Friday, August 22, 2014

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LAST week something big went wrong on the Internet and we were not alerted. I got word by midday UK time from a geek who said, "It's happened." Others said, "The Internet full up." The 4.2 billion unique 12-digit identifiers of everything were used up; as if there were no phone numbers. I trawled local media — no news. My server had problems, but what do I know about the Internet? So what happened?

"On Tuesday, August 12 at 8:48 British summer time, Verizon — a major US Internet service provider — did something relatively mundane and technical. It took some big groups of IP addresses — which we can think of as phone numbers of the Internet — and divided them up into smaller blocks to free, some unused addresses. It broke the Internet (a bit); major websites around the world slowed down, locked up and refused to allow visitors to log in..." – Tom Chivers, The Telegraph 15/8

The Internet slices the globe, and I hope one day it will connect me to the future. When sharks attacked the undersea cables it did not jolt me — but this? Julian Robinson says tablets in schools will "strengthen innovation among students". Yes, we need thinkers and doers, and a tablet may wake up dilatory teachers or listless students. The 18-month-old lady in my life picks up an Apple product, swipes, presses, navigates her way to the apps she loves. Sir, she can't speak a word in English — unless "Mfffdy, Dffdy and Graffdy" count — but she has one hell of a brain. We must use virtual media so kids' brains grow; get comfortable with virtual reality, educate, innovate and alert us to future Internet crises.

The Internet has been ordinary for too long, and we need to demand more; even use it to port material. Tuesday affected every router — the virtual telephone exchange of the Internet. The Internet wobbled. Online business was disrupted, lawsuits filed. The Internet has a limit of 4.2 billion addresses in a world of 7 billion, most of us have a device and the old Cisco routers have a limit of 512,000 slots in the BGP grid. One limits the number of addresses/devices; the other the global routes for data. Check this:

"On Tuesday, a small collection of out-of-date routers in charge of mapping our routes using the Internet's backbone of physical cables failed. The routers use a system called the border gateway protocol or BGP to track these routes of which there are around half-a-million. To be specific, there are actually 512,000 — the magic number that caused the failures. It turns out that this is the absolute maximum number of routes some older hardware can hold. Some routers slow to a crawl, while others simply forget the extra routes... US Internet provider Verizon added 15,000 more routes to the BGP and the dependable routers finally fell over." — Alex Hern, The Guardian 15/8

But it's not over, as new content is gobbling up bandwidth and new devices need identifiers. In the USA, Netflix and YouTube use some 42 per cent, useful stuff 10 per cent, family pictures 30 per cent, and the 5 hours a day people watch shows is growing. The pressure on the Internet is severe, can it survive?

In the '70s the Internet was adequate, but we welcomed the PC in the '80s and the Internet shook. The decade of the '90s was grief, and "the noughties brought smartphones using even more of the 4.2 billion addresses". Can the Internet cope?

The "deep magic" Oxford expert Dr Joss Wright speaks of what is known by a few, so we were not alerted to disaster. We can't produce like China, but up our game and we can be the world's ICT provider of choice by 2025 with alert academics and innovative developers. Julian may be right; if we commit we can get "working, working, working" and be a hub; lay a defining cable loom west to Central America, east to Africa, north to the USA; have India place our satellites and make us the backbone of virtual services for Earth and deep space. Be bold, generate new ideas, take risks...yes, we can!

Where are our serious, mind-bending ideas gestated or born? In the academy? MSTEM? An incubator? The creators of apps, games in the UK are in their teens and live with their parents. They have big houses with gaming studios. Google and Apple create lifestyle space for staff.

There are pubs in the UK where guys drink pints on Friday, bruit ideas, eat crisps, and by Saturday morning "last call" the scribbles on napkins and beer coasters are the next wave of apps, games, and corporate solutions. As no one lives in fear of being shot, eviscerated or beheaded at 3:00 am, they exit the pub boozy, grab a night bus — Friday is breathalyser night, so no one drives. The nexus between a good booz-up and the creative force is like ganja to musicians. But for geeks, this soporific stuff does not aid logic. I was recently in a group of professors, they drank juice; boringly anal but preening — no fun. Sez I: "How is the research going?" He ejaculated "I teach" [resentful body language]. "What is cutting-edge now?" the nymphet in a micro-mini dress was my nemesis — Humbert Humbert walked. Our intellectual cream is rancid. The Internet died, who knew?

My old pub is an incubator of ideas and innovation; we need a pub or two. Who are the sentries on meltdown watch? Academia? Industry? Who mends a broken Internet? anyone here?

"A fix on the horizon IPv6 which ups the limit to something in the order of 300 trillion, trillion, trillion devices, which should hopefully be enough for quite some time. But IPv6 requires every single device to switch over, and it is not backwards compatible. This means it is all or nothing, and once a device switches over to IPv6 it can't talk to things using the old connection." — Alex Hern, The Guardian.

The solution is a problem. To reboot all routers, change old ones — never been done. Internet out for a day, two? We are uncurious. Talk radio abroad had expert after expert on this issue. We had no one to shout "fire!" We need an ivory tower. We diss academia as the nexus of intellectual community and production community is not known. The JMA's Brian Pengelley vs UWI's Damien King is a clash of worlds. Let the physical capital and intellectual capital contend — creative magma. The shock of a new season makes the tree bear. Operational impatience is a spur to intellectual fluorescence and vice versa. The King/Pengelley spat is a necessary tension to reboot the economy. May they find no peace! Selah.

The Millenium Bug was date bound — recall? But August 12 was a capacity issue. When will the toilet roll end? Our innovators sleep. We are small and must "pick our fights". Recall, some Bozo tried to make a car? For who? Go invent a battery to last the life of the car; a great aerodynamic athletic shoe; a spray-on fabric athletic outfit allowing pores to breathe. Was Ebola on your agenda? ChikV? We are in the shallows so let's nurture academia, retire the obsolete, and reward innovation. The world is about sensible quantities — mass, length, shape, texture, etc, and the intellect to manipulate them. Build intellect! The year 2038 will see another major Internet event. To be distracted by the now is fatal, so we need ivory towers as the geeks will inherit the Earth. Stay conscious, my friend.

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education. franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com




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