my dad sent this to me... i thought all of you g33k would enjoy this!
Weighing the Web
This message is brought to you by 8 nanograms of electrons
Forbes publisher and blogger Rich Karlgaard recently lamented his $1,200 monthly home utility bill. That's a lot of Pacific Gas & Electric , but last year's power bill for the global internet was just $3 per capita- a bargain even by third world standards. Yet my ISP bill does not give me joy- a dollar a day seems a trifle high given the weight of the penny’s worth of electricity my computation consumes. My daily fix of electrons costs me about half a billion dollars a pound. Let me explain.
I'm taking about the power that drives the bytes , not lights the screens. The late Buckminster Fuller had the disconcerting habit of asking architects how much their buildings weighed. It was very unfair of Bucky, because architects are not paid by the pound, and never having laid a thumb on the scale, tend to be quite clueless as to the butcher’s bill. 9-11 helped change that, impressing on us the difference between weight-is-no-object constructions like the Empire State Building, which shrugged off an Army Air Corps bomber crash in 1945, and the thin scantlings of the World Trade Center, which teaches a different lesson in false economy by its absence.
Some early parts of the internet were built like a tank to survive a thermonuclear holocaust. But much post-modern net construction is utterly gossamer, all air and microwaves. Wherever the two come together, there are boxes full of integrated circuits and the hardware needed to sustain them, boxes with labels that state what they weigh and how much power they consume. In short, you can do the math.Alienmagicmatrix3dneocommunicationtrinit
So if Karlgaard's talk of Google’s soaring energy bill excites your curiosity, you too can figure how much power the internet consumes, A statistically rough ( one sigma) estimate might be 75-100 million servers @ ~350-550 watts each.. Call it Forty Billion Watts or ~ 40 GW. Since silicon logic runs at three volts or so, and an Ampere is some ten to the eighteenth electrons a second, a straight forward calculation reveals that if the average chip runs at a Gigaherz , some 50 grams of electrons in motion make up the Internet.
So as of today, cyberspace weighs less than two ounces. It’s hard to gauge its heft more exactly since silicon devices vary in speed, but if you want a handle on The Whole Web instead of just the suburbs that we're wired to , try tripling that figure- there are maybe ten times more mostly idle CPU chips in PC's than in servers, and fewer very busy ones in the world's comparative handful of supercomputers .
By averaging on a global basis, tit seems each person alive today has six watts of computational power at the disposal of their twenty watt brain . Whether they can access it is another matter. Few in Burkina Faso, say , are availing themselves of their fair share of web power, but in relatively well wired nations like America , Japan, or the UK , more energy is expended on surfing than thinking.
I strongly advise readers not to attempt surfing while surfing, as the risk of electrical shorts and battery fires is secondary to the serious wipe-outs you may suffer if you take your eyes off the break to check your email . One has enough difficulty keeping cigarettes lit body surfing ,and few laptops are long enough to function well as short boards.
With the power consumption of the Web approaching fifty million horsepower, America’s share may have already passed ten million HP, shedding a whole new meaning on the initials of Hewlett Packard, but just as there is more to cars than gas tanks your share of the physical net has more than electrons inside
Figuring out the weight of the electrons in circulation is easy- because the net is a fairly transparent constellation of servers ,yet reckoning how much physical stuff is tied up in the net’s wiring- and optical cable - system takes considerable thought- some cables are live, others long abandoned. Some carry just cable TV, others an unpredictable mix of computer bandwidth and telecom traffic. Then there are the branches- and the branches branches. It is easy to take a tape measure to the backbone of this shaggy creature, but how do you get a handle on the combined length of every strand of hair?
Mathematics to the rescue-- fractal geometry, and queing theory tools enabledwebmonkeys to hazard that a staggering 4.2 miles of half-millimeter copper wire is supposedly required to connect the average US dial-up to a broadband optical fiber trunk . If it really takes twenty five pounds of copper at $3 apound , little wonder cellular business is booming , or that communications companies cheerfully pay more than its weight in gold for optical fiber that displaces a billion times its weight in copper. The result is a web that runs impressively well on under ten nanograms of electrons per netizen.
Until quantum computation comes along, these rough numbers may not drift all that much, for while more and more photons are involved in information transmission, each arises from some poor electron being kicked out of its orbital reverie to do something useful. But, some will ask, what the net will weigh when all computation is photonic? I suspect it may rival the mass of an IP lawyer's sense of the sardonic.