about that here).  Our enterprise-level drives use 11.5 watts of power each, so we’d need ~45 MW of power to simply power the hard drives alone; we’d need plenty more (and I’m thinking around 10 to 15 times more!) to power the hardware to connect all of this up, the building where this giant supercomputer will be housed, and the cooling equipment to keep everything running at an acceptable temperature.  We’d need to build a small power plant to keep everything running.

So yes, you can download the Internet.  You just need a major submarine communications cable, tens of millions of hard drives, and a small power plant to provide enough electricity to run it all.  If you get started now, you can give someone the present of One Internet** when next Christmas rolls around.  The question of dealing with bandwidth and electricity bills is one that I will leave to the reader.

Now get going, dammit!

* Randall, if you’ve somehow stumbled upon this and you think you could do a better job than myself, go for it!

** Though, depending on who the recipient is, you may or may not want to include 4chan’s /b/ board.

UPDATE #1: I was asked to up it to 50 EB, which on retrospection may be a more realistic size for the Intranet than the 15 EB I put forward earlier.  That would take almost 3 years to download on WACS and would require 13,107,200 hard drives with a significantly increased power requirement.  The Koeberg Nuclear Power Station (not too far away from the WACS landing site at Yzerfontein) has two reactors, each capable of producing 900 MW, so if we take Koeberg off the national grid (which will cause the rest of the country to experience rolling blackouts, but hey, it’s in the name of progress!) and use the entire nuke plant’s capacity to power our supercomputer and related infrastructure, that should just about do it.

Overcoming challenges, the virtual way

Currently, my World of Warcraft raid team is taking on Yor’sahj the Unsleeping on heroic (read: insanely difficult) difficulty.  Now, I understand that many of you don’t play World of Warcraft, so I’ll explain the boss encounter briefly: every now and then, he summons four differently coloured slimes on the edge of the room that slowly creep towards him, and that give him some rather potent abilities when they reach him.  Only one can be killed (the rest become immune), which means that, as raid leader, the encounter is a test of my leadership abilities — I need to see which slimes have spawned, direct the rest of the raid to kill the one which I believe will result in certain death, and then give the raid the correct strategy for surviving the effects of the other three.

In my case, I have a unique problem: the fact that I’m pretty much totally colourblind.  I’ve found my own unique ways of dealing with this over the years, the main example being traffic lights.  I determine what to do based on position: top light tells me to stop, bottom light tells me to go, middle light tells me I’d better stop sometime soon (although any self-respecting South African driver will tell you that it really means “go faster”, particularly the ones on the other side of the Vaal River).  Of course, this is a lot harder at night; however, I’ve worked out that the “green” light is considerably brighter than the other two (I’m also extremely light sensitive, which in this specific case is actually a Good Thing).

However, the Yor’sahj fight, when we first attempted it (on normal mode) presented a unique challenge for me — the game tells me which combination of slimes has spawned, but then I need to run over to it and start whacking it hard, which is a bit difficult when you’re uncertain if you’ve run over to the right one.  An example would be when Yor’sahj spawns the purple and blue slimes, with purple being the kill target.  Those two slimes spawn next to each other, and I’ve often called out “kill purple” and then run over to blue instead.  And don’t get me started on the case when Yor’sahj sadistically decides to spawn red, green and yellow (it’s the traffic light thing again).

My solution: the other nine pairs of eyes.  The rest of the team knows full well that I really struggle with this, and so help me find my way to the correct slime that I had just called out.  I may be the one directing the strategy, but at the end of the day, we’re a team working together towards our end goal (that next boss kill on heroic difficulty).  My condition provides a unique challenge for this encounter, but working together, we’re able to compensate for that.

This actually touches on another interesting point.  People say that computer gaming is childish, breeds violence, and so forth; that World of Warcraft is an addiction as bad as illegal drugs… at least, those are the opinions that mass media would like us to have.  And yet, while I jump into the game to escape from reality for a while, there are plenty of real-world skills if one only takes the time to dig a little deeper.  Leading the raid allows me to refine my organisational, leadership and diplomatic skills, while raiding itself is a great way to learn how to work as a team (which is pretty much essential in the workplace in this day and age).  It’s through this teamwork that I’m able to overcome elements that impede me as an individual.

Indeed, this has been touched on by people far more qualified than I am.  Mark Chen, a self-professed gaming researcher who holds a doctorate in educational technology and learning sciences recently published his dissertation-turned-book Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft.  (The book is available on Amazon if you’re interested, but unless you’re familiar with psychology, it’s rather heavy reading.)  His experiences were from the Molten Core raid in the game’s earliest days (when the raid size was 40 players: definitely far more challenging from several points of view).  The following quote sums up my thoughts perfectly:

I would hesitate to call it “addiction” from the media effects standpoint: It is not a sinister, time-sinking, life-destroying activity. Instead, the knowledge is so much a part of me now… I long for it; it sustains me. It has become a part of who I am. My identity depends on this cultural knowing of what it feels like to be raiding in Molten Core. But rather than taking away from my life, it enriches my life…. Through gaming, I know nostalgia and melancholy, joy and triumph, success and failure, sadness and anger…. Gravitating towards these activities is only addiction in the sense that people are compelled to engage in the activities that define who they are…

We’re only getting Yor’sahj down to ~50% right now before someone makes a small mistake that wipes the raid (heroic difficulty is extremely unforgiving).  But that kill is coming, and it will be an especially sweet victory for me when we get him down.