Eeky Geeky: Weekly Peeky at the Freaky

Carl Brooks

This started out as a raving cynical screed, as bitter as a pan full of burnt butter, on the silly capacity of the science geek to remove himself from effective agitation for political change, but, ironically, it morphed into exactly what it was railing against. Read on to see the utter coolness of the future, in the face of horrifyingly grim encroachments on your personal liberty.

A public event that finely illustrates the charming earnestness and slightly ridiculous nature of the geek ordinaire took place in the geek city, San Francisco, in days just past. Before EGWPATF tells you what the event was, EGWPATF must take pains to inform you that this geek, though hardened, cynical, and possessed of a wide streak of rambunctious artistic passion (most ungeeky), feels a little leap in his blackened and shriveled heart, a pang of remembrance at the sheer puppy joy in doing something wicked nifty for no other reason than you could.

Fortunately, my heart is no shape for leaping these days, calcified by a long brining in politics and miserable paychecks, so any impulse I might have to be simply happy for these charming little fellows has all the motivation of a six-year old trying to push Daddy’s Escalade up the driveway.

Our shining-faced geeks were engaged in creating the world’s first democratic, mobile and voluntary supercomputer. Regrettably called “FlashMob I” (flashmobs are older than Janet Jackson’s boobies, IMHO), some 600 People With Computers emerged from their lairs, blinking in the harsh San Francisco smoglight, and stumbled to spacious Koret Gymnasium at the University of San Francisco.

It was, “about giving supercomputing power to the people so that we can decide how we want supercomputers to be used,” and was “truly democratic.” This is true, but it is also irrelevant. The rub, folks. Many geeks live so far outside, by inclination and training, the frontlines of the real world that they think PWCs.

All the computers were networked together and booted from a CD that let them act as one big one. And it was inevitable-our cheerful little mob of PWCs managed to get less than half of them working because whoever put their LINPACK distribution together did a half-assed job and forgot to include support for some popular network jacks. According to a participant, “I never heard anything about what was going on until the end when they just told us that they had gotten 256 computers to achieve 180 Gflops and that we could leave.”

Typical geek. But they did prove it could be done, and combined with the bitchin’ cool dude who put a wireless file server in a backpack, there are, conceivably, the seeds of a new kind of computing to be had.

One can envision floating, dynamic ghostnets, mini internets that revolve around independent, standalone DNS servers that constantly shift and change depending on who’s in range, a virtual world within a virtual world, something truly independent and completely free from any authority of any kind except the personal, a wired democratic information exchange. That would be hip, I must admit.

But is it practical in the world of corporate control, of “IP Piracy” and when roughly the same number of PWCs that attended the event have just been sued for “music piracy?” Actually it is. Geeks in general exhibit fanatical single mindedness on the objective of their geek-dom, and this is often in the face of stark reality, consequences and responsibility. This is why so many engineers labor in perfect happiness to manufacture warplanes-because they are cool.

But the generation of geeks that took part in the “democratic supercomputer” are another breed, young turks who realize that the power of information can and will be placed in the hands of anyone capable of understanding how a network operates. And even though they f*cked it all up, they will move faster than the corporate borgs, and their vision is not only nifty, but socially forward looking. So even as they ignore the erosion of our rights to property, self-determination, and the freedom of ideas, they create the means to ensure that freedom. Yay for them.

As per last week’s column, the new AMD AK-53 does, in fact, make you a peanut butter sandwich, but it cannot wash the dishes. Or Something.