In defense of NASA: was Re: Wirin' up blinkenlights

From: William Donzelli <>
Date: Fri Jun 9 10:57:50 2000

> Well, the ARPANET did have a big flaw in it didn't it, I mean, they
> spent all that money, and look what still happened: the invasion of
> the AOLers (no offense to any AOL users here, I'm talking about the
> onslaught that nearly crippled Usenet several years ago that was like
> an infinite influx of first semester students who'd just gotten their
> usernames and passwords in CS101). ;-)

More properly, it was not ARPAnet, but the NSFnet. While the ARPAnet laid
all of the groundwork, it did not survive to become the "Internet" today.
The NSFnet did survive, especially the switch to commercialization in the
early-mid 1990s.
> In all seriousness, the internet, like many other things, is a double
> edged sword. It allows us to communicate more easily, and is
> extremely useful; it's a wonderful research tool. On the other hand,
> the Internet is a great wasy for some people to wasts vast sums of
> time, and, look at how easy it makes things for the government to spy
> on vast numbers of citizens due to the way it's been set up.

Why pick on the AOLers (and the rest of the masses that have jumped on
the net since 1992)? If anything, they (or rather the commercialization)
has been a big benefit.

If the NSFnet stayed a non-profit network, unlike today, we would see the

* Today's network would be a ploddingly slow set of saturated T1s and
T3s. T5s would have been out of the question, as would SONET. The NSFnet
just couldn't afford an upgrade like those. Competeing backbones just
would not be what they are today.

* Dialup access would be unavailable to nearly all people, either because
POPs were too far away or the extreme price. $19.95/month unlimited
access would be a fantasy.

* Modem technology would probably be stuck at 33.6 kbps, as there would
not be any huge incentive for the race to 56K. The same holds true for
router technology.

These three points are all pretty important - in fact if just one of the
three were true, the net would be a great deal less of a tool.

So what's wrong with AOLers and AOL? Not much. Sure some a clueless, but
then some of the smartest people in the world use it. AOL doesn't choke
the network, as they mostly use their own stuff. Many very interesting web
pages full of useful content have now sprung up because John Q. Public can
sign up with AOL with any knowledge of supergeeky Unix and modem stuff.
There is lots of garbage as well, but the key to not letting it bother you
is simply not to view it.

> Is
> the lack of security on the Internet possibly a well designed feature
> disguised as a flaw?

No, it is because much of it is Unix oriented. And Unix security is just
not that good.

> Had the ARPANET never existed, isn't it likely
> that some other, perhaps more secure, form of communication may have
> originated without government intervention and become just as popular?

In the 1970s, there were other networks that ran around the U.S and
Europe, but these were all very closed systems. Some were private
ventures, most were academic. They were mostly, however, a mess. Some
still exist, but completely out of the public eye. If the NSFnet never
existed, most people would not even know what the word "network" means.

> The automobile hasn't really improved
> much since the 1970s.


> Yes, I can see how some of the technolgy has benefitted the U.S. and
> it's allies throughout the free world militarily, and has possibly
> been beneficial in that respect, but, again, perhaps a double edged
> sword, not always used for peaceful, or defensive means, a sword that
> can also slice the one who created it.

A large portion - probably a majority - of the technologies that we use
in our computers was in some major way influenced by military
developement. Even though military technology tends to be roughly ten
years ahead of the commercial technology at any given time, the effects
are felt in time (usually about ten years). Yes, it may seem unethical
that Uncle Sam is dumping tons of money into equipment that is basically
used to kill people, but that same technology will benefit people in a
very large, peaceful way in time.

WIlliam Donzelli
Received on Fri Jun 09 2000 - 10:57:50 BST

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