Hack the Planet

November 25, 2015

Here’s a little known fact about AWS Redshift: it was previously known as the “Gibson” project at the Ellingson Mineral Company before that whole Hack the Planet / DaVinci virus scandal drove the company into the ground in 1995. Amazon acquired rights to the project in subsequent years and turned it into the data warehouse we know and love. To the disappointment of programmers everywhere, the product managers at Amazon decided somewhere along the way it would cut costs and ease adoption to remove the original graphical interface to the database and replace it with the Postgres-compatable one we have today.

Okay, not really. The Gibson was the supercomputer featured in the 1995 teen sci-fi thriller, and now cult-classic, Hackers. The movie energetically explored and sensationalized the early Hacker subculture and effectively inspired a whole generation of kids to become computer programmers. Myself (Paul Kiernan) and two other initiates of the hackerverse (Matt Owen and Anastasis Germanidis) came together over the past hackweek at Chartbeat to make the original Gibson interface a reality and perhaps even bring it to the Oculus Rift.


We began by investigating the Oculus Rift SDK and frameworks we could use to include an existing C++ project that emulated the Gibson interface. Unfortunately, it quickly became clear we would be unlikely to produce anything in a reasonable amount of time if we had to struggle with the lack of support for the SDK on OS X, learn how to use openframeworks, and refactor the existing project to include Redshift adapters and work generally with VR in c++. So we researched alternative platforms and settled on the widely accessible combination of WebVR and threejs.

WebVR is an experimental Javascript API that provides access to Virtual Reality devices like the Oculus Rift. Combined with threejs, a wonderful javascript framework around WebGL, we were able to create a Gibson-like interface to one of our Redshift clusters that runs entirely in the browser. The final product queries our cluster to get a list of tables and their sizes and paints them as buildings on a 3D landscape. Buildings are arranged randomly on a plane and their heights are a function of the number of rows in a table they represent.

Here you can see two videos of the gibson interface hooked up to one of our production Redshift databases (with table names obfuscated for, you know, security reasons).

2D Gibson:


3D Gibson (via Oculus):


The Gibson project can be hooked up to any Redshift cluster or general postgres database so let us know if you’d be interested in playing around with it!

Hack the planet!

Hack the Planet!