Tags: infrastructure



Monday, March 12th, 2018

The web is under threat. Join us and fight for it. – World Wide Web Foundation

What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.

Tim Berners-Lee on the 29th anniversary of Information Management: A Proposal.

Two myths currently limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.

While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people — and can be fixed by people.

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Beaker | Peer-to-peer Web browser. No blockchain required.

Here’s an intriguing project—peer-to-peer browser and hosting. I thought it might be using the InterPlanetary File System under the hood, but it’s using something called Dat instead.

It’s all very admirable, but it also feels a little bit 927.

Friday, May 12th, 2017

The cost of change | The White Site

Ben points to a new product aiming to ease the pain of connected devices bumping up against the harsh realities of shearing layers:

By exposing the ‘hardwiring’ of our electrical systems, Conduct emphasises how much we rely on existing systems to power our ‘new’ technology – the rate of change and advancement in our traditional technologies moves at a much slower pace than our mobile app-based world and there are physical limitations as a result of this hardwired legacy.

I am—unsurprisingly—in favour of exposing the seams like this.

Monday, May 1st, 2017

The People’s Cloud

A documentary by Matt Parker (brother of Andy) that follows in the footsteps of people like Andrew Blum, James Bridle, and Ingrid Burrington, going in search of the physical locations of the internet, and talking to the people who maintain it. Steven Pemberton makes an appearance in the first and last of five episodes:

  1. What is the Cloud vs What Existed Before?
  2. Working out the Internet: it’s a volume game
  3. The Submarine Cable Network
  4. How Much Data Is There?
  5. Convergence

The music makes it feel quite sinister.

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Could we reboot a modern civilisation without fossil fuels? | Aeon Essays

Is the emergence of a technologically advanced civilisation necessarily contingent on the easy availability of ancient energy? Is it possible to build an industrialised civilisation without fossil fuels?

This thought experiment leads to some fascinating conclusions.

So, would a society starting over on a planet stripped of its fossil fuel deposits have the chance to progress through its own Industrial Revolution? Or to phrase it another way, what might have happened if, for whatever reason, the Earth had never acquired its extensive underground deposits of coal and oil in the first place? Would our progress necessarily have halted in the 18th century, in a pre-industrial state?

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Empire State

I’m in New York. Again. This time it’s for Google’s AMP Conf, where I’ll be giving ‘em a piece of my mind on a panel.

The conference starts tomorrow so I’ve had a day or two to acclimatise and explore. Seeing as Google are footing the bill for travel and accommodation, I’m staying at a rather nice hotel close to the conference venue in Tribeca. There’s live jazz in the lounge most evenings, a cinema downstairs, and should I request it, I can even have a goldfish in my room.

Today I realised that my hotel sits in the apex of a triangle of interesting buildings: carrier hotels.

32 Avenue Of The Americas.Telephone wires and radio unite to make neighbors of nations

Looming above my hotel is 32 Avenue of the Americas. On the outside the building looks like your classic Gozer the Gozerian style of New York building. Inside, the lobby features a mosaic on the ceiling, and another on the wall extolling the connective power of radio and telephone.

The same architects also designed 60 Hudson Street, which has a similar Art Deco feel to it. Inside, there’s a cavernous hallway running through the ground floor but I can’t show you a picture of it. A security guard told me I couldn’t take any photos inside …which is a little strange seeing as it’s splashed across the website of the building.

60 Hudson.HEADQUARTERS The Western Union Telegraph Co. and telegraph capitol of the world 1930-1973

I walked around the outside of 60 Hudson, taking more pictures. Another security guard asked me what I was doing. I told her I was interested in the history of the building, which is true; it was the headquarters of Western Union. For much of the twentieth century, it was a world hub of telegraphic communication, in much the same way that a beach hut in Porthcurno was the nexus of the nineteenth century.

For a 21st century hub, there’s the third and final corner of the triangle at 33 Thomas Street. It’s a breathtaking building. It looks like a spaceship from a Chris Foss painting. It was probably designed more like a spacecraft than a traditional building—it’s primary purpose was to withstand an atomic blast. Gone are niceties like windows. Instead there’s an impenetrable monolith that looks like something straight out of a dystopian sci-fi film.

33 Thomas Street.33 Thomas Street, New York

Brutalist on the outside, its interior is host to even more brutal acts of invasive surveillance. The Snowden papers revealed this AT&T building to be a centrepiece of the Titanpointe programme:

They called it Project X. It was an unusually audacious, highly sensitive assignment: to build a massive skyscraper, capable of withstanding an atomic blast, in the middle of New York City. It would have no windows, 29 floors with three basement levels, and enough food to last 1,500 people two weeks in the event of a catastrophe.

But the building’s primary purpose would not be to protect humans from toxic radiation amid nuclear war. Rather, the fortified skyscraper would safeguard powerful computers, cables, and switchboards. It would house one of the most important telecommunications hubs in the United States…

Looking at the building, it requires very little imagination to picture it as the lair of villainous activity. Laura Poitras’s short film Project X basically consists of a voiceover of someone reading an NSA manual, some ominous background music, and shots of 33 Thomas Street looming in its oh-so-loomy way.

A top-secret handbook takes viewers on an undercover journey to Titanpointe, the site of a hidden partnership. Narrated by Rami Malek and Michelle Williams, and based on classified NSA documents, Project X reveals the inner workings of a windowless skyscraper in downtown Manhattan.

World Wide Web, Not Wealthy Western Web (Part 1) – Smashing Magazine

Bruce widens our horizons with this in-depth look at where and how people are accessing the web around the world.

In this article, we’ve explored where the next 4 billion connected people will come from, as well as some of the innovations that the standards community has made to better serve them. In the next part, we’ll look at some of the demand-side problems that prevent people from accessing the web easily and what can be done to overcome them.

Friday, March 3rd, 2017

World of Concrete: Inside the Industry That’s Building Trump’s America Brick by Brick - The Atlantic

Fear and concrete in Las Vegas: a great piece of infrastructure reportage by Georgina.

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Less than Zero

I have to admit, my initial reaction to the idea of providing free access to some websites for people in developing countries was “well, it’s better than no access at all, right?” …but the more I think about it, the more I realise how short-sighted that is. The power of the internet stems from being a stupid network and anything that compromises that—even with the best of intentions—is an attack on its fundamental principles.

On the surface, it sounds great for carriers to exempt popular apps from data charges. But it’s anti-competitive, patronizing, and counter-productive.

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Urban Giants on Vimeo

A look at the architectural history of the network hubs of New York: 32 Avenue of the Americas and 60 Hudson Street. Directed by Davina Pardo and written by her husband Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Centre of the Internet.

These buildings were always used as network hubs. It’s just that the old networks were used to house the infrastructure of telephone networks (these were the long line buildings).

In a way, the big server hotel of New York—111 Eight Avenue—was also always used to route packets …it’s just that the packets used to be physical.

Urban Giants

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

How did we end up with a centralized Internet for the NSA to mine? - O’Reilly Radar

A great analysis of how centralised hubs are the easiest attack vector for bad actors like the NSA and GCHQ:

How did we get such industry concentration? Why is a network famously based on distributed processing, routing, and peer connections characterized now by a few choke points that the NSA can skim at its leisure?

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Loon for All – Project Loon – Google

Google’s plan to bring internet connectivity to remote areas by using balloons wafting in the stratosphere.

Considering that Google seems to put as much time and effort into its April Fool’s jokes as it does into its real projects, you’d be forgiven for assuming this was a spoof.

Friday, April 26th, 2013

The Secure Transport of Light on booktwo.org

A beautiful piece by James on the history of light as a material for communication …and its political overtones in today’s world.

What is light when it is information rather than illumination? What is it when it is not perceived by the human eye? Deep beneath the streets and oceans, what is illuminated by the machines, and how are we changed by this illumination?

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Meet the Web’s Operating System: HTTP

A lovely description by Paul Ford of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

That simple handshake is the firmament upon which we have built trillion-dollar cathedrals and bazaars, the base upon which we construct other protocols and networks.

Saturday, June 30th, 2012


After speaking at Go Beyond Pixels in St. John’s, I had some time to explore Newfoundland a little bit. Geri was kind enough to drive me to a place I really wanted to visit: the cable station at Heart’s Content.

Heart's Content Cable Station

I’ve wanted to visit Heart’s Content (and Porthcurno in Cornwall) ever since reading The Victorian Internet, a magnificent book by Tom Standage that conveys the truly world-changing nature of the telegraph. Heart’s Content plays a pivotal role in the story: the landing site of the transatlantic cable, spooled out by the Brunel-designed Great Eastern, the largest ship in the world at the time.

Recently I was sent an advance reading copy of Tubes by Andrew Blum. It makes a great companion piece to Standage’s book as Blum explores the geography of the internet:

For all the talk of the placelessness of our digital age, the Internet is as fixed in real, physical places as any railroad or telephone system ever was.

There’s an interview with Andrew Blum on PopTech, a review of Tubes on Brain Pickings, and I’ve huffduffed a recent talk by Andrew Blum in Philadelphia.

Andrew Blum | Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet - Free Library Podcast on Huffduffer

Now there are more places I want to visit: the nexus points on TeleGeography’s Submarine Cable Map; the hubs of Hibernia Atlantic, whose about page reads like a viral marketing campaign for some soon-to-be-released near-future Hollywood cyberpunk thriller.

I’ve got the kind of travel bug described by Neal Stephenson in his classic 1996 Wired piece Mother Earth Mother Board:

In which the hacker tourist ventures forth across the wide and wondrous meatspace of three continents, acquainting himself with the customs and dialects of the exotic Manhole Villagers of Thailand, the U-Turn Tunnelers of the Nile Delta, the Cable Nomads of Lan tao Island, the Slack Control Wizards of Chelmsford, the Subterranean Ex-Telegraphers of Cornwall, and other previously unknown and unchronicled folk; also, biographical sketches of the two long-dead Supreme Ninja Hacker Mage Lords of global telecommunications, and other material pertaining to the business and technology of Undersea Fiber-Optic Cables, as well as an account of the laying of the longest wire on Earth, which should not be without interest to the readers of Wired.

Maybe one day I’ll get to visit the places being designed by Sheehan Partners, currently only inhabited by render ghosts on their website (which feels like it’s part of the same subversive viral marketing campaign as the Hibernia Atlantic site).

Perhaps I can find a reason to stop off in Ashburn, Virginia or The Dalles, Oregon, once infamous as the site of a cult-induced piece of lo-tech bioterrorism, now the site of Google’s Project 02. Not that there’s much chance of being allowed in, given Google’s condescending attitude when it comes to what they do with our data: “we know what’s best, don’t you trouble your little head about it.”

It’s that same attitude that lurks behind that most poisonous of bullshit marketing terms…

The cloud.

What a crock of shit.

The cloud is a lie

Whereas other bullshit marketing terms once had a defined meaning that has eroded over time due to repeated use and abuse—Ajax, Web 2.0, HTML5, UX—“the cloud” is a term that sets out to deceive from the outset, imbued with the same Lakoffian toxicity as “downsizing” or “friendly fire.” It is the internet equivalent of miasma theory.

Death to the cloud! Long live the New Flesh of servers, routers, wires and cables.

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Secret Servers | booktwo.org

A great piece by James on the architecture, aesthetics and perception of datacenters.

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

BLDGBLOG: Islands at the Speed of Light

Freaky stuff. If you’ve seen Kevin Slavin or James Bridle talking about the increase in property prices on Wall Street as the buildings get closer to the network hub …that’s nothing—these are the new centres of world power; places where the speed of light interferes least with the speed of transactions.

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

I Have Seen the Future and I Am Opposed - Core77

Don Norman bemoans the seemingly-inevitable direction that the internet is taking; from an open system of exchange to a closed, controlled broadcast channel. I share his fear.

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Google Public Policy Blog: A joint policy proposal for an open Internet

Google reaffirms its commitment to net neutrality ...except when it comes to wireless broadband, of course, because that's *totally* different, right? This disgusts me.