May 2nd, 2007


fun things you learn in networks, part #234

First of all: Ted Stevens was right. The Internet is a series of tubes--it is, to oversimplify grossly, a way computers can communicate to each other through a series of telephone lines, fiber optic cables, and yes, undersea tubes connected to each other through an enormous tangle of switches routers. (The tube thing is not an uncommon metaphor, either--traceroute to any of various websites in Canada and your data will pass through the Shaw Big Pipe). It is not a big truck--an oft-quoted aphorism from Andrew S. Tanenbaum's popular networks textbook: "Never underestimate the bandwidth of a truck full of tapes hurtling down the highway." The only reason why there was so much indignation over Senator Stevens's metaphor is because bloggers (and consequently the Daily Show's writers) a) like being smug, b) don't understand the underlying infrastructure of the Internet, and c) are too lazy to look it up. Granted, Stevens probably didn't understand it fully either--I'm guessing he was paraphrasing something an expert on the subject explained to him, and talking faster than he was thinking--but at least he had the decency to consult someone more computer savvy than your sixteen-year-old tech support friend who screws in hard drives at CompUSA.

Second of all: trace your way up the route tables, and you will inevitably find the "thirteen gods of the Internet". They watch over the keepers of names. Should all thirteen DNS servers fail, the packets shall lose their way, and the Web as we know it shall cease to exist. (That is, until we get used to typing in raw IP addresses again.) Naturally, the thirteen gods occasionally come under attack.

Third of all--not from networks but related: An excerpt from Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon succinctly explains why I think people with my background are full of shit. (Search for "information superhighway" and read to the end of the page.)

Fourth: Al Gore never said he invented the Internet. Fuck you, blogosphere.