Category Archives: Week 11

The internet, this complex social-technical system

The internet started as a happy accident and now we can’t imagine our life without it. But the internet is not just a singular artefact, and we simply can’t refer to it as one. Rather, it is a complex system that involves a technological evolution, a social aspect, a global infrastructure and a commercialization aspect, according to A brief history of the internet. It is a communication system, that somehow connects the whole world, but it’s not owned or controlled by a specific group that has dominant powers over the others. So, the internet is open to all of us, and there’s so much that we can do, but first let’s try to understand what The internet is

What’s the origin of the word, “the internet”?

According to Khan, the origin of the word is “inter-networking“. In the late 1960s, he faced the problem of three communication networks that did not connect to each other. He worked with Vint Cert to solve this problem, and together they created and built the TCP/IP, which is the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol; actually a collection of methods used to
connect servers on the Internet and to exchange data. TCP/IP is a universal standard for connecting to the Net.

For something that we use so much, how come it is so difficult to explain what it is and how it works?

Well, this is not a surprise. As we’ve talked in our class, everything that we cannot physically see, makes it hard for us to understand what it is, and to explain how it works. So, after this week readings, it is much easier for me to use the correct terms and understand this complex system. The internet is a system that includes everything from the cables that carry information, to routers, modem servers, cell phone towers, satellites all inter-connected, transmitting information, using protocols, which I referred to earlier.

What I find most fascinating about the internet is it’s design principle and architecture. Modularity and layring approach are two concepts that we’ve discussed earlier, but understanding how they apply to the design of the internet is critical. There is a trade on complexity and performance that happens with these design principles, but the end goal of this architecture is to effectively have the flow of information, the transmission of the data packets from one end to the other.

This means that the development of all media, services, apps all depend on the internet architecture.

Most of the time, as a consumer society, we never worry about how something works, and the internet in particular, is such a delicate case, because of the “magic” that happens, since we don’t see all these network connections and how the packets transmit information from one server to the other.  But as we all know now, there is no magic when it comes to technology and understanding that the internet was designed to do what it does, is part of this system that we all can contribute.

Building websites is the most fascinating thing that I really enjoy doing. Learning HTML, CSS, JQuery and JavaScript helped me understand how  we see what we see in a website. There are a lot of website building platforms, but creating a website from scratch was a unique experience.

I gave this example to make the point that, the most powerful things are invisible and we don’t see what is happening behind this “blackbox”, but trying to understand how it works and asking the right questions, really helps to give meaning and to make us think about ways that we can contribute, and the Internet, this complex system, if full of opportunities to do just that.

Sources:

Campbell-Kelly Martin and Aspray, William Computer: A History Of The Information Machine. 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014.

Irvine,Martin Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

White, Ron How Computers Work. 9th ed. Excerpts from chapter, “How the Internet Works.” Que Publishing, 2007.

Some Thoughts on the Nature of the Internet

This week’s readings were helpful in fleshing out what is probably the most important technology/platform of our age – the Internet. The ways in which we, as users/laymen, conceptualize of the Internet has critical ramifications for how it is used, and and how it’s being continually built. One of the overarching points I took from the readings was just how open and non-deterministic the evolution of the Internet has been. A series of conscious choices and decisions by various actors are what led us to the current incarnation of the Internet. Had other choices and decisions been made, we could have had a radically different outcome. For example, had the NSF not relaxed restrictions on commercial use of the Internet in 1991, the vast majority of web content we now consume would have to be drastically altered or removed.

I found Ron White’s metaphor of the internet as a living organism, like a body, to be very useful in breaking down the popular conception of “the Internet” as a as an immutable, definitive technological platform or entity. Thinking of the various actors as organs and molecules that are subsumed by the entirety of the body helps to understand their limitations and contextual relationships that make up the Internet. It is truly a socio-technical system, and getting all of these actors and institutions to work together requires norms and standards. Before this class, I had been guilty of overlooked the importance of these standards, but I know understand how they truly make up the backbone of the Internet.

To be “on the Internet” means to be an active node in this amorphous, global network. You are a single actor using a machine that is engaged in a series of digital communications with many other machines within this network (and sub-networks). What I find interesting is the blending of physical infrastructure (much of which was designed and built with older forms of communication in mind) with the novel digital infrastructure of TCP/IP, WAN, LAN, peer-to-peer networks, DSLs, modems, etc. This is a great example of the process of combinatorial design, as we’re building on pre-existing technological foundations.

A case that illustrates the socio-technical nature of the internet is torrenting. Peer-to-peer file sharing has a romantic element to it that harkens back to the original ethos of the internet, which is non-commercialized/monetized sharing. There is a distinctly democratic, non-hierarchical nature to these networks. The Internet pioneers were using it to share academic files, but nowadays people use it to share a myriad of files. I am intrigued by the decentralized nature of these networks. The “what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine” ethos is very evocative of the digital utopian hippies who were instrumental in developing the Internet.

References

  1. Ron White, How Computers Work. 9th ed. Excerpts from chapter, “How the Internet Works.” Que Publishing, 2007.
  2. Martin Campbell-Kelly and William Aspray. Computer: A History Of The Information Machine. 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014.
  3. Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.
    Excerpt from Chap. 2, “Internet Design Principles.”

Internet is not a “thing”

People often take what they acquire from the Internet for granted. I could not even remember the exact year when my online surfing did not affect my mom’s phone call, and when the Internet in my home became wireless so that I could link to different mobile devices. It seemed that Internet develops spontaneously. In fact, Internet is not simply a thing when tapping an icon on the computer to make it “appear”. It is a system that designed with modularity and layers, with the tight connection of social-technical context. Under such circumstance, being “on” the Internet means we are engaging in universal agreed protocols that enable the exchange of data through network, and we are also influenced by the social-technical-political-economic system at the same time.

We just need to wait 1-2 seconds for loading a website, however, the data sending-receiving process in not like this simple. According to Abelson et.al, “the Internet is a delivery service for bits.” TCP/IP is designed for connecting servers on the Internet and processing data exchange. These data are broke down into packets for transmission, and being resembled and interpreted by the receiver’s device. Protocols are divided into different layers. Each layer of protocols has their own responsibility, using services of the lower layer and providing services to the higher layer. In the transport layer, the responsibility of TCP is to ensure the accurate delivery of data transmission, and it does not care about what other protocols do. As a modular design, it reduces complexity while increases modifiability. When first reading about the DNS in the application layer, I suddenly realized that I have once involved in the modular design of Internet. When I was at home in China last year, I found my computer could not load lots of websites, including domestic websites. I searched online for reasons and someone suggested look up for the DNS server address showed in the computer network settings. If it is showed as 8.8.8.8, then change it into 168.192.1.1. I tried and it magically solved my problem. Later I found that 8.8.8.8 is a public DNS address owned by Google, while 168.192.1.1 is basically the router’s DNS address owned by the Internet service provider. Changing DNS address does affect Internet speed. According to a test, “the results showed a 132.1 percent improvement from using Google’s DNS servers over using the stock DNS serves”, which was totally different from my using experience in China. Although I still have no idea of the reason why my computer uses Google’s DNS address as default, I make an assumption of the reason why I could not use this address is because Google services are blocked in China. This is a typical example of how social-technical context connects with Internet system.

Here is the window of my computer where I can change the DNS server’s address.

The Internet censorship in China blocked access to a number of popular foreign websites and services through the Great Firewall in order to prevent information against governments’ interests from being spread to the public. It is really annoying for me because I’m not able to check my Gmail. The best option to break the wall is to purchase for VPN service. The VPN server provides accessible IP addresses that could be connected to blocked websites. By using any of the provided IP address, the real IP address is hidden so that the ISP could not be able to track your Internet status. Therefore, the impact of political context on Internet system is obvious.

Question: Internet surfing in China is relatively much slower than in the US. It will take longer time for a website to be completely loaded. Is it because of Internet censorship that adds the filtering process when loading the website? Which layers of the protocols fit into this process? Is the speed also related to the geographic location of the IP addresses?

References

Pinola, M (2017, October 5). Want to Know How to Double Your Internet Speed for Free? Retrieved from https://www.lifewire.com/double-internet-speed-with-one-settings-change-2377750

Crawford, D (2016, January 20). VPNs for Beginners – What You Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.bestvpn.com/vpns-beginners-need-know/

Denning and Martell, Great Principles of Computing, Chap. 11, “Networking.”

Barbara van Schewick, Internet Architecture and Innovation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2012.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This? Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/u/1/d/0Bz_pbxFcpfxRSzJ2WEh2cHdMU28/view?usp=sharing&usp=embed_facebook

…THE DISCOURSE IS CONTINUOUSLY CHANGING

Grace Chimezie

 

Introduction

This weeks reading is a beautiful climax from our understanding of our media, symbols and how we got here. One thing to note however is that the discourse around the internet is one that continuously changes. The change in the discourse over the years have led us to the internet we have now and this week’s reading unraveled the puzzle and games that the everyday consumers wouldn’t care to know.

Despite years of using the internet, I’ve never really dwelt on the internet as not being the information base but  a transfer protocol. Its just one of those mediums you get soaked into that the complexities elude you. Asides from the marketing and other obvious forces, some of the answers to knowing what we need to about the internet is hidden in plain sites.

According to Irvine “What we have access to and experience as users is the outcome of agencies, actors and forces that make the technologies possible or not. Again, the invisible things are often the most powerful”

“The web today is a growing universe of interlinked web pages and web apps, teeming with videos, photos, and interactive content. what the user don’t see is the interplay of web technologies and browsers that makes all this possible”. These messages are broken down in bit packets and packages before they are delivered to us.

However, over time the discourse continues to change and issues around the internet and its use takes a new dimension. We’ve come from the age where resource sharing and data storage seemed to be a big issue, which brought about the internet and we moved to discussing issues around normalizing its use. Then the quest for dominance by market forces one that saw Bill Gates (a rather interesting scenario) in murky waters with the US department of Justice in 1998.

At this point in the semester, its no new fact that nothing just exist by itself lest alone function and the internet isn’t an exempt case. The internet would be nothing than an empty space without the devices, meta-mediums, applications and built in compatibility softwares that run on our devices, which in turn makes this information available to us. If the standard layout and framework laid out for these mediums and devices where to be done in a different way they won’t function.

Conclusion 

At the end Technologies are an extension of mans capabilities because somehow we got tired of carrying the burden alone. In recent times argument around internet neutrality has become a rising issue to be addressed, this will be over soon and another discussion would ensue, shaping ideas about what we know now. one grateful thing to consider is that the internet belongs to no one really, even though ownership is held by individuals in tiny frames.

Technical terms I’m getting to familiarize myself with in use: Loops, relay, reliable, utilization, installations, processors, sockets, nodes, interface message processor, debug, tested, display console etc.

 

References 

Janet Abbate, Inventing the Internet. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000. Excerpts.

Martin Irvine, Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

“On the Internet”

This week’s readings are about internet, the design system and its extensible features. “On the internet”, as I understand it, somehow means to be able to connected to the Wi-Fi, or using data to send and receive information through an electronic gadget. To further address the question “what does it mean to be ‘on the internet’”, it is essential to have a better understanding of “what is internet” in the first place.

Though more often, we talk about the internet as a totalized entity, and see it as one and a whole function of the modern technology and communication system, if we have a closer look, we will understand that the internet is actually a system rather than a totality. The internet is a “cumulative orchestrated combinatoriality” with layers of technologies. As shown in this picture, the internet is the network built up upon protocols, with the fundamental support of wire, fiber and radio. It is a combination of both hardware and software: physical implementations such as wire, power plant, and radio provides the most essential signal, and programs in the computer or other terminals allows the gadget be connected easily to the internet with simple clicks.

(Picture: Internet as an hourglass)

 

Also from the technical level, internet is also designed in “abstraction layers” where data is transmitted in packets. According to “Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion”, there are two important choices in the development of internet: avoiding size limits of the information so that large messages could still be carried through the network, and ensuring the capacity of network could only be limited by the data traffic instead of the amount of connected computers. As information are sent and received as multiple small packets of data, it allows the webpages to be loaded almost instantly as we open it. We can observe this in our life experience: when we open a web page, the content on the webpage does now appear in a top-to-bottom sequence, but normally the texts will appear first, pictures second, and videos at last. Also old information will be saved on the terminal as cache, and thus the next time when we open the page, only the packets of new information needs to be transferred. This is also why when we refresh a page or open a page again, it loads faster than the first time.

The system, or the layers of technologies in the internet, allows it to be extensible and open to future developments. With technology development, the internet will always be able to develop new features, have faster speed and alter to the need of social development.

The rapidly uploading and downloading data and the whole system make it possible for us to be “on the internet” and keep us connected to the “outside world” by creating and understanding the information via cultural symbols. Thus to be “on the internet” and make it functional, it also requires the users to understand the rules and methods to utilize symbols to understand meanings.

When thinking about the socio-technical dependencies of the network, I can’t help but think about the Great Firewall of China, which is a combination of both legislative actions and technologies to “regulate the domestic internet”. Access to certain websites such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, and sometimes even Wikipedia is limited by GFW, while the users still have access to other websites such as Bing and Yahoo. A huge amount of the internet users are fine with this limitation, while still a proportion of the internet users need and try to seek access to get over the “Great Firewall”, and the way to make that possible is to download or purchase a VPN. As explained in the video below, by using a VPN the user can bypass the censorship of the government and be connected to the forbidden websites. The relationship between the Firewall and VPNs is somehow like a competition or a combat, from time to time we hear news that the government is closing down VPN companies and making the Firewall stronger by limiting more webpages, and at the same time there are always new VPNs coming out. The accessibility of webpages is also an interesting issue when thinking about the implication of being “on the internet”, that how can we be exposed to the information as much as we want to, instead of only being “on a part of the internet” because of the government censorship.

 

(Video: What is VPN and how does VPN work)

 

References:

Martin Irvine, Intro to the Design and Architecture of the Internet (from “Key Concepts in Technology”)

Martin Irvine, Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2008. Excerpt: “The Internet as System and Spirit.”

“Great Firewall.” Wikipedia, November 12, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Great_Firewall&oldid=809869813.

How to make a website?

This semester I grow strong interests in designing a personal website, and thus I start to learn how to make a website from google and some video tutorials. For a basic website, three things are necessary: website building platform, domain name and web hosting. With these three things, we can start to set up and customize our website.

  1. Choose a website building platform

The past decades have witnessed great changes in technology. In the past, the programmers usually use HTML (code) or CSS, and they are really hard to master. Hence it’s difficult for normal people access to make websites. But nowadays with the development of Content Management System (CMS), which is relatively easy to control, it’s easier and accessible for normal people to design a website. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all examples of CMS, and we can take WordPress as an example. As the gif. shows, the WordPress is similar to Microsoft, it’s really easy to add content.

  1. Choose a web hosting provider

Making a website is like building a house on the internet. The domain name is the address of the house, while the web hosting is the space we will use to build our house. There are numerous web hosting providers for the website designers to choose. The web hosting is like the space to place our files, and it’s owned by a host-provide company. Usually we need to pay for the web hosting provide company.

When choosing the web hosting provider company, there’re many factors need to be taken into account for the website designers: storage and bandwidth (the amount of data transfer is allowed), reliability, security, and the quality of technology support. For example, if you’re a small business owner and your budget is constricted, you probably don’t need very large storage and bandwidth for economic reason.

  1. Choose a domain name

As I have said before, domain name is like the address of your house. Though actually we can choose whatever name we want by ourselves, it’s better for us to pick one unique and short. For a good domain name, it needs to be short, easy to type and remember, and include the keywords that indicate your area. Besides, it’s important to have a domain name extension. The domain name extension is at the end of website address, such as .com and .net. The domain name extension indicates the area of the website. For example, .org is the website for non-commercial organizations, and .co is for company, commerce, and community.

In this information age, designing a website is no longer a thing only for programmers. Even we’re working in different fields, we might all need a website to do propaganda, evaluation, or just express thoughts. I hope in the future I can put these theories and principles I have learned into practice and make my own website!

Reference:

Martin Irvine, Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

Robert Mening, How to Make A Website, Retrieved from: https://websitesetup.org

Stacey Hartman, How to Find the Best Hosting Company, Retrieved from: https://www.godaddy.com/garage/how-to-find-the-best-hosting-company/

What is the Internet and how ‘those tubes’ work?

Deborah Oliveros

When I was watching the introductory video for this week’s readings and Professor Irvine started explaining how the Internet is not a ‘thing’ I was immediately reminded of one of my favorite episodes of the British sitcom “The IT Crowd”(2008) about introducing the ‘Internet’ to one of the characters.

If you’re not familiar with the show let me summarize it quickly. Two IT guys, Moss and Roy, are the only two employees in the IT department of a big company. Their office is hidden in the basement of the building and they spend their days dealing with mundane requests from employees that do not understand basic technology. In fact, they usually answer the phone with “Hello, IT department, did you try turning it on and off again?”. Jen is an HR employee that has been ‘promoted’ to the IT department, but she doesn’t understand the first thing about computers or technology in general.

In the episode aptly named “The Speech”, Jen has to give a speech when she is named the employee of the month. Roy and Moss are jealous of Jen for winning an award she most definitely doesn’t deserve, so they decide to play a prank on her and give her ‘The Internet’ in a box to use as a visual aid.

Moss introduces Jen to the Internet.

In the clip, the Internet is a literal black box with a blinking red light. Both Moss and Roy use technical words and vocabulary to describe it so that Jen, knowing nothing about it, believes it completely:

Jen: “wait, it has no wires”

Moss: “everything is wireless now”

Jen: “it’s so light!”

Moss: “the Internet doesn’t weight anything”

Roy: “wait, Moss, has it been de-magnetized?”

Moss: “by Stephen Hawking himself”

And so on. Jen buys it and decides to give ‘The Internet Speech’ to a group of executives in the company. To Moss and Roy’s surprise, and the spectators as well, they doesn’t understand the prank because they also don’t know what the Internet is. Jen calls them “ordinary folk” and goes on to explain how our civilization would fall apart if something happens to the black box. The end of the speech is an amazing moment of human behavior comedy because something does happen to the black box:

Jen gives “The Speech” about the Internet as a black box.

It made me wonder how, when I watched the episode for the first time, I cried laughing because how could she believe the Internet was a black box with a blinking red light? but also, there is no way I could explain what the Internet is and how it works before this week’s readings. It also made me think about, just like the executives at Jen’s company, how many people in positions of power don’t fully understand the Internet or technology in general, but they are in charge, in many cases, of setting regulations, law and policies regarding its use and the way it impacts society.

An example you might have heard of was in 2006, when late senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) described the Internet as a “series of tubes” in the context of opposing network neutrality:

“Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got… an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.

[…] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it’s going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.”(Singel, 2006).

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BFz69qBudtz/?hl=en

Titus explains to Kimmy how the Internet “is a series of tubes”.

Later on, the case could be made for the senator’s wording that the Internet is, in fact, a series of tubes, or more aptly, a series of cables, as explained by Sarah Kliff in her article in the Washington Post and, if you have time, there is a fascinating article on Popular Science titled “Who Protects the Internet?” that explains how private companies drag and fix underwater Internet cables, and more specifically, about the facilities of Terramark in Miami, where those underwater cables touch ground and keep us connected.

Even though, one can argue that the Internet is a series of tubes, if one is talking about hardware and interface, the reality is that the issue is much more complex. What exactly “goes through” these tubes?

Professor Irvine mentions that “the Internet isn’t a ‘thing’ but an enacted system of agencies and technical mediations”, and later on, to be more specific, when talking about the Internet and Web as distributed systems ” the Internet… is enacted and performed as an ‘orchestrated combinatorial complexity’ by many actors, agencies, forces, and design implementations in complex physical and material technologies”(p.1).

A lot of things come into action when it comes to the Internet. As Ron White expresses in How Computers Work “it would be a lot easier to explain how the Internet works if you could hold it in your hand… The Net is not just a single thing; it is an abstract system”(p. 308). To illustrate this, he explains how the Internet is similar to a living organism, comparing it to the human body and how the molecules that form it are not the same all the time “No matter which molecules make up your hair and eyes and fingers, at any moment, the structure of your body remains the same. Your heart doesn’t refuse to pump because new molecules of blood are created. If you remove some parts of your body, the system continues to function”(p. 308)

When we read the history of the Internet (arpanet, etc) and how it was all combination of different advances that occurred in a perfect timing, and later on, how it was made accessible to civilians and to advertisement, it is certainly overwhelming to think not only of how fast it has developed in such a short time, but also how dependent we are on ‘these tubes’. To wonder not only of the ‘what ifs’ of the past but also the ‘what ifs’ of the future.

In the next week, when we explore the World Wide Web, I will definitely go further into analyzing and understanding this abstract. I’m specifically interested in the concept of packets and protocols. For this week, however, I want to focus on the aspect of the vulnerability and the ‘doomsday’ scenarios.

Physically, hardware or interface, the Internet is very vulnerable, unexpectedly so. Not only in relation to the protection of hubs around the world or the buildings that store the servers and connect with the underwater cables. Although it is a very fair question to ask “Who protects the Internet?” it is also very fair to question our own limitations for designing ways to protect it, either physically or with social systems such as regulation and laws.

Going back to the example of the human body to understand how abstract the Internet is, we could use the same analogy to explain why it is so important, relevant and imperative for us to understand what the Internet is and how it works. I presented this issue to my roommate, an international economy lawyer who spent this summer in Switzerland studying the possibilities and limitations of implementing regulations (and sanctions) on ecommerce in a global level. Coincidentally, she also used the human body as an example: you need to understand how your body works in order to have an active role in how you control your health, it doesn’t mean you’re going to become a doctor overnight and perform a surgery on yourself, but you need to know what it is and how it works.

The same principle can be applied to technology and the Internet. It so normalized to be oblivious about how this black box works that it’s even embedded in our pop culture, it’s a joke, which makes me think that at least a small part of the problem might be cultural.

 

References:

A Series of Tubes

Figure 1: The It Crowd

The clip above is from The IT Crowd, a British comedy program that ran four seasons and a closing special between 2006 – 2013. The poor confused woman in front of you is Jen Barber, the technologically illiterate woman who is tasked with running the IT department of a large multinational company. Readers, I have rarely identified with someone more. Though I do not believe that I could be be confused that a black box with a blinking light was in THE INTERNET, I at times wished that it could be.

Senator Ted Stevens famously said, “The internet is not a big truck, it is a series of tubes.”

Figure 2: Senator Stevens, speaking on Net Neutrality in 2006

“Yes, hilarious,” I said. “Of course it’s not a series of tubes!” While all the time I thought, “Please do not ask me what it actually is.”

So in defense of poor confused Senator Stevens, the internet is hard to describe. To even get anywhere you need to understand digitization. I know that was last week’s topic, but I can personally attest that spending a lot of time on how are symbolic processes are transformed from analog to digital and back to analog again made all the difference. Without understanding how information becomes data, the “sending of packets” sounds like complete nonsense, never mind TCP/IP.

So the internet isn’t a series of tubes, it’s a vast international network that relies on a number of interrelated and dependent parts.

  • Hardware: Computers (clients) and servers organized in a distributed network
  • Software: TCP/IP protocols that break up digitized data, address it, send it, and put it back together on the other end. (Beam me up Scotty)
  • Infrastructure: Telephone and data cables that carry the data signals

And surrounding that is a system that has benefited from many levels of standardization from the adoption of IP so that computers running incompatible operating systems can still communicate. There are also web browsers and HTML the world wide web and the domain name registration system.

Each of these pieces of the internet lines up with different design principles. It’s modular, it’s combinatorial, and it’s distributed. None of it works without Claude Shannon’s information theory. None of it works without standardization. None of it works without electricity. It’s an amazing human achievement, but unlike the Pyramids or China’s Wall it’s really difficult to sit back and admire it because it simply can’t be viewed in it’s totality.

To all the above, I think we should also consider it a gift. So much of what was developed for this system was done by students and volunteers. And some of it’s pioneers had the foresight to create something expandable, basic building blocks that could be added to, without breaking the system.

The decision of to gift the World Wide Web to the public domain might be one of the greatest things ever given to humanity. The Web, “A loose confederation of Internet servers that support documents formatted in a language called HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) that can include links to other servers, documents, graphics, audio, and video,” was developed by Tim Berners-Lee (White 313). It’s difficult to imagine a commercialized version this network, and yet that was very close to being the reality (Campbell-Kelly and Aspray).

We have a habit of idolizing the financial successes. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates carry a great deal of cultural cache, but as we again consider large issues like net neutrality, the Berners-Lees deserve their recognition. It’s important that we don’t sound like Senator Stevens and get so lost in metaphor that we don’t see how complex our system really is. We need to pay attention to the organizations such as the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force that continue to push through standards and keep the internet a place for collaboration, experimentation and growth.

“All the players know they have more to gain by accepting the standard and engineering their products and services to meet it than by trying to act alone” (Abelson et al.)

Works Cited

Abelson, Hal,  Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis. Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Addison-Wesley, 2008.

bluefalcon561. Series of Tubes. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f99PcP0aFNE. As taken from Alex Curtis. “Senator Stevens Speaks on Net Neutrality.” Public Knowledge. June 28, 2006.

Campbell-Kelly, Martin and William Aspray. Computer: A History Of The Information Machine. 3rd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2014.

Lineham, Graham. “The Speech,” The IT Crowd. December 12, 2008. The IT Crowd. Moss Introduces Jen To The Internet | The IT Crowd Series 3 Episode 4: The Internet. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDbyYGrswtg.

White, Ron, How Computers Work. 9th ed. Excerpts from chapter, “How the Internet Works.” Que Publishing, 2007.

 

peer to peer network

P2p

P2p network is kind of a new technology emerged online, but actually it more contains the design thinking which may completely change the foundation of internet in the future.

The peer to peer sharing and communicating functions of these p2p software or application, I am really appeal to the p2p application like google doc, people gets to working in one document, communicate with each other, it is something completely different from the social network.

By using p2p software, what matters is our personal computer, like sharing a document, our ITP firstly encoded our document, packing it into data package in the way that understandable to the receiver computer, and adding IP address into the data package, turning the packets into the numbers and bundle the data, send it from router to router, and arrives the receiver whose calculation of CRC matches the end. It is directly from one end to anther so there is no central server like LAN. There is a very important thing behind the p2p software, the thought of decentralizing, to giving back power and rights to individual users and turn the big internet company’s table making them not the central of Internet world. This is transform our real world model into the internet, the communication and sharing is become more easier.

This is actually something as the foundation of our internet concept in the very beginning age, where TCP/IP do not have things as users and servers, all the devices, all the connect systems are just the same node. Though with the appearance of web, of browsers, they establish servers, to some extend the servers themselves are equally connected (same position nods), for example the email does not have a very central giant server to cope with all the email, it is all these separate servers working together to sent data packets toward certain router, while individual users are also equally connected to receive and send emails.

 

What is more important for some p2p applications like google drive is the function of sharing large amount of information online, the real-time sharing is taking important part in this function, and it is what makes it so popular today. This is so excited to all the users online as this is the end of read-only web, making more people actually participate into the internet, and raise the openness of internet.

climbing over the great wall

What I read this week reminded me of a feature story I wrote as a senior student in university. It was about “climbing over GFW (the Great Fire Wall)”.

When doing the report, I asked one of my friends majoring Information Security for background knowledge of GFW and VPN. He explained the procedure of climbing over the “Wall” with an analogy of cross-border trade: GFW performs like a gatekeeper , while the search commands we send out are goods packages and the website from which we want to get information are destinations. The gatekeeper has a blacklist of destinations thus goods for these destinations are not allowed to be delivered out. Therefore, we need to first send the packages to a delivery transit point — VPN, where the goods will then be sent to the final destination. His explanation was vivid and I quickly grasped the point, although I was still confused on questions like “why do we need to pack up data” “how can the transit point know where the goods is sending to”. But as the feature story was focused on the influence of GFW to ordinary people in Shanghai and the DDL was approaching, I didn’t explore deeper on this issue.

Now that I have learned more on Internet design, I understand the topic better.

The picture provides a simplified view on how our messages get to their destination through the Internet. From the picture, we learn that every computer or device on a TCP/IP network has an IP address to receive or send out information. An IP address is a sequence of number and dots and is difficult for users to remember. But “DNS” is much more readable and easier to be recalled. Every time a user types in a DNS, the DNS server (usually provided by ISP) will translate it into an IP accordingly and send it back. This is one of the nodes that GFW works on. GFW can send a pseudo IP back to your computer earlier than DNS server does and finally lead the user to a wrong site. As DNS server can memorize what has been searched, it will remember the wrong address. Therefore, next time when another user searches the same DNS, the server will give back a wrong one.

Below is a typical data packet:

Short for Virtual Private Network, VPN can create a virtual point-to-point network for users to send and receive data and prevent disclosure of private information by working on the IP layer. It can repackage the data packet with a new header, changing receiver address with the VPN server’s address. When VPN server receives the packet, it wraps the package, finds the original header, rewrites the sender address with VPN server’s address and the receiver address with the original one, and send it out. Finally, it again repackages the response packet and send it back to the user. In this way, the user climbs over the GFW. The procedure is quite complex and I think this is why the wire speed slows down sharply whenever I’m using a VPN to visit some foreign websites.

There are also other ways to climb over the wall like changing the computer’s DNS server or hosts document and all of them work on the network layer of the OSI model.

It’s a shame that the government built up a wall at the boundary blocking out freedom. I know that the country has flaws and imperfections, but I also know that it would be better in the future.