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Author Topic: How Robber Barons hijacked the "Victorian Internet" ars technica  (Read 885 times)
lilibat
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lilibat
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« on: December 03, 2009, 07:52:57 am »

Article I thought some of you might find of interest.

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2009/12/how-the-robber-barons-hijacked-the-victorian-internet.ars
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Chris Siddall
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« Reply #1 on: December 03, 2009, 09:33:34 am »

A fascinating article and certainly food for thought for those involved in the fight to maintain net neutrality. Thank you for bringing it to the forum. It is amazing and a little sad to learn that there are historical precedent's for so many of societies current issues and those events from which we could learn are dismissed as mere history.
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Sorontar
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« Reply #2 on: December 03, 2009, 09:51:22 am »

Indeed, it reminds us that our sending of these missives is in some way still an aspect of the era we discuss, but as always, knowledge brings power!

While my motto may be "information communication illumination", perhaps all us mad scientists and inventors should keep quiet after all and hide our notes behind the books in our parlour room. Better still, perhaps we need to use cyphers or coding systems to disguise our discoveries. I have an idea using a mirror.... I don't think anyone has done it before.... I must write it down......

[Wanders off muttering to himself]
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Sorontar, Captain of 'The Aethereal Dancer'
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Maj. Clive Hathaway
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« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2009, 04:31:09 pm »

Quote
perhaps all us mad scientists and inventors should keep quiet after all and hide our notes behind the books in our parlour room.

I would mention another historical precedent... alchemists. Maybe, just maybe if they had been working together on the internet... we'd have the philosophers stone today. But then again, probably not. Wink
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Angus A Fitziron
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« Reply #4 on: December 03, 2009, 06:05:53 pm »

I am not sure that terminal equipment was available to adequately allow anybody to describe the telegraph network as the "Victorian Internet". The need to be able to read and write morse code, the fact that it was a very circuit switched network (internet is packet switched so allows many users to use the same 'pipe') and the lack of a routing protocol leads me to believe this is not a valid example of what is otherwise a valid argument!
I suppose what had actually happened was that a certain Mr.A.Bell had demonstrated the telephone, had started a company and had over 10,000 subscribers when this article was scribed. Maybe that was what the writer was moaning about - we frequently get a nice new shiny product and then lament the passing of the old obsolete one - even one that had such an history of open abuse.
One of the benefits of the 'phone was the volume take up which took a lot of people (telephone operators) to route the still circuit switched technology. This cost money, so when Mr Strowger, fed up with losing business to another undertaker, (google it, you couldn't make it up) came up with an idea for people to route their own calls by dialling numbers before the call, it was a viable idea, leading to the network we know today.
The argument about the robber barons though is a good one. I watched Mr.'News International' Murdoch on the box last night bemoaning Google 'stealing' his company's product. What he did not describe is the complex 3 way argument required to be resolved before you can usefully market a media product. First you need the media which News International has. Then you need the broadcast equipment to transport and deliver the media, which he has for TV but does not have for data to the customer, that needs the internet which at last looking he does not yet own. Then you need customers, lots of them, to make the product work. He overlooks the fact that Google (and a whole host of others) contribute two thirds of the media product!
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2009, 06:25:05 pm »

The important thing to remember is that early telegraph networks were not interconnected, and were privately owned and operated. Look at the early railroads, as an example. A simple telegraph network is not an adressable network, but  rather like a party line. The only way to determine who a message is for say, on a railroad branch line was to have the operator call-sign as the first set of letters transmitted, that way an operator would know traffic was for him.
  So, let's assume you have an interchange point between two railroads, and you need to get some bit of traffic information from one to the other. The message would be telegraphed from Railroad A's dispatcher to Railroad A's tower operator , who would transcribe it manually, and then have it run over to Railroad B's tower operator, who would then manually telegraph it down the line, if needed.
  Switched circuit telegraph helped, (as in say the Western Union network, where one could switch/route message traffic to individual central office hubs,) but any message still needed to be printed and manually delivered to the adressee. 
Cheers
Harold
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Maj. Clive Hathaway
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« Reply #6 on: December 03, 2009, 06:49:57 pm »

Great article... i especially like this part:
 
Quote
So proud was he of his conquest that he personally relocated to Western Union's corporate HQ—"a massive, bomb proof citadel" and a "gloomy pile, six stories high, costing $2,200,000," as the Gilded Age historian Matthew Josephson described it. "Here Gould's person at least was safe. For the pitiless tactics he pursued were not such as to make him immune from physical danger."

Its neat that in that era, if someone REALLY didnt like the way you conduct business, they might just knife you in the street.

Also interesting to be reminded how rampant graft and corruption were.... ah, how so little has changed...

Though the biggest difference is that for them, they had to rely on one or two services to send/ receive telegrams, whereas every one of us has an internet terminal in our homes.

My question is, if the democrats realized that their communications were being read, why didnt they use misinformation?
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Angus A Fitziron
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« Reply #7 on: December 03, 2009, 07:59:02 pm »

It really was an empire built on sand. The trouble with telegraph is that no regular person can read it, but every morse trained person can! So, there was great opportunity for bribery and corruption. The telegraph was highly suitable (as are modern 'digital' systems) for low grade transmission paths, what we used to call 'wet string'. These transmission systems not only attenuate the signal terribly but they also broadcast from high impedance points eg corroded junctions. They are also so poor that somebody at the end of the line would have to be very smart to identify anybody tapping onto the wires mid route to listen in! So, pretty much anybody could intercept your message. I haven't looked into it but I suspect the Enigma coding machine was envisioned to provide secure transmission of telegraph messages during peacetime whether being sent by line or radio, though how clerks managed transcripts I have no idea! I guess electromechanical repeaters (of which we once had an example on this very board) were in use for most networks.
Telegraph was still in use when I last looked, by people who have lots of valuable data that must get through regardless of local or network conditions, eg shipping companies and news agencies like Reuters. However, the added security and pretty much world wide penetration of the internet means that TCP/IP is now likely to be the weapon of choice.
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