The Reset Manifesto
CopyrightÂ© 2016 by Lazlo Zalezac
“Where’s George?” Rebecca asked.
“Your guess is as good as mine,” Patricia replied.
Charles said, “I’ll go look for him.”
Once he was out of the room, Patricia said, “I never understood you and Peter.”
“What’s there to understand? We loved each other.”
“Peter emotionally was a cold fish.”
Rebecca said, “You and Charles never understood Peter.”
“I grew up with him. He had all the emotions of a rock.”
“Peter was never comfortable with emotions. He couldn’t afford to let his emotions have free rein because ... because it wasn’t safe. That was okay with me. I’m not comfortable with emotions. This funeral is extremely stressful for me.”
“Peter didn’t have any friends when he was a kid. Did he have any friends as an adult?”
Rebecca was silent while considering the question. “He and Alan were a lot alike. I think they liked each other, but neither one would admit it. I mean, they weren’t obvious friends. They just seemed to understand each other.”
“The Alan Barton? The man who completely reorganized the NSA to something legitimate?”
“How on earth would Peter know Alan Barton?”
“I think they worked together for a while. A lot of Peter’s life was hush-hush, if you know what I mean.”
“Peter had a degree in business. Alan is a genius when it comes to computers. He and Peter have nothing in common.”
“I would say they were friends.”
“So were there any other friends?”
“I know he liked Ann Randal. He thought she was one of the smartest ... not smartest ... that’s the wrong word for it. He though she was the most people-wise person he had ever met.”
“He was really friends with Ann Randal? I find that so hard to believe.”
“I used to be so jealous of her. She is so smart, attractive, and ... well ... she’s a really nice person. I always felt intimidated by her.”
“She’s definitely a great writer. I remember reading her series, ‘Revolution in the Tranton System, ‘ when I was in college. Everyone was talking about that book.”
“I’m impressed,” Peter said.
He was standing in the middle of a very large room filled with very small computers. There were 10,000 computers in that one room. The computers were the size of a credit card and operated on the Linux operating system. Each computer sold for under fifty dollars. The small size and low cost did not mean that it was useless for computing. These computers were often used for vision processing, speech recognition, neural networks, and as nodes in the Internet of Things (IoT).
These computers were networked together to operate as a Beowulf cluster. Even operating in that configuration, the result was hardly what one could call a super computer. The small computers were just too limited in speed and memory to compete with higher end processor platforms.
What made this particular setup significant was that each small computer had a very high-end Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) attached to it. These were effectively co-processors that were used to provide the computing capabilities necessary for high end graphics applications, such as computer games. In this particular case, the purpose of the GPU was not to provide graphics capabilities, but to perform general purpose computing.
The result was a huge massively parallel computing platform.
The guy who had put it together looked around the room feeling sick to his stomach. He’d put in a lot of work into it, but he couldn’t afford to run it anymore. The amount of heat they generated required a massive air conditioner to cool the room.
“I was using this for bitcoin mining, but the cost of electricity ate up most of the profit. I’m only pulling in five thousand in profit a month now. Before it was close to thirty thousand a month. It’s just too much work for so little in return.”
“A lot of people would be satisfied with an income of sixty thousand a year.”
“Most people can’t earn six digits a year programming. I’m losing income as it is now. I have no idea how bad it will be in the future.”
“What’s the problem?”
“The bitcoin’s value is just too volatile. Not only that, the government is trying to treat bitcoin mining as minting currency which is a violation of the law.”
The bitcoin is a crypto-currency that exists outside the normal banking framework. There is no central bank. It is a currency that is created through computation within the Bitcoin network rather than being minted and backed by a government. Bitcoins can be exchanged for cash and purchased with cash. Bitcoins can be used and spent like money to purchase goods or services, although there are only a handful of merchants who accept it as a currency. Because it exists outside of the banking framework, Bitcoins can be used anonymously. This makes the Bitcoin an ideal way for criminal organizations to move money without such exchanges being monitored by governments.
Governments are divided in their reaction to bitcoins. On one hand, governments want to support innovative technologies on the Internet. On the other hand, having a currency that is unregulated makes it difficult to tax or control. Bitcoins are beyond restriction and confiscation. That makes governments nervous.
One thing that will upset a government is finding a way around having to pay taxes. Barter is one example. The US IRS taxes barter, so that if one person provides a service in exchange for another service, that exchange is supposed to be taxed on the dollar value of the service. Fundamentally, a Bitcoin is a medium of exchange for barter. Of course, the government wants to tax them, but spending a Bitcoin can be done anonymously and that’s the rub.
“I’ll rent it from you,” Peter said.
“Rent it? I thought you wanted to buy it.”
Peter said, “I need the computational capability represented here, but I can’t maintain the equipment and the facilities.”
“I never thought of renting it out,” the guy said.
“What are your normal monthly operational costs?”
“Twenty-five thousand a month.”
“How much would you charge as rent?”
“I suppose I could get by with thirty-five thousand a month.”
“I’ll make it thirty-eight a month if you’ll update the computers.”
“That would be acceptable.”
“Good. How would you like to be paid? Dollars or Bitcoin?”
“I’ll make arrangements to transfer thirty-eight thousand dollars worth of Bitcoins to you every month.”
“You aren’t going to be doing anything illegal, are you?”
“No. I’ll be running Monte Carlo simulations.”
“What are you simulating?”
“The stock market.”
“I guess that would be okay then.”
“Do we have a deal?”
“One other thing.”
“I don’t want it connected to the Internet. I don’t want the Internet coming into the building at all. All of my remote access will be by dial-up modem.”
“I’m very serious. I’ll have someone come by to install the software. It’s possible that I’ll send you a DVD in the mail with data on it to load on one of the machines for me.”
“That’s so 1980s.”
“It is what it is.”
Once he returned to his car, Peter pulled out his cell phone and made a call.
“Dave, this is Peter.”
“What’s up Peter?”
“I wanted to know how things are going there.”
“Slow. I know you spent a fortune on these computers, but it’s taking forever to compute anything. I need something bigger.”
“Then you’ll be glad to learn that I’ve got a computing platform for you to use.”
“When will you deliver it?”
“It’s not moving.”
“Where is it?”
“That’s a long way from here. I guess I can use the Internet to access it, but we both know that is dangerous.”
“It’s not connected to the Internet.”
“I don’t want to move.”
“You’ll dial into it.”
“Dial into it? You mean I’ll use a modem to connect to it?”
“I didn’t know they made them anymore.”
“I miss you.”
“I miss you, too. When are you coming back?”
“I still have a lot of business meetings lined up.”
“I wish you would come back.”
“I wish I could come back.”
The conversation never got any more meaningful than that. The only reason it came to an end was that Rebecca needed to recharge her cell phone.
Peter looked at the kid slouching in the chair. They were in the food service area on the second floor of the Peter O’Donnell Building at University of Texas which was home for the Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences (ICES). The kid was wearing a hoodie, which considering the Texas weather outside wasn’t that smart of an idea. The kid had his head down so that his face was hidden inside the hood.
“I’ve heard that you’re pretty hot stuff.”
The kid shrugged his shoulders.
“Working at ICES while still an undergraduate. That’s impressive.”
“I’d like you to come to work for me.”
The kid looked off to the side for a second and then back at the table top. “What company?”
“More or Less Computing,” Peter answered.
“Never heard of it. Not interested.”
Peter pulled out his cell phone and made a call. The kid watched him, feigning disinterest. “Hey, I need someone to send a message to TexasGoatRoper telling him to pull his head out of his ass.”
Peter touched the screen and returned the cell phone to his pocket. The kid was now staring at him like he had just woken up with a rattlesnake in his bed. The guy had just used his handle in public. That was not good.
The kid’s cell phone chimed. He pulled it out and looked at the message. It was short and simple, “Pull your head out of your ass. Samson.”
The kid swallowed heavily. Sweat was forming on his forehead. He looked like he was about to have a stroke. He went to send a reply only to find that there was no number or email address associated with the message. That doubly concerned him.
Voice cracking, he asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m a recruiter for More or Less Computing. We want your talent.”
“Samson. Is that ‘The Samson’?
“I’ve heard of him. He’s one of the best.”
“I know. You aren’t in his class. However, you are better at parallel programming. More or Less Computing has a need for someone with your expertise. We’ll hire you despite your extracurricular activities.”
“Let’s take a walk. I don’t want to talk in here.”
Once they were outside, the kid tried to relax, but the results of his effort were barely detectable. He was wound tight as a drum.
“How do you know Samson?”
“That’s not important. What’s important is that none of the companies you want to work for would hire you if they learned you were the TexasGoatRoper.”
“Are you going to out me?”
“No. I am curious about one thing, though. How did you pick that handle?”
“My grandfather. He once told me that they used to call Urban Cowboys goat ropers because if they were taught how to throw a lasso, that they’d be just as likely to rope a goat as a cow since they wouldn’t know the difference.”
“You’re from Jacksboro. That’s cattle and oil country. I’m sure you know the difference between a goat and a cow.”
“It struck me as funny, so I used it as a handle.”
“Let me give you some advice.”
“Lose the hoodie and drop the attitude. You’re advertising yourself by presenting a stereotype. If anything happens that points to this general area, you’ll be a suspect. You don’t want that. Law enforcement takes a dim view of what you do.
“KYAnonymous was outed when he exposed a huge cover-up of a rape in Ohio. He’s serving ten years. The rapists he exposed were sentenced to two years. That disparity in sentence tells you how law enforcement feels about your activities in comparison to rape.”
“I figured it out and there was nothing here to draw my interest.”
The kid didn’t respond to that. There was nothing to say.
“I know that you’ve been thinking about continuing on to graduate school here rather than going to work. I also know that you want to work for one of the big Internet companies. You can work for More or Less Computing and go to graduate school, even if the university is in Ohio rather than here.”
“Here is better.”
“It’s your choice,” Peter said. “Of course, you’d be working with Samson if you came to More or Less Computing.”
“Peter! I’m so glad to hear from you.”
“I’m coming back early. I should be there the day after tomorrow.”
“Is it safe for you to come back here?”
“Yes, for now.”
“Why are you cutting your business trip short?”
“I miss you. Being away from you for this long is more than I can take.”
“I miss you, too.”
The conversation lasted for forty miles across the Texas landscape.
Peter was eating dinner in a truck stop restaurant when something out of the ordinary happened. A trucker, a tall thin black man with a shaved head, walked into the place. He was apparently well known to a lot of the drivers eating dinner or drinking coffee while waiting to be called for a shower because a number of them called out to him. The guy looked excited and said, “I actually met her, guys.”
“Who?” one of his buddies asked.
The volume of noise in the place increased significantly. A lot of the drivers were fans of hers. He held up the box containing her audio book that had her signature scrawled across it. A lot of the men looked at the box with envy.
Peter looked over at the driver trying to decide if he was telling the truth. Then he recalled that she had a book signing in Dallas that morning. The timing was right. If so, he couldn’t have stayed there very long. Her book signings had become almost all day affairs.
“What was she like?”
“She’s just as nice as everyone says. There was a huge crowd there and I didn’t have much hope of seeing her. She really went out of her way for me.”
“Why would she care about truck driver?”
“That’s the amazing thing. She noticed that I was holding her audio book and came over to where I was standing. She asked me if I was a truck driver. I told her that I was, thinking that she was going to give me some attitude.