March 19, 2006 1:23 AM   Subscribe

Computer Networks: The Heralds of Resource Sharing (Google video) A fascinating 30 minute documentary about ARPAnet - the precursor to today's Internet. (Can you spot the real ubernerd mover and shaker at BBN? Hint: He wears no tie!) (via: all over the place)
posted by loquacious (29 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
(I'm searching for a non Google video host for this, but it doesn't appear to be at or yet. If anyone has any of those newfangled tools to rip the Google video and an account to post it at YouTube I'd be much obliged.)
posted by loquacious at 1:25 AM on March 19, 2006

posted by juv3nal at 1:46 AM on March 19, 2006

A nationwide network of computers that all talk to each other? Little cards that go into automatic bank machines? Computerized library catalogues? Could any of that really be possible?

Thanks for the link, loquacious. I especially enjoyed it because I just read the history of ARPAnet/BBN last week, Where Wizards Stay Up Late, and it was interesting to see some of the balding, bespectacled white guys from the book, who really did change our lives.

It's also always fun to see streamlined, ’sophisticated’ computer gear from 30 years ago, state-of-the-art stuff that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with less power than a modern pocket calculator.

p.s. ARPAnet maps.
posted by LeLiLo at 2:04 AM on March 19, 2006

Interesting stuff!

Also, anyone else feel strangely compelled to shout "NEEERD!" in a Homer-Simpson voice at the first guy in the documentary?
posted by slater at 3:01 AM on March 19, 2006

One comment, near the end of the movie, was interesting.... for just one million dollars, you could get enough storage to hold about 100,000 books. He was talking about how interesting an electronic lending library would be, how you could just download the book when you needed it. It's interesting how close to the Internet he got with that idea.... the thing he missed was that when your cost of reproduction is so low, everyone can be an author, just not a reader. The reality ended up being a billion conversations, rather than a billion subscribers.

Anyway, it looks like your average book is about a half a megabyte.... 60,000 words, times about 8 characters per word. (assuming 1-byte letters). So 100,000 books would be about 50,000 megabytes, or 50 gigs. You can't even buy drives that small anymore, I don't think. 250-giggers are running about $90.... so the price to store 100,000 average books has dropped from a million bucks to 18.

I would dearly love to be able to travel back in time and show those guys what they were heading toward. Although, I fear if I showed them WoW, I might not survive attempting to reclaim my hardware. :)

In all seriousness, if the government of that time caught wind of the fact that a computer as powerful as the one I'm typing at even _existed_, there's no way in hell I'd ever get it back. 2 GIGAhertz? With a gigabyte of RAM? That runs off the mains and easily fits in a trunk? It would be instantly deemed a nuclear-weapon equivalent.
posted by Malor at 3:02 AM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also note... reasonably good compression will shrink normal text by about 10/1. Compression wasn't at all common back then, so you could count that as another win... dropping the cost to store 100,000 books down to about two bucks.
posted by Malor at 3:20 AM on March 19, 2006

Yet ANOTHER comparison..... in other words, you could probably store all the words ever written about coffee for less than a venti latte at Starbucks.
posted by Malor at 3:23 AM on March 19, 2006

Well put, Malor.

This simple little nerdly documentary really struck a chord in me.

Even in today's realm of nearly pervasive computing, I'm still constantly astounded. I'm barely old enough to remember Pong. I sort-of remember the dawn of personal computing. I'm old enough to remember what 75 bps/baud felt like. Yes, I know that BPS != baud, but for the purposes of that particular modem and this argument, it's fine - especially when confronted by the 9mbit cable modem currently providing my connection. I even remember the first single file in excess of 1mb I ever downloaded. At 300 bps/baud. With interruptions and download resuming, it took something like 2-3 days. My parents were furious when they got the phone bill that month. It was a local ZUM 3 zoned toll call. That 1mb file cost our household over $500 USD! And I don't even remember what it was!!

And yet... for years now, people throw away working computers so powerful I would have chewed off at least one of my own limbs just to possess them, way back when. Though I jest easily, I jest not about such important things. Twenty years later it's still difficult to even comprehend the fever that gripped me back then. Even now I go all clammy thinking about how potent those feelings once were. I am using such a throwaway computer now, and I have a few more such machines I use besides. Interestingly, it's still faster than the modern WindowsXP laptop issued to me by my work!

I now carry around a now nearly ancient - and also thrown-away - Palm IIIC that has an order of magnitude more storage then my family's first home computer. In fact, it's nearly equatable in feel and power to a Mac Classic 512K. But in color. In my pocket. With, again, an order of magnitude more default storage space. This now obsolete device contains a dozen novels, assorted maps and transportation schedules, and dozens upon dozens of applications ranging from music creation tools to document editors, various utilities, a very complete interactive star chart, painting/art programs, numerous games, and even an infrared meter/detection tool - and more besides.

I also carry a rather bottom-of-the-line portable phone that has better graphics, a better display - in color rather than green monochrome, more CPU and more memory then my family's first computer. That talks wirelessly. To most of the world. Much or all of it through varieties of packet switching networks. (And yet they still won't let me connect to the internet, browse via WAP, send a proper email, or simply do an old-school data modem connection from it. Hrmpf. I use Cricket. No frills.)

People now routinely buy - at toy stores! - what were once astronomically expensive, experimental supercomputers, now packaged in slim, small, brightly colored enclosures, simply to play silly, inconsequential little games on. Rather than, say, simulating nuclear explosions on. By all means, play on! Chess? ;)

I have nearly immediate access to more information then I could ever hope to consume or even glance at - even in a hundred lifetimes. Or even a thousand. In fact, even excluding all the boring stuff, more interesting text and data is created or transcribed and uploaded every day then I could consume in n number of lifetimes.

Barring catastrophe, I will never, ever again experience what it feels like to read every Sci Fi novel, every technical manual, every art book at the rather large central library that I spent much of my formative years growing up in.

Barring catastrophe, I will never, ever (truly) again experience what it means to be unable to communicate with someone, regardless of physical distance or time of day. Excluding the internet itself as a channel, but including the internet simply as the container for many channels, I have at my fingertips half a dozen ways of communication with a vast number of people. Hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands if I want to expand this to include the myriad number of ways of sending information to and receiving information from a recipient. Without even touching my stand-alone, battery powered phone.

Even without a computer and connection of my own, the cost of entry would be absolutely nothing at all if I just schlepped myself down to the local library.


Amongst all this I'm still intensely aware of all of these things. They do not fade readily into the background as a much as a "given" (in the so-called civilized world) as running water fades into the background. As electricity does. As breathing itself does.

And sometimes I wonder if all this pervasive computing and connectivity will ever fade into the background for me as a given, taken for granted metabolic state, as it probably does for those just a bit younger than I.

And yet, this connectivity is already as essential as breathing is to me. Without it I would not have my current job, this apartment, even the computer itself which I now use. (Thanks you craigslist!) I wouldn't have immediate access to transportation schedules, which maintain my job. Access to vital weather information, which helps me maintain my health and my job, and enables good planning. I haven't touched a paper phone book in years.

I wouldn't have entertainment. I wouldn't have the art and music I enjoy. I wouldn't be able to pick and choose the minds I find fascinating to interact with. I would be but a fraction of who I am today.

The internet has literally saved my hide from certain doom - if not at least prolonged discomfort - at least a dozen times. It has enabled the seeking of shelter when it was needed most, the provision of economic viability, transportation, communication, and so much more.

I would even personally argue that I owe the internet my very life - via the convoluted, twisting paths of life itself, with it's occasionally fatal levels of frustration leading to ideations of self harm and hopelessness - upon which once a frightened call in the dark was answered so long ago, not merely by one concerned soul, but dozens upon dozens bearing not only firm, kind wishes - but bucketfuls of wisdom, strength, and love.

There is no price for such a thing. It cannot be valued, bartered, bought or sold, or even given away. The very concept and abstraction of price becomes meaningless in the face of it.

I have a hard time comparing, say, the mechanical printing press and this nebulous, cloud-like concept we call the internet. They do not sit rationally or comfortably together on the same scale in my mind. While one begat the other, one now dwarfs the other with such complexity and massiveness it is as crude a comparison as relating a simple wheel or lever to something as fantastic as a (yet) fictional faster-than-light starship.

And yet I still revel in it, awash, even drowning in such fantastic knowledge and access that - even if it were to vanish entirely, right now - my mind would gibber and reel at the incredibleness of it all for the rest of its days, forever changed. Leary was right! PC+internet > LSD!

Thanks, nerds and hackers everywhere. Have you ever been properly thanked? Or was the fact that the whole world pretty much just ran off with your countless inventions and started using them with gusto thanks enough for you?

Thanks DARPA/ARPA, and even the DoD. Thanks for letting the genie out, and making sure it couldn't be put back in. Thanks Bell labs, thanks Xerox-PARC. Ma Bell? AT&T? G'way, you malingerers! Stern, strict great-grandfathers though you may be, a pox on you! Thanks MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and everyone else. Thanks Apple, Intel, and even Microsoft. Thanks, Linus Torvalds. Thanks, Wozniak. Thanks, Lee Felsenstein. Thanks, Google, and it's long-lost batty great aunt who once lived in a dorm closet, Yahoo. Thank you, thank you, thank you CERN. And thanks to all the countless others I've missed, both large and small.

You probably won't be able hear me among the riotous, delicious cacophony you've enabled, but... Thanks for everything.
posted by loquacious at 4:59 AM on March 19, 2006 [19 favorites]

Hot damn I need an editor. *burp*
posted by loquacious at 5:14 AM on March 19, 2006

Thank you loquacious for the comment and the post.
posted by keijo at 5:42 AM on March 19, 2006

Holy crap! How could I forget Bob Metcalf, Vint Cerf, or even Larry Roberts from my explicit thanks? Not to mention the hundreds of other less-visible pioneers. Soooo many people.

I might as well go back and thank Adam, hell, thank Eve for tasting temptation and getting them thrown out of paradise, and just get it over with.

Thanks for the supporting links, lelilo. They're a hundred times more detailed and worthy of an FPP.
posted by loquacious at 5:55 AM on March 19, 2006

There is no price for such a thing. It cannot be valued, bartered, bought or sold, or even given away. The very concept and abstraction of price becomes meaningless in the face of it.

heh. you'll not soon forget who OWNS you. global corporate domination is proceeding unimpeded. how much fibre did loquaciouscorp lay last year?
posted by quonsar at 7:37 AM on March 19, 2006


There is no price for such a thing. It cannot be valued, bartered, bought or sold, or even given away. The very concept and abstraction of price becomes meaningless in the face of it.

heh. you'll not soon forget who OWNS it you. global corporate domination is proceeding unimpeded. how much fibre did loquaciouscorp lay last year?
posted by quonsar at 7:37 AM on March 19, 2006

Ah, but I don't forget. That's what encryption is for. Tunneling. And mesh networks, wifi, wimax or otherwise. Private subnets. VPN. And multiple providers.

We do walk a razor-fine line between heaven and hell, but witnessing the rapid progress of equitable, fair and uncensored information sharing leaves me hopeful.
posted by loquacious at 7:54 AM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'll have whatever network loquacious is having...

At least until Internet 2 comes along.
posted by paulsc at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2006

This is just cool, thanks!
posted by carter at 8:39 AM on March 19, 2006

Occasionally my husband (a science guy) will get an email from someone with address. Very cool.
posted by TorontoSandy at 9:50 AM on March 19, 2006


Very interesting stuff. Loved the film. Steven King's was posted to the side on my screen. The Steven King made that? If so, quite a thriller.

I think the ARPAnet was a military secret well before those very sharp nerds knew or told of it in that '72 film.

In 1966 I worked in a Navy communications station at Moffett Filed in Northern California. I had to get a secret, and eventually a top-secret clearance to be a lowly message sender in the place.

We used Teletype machines to send messages to military installations all over the world. The messages were on paper tape. We could even chat with GIs on the other end, and often did, but it was clearly against the rules. It was great fun.

On night duty I would chat all night then cut the paper that recorded our conversations and put it in burn bags. I talked to a gal at an Air force base one night and we agreed to a date that never happened. Too bad, I cudda been the first guy to get lucky on the net.

Look at how this one invention changed the world, imagine what other wonderful inventions are being horded in the name of secrecy.

Oh, did you thank Al Gore? Everybody laughs, but...Actually, he did lead the way to bringing the Internet to schools and eventually to business. It's also a myth that he said he invented the Internet, for the record.
posted by BillyElmore at 12:01 PM on March 19, 2006

That 1mb file cost our household over $500 USD! And I don't even remember what it was!!

posted by juv3nal at 1:16 PM on March 19, 2006

Oh, that was good! Dr. Peter H. Salus has an excellent book on the start of ARPAnet, too. He was there. He's also a wonderful speaker.

All that old equipment made me drool, but what really floored me was the way the clerk charged out that library book. I remember that was pretty clunky. And I used to type those damned catalog cards that people just ripped out of the catalog.

It is such a shame that ARPA is now focused on creating killer grasshoppers for the Army and such rather than this kind of stuff.
posted by QIbHom at 2:00 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

There was an interesting moment in that film where someone says that people might be resistant to networked banking because a husband might not want his wife to know what his income is.
posted by klausness at 3:45 PM on March 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

All I could think of at the end of that was how eponysterical it was.
posted by Plutor at 5:52 PM on March 19, 2006

That was great. I find it remarkable that those pioneers had such a firm grasp of both the desired architecture and its applications. They may not have forseen the explosion of the web, but they certainly saw the benefits of free information exchange.
posted by Galvatron at 6:31 PM on March 19, 2006

Web 0.2

Pretty much everything I was going to say has been said, but I still wanted to say thanks for posting this. I was just having a conversation the other day with my elderly father about how fascinated I was at an early age learning that my parents lived during a time before having a television in the house, and how soon I will feel old when I explain to my young nieces or future children that when I was growing up in the 80's, all I had was an old Tandy computer and there wasn't an internet hooked up to it.

The documentary was 34 years ago and I am like Galvatron amazed at how they mostly grasped what they were building and where it all was going. I'd love to know what it will be like in another 34 years.

Interesting that they were working on voice programs back then too, but that didn't go too far...
posted by rfbjames at 11:40 PM on March 19, 2006

Splendid post. Thanks, loquacious.
posted by blag at 5:06 PM on March 20, 2006

The internet loves you too loquacious. Thanks for the thread and the rant (remembering 300 baud somehow almost brings a tear to my eye).

I remember when the internet was starting to become a big deal (to people using BBS' anyway), the excitement of looking at pictures of space-shuttles coming from America to the UK, and paying local rates!

Back then the net caused me mere wonder and astonishment at the almost magical reality and possibilities of global communication. But the internet surpassed any such emotion and fulfilled those possibilities several years ago now. When I try to think about the interent now, the possibilities are so far beyond mind-blowing it actually hurts my brain to type this (though I am a little unwell).

Forget flight, nuclear physics, medicine, and all the other wonders of the modern age, for me the internet is a development of such unimaginable significance and as to be on a par with language, tool-building and writing. Many generations may think of their era as somehow special in a historical sense, but I imagine future historians will view the birth of the internet as a turning point between the time seperation and the time of connection (telegraph, telephones and radio accepted).

I could go one in feverish awe (do forgive the above hyperbole as I am in fact slightly feverish), but thinking about the connectedness of it all make me go odd, so I should probably stop.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:04 AM on March 21, 2006

Also, the Google Video link seems to have died, so does anyone know of another source for the video?
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:11 AM on March 21, 2006

This seems to be the current link:
posted by bmarklein at 7:25 PM on April 8, 2006

Thanks bmarklein.
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:46 AM on April 15, 2006

« Older Festivals of the World   |   Plundered body parts implanted in thousands Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments