Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Blog #3: Light, Electricity, and Copper

Immediately entering chapter 5, Blum mentions that although he now understands where the Internet is, but he doesn't know much about what it is. Everything was made of copper as his house. From the cables on his desk, the telephone, to the wire from his backyard. Except that when it came to the heart of the Internet, everything was made of glass fibers filled with pulses of light. On page 158 he states, "So far I'd been reassured that on the Internet there's always a distinct physical path, whether a single yellow fiber patch cord, an ocean-spanning undersea cable, or a bundle of fibers several-hundred thick. But whatever went on inside the router was invisible to the naked eye." I'm on the same track as Blum; still unsure as to which aspects of the Internet remain physical and which do not. Luckily this isn't something one should feel embarrassed for now knowing the answer to. A lot of individuals in my generation are very close to the Internet since they grew up with it and are quite tech-savvy to this day. I'm certain a great deal of us think we mostly understand the Internet. I myself used to believe I had a good amount of general knowledge about the Internet. Although, Blum's acts of getting to the nitty-gritty aspects of the Internet really uncover everything that makes up the Internet, including many things myself and definitely several others hadn't even heard of before. None of us probably considered the thought of: if there is, perhaps, one headquarters that runs the Internet, where is it? We most likely never thought about it consisting of separate buildings. Not only all around our country, but around the world. Different buildings in places with their own unique teams of people, all making up the massive construct we call the Internet.
When analyzing the math of increments of a second with Par Westesson, Blum gazed at all the zeros on the screen where Westesson pointed where the millisecond and microsecond marks are. Blum looked out the window and the world seemed different to him. Seeing the cars on the nearby highway, he imagined all of the devices contained inside of them. Cell phones, GPSs, radios; everything seemed alive to him, and these networked systems are everywhere. "But all invisible. To see it you had to imagine it, and in that moment I could", he mentions on page 162.
Blum ends chapter 5 with "A gig is a billion. A billion bits made of light." On page 193, Blum explains fiber-optic technology. It in itself is complex, yet the basic principle is simple. Light travels from one shore to another through undersea cables, like a subway tunnel. At each end, there is a landing station that can be compared to a lighthouse because it's job is to illuminate the fiber-optic strands. To travel a vast distance, thousands of volts of electricity travel through the copper to power repeaters and eventually the destination. Blum states his analogy of this process struck him a wonderfully poetic, as it makes a very advanced concept easy to visualize. Blum adds on page 194 that undersea cables are invisible and feel like rivers with a continuous flow of energy.
"At the logical level, the Internet is self-healing. Routers automatically seek out the best routes among themselves. But that works only if there are routes to be found", Blum says on page 200. Once I saw the visualization of the way information travels from a YouTube video, I saw it wasn't just a point A to point B type of situation. I saw this network of connections that was almost like a maze, except that there were many different ways to get to the destination without any obstacles. Even if some parts of these connections were to become corrupted, data could still find another way to reach its destination. When he says the last statement about the process only being able to function if there are routes available, that says to me that information is still able to transfer somehow unless the entire network is down.

Discussion Questions:
1.  Blum mentioned that up until that point he had felt reassured that the Internet was composed of a physical path. What did you believe went on inside the router that Blum describes as being "invisible to the naked eye"?
2. How had you previously imagined these massive undersea cables connecting the continents, or did you believe the transferring of data overseas was wireless?

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ITR Presentation - World Wide Web