The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

That's not what I wanted, Firefox

That was odd.

I'm working remotely, using a Linux desktop system, and I'm trying to log into the trouble ticket system at The Office. It's a web-based trouble ticket system, so I'm using Firefox as my browser of choice. Now, because I haven't logged into the trouble ticket system from where I'm currently am, it's not bookmarked or in my browser history.

“No problem,” I say to myself. “I'm using X Windows, and since my workstation at The Office also uses X Windows, I can run Firefox on my workstation and have it displayed on the computer I'm currently using.” I mean, that's the whole purpose of X—you can run applications on one computer and have its windows displayed elsewhere. This is so fundamental to X that its been a feature since the late 80s (pcAnywhere is a Johnny-come-lately to remote GUI software).

So I log into my workstation and run Firefox. Yes, there is a lag before the window pops up, but I'm expecting that—I am running a graphical program across the Internet. But the window … it looks … wrong. I mean, it is Firefox, but the window isn't big, and the bookmarks aren't the ones I expect.

In fact, it looks much like the bookmarks on the copy of Firefox I'm running locally. And in fact, the browser history doesn't show the trouble ticket system.

In fact, the Firefox on my workstation at The Office apparently sent a command message to the Firefox on the computer in front of me to open up a new window.

Which, while pretty cool in a “network optimization” way, is not what I was expecting. To get around this mess, I had to shut down the local Firefox before firing up Firefox at The Office.

I know of no other X program that exhibits this behavior. xeyes? It'll run remote and locally. xterm? It'll run remote and locally. Gimp? It'll run remote and locally. Firefox? It apparently goes out of its way to run in only one location—must be a vestige function left over when it was the commercial product Netscape.

There is a way around it though:

It seems the switch you are looking for is -no-remote. And yes, it does not appear with you run firefox -h, because firefox -h gives you the sitches supported by the program firefox.

What's this -no-remote then, you say? Well that switch is implemented by the wrapper script. Pish tosh, a wrapper script is some silly linux distribution script, you would think. But look at the license and the copyright and you'll find this is part of the standard firefox distribution. The method for getting the wrapper script appears to be to open it in vi. At least, that's the method I used. My firefox manpage does mention it too, but that's hardly an excuse.

spc hates software: Okay Firefox, that's … interesting. Now cut it out!

Oddly enough, the man page I have on my workstation at The Office fails to mention -no-remote, and the man page on the computer I'm using fails to mention -no-remote—they do, however, mention -remote, but that appears to be redundant, since that appears to be the default action anyway.

Sigh.


I, for one, welcome our new computer based overlords

I spoke recently with an old friend who is a bandwidth broker. He buys and sells bandwidth on fiber-optic networks around the world. And he told me something that I found not completely surprising, but I certainly hadn't known: Google controls more network fiber than any other organization. This is not to say that Google owns all that fiber, just that they control it through agreements with network operators. I find two very interesting aspects to this story: 1) that Google has acquired—or even needs to acquire—so much bandwidth, and; 2) that they don't own it, since probably the cheapest way to pick up that volume of fiber would be to simply buy out any number of backbone providers like Level 3 Communications.

When Being a Verb is Not Enough: Google wants to be YOUR Internet.

A long staple of science fiction is the sentient computer. From When Harlie was One and The Adolescence of P-1 to The Forbin Project, we've had computers becoming aware and then possibly trying to take over the world (or the moon, in the case of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) but in all these cases, it was a single computer gaining self-awareness; never was it a cluster of machines (well, maybe the Borg but those aren't exactly computers we're talking about).

But Google?

Google has thousands of computers, all networked. Each computer is simple, but then again, so is a single neuron. But all those simple computers are connected together, again, like neurons. And I think that our conscienceness arises from the pattern of said connections; that you get emergent behavior from billions of such simple connections. And while Google is far from having billions of connections, it certainly has more connections than just about anything else. Unlike, say, my site, where you can point to a single computer (currently in Miami) and say “that's Conman Laboratories,” you just can't point to a single computer and say “that's Google,” much like you can't point to a single skin cell and say “that's Sean Conner.”

Google is more than the sum of its parts.

And if any computer, or cluster of computers, will exhibit emergent behavior, it will be Google (or more technically, the Google cluster).

I'm wondering if that hasn't already happened to some degree.

Or maybe, just maybe, Google is Skynet

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