Erik Fair's Varied Interesting Things

Computers are as much my avocation as my vocation, so my current list of fun things to play with include NetBSD (a free 4BSD UNIX system with complete sources which runs on a wide variety of computers, as any decent UNIX should), The PowerPC CPU design & systems built around it, virtual domains like, and the Internet in general.

USENET also continues to be a fascinating system to watch, and to help develop, though I haven't done very much significant work on it since Network News Transfer Protocol (NNTP RFC 977) back in 1986.

Using the power of a large fraction of the computers on the Internet for big computational problems has long been the fantasy of many people (me, included), and now some folks are actually doing it (and you can play, too!). There is a collection of links to such projects at The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search web page. I've had committed my computers to the RC5 64-bit key space search (a public policy and privacy rights issue). They found the 56-bit key after searching 47% of the key space, and are (as of this writing) working on the RC5 64-bit key challenge (256 times more keys to look through than 56-bits...).

An only slightly twisted idea: Random Numbers from LavaLites! (patent pending) This is actually important because good random numbers are required for computer security, among other things.

I love a good view. One day, I will buy a nice house high on a hill or mountain, just so that I can look over a wide area, marvel at it, and let it inspire me.

In the mean time, I have a collection of Internet cameras that I peek through with some frequency. My favorite is KPIX TV channel 5's eight hour time lapse from their camera on top of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. They pan it around and zoom in on picturesque views around the bay to suit whatever their broadcast needs are (weather report backgrounds, etc), and I'm almost never disappointed looking at the time lapse during the day.

I like Tom Lehrer. He appeals to the cynic in me. Mark Russell is a pale imitation. Will Durst is kinda fun to listen to, though.

Penn & Teller, a roguish raconteur, a mime, and magicians extraordinaire. I last saw them at the Flint Center in Cupertino, CA on September 30, 1997.

The Eric Conspiracy Secret Labs, although I shaved off my moustache some years ago.

Computers are both my vocation (my job) and my avocation (my hobby).

Multiprocessor machines are fascinating. Here's an oldie but a goodie: the Purdue two-headed VAX-11/780 (the gentleman who built it also has an interesting way to light bar-b-que grills). I also really enjoyed reading:

Author:Pfister, Gregory F.
Title:In search of clusters : the coming battle in lowly parallel computing
Published:Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Prentice Hall PTR, c1995.
Description:xxiv, 415 p. : ill. ; 23 cm.
LC Call No.:QA76.58 .P49 1995
Dewey No.:004/.35 20
Subjects:Parallel computers. Client/server computing.
Control No.:95011238

Mr. Pfister makes an argument for clusters (and, specifically, applications programming for clusters), and as background for his argument, he reviews the last decade or so of CPU and computer systems design. It was a wonderful read for me.

Just for grins, I decided to set one of my old Sun 3/60 computers to computing the most recently discovered "largest known prime number" just to see how long it would take, and how large the number would be. For the people who do not want to fetch the nearly 400K document referenced above, the number can be calculated as 2 to 1257787 power, minus one. More information can be found at The Largest Known Primes web page.

Erik E. Fair <>
November 19, 1997