What is the Internet?
1. How big is the Internet? When did it start? How did it grow?
The Internet is actually much smaller than most people think. It
is primarily composed of fiber optic cables no thicker than a human
hair, which can be conveniently rolled up and stored in a foot
locker. Janitors at the National Science Foundation do this on the
third Tuesday of every month when they wax the floors.
Since fiber optics are the size of human hairs, they also make
attractive wigs. The next time you watch a Sprint commercial,
you'll see that Candice Bergen's alleged hair is really the T4
The earliest origins of the Internet can be traced to Ancient
Greece, where a loosely connected set of networks was used to
discuss exploration in the Black Sea. The Argonets, as they were
then called, were entirely subsidized by the government, and won
one of William Proxmire's first Golden Fleece awards.
The Internet grows hyperbolically, but is usually described
2. Who owns the Internet?
There is no one person or agency that owns the Internet. Instead,
parts of it are owned by the Illuminati and parts are owned by Free
3. What do the Internet addresses mean?
Precise meanings are often hard to determine. The address
baker.lib.washington.edu -- which is sometimes written
firstname.lastname@example.org -- seems to refer to a computer either
owned by a baker or by someone named Baker. This can be deceiving
however; names like this actually refer to where a computer is
located. This one is on top of Mt. Baker.
In addition to names, computers on the Internet also have numbers.
This is part of the whole right brain/left brain thing.
4. Tell me how to get on and off various lists and discussion groups.
Getting off on various lists is currently the subject of pending
5. What is "Netiquette?"
"Netiquette" is one of many cutesy neologisms created by combining
two other words. In this case, "network" and "tourniquette" combine
to describe a program that shuts down a computer if it starts
transmitting information too fast.
6. What is "Flaming?"
Along with an improvisational approach to floating point arithmetic,
early Pentium chips were noted for generating heat. While some
hackers speak fondly of roasting marshmallows over their first P60s,
others found themselves badly singed as the chips caught fire. This
"flaming" sometimes occurred while the user was composing e-mail,
resulting in poorly chosen or excessively vitriolic verbiage.
7. What is "Bandwidth?"
As capacity on the Internet has increased, people have begun to
transmit material other than simple text. One notable example is
audio recordings of rock concerts. These audio files are much
larger than even very long books, so they have become a standard
unit of network usage. One Rolling Stone song equals one "band"
width, and so on.
8. Why can't I FTP to some places?
There are two main reasons for this. The first is that the site
you want to ftp files from is exercising a certain degree of control
over its network resources; in network parlance, this is called
The second reason is that the remote site may be dabbling with such
network fads as gopher or the World Wide Web. This is called
"keeping up with the times."
9. What is the World Wide Web, Gopherspace, etc?
The World Wide Web, or WWW, is an experiment in generating acronyms
that are much more difficult to pronounce than the words they
Gopherspace is an older network term. In response to the Soviet
space program's early use of dogs in space, NASA mounted a program
to orbit a number of different rodents. The programmers involved
in this project adopted the motto "Gophers in space!" which has
since been shortened. The only actual gopher to go into orbit had
been digging up the carrots in Werner Von Braun's garden, and was
named Veronica after his daughter.
10. Why can't I get some WWW stuff via FTP?
It can be hard to say this, but some users of the Internet are
unable to do things because they are stupid. The comparatively
trivial task of getting an ftp client to do every single thing a
WWW browser can do is beneath this column's attention.
Tune in next time for Ask Dr. Internet --
"I have a master's degree....in Internet!"
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