Trial by fire

So this week is all about the Internet. As I am sure you are aware, the NBN has been trying to roll out across Australia for a long time. Due to political and industrial busybodies, uptake of the idealistic open-access data network has been severely inhibited. Kate Bowles has likened the roll out to that of television in Australia 50 years ago with a few differences.

I decided to follow up with my friends, Jon, Mary, David and Grace to see how they connect to the Internet. There are a number of observations that interest me.

Grace (85) lives in an area the NBN has no immediate plans for. Not only that, she is signed up with Telstra Bigpond to an internet account with 500 GB of data each month. This is more than double that of my household (200 GB) and I don’t even use all of that, which I explained to her in order to help her understand how egregious her own plan is. What’s worse is that I figured this out a few weeks ago and she still hasn’t changed her plan. Some Telstra employee completely took advantage of a woman who only uses the Internet for email.

David (66) also lives in an area the NBN has not started work in. The M7 separates his suburb from Blacktown and a big expanse of NBN work that is in progress. He also observed that he has more stable internet connection with cable than ADSL2+ but, most interestingly, the 4G range in his area is much more consistent than other parts of Sydney. In fact his preference for Internet access at the moment is using 4G wireless data on his smart phone. (I still have to check he knows how to make his phone into a wifi hotspot.)

Jon (70s) lives in Orange where the majority of the area has NBN available or build preparation in process. However he does not have NBN. He’s in the middle of trying to get it for his farm in Mudgee where there is no work in progress. Our phone conversation was cut off before I could find out what his current Internet provider was.

Finally, Mary, whose Internet access I share, is frequently dropping out due to an ongoing dispute with Telstra Bigpond. I thought it was interesting when Kate observed that technology is an area where children begin to educate their parents and grandparents. Even though Mary asks me how to work things or change settings my opinion on our Internet Service Provider when we moved was ignored. Money still plays a big part in decision-making. Mary doesn’t have any NBN work in her area either.

So far none of these individuals have access to the NBN but it doesn’t seem like most want it either.


The pretty lights are deadly

When Morse’s dot-dash telegraph was in full swing in 1859, the strongest solar storm on record occurred. In a three-stage process X-ray and ultraviolet-soaked sunlight ionised Earth’s upper atmosphere, disrupting radio waves; followed by a radiation storm; and closing with a coronal mass ejection (CME) that collided with Earth’s magnetic field, causing powerful electromagnetic fluctuations. It is these fluctuations that caused telegraphs to spark and shock workers, disrupting communications across the globe.

Since 1859, there have been more solar storms. In March 1989, a CME caused a blackout across the city of Quebec, resulting in a halt of all trading on Toronto’s stock market.

Funny how the thing that gives us life could take away so much? It really makes you stop and realise how fragile this delicate network of nodes and servers is.

Internet fails: Why you should pay attention to your web browser.

“The medium is the message.”

This phrase seems to confuse most of the people in my class but it seems quite clear to me: we are no longer interested in what specific content is communicated to us but in the way it is communicated – the medium.

“Millions of Facebook users have no idea they are using the Internet.”

The first thing I thought of is my colleagues at work, who have no idea the programs we use run through a Javascript plug-in or that Store Reports is simply an encrypted webpage. The reason is because they access this content through pre-existing shortcuts on the desktop of the computers. Even though a web browser opens, they don’t realise because there is no need to navigate beyond that. They don’t consider how things work, only that they do.

So if no one is paying attention to the medium, how do we decode the message?