Monday, September 28, 2009

The Internet Confuses Me

I’m currently a Professor of Computer Information Systems for the State University of New York (adjunct). This week, I’ll be teaching “The Internet.” Well, a chapter about it, anyway. I’ve worked in IT as everything from the lowest IT grunt in the building on up to the executive level, and I sent my first email back in the early 1980s. You’d probably look at me and my accomplishments and experiences and say “This guy’s got the Internet pretty well figured out.”

And, for the most part, you’d be right. But there are definitely exceptions. I’ve written previously about my experience setting up a Facebook account for the first time. It all went pretty smoothly, except that somehow Facebook suggested, based on the VERY LITTLE information I had provided to it, that I might want to be friends with a guy it shouldn’t have known I knew. Facebook somehow figured out that this other fellow and I posted to the same message boards, both under assumed names (not because we’re hiding, just because it’s common practice to use a “handle” when you join many message boards). I didn’t even know his last name, and had to email him to see if he was actually the guy Facebook was suggesting. And he was, which is, frankly, odd as hell and a little bit creepy. I’ve concluded since that the most likely link between the two of us was probably the login cookie for that site, and I suppose it’s plausible that Facebook does some sort of cookie comparison whenever somebody creates a new account, referencing a database of who visits what sites, but even that doesn’t sound right to me (both because it would take a massive data warehouse and also because there are other people from that site who I know are also on Facebook and they were not suggested as friends, even though I know them better in real life than the fellow Facebook did recommend). Gah – as you can probably tell, this mystery confounds and annoys me.

The next thing about the Internet that confuses me has to do with some of the folks who have found this blog and left comments. I’ve accepted that none of my dozen or two regular readers (I know who most of you are) aren’t going to post comments about my blogs. But occasionally I make a blog post that interests somebody who I’ve never met and who I’m reasonably sure probably ISN’T a regular reader of my blog. They’re people who seem to be interested in a particular subject matter, and, somehow, the same day I post a blog entry that touches on that subject, they detect it and rush on over to read it. I don’t mind that at all, but it bugged me that I couldn’t imagine how they do it. So, naturally, I did some digging and discovered that one option on a Google search is to see results from the “past 24 hours.” That’s probably my best bet, but then I didn’t realize that was an option until I wondered how random strangers were stumbling onto my site.

Incidentally, Google turned 11 yesterday. Happy Birthday Google!

And that makes me wonder just how much more I don’t know. Granted, I’m nowhere near the net-geek that I was a decade ago. There was a time when I was really up on the newest technology, and thought nothing of using traceroutes and other tools to understand the intricacies of whatever I was doing online. I mastered Usenet, FTP, IRC, and of course HTTP, plus routing tables and IP addressing and domains and the whole realm of technology that makes up the Internet. But the busier I got in IT management, and work in general, the less time I spent puttering around behind the scenes of the ‘net. Time moved on as it always does, and technology raced alongside, and I got left a little bit behind.

There’s a lot about social networking that I’m still not completely clued into yet. There’s the world of torrents that I’m only peripherally aware of and have chosen to avoid because so much of what’s available there is illegal and repugnant to me (from a copyright infringement perspective, anyway). I’m still a pretty good desktop guy, and I know my way around corporate networks and their technologies, but I’ve definitely got some work to do to get back my “hacker” edge as it were. Or some of it, anyway.

Meanwhile, welcome to those who have stumbled onto my humble blog. Welcome in particular to Largo, who wandered in and made himself right at home. Definitely check out his lengthy and well-considered comments on Microsoft’s new tablet prototype “Courier,” The Princess Bride, and the challenges of faster-than-light travel in fiction.

Now pardon me while I go see if I can hack the Kremlin.


  1. Thanks for saying so, Mike. Further to the faster-than-light travel, you might be amused by Paul Krugman's "The Theory of Interstellar Trade".

  2. Largo - is that Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman?

    Either way, that's a very cool paper. For those who want to get the gist of it before diving in:

    "This paper extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer travelling (sic) with the goods than to a stationary observer. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved."

    The world certainly needs more useless but true theorems! Note that while the paper is firmly tongue-in-cheek (ie. a joke), it's not without some thought-provoking considerations for the sci-fi writer.

    A good friend of mine told me once of a story where communications had been established between Earth and some other world. They could transmit information, but nothing tangible. So they established a system of commerce based on the exchange of that information. Sadly, he didn't recall the title or author, but if I ever get my hands on it I plan to give it a read as it sounds fascinating. Maybe my wife can find it - she's a better researcher than me.

  3. Just letting you know that I am now registered with gmail and can respond to your future articles like I know what I am doing.
    Love ya,

  4. Welcome to the blogosphere, Mom!