"Is Google preparing to launch its own Navy? In its just-published application for a patent on the Water-Based Data Center, Google envisions a world where 'computing centers are located on a ship or ships, which are then anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away from computers in the data center.' And you thought The Onion was joking when it reported on Google's Fleet of Naval Warships!"
Google may take its battle for global domination to the high seas with the launch of its own “computer navy”.
The company is considering deploying the supercomputers necessary to operate its internet search engines on barges anchored up to seven miles (11km) offshore.
The “water-based data centres” would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.
In the patent application seen by The Times, Google writes: “Computing centres are located on a ship or ships, anchored in a water body from which energy from natural motion of the water may be captured, and turned into electricity and/or pumping power for cooling pumps to carry heat away.”
The increasing number of data centres necessary to cope with the massive information flows generated on popular websites has prompted companies to look at radical ideas to reduce their running costs.
The supercomputers housed in the data centres, which can be the size of football pitches, use massive amounts of electricity to ensure they do not overheat. As a result the internet is not very green.
Data centres consumed 1 per cent of the world’s electricity in 2005. By 2020 the carbon footprint of the computers that run the internet will be larger than that of air travel, a recent study by McKinsey, a consultancy firm, and the Uptime Institute, a think tank, predicted.
In an attempt to address the problem, Microsoft has investigated building a data centre in the cold climes of Siberia, while in Japan the technology firm Sun Microsystems plans to send its computers down an abandoned coal mine, using water from the ground as a coolant. Sun said it could save $9 million (£5 million) of electricity costs a year and use half the power the data centre would have required if it was at ground level.
Technology experts said Google’s “computer navy” was an unexpected but clever solution. Rich Miller, the author of the datacentreknowledge.com blog, said: “It’s really innovative, outside-the-box thinking.”
Google refused to say how soon its barges could set sail. The company said: “We file patent applications on a variety of ideas. Some of those ideas later mature into real products, services or infrastructure, some don’t.”
Concerns have been raised about whether the barges could withstand an event such as a hurricane. Mr Miller said: “The huge question raised by this proposal is how to keep the barges safe.”
Author Neal Stephenson ("Cryptonomicon," "The Baroque Cycle," "Snow Crash") has just published a new novel, "Anathem." L.A. Times staff writer Scott Timberg talked to Stephenson for an upcoming profile. But since you'll have to wait a few days for that, we thought we'd share some excerpts from his recent interviews with the author.
Scott Timberg: "Anathem" is set on a different planet, in a different universe?
Neal Stephenson: As a kid reading science fiction, I was always fascinated with parallel universe situations: situations where someone gets jumped into another universe that's similar to ours, with a hand-wavy, pseudo-physics explanation for how it happened. I wanted to come up with my own hand-wavy, pseudo-physics explanation.
S.T.: Your books are driven by ideas, but they've got to have something else to work as novels, I'd think.
Neal Stephenson: There are a lot of ideas that bang around. They're kind of like seeds which fall on barren ground.... On a good day, I can take one of these ideas and see how it fits in with some characters and a story. And then I've got something. If that’s not there, then it's all a complete waste of time.
S.T.: How much do you plan out timelines and the structures of your world ahead of time?
Neal Stephenson: If you do it that way, you're at some hazard of shortchanging what people really read books for, which is characters and stories. It's better to take a leap of faith and start telling the story. It's probably a rookie mistake. If you lack confidence in your ability to fill all that in, you’ll sit for a long time working on the map.
S.T.: What made you set "Snow Crash" in L.A.?
Neal Stephenson: At the time I was living in New Jersey, and I was really in the space between Philly and New York. So I was in this place where there really was no city center: You could drive for hours in either direction and see the same landscape repeating itself, of strip malls, and.... I don't think I'd ever lived in anything like that before. You read science fiction, and it's always on a giant urban core, or it's on a space station — but from where I'm sitting that's not the future. From where I'm sitting, the future is this landscape of low-rise sprawl. I think I put it in L.A. — it's been a long time — because it gave me more options. You have the entertainment industry there, you've got high-tech, the Pacific Rim factor.... It just gave me more surface area.
Where Neal Stephenson is now, after the jump.
S.T.: You’ve been in the Northwest for a long time now — Seattle's working for you?
Neal Stephenson: It is really working for me. I like this kind of weather. I like the neighborhoods. There are a lot of interesting people around because of the high-tech world here. And there's a gritty, practical side to the city that's easy to miss. But it really informs the way the city works. I think of about the time of the dot-com bubble bursting, there was a crab boat that went down in the Bering Sea — the entire crew was lost. It put everything in perspective. Nobody was whining about the high-tech [bust] anymore.
S.T.: Can you talk about a book that made a big impression on you back in the day?
Neal Stephenson: When I was in high school I read "Moby-Dick" — that's one where I can remember all kinds of specifics, details and impressions. For a while I was trying to impose a policy of having a harpoon-throwing character in every single one of my books. But it's difficult to maintain that kind of restraint.
S.T.: What about Walter Miller Jr.'s "A Canticle for Leibowitz," which has a post-apocalyptic monastery setting? Did that have an influence on your new novel?
Neal Stephenson: It's a different premise from "Anathem" in a lot of ways. When people hear about monks in S.F., that's the one they think of, and rightly so. But when you look at it from the geek's point of view, there have been zillions of science-fiction books over the years with monks in them.
S.T.: Have the old genre categories blurred?
Neal Stephenson: Most of these genres that people in the 1950s would have thought about have either gone away or been absorbed by other things. Westerns are pretty much gone: You don't walk into a bookstore and see a huge section marked "Westerns." And obviously crime and detective still exist and kind of became the backbone of television. And I would argue that fantasy and science-fiction have regained their identity and become unbelievably huge. If you look at the Top 100 movies of all time, they're almost all science fiction or fantasy.
S.T.: Why do you think that is?
Neal Stephenson: I think it's where ideas go. Even if people don't think of themselves as intellectuals, they like to see ideas in movies. It sounds funny, but people respond to that.
S.T.: Despite the range of your work, some of which is set in the past, some in the future, you seem quite comfortable being called a science-fiction writer.
Neal Stephenson: People in the S.F. world always worry that its writers will abandon them. I've never used the phrase "science-fiction ghetto." But I still hear from people: "Neal, are you trying to break out of the science-fiction ghetto?"
— Scott Timberg
Dylan Tweney:How to Get Ready for Neal Stephenson's Anathem Release
Folks you'd met near Seattle it seems: George Dyson and Neal Stephenson.
Anathem, Neal Stephenson's first novel in four years, will be published Tuesday, and fans worldwide will be able to join the celebration through a live webcast that night.
Stephenson says he got the idea for the novel several years ago, when he was working with The Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit group that aims to provide a "counterpoint to today's 'faster/cheaper' mind set and promote 'slower/better' thinking."
The writer sketched the basic idea for Anathem: The 10,000-year Clock of the Long Now would be locked within a series of concentric walls, each with a single gate. The outermost gate would open once a year, the next one once a century, and the innermost gate would open only once every thousand years. Within each ring would reside groups of monastic individuals who could only venture out whenever their respective gates opened.
Like many of Stephenson's other works, Anathem is a hefty tome crammed with big ideas. You can be sure that many fans will be lining up to purchase the book as soon as it goes on sale, and some of them will stay up all night to plow through its 960 meaty pages as quickly as possible and then blog, Twitter and YouTube about it immediately.
As for me? It's my birthday Tuesday, and Stephenson's book is like a gigantic present for the SF-devouring nerdy teenager that lurks within me. (Also on my inner geek's wishlist: a Mac Tablet and/or iPhone Nano unveiling at Apple's press event, but I'm not holding my breath for those.)
Here are some links and pointers to help you in your speedy devouring of that slowest of media, the printed novel.
- Anathem webcast: The Long Now Foundation is hosting the San Francisco event that will be webcast live starting at 7 p.m. PST.
- Author interviews: On YouTube, Stephenson talks about the layout of Anathem, the origins of the word anathem and the themes of his novel (embedded). He also provides an introduction to Anathem and reads an excerpt from the book over at Amazon.com.
- Anathem trailer: Yes, the book has a trailer. It's awful. I don't know what the best/worst part is: Where the geeky kid beats up the football jocks using his ninja moves, or the part where the monk is holding a Pilates ball like it's some mystical object. Whatever -- the whole cringeworthy thing almost put me off the book entirely. Almost -- but not quite, because I trust Stephenson enough to believe that his book won't be nearly as much of a juvenile geek revenge fantasy as this trailer is.
- Anathem glossary (.pdf): What's a gigantic sci-fi novel without a glossary of terms? You can whet your appetite for the book by taking a look at the word list.
- Other books by Stephenson: Your cheat sheet to his previous novels, from the reputation-making Snow Crash to the inspired and often-overlooked Diamond Age to the beefy and ambitious Cryptonomicon. Or, heck, pick up Zodiac for a fun, easy read -- it proves that Stephenson isn't all about big, thousand-page tomes.
- Wired's profile of Stephenson: He writes novels in the mornings (using a fountain pen and, later, Emacs). Then he goes across the lake to work on inventing things in a workshop run by former Microsoft gazillionaire Nathan Myhrvold (he of the Difference Engine). He wears a Leatherman on his belt (of course). It goes without saying that Stephenson is far, far geekier, and far more awesome, than you are. (The Seattle Times also did a nice profile of Stephenson.)
- Buy Anathem: You can buy it online, but at this point you'll have to wait for the book to be shipped to you. Instead, why not snag it at your local independent bookstore?
- Catch Stephenson's book tour. Speaking of independent bookstores -- he'll be at a handful of author events around the U.S. from September 9 through October 1. This is a rare chance to hear him speak, as he rarely makes public appearances and is by his own admission a bad email correspondent.
- Novelist Neal Stephenson Once Again Proves He's the King of the Worlds
- Neal Stephenson's Anathem Mashes Dune, Eco, More
- Steampunk Unboxing: Difference Engine Arrives in Silicon Valley
- Neal Stephenson Rewrites History
“We’ve heard rumors about Neal “Snowcrash” Stephenson’s new novel, but nothing more concrete than that it would be called Anathem
and it would be a space opera about math and aliens. That would mark a
real departure for the novelist, who has dealt only with human
histories and futures in his previous works like The Diamond Age, Snowcrash, and Cryptonomicon. Now Lev Grossman, Time magazine’s nerd correspondent, has more details about the plot of Anathem.
Grossman says he’s received a notice from the publisher with this catalog copy about the book:
Since childhood, Raz has lived behind the walls of a
3,400-year-old monastery, a sanctuary for scientists, philosophers, and
mathematicians—sealed off from the illiterate, irrational,
unpredictable “saecular” world that is plagued by recurring cycles of
booms and busts, world wars and climate change. Until the day that a
higher power, driven by fear, decides that only these cloistered
scholars have the abilities to avert an impending catastrophe. And, one
by one, Raz and his cohorts are summoned forth without warning into the
A little bit Ender’s Game, a little bit Name of the Rose? You know, that is sort of the perfect combination for Stephenson. But where are the aliens? And the space opera?”
He specializes in dense tomes that dig deep into science, math, religion and more, and not just because he hails from a family of what he describes as "propellerheads." No, it's because he's plugged into the past and the future, and has no problem slipstreaming between the two.
His latest 900-page epic, Anathem, is similarly ambitious, and hard to describe. Good thing Stephenson tackles that thorny task in the video at right.
In Anathem, Stephenson has invented a world torn between language and meaning, the devout and the secular, the technocultural and the Luddite. His book echoes the similarly linguistic and cultural struggles of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose, but the author explains how he owes a sizable debt to Frank Herbert's fertile Dune multiverse and much more. It's an enlightening introduction to what is another labyrinthine exercise straight outta Stephenson's ceaselessly imaginative brain.
Want to pick that brain? Check out Stephenson on tour, starting Sept. 10 at the legendary Moe's in Berkeley, California, and wrapping Oct. 1 in Colorado. Bring an electron microscope. You're going to need it.
And stay tuned for more, including a video trailer for Anathem, as well as an exclusive excerpt. Books may be almost dead in the age of YouTube, but authors like Stephenson won't go gently into that digital night without a serious, and seriously readable, fight.