17 June 2019
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What If the Internet Were Much Worse?

What If...

  • The internet were time sensitive? Sometimes you could get data from anywhere there's a connection, sometimes you could only communicate with computers and servers that were nearby?
  • The internet servers could only communicate with one connection at a time? If you wanted to download a web page, you'd have to wait, perhaps indefinitely, if it were popular
  • Anyone could perform a denial of service attack, either deliberately or accidentally? If you finally start downloading that web page and someone else tries to do so at the same time, neither one of you would be able to.
  • You wanted to communicate with someone, even with someone you know? You couldn't just send an email. You'd have to connect with him when he's sitting in front of his computer.
  • There was no security at all? Your data could be intercepted not only by sneaky governments and hackers, but even by all other internet users.
  • There were no privacy. You couldn't encrypt your communication, and anyone could listen to your words or read your data.

As bad as all this seems,

It Could Be Even Worse Than That!

Yes, an internet with those flaws sounds like a nightmare, yet it could be a lot worse. Instead of having a small router or cable moden in an out-of-the-way closet or cabinet, what if you had to use a medium to large outdoor structure to connect to it? And, oddly, the more you spend on the connection, the better, usually, the internet connection becomes.

And yet, the internet of which I speak with the flaws, deficits, inconveniences, and lack of reliability not only exists, it has existed for over a hundred years, and by some measures it is thriving.

I'm So Embarrassed!

I wrote the above months ago! I started writing it in June, and it is so-dated, but then I stopped. No excuse, I just got busy with other things. But today, which my calendar claims to be the 12th of October, I sustained an email from Eric, the perpetrator of the podcast QSO Today, that "my" episode had just gone live. I listened to it and at the end I suggested that this blog would by now have been published. So as to fulfill at least that prophecy, I'm finishing this blogitem, although perhaps not exactly as I had intended to do when it was started. (I don't remember!) So, apologies for the hiatus and, if you listen to the podcast, the babble therein as well.

The Nightmare Internet

If you're even slightly ahead of me, you've probably guessed that the "internet" of which I write is amateur "ham" radio. It has all the flaws delineated above and then some. It can be dangerous! Power tools, high voltage electricity, and falling off antenna towers, as the "large outdoor structures" are known come to mind, And, oh yes, until recently, you had to learn to be proficient with Morse Code to be able to use it.

And Yet...

Perhaps I am biased here, but its flaws are a boon in a few respects.

  • It's a challenge! I have communicated with people in every corner of the world except North Korea, including places where there is none of that internet infrastructure at all beyond what's in the amateur's own back yard.
  • Although the internet is "fault-tolerant" in the sense that data packets are automatically rerouted around bad or missing paths, there is ultimately only one path from your internet service provider to your computer, with a lot of places to go bad. With your own infrastructure, you can "get through" regardless of external issues.
  • The ham "internet" is sometimes the only way to communicate with areas beset by natural disasters.
  • You never get nice QSL cards from random internet "contacts." You just get more spam.

At the end of my interview on the podcast linked above, I emit a sort of homily on the subject of amateur radio. I've been a ham for about 60 years and on the internet for only 25. If you're reading this and thinking that I must be crazy to recommend one over (or, more properly along with,) the other, that's OK. As I also mention, I'm not prescriptive.

* At least it's still the same year. My dilatory blogging schedule could be much worse, too.

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