stupid network & mother earth mother board

the dawn of the stupid network

the difference between smart networks—where scarcity of infrastructure & bandwidth mandated maximizing efficiency of bits, creating services, expansion was expen$ive, endpoints (telco terminals, telephones) were *just* endpoints—to stupid networks—where bandwidth becomes abundant and cheap, bits go in one end and out the other, processing happens at endpoints.

design assumptions of telephone networks: “Theoretically, a local exchange can serve up to 10,000 telephones, e.g., with numbers 762-0000 through 762-9999. The design assumption, though, is that only a certain percentage of these lines, maybe one in 10, are active at any one time. ” when more people use phones, or when the internet happens, this assumption breaks the system.

interesting to note the revenue-generating/value-adding things these companies came up with:

  • call routing
  • caller options (press 1 for…)
  • database lookup based on number you call from

“Stupid Networks have three basic advantages over Intelligent Networks – abundant infrastructure; underspecification; and a universal way of dealing with underlying network details, thanks to IP (Internet Protocol)”

“repertoire of different data handling techniques” makes it possible to handle lots of different kinds of traffic on the same infrastructure.

mother earth mother board

jesus christ, neal stephenson is obnoxious. but once you get past that:

“The cyberspace-warping power of wires, therefore, changes the geometry of the world of commerce and politics and ideas that we live in. The financial districts of New York, London, and Tokyo, linked by thousands of wires, are much closer to each other than, say, the Bronx is to Manhattan.”

“wires have never been perfectly transparent carriers of data; they have always degraded the information put into them.”

“(the distinction between countries and companies is hazy in the telco world)”

“Without rubber and another kind of tree resin called gutta-percha, it would not have been possible to wire the world.”

“Virtually all communications between countries take place through a very small number of bottlenecks, and the available bandwidth simply isn’t that great.”

as opposed to cable over land, where air does not interfere because it’s a bad conductor, cable underwater has this technical challenge: “the ocean serves as the ground wire.”

“Daily and Wall preside over this [FLAG] operation, which is Western at the top and pure Thai at the ground level”

“Nynex and AT&T have their offices a short distance from each other in Manhattan, but the war between them is being fought in trenches in Thailand, glass office towers in Tokyo, and dusty government ministries in Egypt.”

“Cables have always been financed and built by telecoms, which until very recently have always been government-backed monopolies.” privatization of infrastructure was a game-changer.

“In deep water, where the majority of FLAG is located, the work is done by cable ships and has more in common with space exploration than with any terrestrial activity.”

everything goes in a Big Room Full of Expensive Stuff. “Early cable technicians were sometimes startled to see their cables suddenly jerk loose from their moorings inside the station – yanking the guts out of expensive pieces of equipment – and disappear in the direction of the ocean, where a passing ship had snagged them.”

“The first cables carried telegraphy, which is as purely digital as anything that goes on inside your computer. The cables were designed that way because the hackers of a century and a half ago understood perfectly well why digital was better. A single bit of code passing down a wire from Porthcurno to the Azores was apt to be in sorry shape by the time it arrived, but precisely because it was a bit, it could easily be abstracted from the noise, then recognized, regenerated, and transmitted anew.”

cue mr. shannon’s gorgeous drawring:


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