Cold

August 2, 2010

So here I am at the new “SoftLayer Global HQ” on Alpha Road in Dallas that we moved into last Monday, July 12th. We had a very warm welcome; our landlords catered bagels, pastries, and fruit for breakfast that day, and they also provided Maggiano’s for lunch (I’m still in need of lasagna detox).

Another thing that was (and still is, and will unfortunately be for a while) warm is the weather outside. Blisteringly hot, actually. Also, our new office space is huge compared to the one we just moved from. Being the only residents in our building, we have lots of room for growth (and we will definitely grow). As a result, most of the departments that were nestled right in next to each other at the “horseshoe” location in Plano are now isolated from each other and separated by light-years of deep space (the ridiculously huge spaces between galaxies) in the name of room for future growth. If I were a scientist, I would probably now make up some cool, true analogy derived from real data for someone to understand how vast deep space is, (you know, like saying the Earth and the Sun’s relative sizes are like a pea and a soccer ball or something like that), but I’m not a scientist; I’m a summer intern who classifies transactions all day, so I’ll just read Wikipedia and then say that it’s just huge and that there’s nothing there except random bits of energy and this theoretical weird stuff called “dark” matter and “dark” energy. Stuff like that is what’s separating the Accounting department from certain amenities such as the front door, the main café…oh, and our CFO and VP. But who cares about them, because it’s not like we work for them or anything.

Trivia question! What is uncomfortable about deep space? It’s really, really, really, incredibly cold. You pretty much don’t want to go there, at all, ever. I don’t care how cold the DC and Seattle guys say it is where they live compared to Dallas; compared to deep space, even Siberia would feel like Death Valley. What’s the temperature? Infinitesimally close to absolute zero. What is absolute zero? It’s the lowest temperature theorized to exist, and while no one has ever measured something with this temperature because it’s nearly impossible to do so, it’s highly likely that this theory is true. What is the scientific definition of temperature? Temperature is just the measurement of the effect of thermal energy (heat) on the movement of matter. Heat gives things kinetic energy (which makes them move), and we measure the average kinetic energy of a set of particles and call that the temperature. Imagine particles of matter as zillions of microscopic foam balls in a large pot. If the pot is held still or nearly still (a low temperature), it appears as a solid. As more heat is present, the pot shakes more and more, and if there were zillions of microscopic balls, at a certain temperature it would appear to you that there was a liquid in the pot rather than a solid because the heat was giving the particles more kinetic energy to the point where they were moving so much they began to flow like a liquid (melting). And if it shook so much that the balls flew out of the pot, it would appear as a gas. Absolute zero is the theoretical temperature where there is a complete absence of thermal energy (a completely still pot). Well, you know about the Celsius scale, right? Water freezes at zero and boils at one hundred degrees Celsius. In 1848 a scientist named William Thomson, however better known as Lord Kelvin, got lazy (or innovative, who knows) and made up a new scale where absolute zero, was, in fact, zero. Absolute zero is located at about negative 273 degrees Celsius, or zero Kelvins. So deep space is cold and dark.

Now that I’m done rambling, what do deep space (which as established above, is cold and dark) and SoftLayer have in common? Both! Apparently the warm temperatures outside were slightly winning in the battle against the air conditioners on Monday (just a simple calibration issue), so a few people in my sector of the galaxy politely requested a slight temperature adjustment to cool down the office just a tiny bit. The result was an Antarctic chill of biblical proportions that plummeted the office temperature close to that of absolute zero. I’m not kidding. I’m now sitting in my cube typing this blog extremely slowly, because as I explained earlier, you can’t exactly move very well at deep space temperatures. I’m dreaming of a pair of astronaut gloves while wearing a sweater I found in my car that I had during the winter. So that’s the cold part. Well, for the dark part, among other slight issues that can be expected upon a new office location that is still not completely finished, we encountered one that prevented Bryan Chamberlain (my boss) from having lights in his office. Apparently the motion sensor that turns them on is not communicating with the power grid, and so a new part has to be ordered and replaced during off-hours. Congratulations, Bryan, you now have two things in common with interstellar space. However the moral of the story is, cold places are great for housing heat-producing servers.

And Wikipedia makes me sound really smart.

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