Originally Published: Friday, 13 July 2001 Author: Kristina Pfaff-Harris
Published to: opinion_articles/opinion Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Kristina in Space: Linux Ate My Brain

Friday in summer, for those of us in the western hemisphere, is always good for a lark. This Friday is no exception as we ask the indomitable Kristina Pfaff-Harris to talk about getting just a little too dependent on Linux and the Internet. Are you ready to define yourself as a cyborg? Do you really have any choice in the matter?

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I'm really quite good at remembering a lot of useless information. I can tell you that Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990 thus starting Operation Desert Storm. I can tell you that Larry Wall invented the Perl programming language, and that his educational background was in linguistics. I can even tell you what color shoes I wore to my high school prom (trick question: I never went to the Prom, so no shoes. Ha!). I've figured out something very chilling recently though, and I'm not quite sure how to deal with it. Somewhere along the way, Linux apparently ate a significant part of my brain, and without it, I often can't remember anything at all.

Then again, why should I? If someone asks about where they can find an ESL teacher certification course in Toronto, Ontario, a quick trip to Google will let me send them to the Toronto association of ESL teachers. If someone asks where he or she can find a Flash development environment for Linux, another quick search will almost certainly find something. If someone asks me to solve the quadratic equation x^2 + 2x + 1 = 0, I can bring up any number of quadratic equation solvers on the web. (x = -1 according to "Quadratic-O-Matic", for those of you who care.)

Over the years, I've somehow gotten used to being able to just type a few words and find the information I want. Because I spend so much time at my keyboard, I don't even think about it any more. Someone wants a translation? Poof! Google gives it up. I need a tip on JavaScript syntax? It's all there. It's amazing -- my family thinks I'm brilliant, but they just don't realize I'm a cyborg, with half of my brain residing on bits and pieces of servers all over the world.

I guess it's not really Linux that ate my brain, but Linux boxes or big Linux arrays like my favorite: Google. Then again, there's also my Linux workstation at home where I have phone numbers and email addresses in little text files and MySQL databases so if I need to know something, I can just grep for it. Then of course, there are all those other servers out there with little bits of code or old emails which I know I can still go and get. It's my brain -- all my knowledge just out there all over the place.

I guess I shouldn't worry about forgetting dates, ages, and so forth, since I can still run and search Google. The bad part is, Google seems to know more about me than I do. I didn't really think I was that far gone until just recently when I was searching through Google's collection of Usenet postings. I found a post I made to rec.pets.cats back in 1996 about integrating our new puppy into the two-cat household. Until I saw that post, I couldn't have told you how old our dog is now! (He'll be five this June.) I was thinking that he was about three. My friends, this is just frightening, and in some odd way, pathetic.

I wouldn't ordinarily worry about this, but you know, people are starting to talk about the death of the Web. To be honest, I have lived most of my life without the Internet or any sort of computer whatsoever, and I've done just fine. But now I'm starting to think that I may be about to lose my mind. I mean, one lightning strike on Google.com and I'll be like Rush Limbaugh only worse -- more than half my brain tied behind my back.

This week, I tried to get my brain back. I decided that I would not answer a question that I didn't know. I resolved firmly that if someone asked me something I didn't immediately know, I would just say, "I don't know," and leave it at that.

This experiment lasted all of two hours. I mean, people have questions; I have answers! I can't give that up! I am my Mom's knowledgebase, for Pete's sake. How can I deprive Mom of that just because I'm feeling leery of having my brain somehow tied into the Web? Still, this can't be good. I mean, I know that Google has mega-backups, but still, I simply can't continue to depend on an outside company for something so important as my mind.

Therefore, I'd like to appeal to everyone now: If anyone has any multi-terabyte disk arrays lying around that you're not using, and some whopping backup batteries, please send them on in so I can cache Google's cache on my own workstation at home. Then, even if the Web dies, I can still continue answering all the questions people ask me, and convincing my Mom I'm brilliant.

Now, I'm off to find out how old my cats are.

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