Luser attitudes

My intense dislike of lusers was rekindled this morning.

Recently, a request thread was started on the PCFormat/G3AR forums that requested some extra user profile fields — which I considered entirely reasonable.  So, I got into my usual routine of getting information, hearing user suggestions and so forth, when our luser decides to ask a question that I had, in fact, just answered.

This isn’t too bad in itself, but redundant questions like that don’t sit at all well with me.  I had already answered the question, and therefore viewed this as a time sink — and I don’t at all sit well with time sinks.  Time sinks take without giving back; they waste time that could have been spent on more interesting questions and more worthy querents.  This point of view may not be apparent to some, so let me explain a bit: to understand the world that experts on a particular field of expertise live in, think of their expertise as an abundant resource, but their time to response as a scarce one — and that therefore, the less of a time commitment you implicitly ask for, the more likely that you’ll get the answer you wanted.

So, I replied with a terse answer while thinking “stupid question…”, and hoping that the experience of getting what one deserved rather than what one needed would have taught our luser a lesson.  This consequently set off a tirade of whining, posted in one of the general chat threads and posted in Afrikaans; presumably, the luser thought that I wouldn’t notice it that way.  I did.  Hence this blog post in response.

Eric S. Raymond, in his essay “How To Ask Questions The Smart Way“, deals with how not to act like a luser in one section of said essay:

Odds are you’ll screw up a few times on hacker community forums — in ways detailed in this article, or similar. And you’ll be told exactly how you screwed up, possibly with colourful asides. In public.

When this happens, the worst thing you can do is whine about the experience, claim to have been verbally assaulted, demand apologies, scream, hold your breath, threaten lawsuits, complain to people’s employers, leave the toilet seat up, etc. Instead, here’s what you do:

Get over it. It’s normal. In fact, it’s healthy and appropriate.

Community standards do not maintain themselves: They’re maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in public. Don’t whine that all criticism should have been conveyed via private e-mail: That’s not how it works. Nor is it useful to insist you’ve been personally insulted when someone comments that one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are loser attitudes.

[…]

Remember: When that hacker tells you that you’ve screwed up, and (no matter how gruffly) tells you not to do it again, he’s acting out of concern for (1) you and (2) his community. It would be much easier for him to ignore you and filter you out of his life. If you can’t manage to be grateful, at least have a little dignity, don’t whine, and don’t expect to be treated like a fragile doll just because you’re a newcomer with a theatrically hypersensitive soul and delusions of entitlement.

One can immediately see why the aforementioned and aforelinked whining tirade does not help the luser at all.  The luser attitude demonstrated in this case of (1) wasting other people’s time and (2) whining because other people expressed dissatisfaction of it simply results in the luser losing all respect within the community, which does not help the luser case at all.  (We have long memories; it can take a while — years, even — for such blunders to be lived down.)  I’ve seen this all before on the various project mailing lists that I’ve sat on over the years.

You don’t want to be a luser, nor do you want to seem like one.  You want a winning attitude in order to be treated as an equal and welcomed into our culture — and we would really want to do this (so if you think of our attitude obnoxious, condescending or arrogant, please revisit your faulty assumptions).  The underlying issue at hand is that it’s extremely inefficient to try to help people who aren’t willing to help themselves.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much about lusers pestering me.  Hopefully, some will read this and realise what they need to change/fix to stop being one.

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.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

And, although I feel just fine (albeit rather buggered after Little Annoying Sister’s wedding last Saturday), some people are just a tad worried:

The Constitutional Court has received an “extremely urgent court application” for the creation of a “task team” to prepare for the end of the world.

This is according to a Beeld report on Wednesday. Robert Sefatsa (38), a Soweto resident, also stated in papers handed in at court that the government needed to form a new department to prepare for judgment day next Friday with an “investigative task team”.

He suggested that the new state department should be called the “department of paranormal and esoteric sciences”.

Sefatsa pointed out that according to the Mayan calendar, judgment day would be on December 21, and it was therefore a matter of extreme urgency that South Africa and other countries make their preparations for the apocalypse.

A commission of inquiry should include geologists, statisticians, astronomists, economists and extra-terrestrial technologists, and should be competent to cope with evacuation procedures, sea and air logistics, and resettlement, he said.

While Robert may have good and noble intentions, there’s just one problem: the predicted apocalypse is less than a week away, and government around here isn’t exactly known for doing anything particularly quickly.  By December 21st, one would expect the government to, at most, have set up an investigative team to determine whether another investigative team is needed to actually investigate whether the Mayan calendar is worth investigating in the first place.

Damn Vogon bureaucracy in this country.

Of course, Robert may be just be trolling the Constitutional Court, but that won’t stop the Constitutional Court from trolling him back.  As 6000.co.za so eloquently put it:

Of course, Mr Sebatsa, as a South African citizen and taxpayer, is completely within his rights to make this court application. Just as the Constitutional Court is completely within their rights to throw it out and then pop down to the Mystic Boer to laugh it off over a few brandies.

In the meantime, he can always head off for a holiday in the Drakensburg.  They’ll be the highest mountain range on the planet very shortly…