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A series of tubes

  1. 1. A series of tubes. Tom Armitage Interesting 2007 1 [This is the for-distribution version. The notes aren’t exactly what I said, but they’re what I had in front of me, in a vague eort to condense my thought. The talk ran 20 minutes exactly, as intended.] This is me. This talk is called , but it is probably better titled...
  2. 2. Pipes, tubes, and the wonder of physical infrastructure. Tom Armitage Interesting 2007 2
  3. 3. Ceçi n’est pas un tube This isn’t a tube. It’s a pipe. It’s quite important, though. It’s a pipe you smoke tobacco in. Tobacco is one of the great traded commodities of our time, especially, for us as Europeans, as an import. Importing tobacco requires infrastructure to do so. And that’s really the subject of my talk: infrastructure, that you can see, and touch.
  4. 4. They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material. Ted Stevens Senator and then-Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). he’s talking in an debate about net neutrality. this is not stupid! It’s a really good metaphor. It captures bandwidth quite well. It’s not as linear as he describes, but it’s not entirely stupid. You know what’s a crap metaphor?
  5. 5. Clouds. Clouds are a terrible metaphor. Clouds are vague, for starters. You can’t grab hold of them; you can only look at them and imagine them. It’s a terrible disappointment as a child, when you realise that they’re not solid at all - they’re just water vapor. They’re incredible to fly over, when you go on that first plane ride, but to fly through it’s just so depressing, as you realise they’re this fluy nothingness. They’re there but they’re not; on the boundary of being and not-being, evaporating, condensing, eventually becoming rain. And yet clouds are used as metaphors all the time!
  6. 6. This is a image by Dion Hinchclie. He likes describing Web 2.0 in pictures. His images are legendary, really; he loves the overcomplicated diagrams (this is a simple one)... and he loves representing internet-like data as “clouds”. Which is a stupid idea. These aren’t clouds - they’re discrete objects of content, nestling on discrete systems, connected by discrete connections. There’s nothing fuzzy about it.
  7. 7. Here’s “the cloud”, a european WiFi provider. They ripped me o when I bought wifi from them in Denmark. WiFi is like a cloud; it’s fuzzy, it has radius and volume but can be passed through; it’s also always on the verge of “being” and “not being”. Have I got signal? Have I not got signal? How do you debug it? My Mum’s wifi connection broke down, but it’s really hard to debug, because it could be hardware, could be software, or could be the cloud. With a cable, a pipe, a tube: unplug it, plug it back in. There’s no magic. It’s obvious. It goes in one end and comes out the other. So pipes are a great metaphor for connectivity.
  8. 8. Mario gets this. Here’s a favourite pipe of mine. It’s the warp zone pipe in World 1-2, you know, where you bounce over the top of the screen. When Mario warps the fabric of the universe, he just connects a pipe from one end to the other. The magic of “warping” is explained by the metaphor of connectivity: a pipe from one end to the other. Warp Zone: it’s just a series of tubes. (It’s also about the only obvious reference to Mario being, you know, a plumber left. Imean, the dungareers and outfit are all about the inability to draw somebody in any detail, but I love how those distinctive green pipes are still there. Especially in NSMB, which is wicked.) Tubes as connectivity. They go crazy with them in later games, but the principle is the same: in one end, out the other. They’re the infrastructure of the Mushroom Kingdom. But we’re not in the Mushroom Kingdom. We’re in London.
  9. 9. This is our Warp Zone. You go down a pipe. You come out somewhere else. There’s no magic at all - there’s a very definite sense of travel. But for years it feels like you’re folding space; it certainly did when I came to London as a kid. That first time your above-ground geography joins up is a fantastic one. And Ted Stevens’ metaphor kind of holds up here, right? Here’s a tube that throws lots of stu down it - in our case, people. It’s an amazing tube. The first part of it was opened in 1863. That’s the Met line (and a few years later, it was bombed, simultaneously, in two locations by terrorists in the 1870s. Dynamitards, as they were known. And you think tube- bombing is a new thing! But that’s something else). It’s a good example of complex queueing, and also the power infrastructure gives to a city. And the way the infrastructure can shape our experience of what t connects. I live in the South, and people don’t know how you cope without tubes. It’s such an immediately obvious infrastructure, compared to, say, the bus network, which is kind of like lots of bees buzzing around, and only a seasoned observer sees the pattern in them. That’s an obvious one, isn’t it?
  10. 10. This is one of the kick-o points for this talk. Pneumatic mail. This is awesome. you might have seen this in shops - it’s used in supermarkets for ferrying money. On the top left of this, you can see a sorting room in a London system - multiple pneumatic mail messaging systems converging on a point. On the left, an american system which actually has automatic addressing. You set where you want it to go by dialing in the “address” - which aects the electrical connections between the ten contact rings seen along the tube - and it addresses itself around the system. That’s amazing - mechanical packet addressing! Unlike telegraph messaging, it sends the physical message, rather than a translation. That’s interesting - it’s the big advantage it has over the telegraph, where it takes time for someone to translate the message. And it’s fast - there’s a pressure dierence created in the tube, and it whooms along about about 25 mph. That was the advantage that led to its creation: “in 1853 J. Latimer Clark installed a 220 yard long pneumatic tube connecting the London Stock Exchange in Threadneedle Street with the Central Station in Lothbury of the Electric Telegraph Company which had been incorporated in 1846. There were similar installations in Berlin in 1865 between the Central Telegraph Office and the Stock Exchange, and in 1866 in Paris out of the place de la Bourse.” The London system was turned o in the early sixties. But it lasted until then! By 1886 London had 94 telegram tubes totalling 34 1/2 miles, powered by 4 50 hp engines. Two types of system were eventually adopted, house and street tubes. House tubes provided for the transmission of messages between different part of the same building, street tubes provided for transmission of telegram forms from branch offices to the head office (from whence they were telegraphed). By the 1930s, 67 branch offices were connected to the head office by a series of radial tubes. Most tubes conveyed messages in one direction only, some in both directions. At its peak, the London network made use of 57 miles of pipeline [5]. The system was used because it allowed quicker handling of messages than would be the case if messages were telegraphed from local offices to head office. There was also no error in translation.”
  11. 11. ps -aux | grep “Firefox” This is a dierent kind of pipe. It’s also one of my favourites.
  12. 12. ps -aux | grep “Firefox” Here it is, in case you didn’t spot it. This is the unix “pipe” command. You can tell it’s a pipe, because it looks like a pipe. It’s a genius, genius piece of architecture. It does a really simple thing: it takes the output of one thing, and pushes it into another. You can chain these forever. But it makes a really simple concept possible: simple, do-little programs. Rather than big, do-everything programs. Things like sed and awk and grep. It makes a huge amount possible, especially dynamic automation of systems. Here’s an interesting idea. The infrastructure is sometimes more than the some of its parts. Or rather: it’s the enabling things. The parts on their own aren’t much. With the right infrastructure, they’re incredible. The internet is like that, right?
  13. 13. Here’s a new version of it: this is Yahoo pipes. It’s like Unix pipes, but for everybody else. Actually, it’s still really complicated, but they tried, right? But it does some neat stu. It lets you take RSS feeds - do we all know that RSS feeds are? Feeds of data from over the web - and smash them together through various little processing bits, to make them useful. Just like the unix pipes. Small bits, joined with pipes. They’ve even got this beautiful spangly connection animation going on. It’s a remarkable bit of technology, if a little premature.
  14. 14. Time for a beer. Some of the idea for this talk came when I visited the Guinness brewery in Dublin. This is where I deviate from pipes a bit and talk about infrastructure in general. Because, as I’ve said: clouds are cool, and all, but sometimes it’s important to pay attention to just how stu gets from A to B. Guinness is a huge, huge company. It certainly was. And what fascinated me was how much of their own infrastructure they own. For instance, they don’t just make beer.
  15. 15. Coopering They make barrels, too. Coopering. Making barrels. There’s this amazing video - guy making a barrel - could absolutely churn them out. As in: a few minutes for each one. And did it all by eye - no measuring. It’s just phenomenal. Because you know, if the barrel leaks, you may as well chuck it out. And of course: they’re building the infrastructure that the company runs on. You don’t just need beer. You need conveyance of beer. So you make lots and lots of barrels. But barrels aren’t enough. What else do you need?
  16. 16. Things to transport barrels. Horses and carts around Dublin, later vans and trucks; and, most amazingly of all, boats. They owned their own boats, as well. So they’ve got it nailed: from the source, to the tap, they own the whole route. That’s amazing. Who else can do that? Classic modern example: iTunes (they own the shop, the software to organise things you buy, and the hardware to listen to it on). But that kind of dominance - over the whole route - is very rare. Here are some of the boats the Guinness corporation owns. At the top, barges, covered in barrels; at the bottom, the Lady Patricia, a (wait for it) beer tanker. What do barrels have to do with pipes? Well, they’re short pipes, i guess. But more to the point: it’s infrastructure. That you can touch, that you can see, that you can debug. This is what industry, economics are built on. If we talk like that, we hit the top trump of physical infrastructure.
  17. 17. The shipping container. Doesn’t that just turn you on? No?
  18. 18. Ugh! Look at that! The number of these that go around the world is crazy. It helps that they’re uniform: you’re dealing with a simple, quantitative system, that all comes down to integers (number of containers) rather than complex things like weights and measures. Again: this is not a cloud. There is not a cloud of stu floating from place to place; there are boxes, definable, whole numbers of boxes. This stu is really important. And, over time, it’s now an incredibly fine art; making sure these ships are always full, that you’re maximising use of bandwidth, that they can be loaded and unloaded to the nearest minute. And it’s not owned by the companies: it’s outsourced, to shipping companies, now, just like we outsource other things to DHL and Fedex and UPS. Infrastructure itself is an artform, but it’s vital to tie everything together.
  19. 19. This is the Emma Maersk - the world’s largest container ship. It stopped by Kent at Christmas to dump everything we were going to buy, like the consumer whores we are. Everyone was appalled by how BIG the thing was and how much stu we BOUGHT... and they were also appalled about you know, the pollution, and where the damn thing would fit. No-one noticed that they unloaded it in a couple of days. A couple of days - to get all those containers o, in appropriate places in storage, and maybe even into the road. It was gone before we could be appalled. You like at the size of it and think it’ll take ages to get all that o, but no; it’s a fine art. Ships like that wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t. “The Box” by Marc Levinson is all about this. I should read it.
  20. 20. Boxes aren’t pipes, though. Here’s some pipes that cross the ocean, and they’re data pipes again. Here’s a map of the first transatlantic telegraph cable that connected Newfoundland to Europe. There are also cables to match - I was looking for a map of the physical bandwidth (rather than usage) from country to country, but I couldn’t find it. Overtime, the galvanic telephone cables have been repalced with fibre-optic, and replaced again as they wear out. But it’s there. But this is interesting. This is just as physical, as real. There’s definable, whole numbers of bits flowing around. This is just as fine art as the logistics of shipping containers, only this time, we’re shipping packets of data, the interconnection of the web and telephony networks, and satellites _do not solve everything_. Capital-I infrastructure is coming down to cabling and wires. And they wear out, and they get replaced. There are still a good handful of fibre- optic transatlantic cables for data and voice. They’re part of our key connectivity.
  21. 21. Ceçi n’est pas un tube this may not be a tube.
  22. 22. (ou un pipe) and we all know it’s not a pipe, right? But it’s great. It’s challenging the nature of pipe-ness, much like this talk might be. Cables, wires, interconnects, physical networks, infrastructure: they’re not pipes either, but it’s a good way to think of them.
  23. 23. They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material. So this isn’t a stupid thing to say!
  24. 24. Thank you, Ted Stevens for using a metaphor that much as everybody laid into it didn’t totally suck. It’s maybe not the best. But it’s better than nothing. Thank you, Ted Stevens, for using a metaphor that doesn’t totally suck.
  25. 25. A series of tubes. Tom Armitage Interesting 2007 25 And that’s that. I hope it was Interesting.