What-If 0031: "FedEx Bandwidth"

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What-If 0031: "FedEx Bandwidth"

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:22 am UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/31/

When - if ever - will the bandwidth of the Internet surpass that of FedEx?
—Johan Öbrink
Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.
—Andrew Tanenbaum, 1981


I'm kinda sad this particular what-if didn't spiral into someting ridiculous. Still, interesting stuff...
Last edited by Klear on Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:34 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby brenok » Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:45 pm UTC

That last image someway made me remember of this smbc comic.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby PolakoVoador » Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:48 pm UTC

Indeed very interesting numbers, though I also would like some ridiculousness.

The Halo bit reminded me of correspondence-chess. Can we consider it the very first form of "online" multiplayer?

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:31 pm UTC

PolakoVoador wrote:Indeed very interesting numbers, though I also would like some ridiculousness.

The Halo bit reminded me of correspondence-chess. Can we consider it the very first form of "online" multiplayer?


I wouldn't be surprised if play-by-mail gaming turned out to pre-date chess.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:35 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
PolakoVoador wrote:Indeed very interesting numbers, though I also would like some ridiculousness.

The Halo bit reminded me of correspondence-chess. Can we consider it the very first form of "online" multiplayer?


I wouldn't be surprised if play-by-mail gaming turned out to pre-date chess.


I wouldn't be surprised if chess turned out to pre-date mail.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Ineluki » Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:40 pm UTC

$130,000 for 136 1TB drives? I'm getting a 1TB for under £100 - about $160. Or are these SSD?

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Trekker4747 » Tue Feb 05, 2013 2:46 pm UTC

Ummm help out here. 136 terabyte hard drives, is it me or would that cost a fraction of $136,000? I mean that's $1000 per drive which costs more than pretty much every computer/laptop computer on the market with hard drives that size.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby PolakoVoador » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:02 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:
PolakoVoador wrote:Indeed very interesting numbers, though I also would like some ridiculousness.

The Halo bit reminded me of correspondence-chess. Can we consider it the very first form of "online" multiplayer?


I wouldn't be surprised if play-by-mail gaming turned out to pre-date chess.


I wouldn't be surprised if chess turned out to pre-date mail.


According to Wikipedia:
The first documented use of an organized courier service for the diffusion of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the diffusion of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BC).


There are a lot of others implementations of early postal services in India, China, Persia and Rome, all in the BC range.

The history of chess spans some 1500 years. The earliest predecessors of the game originated in India, before the 6th century AD

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:03 pm UTC

OK. Cool. But I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to be the other way around.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby PolakoVoador » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:07 pm UTC

Klear wrote:OK. Cool. But I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to be the other way around.


Me neither, that's why I had to check the intertubes for an answer.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:33 pm UTC

PolakoVoador wrote:
Klear wrote:OK. Cool. But I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to be the other way around.


Me neither, that's why I had to check the intertubes for an answer.

I would only have been very mildly surprised to discover that chess was older than organised postal services, but a play-by-mail game would only require a single communication channel between two individuals - neighbouring monarchs, or a king and one of his generals, for example - rather than an organised network, and I had a fairly good idea of the age of chess, and that official written communications would be much older. This doesn't prove that play-by-mail is older than chess, but human nature makes it seem likely - people have been playing games back into pre-history, and routine official communications have probably included personal trivia for as long as routine official communications have existed...

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby ctdonath » Tue Feb 05, 2013 3:44 pm UTC

Klear wrote:I'm kinda sad this particular what-if didn't spiral into someting ridiculous.


Halfway thru I started looking forward to how he was going to end up destroying the world this time.

Huh...a thought: he did notice that there is a pretty consistent ratio between network bandwidth vs. physical storage capacity. Maybe as bandwidth increases the corresponding storage devices will reach a physical size limit, and total mass of storage will increase until we reach black-hole-creating sizes. Or at least cause collapse of tectonic plates, as the Journal of Irreproducible Results predicted prolonged accumulation/hoarding of National Geographic would do.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:07 pm UTC

ctdonath wrote:
Klear wrote:I'm kinda sad this particular what-if didn't spiral into someting ridiculous.


Halfway thru I started looking forward to how he was going to end up destroying the world this time.


It's been a while since the last apocalyptic What-If - most recent one I spotted was #26, Leap Seconds, with its lethal asteroid bombardment in a futile attempt to keep the clocks running on time...

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby jacobraccuia » Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:21 pm UTC

Would it still be faster to to mail a hard drive than send it online, when you take transfer times into consideration?

To transfer 500gb to an external, mail it, then transfer it vs. sending source to source..

I probably don't know enough about computers to be able to make an argument, but I feel like source to source would be faster.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 05, 2013 4:45 pm UTC

jacobraccuia wrote:Would it still be faster to to mail a hard drive than send it online, when you take transfer times into consideration?

To transfer 500gb to an external, mail it, then transfer it vs. sending source to source..

I probably don't know enough about computers to be able to make an argument, but I feel like source to source would be faster.


Local connections are generally faster than going via the internet - apart from anything else, transmissions over the internet have to resist degradation over longer distances, which means a lower transmission rate over equivalent hardware.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby orthogon » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:01 pm UTC

I'd be interested in the comparative energy efficiencies, i.e. Joules per bit-metre.

For a 44-tonne truck loaded with micro-SD cards, I make it 3.3x10-16 J/bit/m

Assumptions:
44-tonne truck gets 8mpg fully loaded (1 UK gallon = 8x0.568l, 1 mile = 1609m) [Yahoo answers]
Tare weight of 44-tonne truck = 14 tonnes, i.e. net cargo mass = 30 tonnes. [Google]
Energy density of diesel = 36MJ/l. [Wikipedia]
data density of microSD card = 160TB/kg [Randall]

My home ADSL connection gets 6Mbit/s, and if I am sending data halfway round the world the total power consumption would have to be less than 36mW to match that. I suspect my ADSL router alone uses nearly 1000 times more power.

It's not a fair comparison of course, because the trucking method will be many orders of magnitude less efficient in the "last mile".
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Wnderer » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:03 pm UTC

This sort of relates to a similar question I had. How much memory would it take to download Wikipedia and how much space would it take up?

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:05 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
ctdonath wrote:
Klear wrote:I'm kinda sad this particular what-if didn't spiral into someting ridiculous.


Halfway thru I started looking forward to how he was going to end up destroying the world this time.


It's been a while since the last apocalyptic What-If - most recent one I spotted was #26, Leap Seconds, with its lethal asteroid bombardment in a futile attempt to keep the clocks running on time...


It doesn't have to be apocalyptic, IMO. That would get boring pretty fast, I think. What I meant by ridiculous was what happened in steak drop... and, of course, the previous what if was pretty ridiculous from the start =)

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Bounty » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:10 pm UTC

jacobraccuia wrote:Would it still be faster to to mail a hard drive than send it online, when you take transfer times into consideration?

To transfer 500gb to an external, mail it, then transfer it vs. sending source to source..

I probably don't know enough about computers to be able to make an argument, but I feel like source to source would be faster.


One of the cited articles lists the best case internet transfer rate as 1 terabyte per day, so conceivably you could move that drive over the internet in 12 hours. For this kind of thing though we're not concerned about your .5TB HD, we're looking at the 120TB from the Hubble Telescope.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby keithl » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:24 pm UTC

Considering how much information is packed in DNA, and how many DNA strands there are in a kilogram of e. coli, the highest bandwidth human-directed system is the bowel contents of a planeload of people. The microorganisms in the Gulf Stream are higher bandwidth still, and a continental plate covered meters deep with soil microorganisms, moving at continental drift speed, may be even higher bandwidth.

And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:40 pm UTC

keithl wrote:And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!


Everything is moving nearly the speed of light somewhere if you pick the right inertial frame. Nothing special about that...

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rhomboidal » Tue Feb 05, 2013 5:55 pm UTC

At least you could file a claim against FedEx for dropped packets. (Stomped, kicked, and maliciously frisbee-ed packets, too.)

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Yupa » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:10 pm UTC

Today's "What-If" reminded me of this paper discussing what quantum mechanics has to say about the maximum amount of memory and computing power that can be contained in a 1 kg / 1 L computer, including one which has been compressed into a black hole:

http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/9908043.pdf

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby senor_cardgage » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:39 pm UTC

PolakoVoador wrote:
Klear wrote:OK. Cool. But I wouldn't have been surprised if it turned out to be the other way around.


Me neither, that's why I had to check the intertubes for an answer.


How long did it take for the FedEx guy to arrive with your answer?

rmsgrey wrote:I would only have been very mildly surprised to discover that chess was older than organised postal services, but a play-by-mail game would only require a single communication channel between two individuals - neighbouring monarchs, or a king and one of his generals, for example - rather than an organised network, and I had a fairly good idea of the age of chess, and that official written communications would be much older. This doesn't prove that play-by-mail is older than chess, but human nature makes it seem likely - people have been playing games back into pre-history, and routine official communications have probably included personal trivia for as long as routine official communications have existed...


I think neighboring kings did have a sort of chess-by-mail game going, but it involved sending actual knights and actual pawns out to do battle against each other.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby mudlock » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:40 pm UTC

Storage density increases by ~15% annually, which is less than the 29% internet bandwidth-usage growth. At these rates, the internet would still eventually surpass FedEx, but it would be closer to 2070 than 2040.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby senor_cardgage » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:29 pm UTC

But clearly we're also assuming that FedEx itself never grows. Is that a realistic assumption?

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Pfhorrest » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:37 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
keithl wrote:And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!


Everything is moving nearly the speed of light somewhere if you pick the right inertial frame. Nothing special about that...

And the strict information density of almost anything is unimaginably large, on the same scale as the strict energy density. As in, that rock may not seem very energetic or informative, but try converting its mass-energy into kinetic energy, or try copying its precise quantum state to a hard drive...
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby bmonk » Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:46 pm UTC

keithl wrote:Considering how much information is packed in DNA, and how many DNA strands there are in a kilogram of e. coli, the highest bandwidth human-directed system is the bowel contents of a planeload of people. The microorganisms in the Gulf Stream are higher bandwidth still, and a continental plate covered meters deep with soil microorganisms, moving at continental drift speed, may be even higher bandwidth.

And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!

Interesting that they are now investigating data storage in artificial DNA--because it is so compact...
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby speising » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:30 pm UTC

in STNG humanoid DNA was used as long term storage, which the crew eventually deciphered to a holographic message with some fancy tricorder punching.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby phlip » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:48 pm UTC

Wnderer wrote:This sort of relates to a similar question I had. How much memory would it take to download Wikipedia and how much space would it take up?

About 9GB, after compression, and removing old revisions and user/talk pages. The all revisions/all pages dump, uncompressed, is apparently multiple TB.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby ahammel » Tue Feb 05, 2013 11:52 pm UTC

speising wrote:in STNG humanoid DNA was used as long term storage, which the crew eventually deciphered to a holographic message with some fancy tricorder punching.
Totally plausible, as it turns out.
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby tejing » Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:30 am UTC

In an intuitive sense, this seems unlikely, since storage and transfer are fundamentally linked—all that data is coming from somewhere and going somewhere—but there’s no way to predict usage patterns for sure.
I think you're missing something important here... the way they're linked may change. Suppose someday the vast majority of data is produced, distributed, and consumed on an extremely short timescale, with only a small portion ever seeing any kind of permanent storage. This would clearly be a major change in what kind of computing we do, but it's far from out of the question, in fact I can see some arguments why it might be a likely direction for things to move.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby keithl » Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:05 am UTC

BTW, SATA disk storage is dense enough and the connections are simple enough that a weightlifer can lift a "live petabyte"", that is, a petabyte of active and connected hard disks. A stack of solid state memory chips (custom designed for slow but lightweight connectivity) would be lighter, but more expensive to implement. If there is an IT Geek Olympics, this should be an event.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby speising » Wed Feb 06, 2013 9:49 am UTC

ahammel wrote:
speising wrote:in STNG humanoid DNA was used as long term storage, which the crew eventually deciphered to a holographic message with some fancy tricorder punching.
Totally plausible, as it turns out.

the point i was trying to mock was the ease of decoding this data :)

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby ijuin » Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:40 am UTC

Klear wrote:
keithl wrote:And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!


Everything is moving nearly the speed of light somewhere if you pick the right inertial frame. Nothing special about that...


I believe that the 600 km/s figure is relative to the Cosmic Microwave Background, which is the closest thing to a "universal" frame of reference that we have. That is to say, the CMB is blueshifted by about 600 km/s in the direction that we are moving.

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby ahammel » Wed Feb 06, 2013 3:31 pm UTC

speising wrote:
ahammel wrote:
speising wrote:in STNG humanoid DNA was used as long term storage, which the crew eventually deciphered to a holographic message with some fancy tricorder punching.
Totally plausible, as it turns out.

the point i was trying to mock was the ease of decoding this data :)
Meh, DNA sequencing technologies are subject to miniaturization as well1. It isn't totally impossible that we'll have a handheld sequencer by the 2360's.

1. Granted, that's not the whole machine, but it's the important bit. The whole thing is toaster-oven sized, as opposed to the sequencer I grew up on which was smart-car sized and had maybe 1% of the the throughput.
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby Max™ » Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:09 pm UTC

keithl wrote:Considering how much information is packed in DNA, and how many DNA strands there are in a kilogram of e. coli, the highest bandwidth human-directed system is the bowel contents of a planeload of people. The microorganisms in the Gulf Stream are higher bandwidth still, and a continental plate covered meters deep with soil microorganisms, moving at continental drift speed, may be even higher bandwidth.

And of course every bit of information on the planet, natural and artificial, is hurtling at 600 km/s towards Abell 3627. Beat THAT, FedEx!

I like to use Vega as a reference since it's easier to point to and tell people.

Plus, embarrassing as it is, I can't locate Abell 3627 off the top of my head... I know, I'm so ashamed of myself. T.T
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:50 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:
speising wrote:
ahammel wrote:
speising wrote:in STNG humanoid DNA was used as long term storage, which the crew eventually deciphered to a holographic message with some fancy tricorder punching.
Totally plausible, as it turns out.

the point i was trying to mock was the ease of decoding this data :)
Meh, DNA sequencing technologies are subject to miniaturization as well1. It isn't totally impossible that we'll have a handheld sequencer by the 2360's.

1. Granted, that's not the whole machine, but it's the important bit. The whole thing is toaster-oven sized, as opposed to the sequencer I grew up on which was smart-car sized and had maybe 1% of the the throughput.

Reading the DNA sequence is the easy part - figuring out that there's a message in there, identifying which stretch(es) of the sequence it's in, correcting for mutations and drift is harder. Figuring out the image encoding and creating a codec for it? Now that's the real achievement...

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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby ahammel » Wed Feb 06, 2013 4:56 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:Reading the DNA sequence is the easy part - figuring out that there's a message in there, identifying which stretch(es) of the sequence it's in, correcting for mutations and drift is harder. Figuring out the image compression and creating a codec for it? Now that's the real achievement...
Once it's sequenced and assembled it's just bits (even if slightly corrupt bits). Figuring out that those bits contain a hologram is probably not super difficult compared to, say, using a hard AI to travel faster than light while having a hot tub party with Helen of Troy and Neil Patrick Harris in your holodeck.

If they didn't have some reason to suspect that the DNA in question was being used as a hard drive, then yes, that was a weird dot to connect.
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Re: What-If 0031: FedEx Bandwidth

Postby rmsgrey » Wed Feb 06, 2013 5:28 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:Once it's sequenced and assembled it's just bits (even if slightly corrupt bits). Figuring out that those bits contain a hologram is probably not super difficult compared to, say, using a hard AI to travel faster than light while having a hot tub party with Helen of Troy and Neil Patrick Harris in your holodeck.


Okay, there are tricks used when designing messages intended to be beamed out to the stars in order to try to make the message as readable as possible - if the message in the DNA were intended to be read by "aliens", not just by people who already knew how to decode it, then making sense of it would be fairly easy. If it were encoded for efficient storage, then it becomes a serious cryptography problem...


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