Happy Birthday, Internet!

October 29, 2009 at 4:04 am (Cool Tech, Internet tech, Politics) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

40th-birthday-cake-internetSo.  The Internet turns 40 years old today! The very first interconnection between two remotely located computer systems took place on October 29th, 1969.

Warning: GEEK ALERT! This post is going to be excessively nerdy.  If you find your eyes beginning to glaze over, you might want to read one of my most popular posts ever, “They Call This A Jeep?

Now, back to the Internet’s Birthday… It was 1969.  The first man had walked on the moon only a few months before, it was the Summer of Love, and Woodstock, the US Army was still in Vietnam, and the military’s research arm – DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency – had been working for years towards the goal of a massive computer network.

(Today, it’s become something that we take almost for granted, but even 15 years ago, most people weren’t online, and many people didn’t even have home computers.  That’s a lot of change for such a short time.)

Getting back to 1969, it may have been a remarkable event, but it was little noted at the time.  To quote Leonard Kleinrock, one of the people who invented the hardware and software that make the Internet work:

…on October 29, 1969, at 10:30 in the evening, you will find in a log, a notebook log that I have in my office at U.C.L.A., an entry which says, “Talked to SRI [Stanford Research Institute] host to host.” If you want to be, shall I say, poetic about it, the September event was when the infant Internet took its first breath.

Here’s Leonard Kleinrock himself, in a short talk about the event.

(And for more geeky fun, here’s the story of the first e-mail.)

This infant network went on to become ARPANET, the first wide-area network of computers that could “talk” to one another.  And ARPANET was eventually opened to the public in 1990, when Tim Berners Lee created the “World Wide Web” – a way of “linking” documents (or pages) to one another on the network.  (Click here for a complete timeline of the Internet’s development.)

From there, the changes have been rapid, not to say amazing.  The amount of data that can be carried on the Internet has been radically increased, allowing users to watch videos, chat with other people anywhere in the world, and send messages, pictures, and documents to any computer on the planet.  Or in orbit.  Wow, huh?

There are, of course, a few problems.  First are the unintended consequences such as economic disruption, and the social implications.  The Internet has certainly changed dating and relationships for lots of people.

And there’s the issue of Network Neutrality.  That’s the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, no matter who originated it – little old you or me, or Fox News.  A lot of people want to keep the playing field level, and allow small companies to compete with bigger concerns.  Big companies with deep pockets could buy up all the bandwidth, crowding out the smaller competition.  Not fair.  Alaska Senator Ted Stevens tried to explain it, resulting in one of the favorite Internet quotes of all time:

The Internet is a series of TUBES!

So, now we’re more or less up to date, seeing where the Internet is at 40.

What’s in the future for the Internet?

As the Internet enters its fifth decade, one of the possibilities is something called the Semantic Web, another invention of Tim Berners Lee.  The Semantic Web will rely upon the meaning and weight that visitors give to web pages, to establish their value and relevance.  The social media phenomenon – Twitter, MySpace, Facebook – is the first step in that direction.

The Internet also has the capability of connecting to – and communicating with – virtually anything, anywhere.  You might have an Internet-connected refrigerator that orders more bread and veggies when you run out, or an Internet-connected thermostat and Venetian blinds, allowing you to control the environment of your home from your laptop or iPhone.

Another interesting development: this week, President Obama announced $3.4 billion to be put towards modernizing America’s power grid. That will include making it “smarter” and more resilient to interruptions and attack, using some of these new Internet technologies.

Not to be outdone, DARPA and the military are getting in the act, developing a new, “hardened” military network protocol, intended to keep our fighting men and women connected under the worst of circumstances.

All of these developments in connectivity could usher in a new era of peace and freedom, or a new era of oppression and slavery.  It’s up to us how they get used.  A hammer can be used to build a house, or crack a skull.  Tools are amoral.  Humans can make a choice.

If you’d like to learn more about our options for the future, you can listen to the podcasts from Media Monarchy and The Corbett Report, and then examine the resources they offer.  There is also Adam Greenfield’s Everyware site, for information on Ubiquitous Computing.

That’s the beauty of the Internet.  You can use it to learn about anything, including the Internet itself.

The future of the Internet at 40 is exciting, and possibly scary.  So is the future of humanity.  I wonder where we will find ourselves in the year 2049?

UPDATE: 10/31/09 I can’t believe I forgot to include this.  ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) this week chose to allow non-Latin characters for Internet domain names. According to Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s President and CEO:

“This is only the first step, but it is an incredibly big one and an historic move toward the internationalization of the Internet. The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives.”

This will supposedly save lots of keystrokes for Asian, Russian, and Arabic Internet users.  And the beat goes on.

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Parody – Not A Low Art Form At All

October 24, 2009 at 1:17 am (Damn funny, Entertainment, Media) (, , , , , , , )

Earlier this week, I spotted a lovely little parody of Pixar’s Luxo Lamp intro – the one you see at the beginning of all the Disney / Pixar movies.

Here’s the original, to refresh your memory:

And here’s the parody.  Wonderfully twisted, and perfectly in the spirit of the Hallowe’en season…

Now, here’s a really fun parody with a different approach.  Certainly a little more lighthearted:

A bit of looking on YouTube indicates that the Pixar Luxo Lamp intro is a very popular subject of parody and imitation.  There are many, many videos done by aspiring CGI animators out there.

Let’s wrap up with a quick “outtake”:

Enjoy the weekend, and I’ll be back soon with a more serious subject to discuss.

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China Is World’s #2 In Billionaires

October 17, 2009 at 12:58 am (General, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , , , )

Word is out this week that China now has the second biggest concentration of dollar billionaires, with the United States having the most.  The story (from Reuters) reports that:

“China’s rich are getting richer, with the average wealth on the list $571 million, up almost one-third from last year…”

And how has that happened?  Could it be because America has exported millions of our manufacturing jobs to China?  Huh.  Do ya think?

Not to mention every other “developed” country in the western world.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, one thing that’s wrong is that once upon a time America used to have assembly and manufacturing jobs that were good entry-level jobs, with an opportunity for advancement.

That’s how I got my start in high-tech electronics back in the mid-1970s.  I started as an assembler, and eventually – through perseverance and learning on-the-job – I worked my way into engineering support and design positions.

Now, the only entry-level assembly jobs left in America are at McDonald’s, assembling burgers. Where’s the promotion path from there? Manager?  Ugh.  Sign me up – not.

What’s happening in China right now seems to be a recapitulation of what America experienced in the 20th century – urbanization, dramatic growth, massive amounts of construction, a growing middle class, a rise in consumerism as a lifestyle, and all the pollution that goes with it.  China also seems to be going through all the stages of development more quickly than America did.

And what have been the benefits? Loads of cheap Chinese crap for us to by at WalMart, and this:

China’s new wealthy need to spend all that money on something, don’t they?  Might as well be lucky pears in the shape of babies.  Lord knows, we Americans also have a taste for the tasteless.  Check out this USB accessory for your computer:

It can be embarrassing being a geek.  Sometimes.

But the real issue here – in my mind – is the cost. There is a real cost that hasn’t been reckoned, or factored into the headlong rush to “development”.  Right now, America is seeing the downside of growth – when growth is not sustainable, the result is a cycle of booms and busts. Growing and shrinking. This is a normal process in organic systems.  We’re seeing that as autumn begins here in the northern hemisphere, and plants go dormant.

However, when it happens to economies and cities, you get decay and blight, and city managers suggesting that US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive.

Tough times.  Scary times.  I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we need to be asking questions, and trying to find some answers.

Or, like Arthur Dent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, start lying in front of the bulldozers.

Oh, I almost forgot.  The most disturbing quote from the Reuters article:

“With the greatest wealth destruction in the west of the last 70 years, we’ve seen China buck the trend and the wealth seems to be still growing,” [Rupert] Hoogewerf told Reuters…

No, it’s not our imagination.

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What Are They Thinking At GM?

October 8, 2009 at 2:16 am (Cars & Trucks, Damn funny, Die Rat Bastard, The Economy) (, , , , , , , )

Holy Zarquon’s Singing Fish. I just saw a commercial for the new 2010 Chevy Equinox SUV, and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.  Whatever they are smoking in the styling department at Chevrolet, it must be pretty righteous shizzle.  Take a look:


And now, take a look at the 2002 Pontiac Aztek, widely considered to be one of the ugliest cars ever made:


Wow.  Wow, wow, wow.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Can you imagine a more clear example that people don’t learn from history, and are therefore doomed to repeat it Is it any wonder that GM is about to pass into history like the Studebaker and the DeSoto?

There.  I feel a little better now.  See you all in a few days.

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Capitalism – American Dream, or Nightmare?

October 1, 2009 at 12:05 am (Damn funny, Entertainment, Media, Politics, The Economy, The Environment) (, , , , , , , , )

Tomorrow, Michael Moore’s self-described magnum opus, Capitalism: A Love Story, hits theaters all over America. And I’m really looking forward to seeing it.  Perhaps it’ll help make sense out of the last year.  Check out the trailer:

Looks pretty good to me!  Moore’s new film promises entertainment, education, and aggravation in equal parts, rather like Fahrenheit 9/11 did.  And here’s my recommendation for a second film that would make a good companion on a double bill – The Corporation:

I encourage everyone to sit down and watch The Corporation.  You can rent it on DVD, buy it, or even watch it online.  The important thing is – watch it. Some of the things you may think you know about corporations aren’t necessarily so.

As someone who has worked in small to medium-sized corporations throughout my working life, this film came as a real eye-opener.  The premise behind The Corporation is this – if a corporation really were a real person, and underwent psychoanalysis, what kind of person would it turn out to be?

The answer isn’t very pretty.  Corporations are, by and large, the kind of person that gets locked up for sociopathic behavior on an epic scale. That simple diagnosis may go some ways towards explaining the events of the last year.

Enjoy your popcorn, and see you at the movies.

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