We’ve come a long way, baby!

So I haven’t been spending much time on the internet updating my blog and not reading much of others as well. A few other things keep cropping up that need my attention and I have seldom had this sort of “break” or “time-off” from blogging. I can’t promise regular updates for now!

Anyway, I had this opportunity to attend a talk by Dr Vint Cerf, last Wednesday. For those who don’t know him, he is said to be one of the “Founding fathers” of the internet, as we know it. The thing about listening to people like him is that you can’t afford to miss out a single word, yes, a word of it. A talk of one hour can give you subject matter for months of research. Their words are short, concise and to the point. They know what they are talking about and more often than not, apart from the ideas being a brainchild of their brains, they have well researched content to back it.

Getting a little ‘geeky’, Dr Cerf is also credited for writing the TCP/IP protocol. The most important thing, I felt, was not the technicalities associated while developing a network standard but was the foresight which went into it, while its development was going on. I think that holds true for any “standard”. We’ve seen the Y2K problem and it is one of the best examples of what lack of foresight can land us in. Hence, the challenge was not just to develop a standard for packet routing on the network. The challenge was to make it a common protocol — such that any piece of hardware or software, irrespective of the environment it is set in, could make use of the protocol to communicate with other devices, which may be set in other, completely different environments. No matter what device you use it on, the expected results must be invariably the same. The result is that today most of the devices that you use to connect to the Internet use the TCP/IP protocol. That includes your mobile phone, laptop, the PDA, the MP3 player. Tomorrow it could be your refrigerator and your bread toaster. I am not kidding.

A single protocol, though, can’t be expected to solve all the purposes that it is designed for. Because needs keep changing, sooner or later, something comes up that the standard is not capable of standing. An ideal protocol, therefore, would be one that solves not all, but most of the purposes that it is designed for. In that respect TCP/IP has been a very successful standard, for it holds true even after more than 30 years of its existence. At the same time, it has had its own share of problems, one of them being that it is not as secure as we’d like it to be.

Apart from that, according to Dr.Cerf, if the planets didn’t rotate on their axis, we could still use TCP/IP for inter-planetary communication through space. Again, no kidding here.

I have always considered myself lucky to be on the Internet while it was in its infancy, at least in India. I made my first email ID, back in 1997 and we used to connect to the Internet using a phone line. I think that era is still not gone. Much before that happened, I spent a lot of time browsing the few BBS’es hosted in and around New Delhi. Most people today do not even know what a BBS is. At that time I used to hear that one day we would not need to connect to the Internet using a phone line. That we will be able to login on the instant messenger, chat for hours and go to bed while being still logged-in, because we will not be billed on a per-minute basis. Not a question of “if” but only a question of “when”.

I am glad that it has worked out much before than expected my many of us, including yours truly.

2 thoughts on “We’ve come a long way, baby!

  1. Wow Adi.. you’ve just blogged about the very subject I’m studying! I was reading a paper yesterday all about the invention of the TCP/IP and Dr Vint Cerf :) and It’s all absolutely facinating and I’m enjoying my studies immensely.

    You were on the net in 1997 too? same here :)

  2. I only wish people’s attitudes also improved along with the progress in science and technology…. that’s wishful thinking!!! Human race has been evolving and is still evolving. These inventions are only a sign of that. I guess it’s the invention of the transistor that was the turning point; it’s that invention which enabled the growth of the electronic industry, is it not?

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