To navigate the web is to beat a path through a labyrinth of links left by others, and to thereby create associative links yourself, unspooling them like a guiding thread onto a floor already carpeted with such connections. Each thread of connection is unique, individualized: everyone draws their own map of the network as they navigate it.
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
Monday, May 1st, 2017
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:
- What is the Cloud vs What Existed Before?
- Working out the Internet: it’s a volume game
- The Submarine Cable Network
- How Much Data Is There?
The music makes it feel quite sinister.
Thursday, April 27th, 2017
But here’s the thing about browsing the modern web with a six year-old laptop: nearly every browser tab causes my fan to spin, and my laptop to warm. Elements of web pages slowly, noticeably, gracelessly ka-chunk-fall into place as they render. While I browse the web, I feel each one of my laptop’s six years.
Monday, March 20th, 2017
The second part of Bruce’s excellent series begins by focusing on the usage of proxy browsers around the world:
But how!? Well, Bruce has the answer:
I call this amazing new technique “progressive enhancement.”
You heard it here first, folks!
We’ve gone through the invention step. The infrastructure came out of DARPA and the World Wide Web itself came out of CERN.
We’ve gone through the hobbyist step. Everyone now knows what the internet is, and some of the amazing things it’s capable of.
We’ve gone through the commercialization step. Monopolies have emerged, refined, and scaled the internet.
But the question remains: can we break with the tragic history that has befallen all prior information empires? Can this time be different?
The first part of this article is a great history lesson in the style of Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. The second part is a great explanation of net neutrality, why it matters, and how we can fight for it.
If you do nothing, we will lose the war for the open internet. The greatest tool for communication and creativity in human history will fall into the hands of a few powerful corporations and governments.
There’s something very endearing about this docudrama retelling of the story of the web.
Monday, March 6th, 2017
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.
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.
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.
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.
Saturday, February 25th, 2017
We don’t take our other valuables with us when we travel—we leave the important stuff at home, or in a safe place. But Facebook and Google don’t give us similar control over our valuable data. With these online services, it’s all or nothing.
We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers.
Monday, February 20th, 2017
Thursday, February 16th, 2017
Much of our courage and support comes from the people we read and talk to and love online, often on the very networks that expose us—and our friends—to genuine enemies of freedom and peace. We have to keep connected, but we don’t have to play on their terms.
Friday, January 6th, 2017
As always with sci-fi interfaces, the important part is telling the story, not realism or accuracy. Personally, I liked the way that the World War II trappings of Rogue One extended to communications and networking technologies.
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
When it seems like all our online activity is being tracked by Google, Facebook, and co., it comforts me to think of all the untracked usage out there, from shared (or fake) Facebook accounts to the good ol’ sneakernet:
Packets of information can be distributed via SMS and mobile 3G but also pieces of paper, USB sticks and Bluetooth.
Connectivity isn’t binary. Long live the papernet!
Friday, October 21st, 2016
A ten-year old paper that looks at the history of the ARAPNET and internet to see how they dealt with necessary changes.
Changing a large network is very difficult. It is much easier to deploy a novel new protocol that fills a void than it is to replace an existing protocol that more or less works.
Wednesday, September 28th, 2016
Chrome is going to refuse to parse
document.write for users on a slow connection. On the one hand, I feel that Google intervening in this way is a bit icky, but I on the other hand, I totally support this move.
This keeps happening. Google announce a change (usually related to search) where I think “Ooh, that could be interpreted as an abuse of a monopoly position …but it’s for ver good reason so I’ll keep quiet.”
Anyway, this should serve as a good kick in the pants for bad actors (that’s you, advertisers) to update their scripts to be asynchronous.
Monday, September 26th, 2016
The Museum of Wi-Fi exists to preserve these vestiges of our neighbourhood battlefields.
Some are brilliantly smart, some are just purely gross. They all belong in the museum.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
A gripping history lesson of the internet and the ARPANET before it, emphasising the role of government funding.
Silicon Valley often likes to pretend that innovation is the result of entrepreneurs tinkering in garages. But most of the innovation on which Silicon Valley depends comes from government research, for the simple reason that the public sector can afford to take risks that the private sector can’t.
It’s precisely the insulation from market forces that enables government to finance the long-term scientific labor that ends up producing many of the most profitable inventions.
Today we have an internet effectively controlled by a small number of private companies.
Instead of trying to escape the bigness of the Internet, we should embrace it — and bring it under democratic control. This means replacing private providers with public alternatives where it’s feasible, and regulating them where it’s not.
There is nothing in the pipes or protocols of the Internet that obliges it to produce immense concentrations of corporate power. This is a political choice, and we can choose differently.
Sunday, July 3rd, 2016
The World Wide Web, with all of its pages, blogs and so on- has allowed human expression in ways that would have been uneconomic and out of reach before. The most dramatic effect has been this ability for almost anyone to express himself or herself whenever they want to- and potentially be heard by many others.
Vint Cerf there, taking part in this wide-ranging discussion with, among others, Kevin Kelly and Bob Metcalfe.
The introduction leans a bit too heavily on Nicholas Carr for my liking, but it ends up in a good place.
The internet connects us cognitively and becomes a membrane through which our minds can interact, manifesting a whole new iteration of our species, who have begun to exist in a connected symbiotic relationship with technology.
The internet is the first technology we have created, that makes us more human.
Saturday, December 5th, 2015
A wonderful sci-fi vignette from Matt.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Monday, October 19th, 2015
A fascinating guest post by Brian McConnell on Centauri Dreams: what if there’s a galactic equivalent to the internet, allowing civilisations to communicate with a system analogous to packet switching.
Unfortunately this kind of focussed signalling would be hard to detect. But on the other hand, it could explain the Fermi paradox.