ONE Year on the Web

The Sunday TimesPlus

2nd March 1997



The Birth of the Internet

This week we celebrate the first anniversary of The Sunday Times Internet edition which has attracted a worldwide readership (see box story )

It all began with a comic book! At the age of six, Leonard Kleinrock was reading a Superman comic at his apartment in Manhattan, when, in the centerfold, he found plans for building a crystal radio. To do so, he needed his father's used razor blade, a piece of pencil lead, an empty toilet paper roll, and some wire, all of which he had no trouble obtaining. In addition, he needed an earphone which he promptly appropriated from a public telephone booth. The one remaining part was something called a "variable capacitor".

For this, he convinced his mother to take him on the subway down to Canal Street, the center for radio electronics. Upon arrival to one of the shops, he boldly walked up to the clerk and proudly asked to purchase a variable capacitor, whereupon the clerk replied with, "what size do you want?".

This blew his cover, and he confessed that he not only had no idea what size, but he also had no idea what the part was for in the first place. After explaining why he wanted one, the clerk sold him just what he needed. Kleinrock built the crystal radio and was totally hooked when "free" music came through the earphones - no batteries, no power, all free! An engineer was born.

He graduated first in his class after 5 1/2 years of intense work (and was elected student body president of the evening session). His work and college training were invaluable, and led to his winning a full graduate fellowship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the Electrical Engineering Department. At MIT, he found that the vast majority of his classmates were doing their Ph.D. research in the overpopulated area of Information Theory. This was not for him, and instead he chose to break new ground in the virtually unknown area of data networks. Indeed, in 1959, he submitted a Ph.D. proposal to study data networks, thus launching the technology which eventually led to the Internet.

He completed his work in 1962 which was later published in 1964 by McGraw-Hill as an MIT book entitled "Communication Nets".

In this work, he developed the basic principles of packet switching, thus providing the fundamental underpinnings for that technology. These principles (along with his subsequent research) continue to provide a basis for today's Internet technology. Kleinrock is arguably the world's leading authority and researcher in the field of computer network modeling, analysis and design and a father of the Internet.

But the commercial world was not ready for data networks and his work lay dormant for most of the 1960's as he continued to publish his results on networking technology while at the same time rising rapidly through the professorial ranks at UCLA where he had joined the faculty in 1963.

In the mid-1960's, the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) - which was created in 1958 as the United States' response to Sputnik - became interested in networks. ARPA had been supporting a number of computer scientists around the country and, as new researchers were brought in, they naturally asked ARPA to provide a computer on which they could do their research; however, ARPA reasoned that this community of scientists would be able to share a smaller number of computers if these computers were connected together by means of a data network.

Because of his unique expertise in data networking, they called him to Washington to play a key role in preparing a functional specification for the ARPANET - a government-supported data network that would use the technology which by then had come to be known as "packet switching".

The specification for the ARPANET was prepared in 1968, and in January 1969, a Cambridge-based com-puter company, Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) won the contract to design, implement and deploy the ARPANET.

It was their job to take the specification and develop a computer that could act as the switching node for the packet-switched ARPANET.

BBN had selected a Honeywell minicomputer as the base on which they would build the switch. Due to Kleinrock's fundamental role in establishing data networking technology over the preceding decade, ARPA decided that UCLA, under Kleinrock's leadership, would become the first node to join the ARPANET.

This meant that the first switch (known as an Interface Message Processor - IMP) would arrive on the Labor Day weekend, 1969, and the UCLA team of 40 people that Kleinrock organized would have to provide the ability to connect the first (host) computer to the IMP. This was a challenging task since no such connection had ever been attempted.

This minicomputer had just been released in 1968 and Honeywell displayed it at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference where Kleinrock saw the machine suspended by its hooks at the conference; while running, there was this brute whacking it with a sledge hammer just to show it was robust. Kleinrock suspects that that particular machine is the one that was delivered by BBN to UCLA.

As it turns out, BBN was running two weeks late (much to Kleinrock's delight, since he and his team badly needed the extra development time); BBN, however, shipped the IMP on an airplane instead of on a truck, and it arrived on time. Aware of the pending arrival date, Kleinrock and his team worked around the clock to meet the schedule.

On the day after the IMP arrived (the Tuesday after Labor Day), the circus began - everyone who had any imaginable excuse to be there, was there. Kleinrock and his team were there; BBN was there; Honeywell was there (the IMP was built out of a Honeywell minicomputer); Scientific Data Systems was there (the UCLA host machine was an SDS machine); AT&T long lines was there (we were attaching to their network); GTE was there (they were the local telephone company); ARPA was there; the UCLA Computer Science Dept. administration was there; the UCLA campus administration was there; plus an army of Computer Science graduate students was there. Expectations and anxieties were high because, everyone was concerned that their piece might fail.

Fortunately, the team had done its job well and bits began moving between the UCLA computer and the IMP that same day. By the next day they had messages moving between the machines. THUS WAS BORN THE ARPANET, AND THE COMMUNITY WHICH HAS NOW BECOME THE INTER-NET!

A month later the second node was added (at Stanford Research Institute) and the first Host-to-Host message ever to be sent on the Internet was launched from UCLA. This occurred in early October when Kleinrock and one of his programmers proceeded to "logon" to the SRI Host from the UCLA Host. The procedure was to type in "log" and the system at SRI was set up to be clever enough to fill out the rest of the command, namely to add "in" thus creating the word "login".

A telephone headset was mounted on the programmers at both ends so they could communicate by voice as the message was transmitted. At the UCLA end, they typed in the "l" and asked SRI if they received it; "got the l" came the voice reply. UCLA typed in the "o", asked if they got it, and received "got the o". UCLA then typed in the "g" and the darned system CRASHED! Quite a beginning. On the second attempt, it worked fine!

Little did those pioneers realize what they had created. Indeed, most of the ARPA-supported researchers were opposed to joining the network for fear that it would enable outsiders to load down their "private" computers. Kleinrock had to convince them that joining would be a win-win situation for all concerned, and managed to get reluctant agreement in the community. By December 1969, four sites were connected (UCLA, Stanford Research Institute, UC Santa Barbara, and the University of Utah) and UCLA was already conducting a series of extensive tests to debug the network. Indeed, under Kleinrock's supervision, UCLA served for many years as the ARPANET Measurement Center (in one interesting experiment in the mid-1970's, UCLA managed to control a geosynchronous satellite hovering over the Atlantic Ocean by sending messages through the ARPANET from California to an East Coast satellite dish).

As head of the Center, it was Kleinrock's mission to stress the network to its limits and, if possible, expose its faults by "crashing" the net; in those early days, Kleinrock could bring the net down at will, each time identifying and repairing a serious network fault. Some of the faults he uncovered were given descriptive names like Christmas Lockup and Piggyback Lockup. By mid-1970, ten nodes were connected, spanning the USA. BBN designed the IMP to accommodate no more than 64 computers and only one network. Today, the Internet has millions of computers and hundreds of thousands of networks! Electronic mail (email) was an ad-hoc add-on to the network in those early days and it immediately began to dominate network traffic; indeed, the network was already demonstrating its most attractive characteristic, namely, its ability to promote "people- to-people" interaction.

The ARPANET evolved into the Internet in the 1980's and was discovered by the commercial world in the late '80's; today, the majority of the traffic on the Internet is from the commercial sector, whereas it had earlier been dominated by the scientific research community. Indeed, no one in those early days predicted how enormously successful data networking would become.

In the ensuing years since those pioneering days that led to the birth of the Internet, Kleinrock has continued as a prime mover at the frontier of the Internet and its growth and development. He has provided an international brain trust of Ph.D. graduates (39 to date) who populate major laboratories, universities and commercial organizations and who continue to advance the state of the art in networking.

Across the world

Readers from the far corners of the world ranging from China to Bermuda now read The Sunday Times.

The readership of The Sunday Times Internet edition has expanded by more than 300 per cent during 1996, with the number of hits at the Web Site climbing by 5,000 to 10,000 at each successive issue. The issue of February 09th 1997 for example had attracted more than 90,000 hits from 3362 host machines. In comparison, the 10th March, 1996 issue had attracted only 20,000 hits from 1071 host machines at the main web site at California. The Sunday Times is now also mirrored in UK and Australia.

Readers around the world now regularly check out the news from The Sunday Times.The February 09, 1996 issue for example had hits from El Salvador, Lithuania, Romania, Iceland, Malta, Brunei and the US military.

"I strongly believe that even you don't realize the importance of this website," wrote one reader who accesssed the LacNet server which hosts The Sunday Times. "It will surely have a growing influence on the countless Sri Lankans residing abroad."

"It is by far the best newspaper in Sri Lanka," wrote Alok A. Jiwraka who described himself as a loyal patron of Sri Lanka's Internet newspaper services. "Your site, I feel is truly the gem of the Sri Lanka internet sites," he added.

The Sunday Times Internet edition hopes to expand even further as the year progresses. It presented on the World Wide Web by Information Laboratories (Pvt) Ltd.

Third communication revolution

Shelton Guneratne looks at how Sri Lanka can leap frog into the Age of Information Technology

The world is now going thro ugh the third communication revolution resulting from the convergence of communication satellites, computers and digitization. Digitization converts all information- text, sound and pictures- into a binary code that can promptly travel through a global network of computers linked by telephones, fiber optics and satellites.

The first two communi-cation revolutions were the evolution of writing and the invention of printing. Sri Lanka has to face the third revolution head on to compete in the global material economy as it moves toward the next millennium. Just as in the case of the Four Tigers, particularly Singapore and Taiwan, Sri Lanka must set a goal to enter the portals of the information society with the sound advice of the Computer and Information Technology Council, the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Modern Techno-logies and similar bodies. With a highly literate workforce, Sri Lanka is in a good position to move from an agriculture/ manufac-turing-based economy into one that places emphasis on information technology.

To achieve that goal, the government must give the highest priority to rapidly improve the country's telecommunication infrastructure, to propagate the use of computers through-out the country's school system, and to encourage the emergence of information-based industries. LAcNet, a nonprofit organization fun-ded by expatriate Sri Lankans to propel the country's computing development, can play a very important role in helping Sri Lanka's move toward an information-based economy.

While it leapfrogs into the third com-munication revolution, Sri Lanka must also pave the way to improve the condi-tions relating to the traditional mass media - newspapers, radio, television and cinema - so that the country can achieve and surpass the minimum stan-dards that UNESCO set in 1962. Sri Lanka should go in the direction of establishing an atmosphere of press and media freedom unparalleled in Asia rather than blindly emulating the restrictive policies of other countries in the name of a peculiar Asian journalism. A good start is to implement the recommendations that the eight-member Goonesekera Committee submitted to the minister for media mid-1996.

The Third Revolution

The invention of writing created the first communication revolution because it made communi-cation across time and space possible while allowing knowledge to expand infinitely. It was a true revolution because it challenged the authority of those who held power - the elders who preserved and passed on their accumulated knowledge. Johannes Guten-berg's invention of printing with moveable type in the mid- 1400s constituted the second revolution in human communication because it challenged the monopoly on authority that belonged to the rulers and the priests and allowed the spread of vernacular languages and, eventually, democracy. (Evidence exists that the Chinese preceded Gutenberg in inventing moveable type.) Thus each of these revolu-tions led to the drastic restructuring of power in the cultures which they affected.

The current communi-cation revolution is in the process of restructuring power in the global society with winners and losers yet to emerge. This revolution - which marks the convergence of communication satellites, computers and digitization (Stevenson 1994: 3)- will affect every country in the world as the Information Superhighway wends its way across the globe. Information - text, sound and pictures - will move along this superhighway with lightning speed in digital (binary) form. The race on the superhighway, otherwise known as competition, will determine the winners who enjoy the fruits of the global economy. The winners will use "racing cars" while the losers will ride "bullock carts."

The racing car metaphor may give the incorrect impression of espousing occidental (Western) values wholesale. Ethical compe-tition is antithetical to neither oriental nor Buddhist values. As Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda (1973: 29) points out, Buddhist ethics is rooted in natural law: akusala kamma constitutes all actions that have their roots in greed, hatred and delusion that spring from selfishness and thereby foster harmful selfhood. Actions, which include competition, themselves are neither good nor bad because Buddhist ethics is based on intention or volition. Competition can well fit into the Middle Path. The Jataka story on how the good merchant Seruwanija competed against the crooked merchant Kaccaputa illustrates this point. Others may object to the racing car metaphor and argue that the true winners will probably ride bullock carts as a matter of choice in relation to quality of life; and that there is no reason why one cannot be linked to the Information Superhighway from a bullock cart. This, however, depends on how one wants to define quality of life.

Reality of World Economy

This essay argues that Sri Lanka should pave the way now for the smooth and rapid transition of the country's economy from the "bullock cart" to the "racing car" mode. It must get ready to exploit the Information Superhighway to compete in what Andre Gunder Frank (in Nordenstreng & Schiller 1993: 3- 27) calls the "global material economy." Frank says that the developing countries cannot afford to de-link themselves from the so-called capitalist world economy as his original "dependency theory" suggested in the 1960s.

Because the material world governs both in the short and the long run, reality demands that each country adopt the economic strategies that enable it to engage in the race on the superhighway to win the benefits of the world economy.

To define those strategies in terms of "isms" (capitalism, socialism, etc.) merely obfuscates the issue of world economic reality.

Those who steer the course of the global material economy today are the so-called Group of Seven in which the real decision makers are the United States, Germany and Japan. Their consultatory circle is the 25-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the rich man's club of industrialized countries. The Four Tigers -

Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan - have emerged victorious in the world-material- economy competition. Singapore, which has achieved a per capita GDP (purchasing power parity) of $21,493 officially disqualified itself as a developing country this year. Hong Kong, which has a per capita GDP of $23,080, is also no longer a developing "colony" because it has surpassed mother Britain's per capita GDP of $18,138.

The other countries of the world remain the "losers" in varying degrees. The ASEAN countries, to which Singapore belongs, seem to have achieved significant success in their approach to the global material economy while the SAARC countries, to which Sri Lanka belongs, seem to have belatedly understood the nature of the global economic reality. The latter group, except for Sri Lanka and the Maldives, still suffers from widespread illiteracy, a clear obstacle to entering the Information Superhighway.

More next week

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