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September 6, 2012 | 0 comments

Paul Baran set out to build a means of communication that could survive a nuclear war. And he ended up inventing the fundamental networking techniques that underpin the internet.

In the early 1960s — as an engineer with the RAND Corporation, the U.S. armed-forces think tank founded in the wake of the Second World War — Baran developed a new breed of communication system that could keep running even if part of it was knocked out by a nuclear blast. It was the height of the Cold War, and the nuclear threat was very much on the mind of, well, just about everyone.

Basically, Baran cooked up a system that could divide communications into tiny pieces and use distributed network “nodes” to pass these pieces around. If one node was knocked out, the others could pick up the slack. In 1964, he published a paper on this system — entitled “On Distributed Communications” — and a few years later, it would play into the development of the ARPAnet, the research network that would eventually morph into the modern internet.

Paul Baran passed away in March 2011, but his work lives on — in more ways than one. Earlier this year, he was part of the inaugural class inducted into the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, taking his place alongside such names a...

August 30, 2012 | 0 comments

While Lawrence Landweber, Vint Cerf, and Bob Kahn were setting up America’s earliest network connections, across the Atlantic in Amsterdam, Daniel Karrenberg was building what would become Europe’s first intercontinental network. Arguably, Karrenberg’s contributions, coupled with innovations from Cerf, Landweber, and Kahn, created today’s modern internet.

Karrenberg’s first taste of networking came during a summer job at Microsoft’s Bellevue, Washington headquarters in 1982, while he was still a computer science student at Germany’s Dortmund University. While at the young American company (Microsoft had about 220 employees then, and had just launched its first computer mouse) he was introduced to Usenet, a news and electronic mail network. “This is great, I want this at home and at my university,” Karrenberg recalls thinking at the time.

When Karrenberg returned to Europe after that summer at Microsoft, he sought out others who wanted a Usenet-like connection in Europe as well. He ended up coordinating the creation of EUnet, the...

August 27, 2012 | 0 comments

There are a thousand stories about the origin of the Internet, each with their own starting point and their own heroes. Charles Herzfeld’s tale began in 1961 on a series of tiny islands in the South Pacific. The U.S. military was test-firing a series of ballistic missiles at the island chain, known as the Kwajalein Atoll, with an array of radars and optical infrared sensors recording every re-entry. Herzfeld, the Vienna-born physicist and newly installed chief of the Advanced Research Projects Agency’s missile defense program, was trying to figure out how to make sense of the vast amount of data generated by all of those incoming missiles. The computers he had at the time weren’t up to the task.

Herzfeld, in search of solutions, asked his colleague J.C.R. Licklider out to lunch. They met at the Secretary of Defense’s Mess in the Pentagon’s E Ring, and over a series of meals talked through ideas that would transform computing forever.

Licklider, the head of of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office, was already one of computer science’s leading thinkers. (“Licklider was our prophet. I signed onto his vision from the beginning,” Herzfeld says.) Not only did Licklider predict that one day “human brains and computing machines will be coupled” into a partnership that would surpass either component’s ability to process information. Licklider theorized that people could one day interact with all sorts of computers at once — even though each machine had its...

August 20, 2012 | 0 comments

Here’s the problem with libraries. They catch on fire really easily. As such, they were the prized targets of the invading hordes of antiquity – the model collections of knowledge of their times, whose only fault was their inherent flammability. They were one-man, one-torch jobs. But the hordes didn’t prize the library only for how powerfully it burned. Back in those days, if you wanted to kill a culture, you killed its library. All it took was one chucklehead with a flaming stick to annihilate thousands of years of accumulated knowledge. And it happened often.  “If this is what happens to libraries, make copies,” says Brewster Kahle.

And it’s Kahle’s impulse to copy and preserve that prompted the Internet Society to induct the serial entrepreneur and digital archivist into the Internet Hall of Fame on April 23 in its inaugural year.

Kahle took the library of libraries — the Internet — and made a couple of copies of it, and keeps making copies. One he keeps in servers in San Francisco, the other in mirror servers in Alexandria, where the world’s most famous library burned 2,000 years ago. (His data survived the Egyptian revolution unscathed.)

Through the Wayback Machine, you can see what the web looked like in 1996. And 1997. And 2011....

August 13, 2012 | 0 comments

The world’s first Internet transmission occurred on October 29, 1969. At least, that’s what some people believe. Others say the more important moment arrived eight years later, when a repurposed delivery van equipped with a wireless transmitter sent a message from San Francisco to Norway and back to California by way of satellite.

The date was November 22, 1977, and no one seems to remember what message was sent — or even who was in the van. But they do remember how it was sent. This marked the first time the TCP/IP protocol — the same protocol that underpins today’s Internet — was used to send information across not one, not two, but three independent computer networks.

“It wasn’t just a transmission,” says Bob Kahn, one of the key figures behind that moment. “It was a whole system of network protocols being demonstrated over three different networks.”

You can certainly argue that the first Internet transmission happened much earlier. The world generally agrees it happened in 1969, when researchers at the University of California at Los Angeles sent the inaugural message across the ARPAnet, the government-funded network that eventually evolved into the Internet as we know it. But...