Posts Tagged ‘internet’

I used to worry that natural selection was being contradicted in modern civilized society.  We’re doing things like creating ‘super-bug’ diseases through over-use of antibiotics, meanwhile we seem to be coming up with ways to allow people with all sorts of maladies and genetic no-nos live and produce offspring. A human thing to do, but hardly a way to upgrade the gene pool!

I also worried that ideas were subject to the ‘noise’ factor, especially since the exploding popularity of the internet and talk radio. There is so much information out there and many of the sources are so highly questionable. (I would qualify this with ‘on the net’ but it seems with a couple hundred cable channels, even television is not a reliable source for ‘accurate’ information and journalism is more about ratings chasing than about integrity of information)

I realized last night, neither is true. Or at least neither is worth worrying about.

The Helix Epiphany

Sometimes it is funny how seemingly unrelated concepts can come together to give you a better picture of something else. Someone was talking the other day about a new theory on how DNA and RNA came into existence over hundreds of millions of years. Some scientists apparently now think that a pseudo natural selection process took place with certain ‘bubble’s or collections of chemicals that proved to be more stable than others eventually spawning primitive re-producing cells. But of course, the story started out mentioning the churning cauldrons of primative earth’s volcanically timultuous seas.

What I realized in regards to natural selection is you can’t look at just your own lifetime or those immediately before and after. Natural selection is a process of many many many generations. To assume it is going to be averted by a hundred years or so of technological civilization that still hasn’t sorted out it’s optimal ‘form(s)’ yet is short sighted.

Internet and Computers as a Collective Memory Aid

And the noise on the internet and talk radio? That is not much unlike that early timultuous sea. One of the other unrelated ideas that came to me was when I was thinking about how useful it has been for me to start blogging. I’ve found since I started it, that it helps me keep my ideas on track and gives me something to refer back to, review and revise as my ideas take form – sort of an external surrogate for my own brain. I can write down and retain small details of events or thoughts that I otherwise might not remember in full clarity as my mind moves on to other things. This is probably not much different than has been the case with people writing journals and diaries for thousands of years…. but!

Now there’s this internet thing, this tumultuous cauldron of untested ideas where everyone is now blogging their thoughts and ideas.  The internet is having a ‘shared’ collective memory and little by little the more radical among them move to the top or the edges to be tested against the extremes of the rest of the bubbling soup. Some succeed and some fail, some gain prominence some are dismissed as idiocy. And the process of technology allows all these noisy intermingling ideas to do this more rapidly than ever in human history.

So then you might worry well ‘what if the bad ideas’ win out somehow? Or worse, what if a ‘bad’ idea proves to be the most ‘fittest’ to survive in such conditions. Really? Then I look at current events. I see socialist ideas failing in Greece and Spain. I see socialist ideas failing in America. I remember back to socialist ideas failing in Russia.  I see comments about Cuba and Venezuala having problems. I see people fighting for more freedoms in China and Libya and Iran.

What gives me hope are the new conventions and arenas for the ideas that advance mankind. Sure, they can be prone to the same misuse and abdication as things in the past, but the sheer velocity of how new ideas can spread now and gain prominence is amazing. It’s like giving gun rights to early Americans. You build in a new expectation upon individual freedom that the anti-gun folks have been spending more than 100 years trying to demonize and destroy. How many people do you suppose would willingly give up their internet access after having it now for less than 15 years?

The key is to not focus upon such a narrow slot of time as an indicator of the dominant trait. It’s a form of anthropomorphism more specific to our own reference point of our own lifespan. Sure, I’d like to see robot shells that could instantly transport me to alpha centauri and back for an afternoon luncheon at the Andromeda Cafe’ – but that’s unrealistic. Change takes time and the process of that change is speeding up. But it’s still going to take time.

It’s a rough ride, but the natural selection is live and well and I welcome the noise! Bring it on!!! The cream rises to the top!

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To: Mr. Lawrence Hammond – Owner of Hammond Motors
From: James Taggart – CEO Taggart Transcontinental

Dear Mr. Hammond

Upon a routine inspection of our Denver freight lines it was brought to our attention that a shipment of motors from your company was destined to arrive at one of our competitors on the Phoenix Durango line.

As  you may be aware, congress has recently passed the Equalization of Opportunity act, and included within the provisions of this act we have the permission not to provide transportation for your freight if it is destined for one of our competitors.

I am aware that our previous contract specifies that we will provide you with such transportation regardless of the content or destination, but this letter is to inform you that due to this discovery, we are switching the locomotives on your line to an older, slower, steam driven engine and reducing the number of available freight cars by a factor of 10.  You will still have access to Taggart Transcontinental freight services, but those services will be offered at reduced capacity.


James Taggart
CEO – Taggart Transcontinental

bitTorrent Headquarters

BitTorrent Headquarters

The issue of net neutrality consists, among other things, analogous to the situation above.  Many of the complaints from end users of the companies most in the spotlight for ‘traffic shaping‘ and ‘bandwidth throttling‘ allege that such strategies are being utilized not due to capacity issues per se, but based on the types of traffic they are carrying.  And the types of traffic, in the case of cable internet providers (who are the focus of most of these complaints) are types of traffic that are most often used by the competitors of Digital On-Demand services.

Should Comcast for example, be required to provide full capacity to competing technologies?  That debate may be beyond the scope of this posting and my knowledge.  But are cable providers selling the capacity to connect to ‘the internet’ which includes these competitors or are they only selling capacity to connect to those technologies they deem as ‘good content’ ?

Let’s draw another analogy just to understand ‘what’ internet providers are selling.  We have all heard the advertisements promising these break-neck download speeds – of course proceeded with the failsafe words ‘up-to…‘  Imagine for a second that these providers, instead of selling internet services were selling municipal water services.

That coaxial line that runs to  your house is the equivalent of the water company running an 8″ pipeline direct from the water processing plant to your house.  Technically speaking, even if that 8″ line was split off to 1000 other houses, if all 1000 of those houses had their water turned off you could potentially get the same pressure and volume of water that is put into that 8″ pipe at the plant.  But, as soon as a second house turns on their valve, your pressure/volume capacity is cut in half, a third house and it’s cut to a third.  And so on for 1/x where x is the current number of other users of the same pipeline.

Although this is not a direct correlation, most of the connectivity is split off into sub groups to cover a local neighborhood and the larger capacity lines that interconnect those neighborhoods cut into similar sub groups.  So when you start downloading a tune off of Rhapsody, you may well get that 3 Mbits they market as ‘speeds up-to‘ in their advertisements…. that is until your neighbor starts to watch a Youtube video.  Again, the ‘realized’ capacity in an un-shaped system is 1/x where x is the current number of users (up to the total number of users sharing a given branch).  And again, the branches then too are combined to the larger capacity lines in a similar fashion – i.e. your neighborhood is competing with all the other neighborhoods for the total capacity of the provider in your area.

The problem?  The problems are actually two fold.  One is that these providers are selling the ‘speed at the plant’ – or at least the potential of it – in their advertisements. Again, with the ‘speeds up-to…’ disclaimer to prevent accusations of fraud.  The other problem is that there are two easy solutions to this.  But the solutions they are using aren’t either of them.

One solution could be to place a cap on the total bandwidth allowed for a basic connection to any one user.  But this would not mean ‘unlimited bandwidth’.  Limiting the ‘free’ bandwidth doesn’t really amount to ‘unlimited access’ – something they are also marketing.  (and in fact, FCC cases have involved Comcast ‘changing‘ their unlimited offering to include bandwidth usage caps)

But there is another problem.  When these consumer end-user providers start charging a premium for bandwidth used above a certain point, there are people that would actually pay it because it would still be cheaper than commercial alternatives such as a fiber optic line or a satellite connection.

But this is a business opportunity right?  No!  Why?  Because the reality is, many of these providers do not yet have sufficient infrastructure capacity to maintain the higher usages that they are selling in the firstplace!  i.e. if every customer on cable high speed internet used just a fraction of the capacity (at the same time) that these providers are hocking as available for unlimited use, those provider’s speeds and services would grind to a screeching halt.

The other, more easy solution to this is intelligent packet routing or ‘traffic shaping‘ and this is where the big argument over Net Neutrality is coming into play.  But if they are already traffic shaping, then what is the problem?  It’s a matter of ‘how’ they are traffic shaping as well as ‘what’ specifically is being shaped.

The complaints of many of these providers, legitimately so, is that a small percentage of their customers are using a large percentage of their total capacity (see, ‘so charge a premium’ above, but keep in mind, this is capacity they are advertising as available to these customers – capacity they advertise as ‘unlimited’ in the package they are selling)  The providers have begun throttling some of this usage under the premise that it ‘limits service capacity to their other customers’, also a legitimate practice.

If that was simply what they were doing, sure there would still be complaints but not nearly as many as there are now.  The problem is that they haven’t begun limiting capacity based on load-on-the-system using intelligent, Quality-of-Service shaping strategies, but instead, seem to be limiting capacity based on the specific ‘type of traffic‘.  (see the analogy above, this amounts to looking into the train boxcars and ‘inspecting the cargo’, and only then slowing down the train based upon what kind of cargo you find and where it is going)

Technologies such as QoS (quality of service) exist which would throttle back existing traffic based on additional demands being added to the current load.  But this is not what has been generating complaints.  The complaints that I have seen involve people getting throttled back regardless of load on the system because they are carrying ‘certain types’ of peer-to-peer traffic. (be sure to see “why are technologies like BitTorrent a problem” below)

And guess what?  Many of these peer-to-peer network protocols are the very same peer-to-peer technologies used by companies that offer the downloading of music and movies – a direct competition to cable internet providers trying to sell ‘on demand services’ on the same ‘capacity’. (akin to James restricting boxcars because engines are being shipped to Phoenix-Durango)

You can debate whether or not a company like Comcast should be ‘forced’ to provide a means to their competitor, but ask first, did the company in question ‘promise to sell’ a means to get to their competitor in the first place?  And can such a company then turn around later and limit or charge extra for what they already contracted to provide because they don’t like how it is now being used?

They are not answers for me to decide, but it is something that a consumer should be aware of before taking a side on the Net Neutrality issue.  Are there private property claims involved?  Of course there are.  Are they legitimate?  Of course they are.  But before you condemn one side or the other, be fully aware of what both sides are doing, what one side is selling and what the other is agreeing to pay for!

Why are technologies like BitTorrent a problem for ISPs?
BitTorrent and similar P2P technologies create a legitimate concern for internet service providers in that they utilizes client-to-client file sharing.  What this means is that someone offering a file for download using such a shared P2P mechanism does not have to provide the capacity themselves that would be necessary to support all of the users interested in downloading the file.  Instead, once a user downloads a portion of the file, that user then ‘shares’ that portion with all the other users concurrently trying to download the same content.
This methodology then transfers the burden of supporting the entire load by distributing it to all of the users (and all of those users’ internet providers) to handle the demand for the data.  This is problematic because those providers are in essence having their capacity ‘hi-jacked’ for the purposes of providing the capacity to download the content of the original data source.
In reality, the amount of this traffic is generally going to be low and many times it is going to provide a great ‘service’ to the end user such as with downloading high-demand software updates.  i.e. when a popular piece of software receives an update required to continue using the software, such as with an online MMORPG, a HUGE number of users are all going to need that software at one time.  Even if the update download server had the capacity to handle the demand, the internet connections leading to it might not – any connection is subject to the weakest link the the chain between the source and the destination.
In the case of software updates, the relative demand on capacity will be relatively low and reasonably infrequent.  When P2P such as bittorrent are used for providing ongoing content, whoever is providing that content is depending on that ability to ‘hijack’ other people’s capacity to deliver their product.
Why uploads are a problem for consumer ISPs?
As far back as the introduction of 56k dial-up modems, ISPs began to realize that most internet consumers were downloading more than they were uploading.  As a result, most modern internet connections utilize asymmetric technologies or technologies that are optimized for more download capacity than they have upload capability.
Generally speaking, this means that for every 10-20  things you can download in a given period of time, you can only upload one item of the same size on an asymmetric connection.
When a customer contracts for internet service, they are of course contracting for a 2-way connection.  Without the ability to upload as well as to download, you would not be able to send email, send requests for downloading web pages, chat in chat rooms or anything else.  It would just be a one way feed outside of your control (kinda like the days of television and radio broadcasts).
A lot of the arguments over net neutrality and P2P circle around what form this ‘upload’ capability represents.  If a customer has purchased a ‘right’ to upload, can they then transfer that right to a company providing content using file-sharing such as bittorrent?
It is problematic for the ISPs because when a customer uses more ‘upload’ capacity than is suspected, the reverse of their optimization occurs in service degradation.  i.e. if you get 20-to-1 download-to-upload optimization than every 1k of data uploaded ‘uses up’ 20k of the optimized download capacity, severely crippling the optimization scheme and lowering the overall (shared) service quality.

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The conversation says it all (edited only slightly for relevancy):

Me: painting? have a fun time of it!
: getting all covered in paint
: all those fumes
: gotta love it

Deja: yeah..umm..ok..then you do it
Deja: I wont deny you of the pleasure

Me: just grab a cold one (or two) throw on some david byrne – get lost in the moment – next thing you know there will be paint on everything but you won’t care

Deja: no thanks..Im breaking from fumes as it is

Me: there’s nothing more mentally liberating then getting lost in old talking heads – or oingo boingo – or the B52’s
Me: * * TIN ROOF……………. RUSTED! * *
Me: just imagine living in your own private idaho

Deja: you ok?

Me: yeah why?

Deja: weirdo..lol

Me: Yup!!

Deja: hmm..ok then

Me: let’s just say I downloaded two songs – I chose the one on the right and it made all the difference
Me: * * AND SHE WAS… * *
Me: wow, now there’s something interesting – I threw the word ‘chose’ in there – stop me before I examine that word to closely! (fires back up david byrne)
* * HEY HEY – HEY HEY – HEY! * *

Deja: sorry I dont get where your going with this

Me: why go anywhere with it?
Me: that’s the beauty of stuff like David Byrne
Me: don’t stop and think about it
Me: it probably means something
Me: but who the hell cares?
Me: just make no sense
Me: throw it in – move with it
Me: what’s the line?
Me: * * drive this way and that * *
Me: who cares?
Me: *spins around a few times*

Deja: silly

Me: so what?!?!
Me: sometimes you just gotta stop eating your jello, put the bowl on the floor, take off your socks and stand up in it just to see how it feels
Me:: you know you always wanted to know – just do it!

Deja: OK..and where is this epiphany leading?

Me: what ipiphany?
Me: pipiffany!
Me: fifapony!!!

Deja: never mind ……your right

Me: did you play the song?
Me: turn it up!!!
Me: *spins around a few more times*
Me: (and no I am not drunk)

Deja: awe darn..your cute when all dizzy buzzed

Me: ok, nevermind
Me: I’m going to go run naked through the backyard just to see how close the neighbors are paying attention

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