Too Much Free Time

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
broadband, pigeons, stunts



Sneakernet, Pigeonet And The Meaninglessness Of Judging Broadband By Silly Stunts

from the so-what? dept

A bunch of folks have been sending in this story about how a carrier pigeon beat a broadband line in transferring 4 gigs of data between two offices 60 miles apart. The problem with such stunts is that they're rather meaningless. All you need to do is pick a storage size for the pigeon that is sufficiently large. The speed of the broadband connection is known in advance, and so you can just pick a file size that is significantly larger. Given the right sizes, I'd imagine that flying across the Atlantic with hard drives full of data is probably faster than some trans-Atlantic fiber cables as well. It doesn't mean that the cable is necessarily slow. The point is that for some things a "sneakernet" or (in this case) "pigeon net" will be faster. It does sound like the DSL connection being used was, in fact, slow, but that can be demonstrated just as easily by, I don't know, noting the actual bandwidth of the connection. I guess, as a publicity stunt, it draws attention, but I can't see how it's really that meaningful.

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  • identicon
    Dan, 10 Sep 2009 @ 11:45pm

    At least the pigeon net only costs bird feed to run.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Sep 2009 @ 11:53pm

    Replacement for Magic Jack?

    Is this what you're going to try to use for your Friday Meeting, Mike?

    Seriously, the Smoke Signals will work better. Plus it gives you an excuse to get a little rain-dance action going.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2009 @ 12:38am

    Grr.

    Meaningless is an adjective. It doesn't really make sense to say "The clever of judging silly stunts".

    Meaninglessness is the noun.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2009 @ 12:38am

    Humor

    I guess, as a publicity stunt, it draws attention, but I can't see how it's really that meaningful.

    Who's seriously suggesting otherwise? It's called humor, Mike. Some people have a sense for it, some don't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Marcus Carab (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 3:48pm

      Re: Humor

      I dunno, it does seem like the sort of thing you get technophobes trotting out at parties and stuff, when they talk about the virtues of the old ways

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, 11 Sep 2009 @ 12:57am

    O RLY?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:01am

    What they don't take into account in PigeonNet is "Dropped packets" which gets a little messy to clean up. Also that carrier pigeons have to be taken from the original location to the sender and will fly back home.

    To quote wiki "However by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably. This setup allows Pigeons to cover 160km round trip". So pegeons aren't a bad delivery method. 1mbit shdsl will output about 360mb an hour, which is give or take 8.6gb a day. So the equivalent of 2 pigeon trips. Their test didn't allow for return time or maximum trips.

    And yes more than anything its a stunt. Its fluff designed to get picked up by a newspaper. The real story if any is about some fibre optic cables being run.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:01am

    What they don't take into account in PigeonNet is "Dropped packets" which gets a little messy to clean up. Also that carrier pigeons have to be taken from the original location to the sender and will fly back home.

    To quote wiki "However by placing their food at one location and their home at another location, pigeons have been trained to fly back and forth up to twice a day reliably. This setup allows Pigeons to cover 160km round trip". So pegeons aren't a bad delivery method. 1mbit shdsl will output about 360mb an hour, which is give or take 8.6gb a day. So the equivalent of 2 pigeon trips. Their test didn't allow for return time or maximum trips.

    And yes more than anything its a stunt. Its fluff designed to get picked up by a newspaper. The real story if any is about some fibre optic cables being run.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TFP, 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:07am

    Stupid is...

    It appeals to the stupid in me. Broadband companies are always selling us the idea that broadband is fast, super fast, optical cable fast (which is, like, light travelling down super thin lines - and we all know nothing travels faster than light, except maybe those particles no one can prove actually exists - because they're faster than light, QED).

    Now, I don't know about you guys, but six miles, without a car is quite a distance, so a pigeon, carrying what is basically a DVDs worth of info, (so, a film with crappy commentaries and maybe a few deleted scenes that the director filmed specifically for the DVD), got to point B faster by something that supposedly evolved from a dinosaur, which is like, really really old, than it did by superfast modern tech broadband...

    Which proves quite satisfactorily to me that broadband is indeed throttled to near death, and broadband companies are fricking ripping us off.

    Tony P.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    perros, 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:14am

    Burn Time

    Of course they don't say whether they took into account the time to copy the data to an external disk or DVD.

    In this case it probably wouldn't have mattered. But it does mean that there is no sufficiently large storage medium to make trans-Atlantic pidgeon-net faster than the 10Gbps fibre links.

    -Perros-

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:29am

      Re: Burn Time

      In this case it probably wouldn't have mattered. But it does mean that there is no sufficiently large storage medium to make trans-Atlantic pidgeon-net faster than the 10Gbps fibre links.

      Huh? Sure there is. A parallel drive array could easily do it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Chronno S. Trigger (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 5:29am

      Re: Burn Time

      I read this article yesterday. With copying the 4G of data from the HDD to the memory card, the flight, and from the memory card to the HDD, it took about 2 hours and 15 minutes. In that same amount of time the 4G upload completed a grand total of 4%. I'm not sure exactly how much that is, but it's a little over 175M.

      This test is completely meaningless and is just fluff to get the news out there, but it's good fluff. Plus this test could have been done with 500M of data or 32G depending on the card strapped to the pigeon.

      Haven't you all heard about how Google transfers large amounts of it's data? They put it on HDDs and FedEx it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Peet McKimmie (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 5:43am

        Re: Re: Burn Time

        Everyone seems to be assuming that the copying of the data to the USB drive is an overhead only in the case of the pigeon. No-one has considered that the end product may have been intended to be put on the USB drive from the outset, in which case you need to add the time to copy onto the broadband stats.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Jason, 11 Sep 2009 @ 8:45am

          Re: Re: Re: Burn Time

          Right because for me data storage is just a fashion statement. I like to wear the complete works of Shakespeare around my ankle to remind me of the oppressive legacy of Western Civilization.

          Of course, it's not really clear why the speed matters if it's not going directly to be processed in some way or another.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Jason (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 8:54am

          Re: Re: Re: Burn Time

          Hmmm...come to think of it, if you just used a hot-swappable ssd, then I think we'd all be happy.

          And what about torrents? I mean, what is the storage to wing-span ratio of a migrating swallow?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Griff (profile), 16 Sep 2009 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: Burn Time

        >> Haven't you all heard about how Google transfers large amounts of it's data? They put it on HDDs and FedEx it.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Robert A. Rosenberg, 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:38pm

      Re: Burn Time

      Yes there is. You use RFC2549 in lieu of RFC1149. To send the data from Europe to the US, you start with the needed number of US Pigeons at your European Sending Site (use two times the total dataset size divided by the size of the Flash Cards to get redundancy or do the data as RAID packets). Put the Flash Cards on the pigeons and then transfer them to the US via a Virtual Tunnel (as documented by RFC2549) - ie: Stick them on a West Bound Non-Stop Plane to a US Airport need the Destination. Once there, set them loose and let them deliver the Flash Cards. You can also go Store&Forward by Pigeon'ing to the European Airport, tranship to the US, and the hand off to the US Pigeons (ie: Do a Pony Express hand off with one leg being via the Europe to US airplane connection).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Robert A. Rosenberg, 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:38pm

      Re: Burn Time

      Yes there is. You use RFC2549 in lieu of RFC1149. To send the data from Europe to the US, you start with the needed number of US Pigeons at your European Sending Site (use two times the total dataset size divided by the size of the Flash Cards to get redundancy or do the data as RAID packets). Put the Flash Cards on the pigeons and then transfer them to the US via a Virtual Tunnel (as documented by RFC2549) - ie: Stick them on a West Bound Non-Stop Plane to a US Airport need the Destination. Once there, set them loose and let them deliver the Flash Cards. You can also go Store&Forward by Pigeon'ing to the European Airport, tranship to the US, and the hand off to the US Pigeons (ie: Do a Pony Express hand off with one leg being via the Europe to US airplane connection).

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Sep 2009 @ 1:17am

    A dastardly plan!

    Somebody should patent this method of communication. It appears to be an excellent way of communicating in an emergency as well as providing the option of a tasty snack if the calorific value of the pigeon outweighs the communication value.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Sheinen, 11 Sep 2009 @ 2:19am

    I read about this yesterday and guffawed merrily before pondering 'why didn't they use a 16gb flash drive?'

    You could strap one of those to a Pigeon pretty easy I'd reckon! And what if they trained an Albatross to carry stuff? They could probably fly an entire server cross continent!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    South African DSL user, 11 Sep 2009 @ 3:35am

    The *real* reason for the stunt

    If you read the story, you'll notice it mentions the 'country's biggest web firm, Telkom.' This is pretty much the ONLY web firm.

    All broadband ISPs in the country need to travel along Telkom's backbone, and pay whatever they Telkom for. These costs are passed over to the consumer, like it or leave it.

    The only ISPs that don't use the backbone are those involved with wireless (your lowest package is 50MB cap a month, no jokes).
    To give it context: your BASIC broadband package is a 1GB international cap 385kbs which you'll pay R400/m for (incl line rental). For a 4GB cap (1-4MB line), you pretty much need to be to rich or be a business.

    Don't take my word for it; look in for yourselves what we pay for broadband.
    This stunt isnt about speed or taking HDDs by plane, its about creating awareness of business struggling against a single broadband monopoly while the rest of the world is working with municipal wifi, public networks and complain when they're capped.

    There is no broadband competition here against Telkom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ..., 11 Sep 2009 @ 5:00am

    Does it beat a

    Station Wagon full of floppies

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Chris, 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:33am

      Re: Does it beat a

      The quote is:

      Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway. —Tanenbaum, Andrew S. (1996). Computer Networks. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. pp. 83. ISBN 0-13-349945-6.

      although:

      The original version of this quotation came much earlier; the very first problem in Tanenbaum's 1981 textbook Computer Networks asks the student to calculate the throughput of a St. Bernard carrying floppy disks (which are said to hold 250 kilobytes of data).

      So I can see the confusion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    EnricoSuarve, 11 Sep 2009 @ 5:01am

    Meaningful?

    Maybe not, but fekkin' ace? - totally

    This could catch on - we'd need a new storage stat though to go along with the present lot - grams/Mb.

    The white hat in me feels compelled to point out that in testing however Pidgeon1.0 is vulnerable to a denial of service attack from Kestral2.5 - you might want to include some packet encrytion and some sort of host intrusion prevention on your network, possibly Shotgun2008.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    senshikaze (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 5:06am

    IPoAC

    For me it wasn't so much the stunt (isn't there a saying that goes "you can't beat the bandwidth of a truck full of harddrives"?), but the sheer humor of it. Everyone knows that a well trained pigeon can fly to a destination without much problem, and everyone also knows that this kind of transfer is only good for in house stuff, it wouldn't help with internet or anything. It is just funny that someone actually did it. I have heard about this kind of thing since I started in IT and I just find it funny in the Dilbert kind of way. Not really useful, but funny. Hell, I use a sneakernet all the time at work. Cloning machines is much faster if you have the harddrive physically hooked up instead of an image on a server.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    haiku, 11 Sep 2009 @ 6:00am

    Pigeon mail

    I never thought that I would ever do this, but in their defense Telkom pointed out that they were not the company involved's ISP, that alternative solutions had been mooted but rejected by the company involved etc etc.

    I was also pleased to see that Telkom do have an occasional sense of humor, hidden though it may be.

    The last paragraph of their statement (courtesy mybroadband.co.za) reads:

    "Finally, it has not escaped Telkom’s attention that this entire episode has generated much excitement and interest, but the Company emphatically denies that we are currently considering placing this means of data transfer in our product catalogue and wholesaling it. However, Telkom is glad that, finally, we are able to welcome “real” competition in the telecommunications industry and, as a Company, we are confident that the above-mentioned points of clarification will certainly set the cat among the pigeons."

    BTW, the use pigeons is of course not new: see RFC1149 [using CPIP] for details

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Moron in a Hurry, 11 Sep 2009 @ 6:19am

    Useful?

    Was it useful in determining data about the service provider? No.

    Useful to raise attention, and even give people a good chuckle? Yes.

    Value obtained.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    rick berlin (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:19am

    Pigeonet

    I can't wait for this new-fangled high speed birdband internet to be available out here where I can't get cable internet.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    chris (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:34am

    yeah, but what about latency?

    being able to move 4 gigs one way in less than a day is great. i have done similar things with DLT's and fedex when the situation has called for it.

    i have been seeding a DVD ISOs of wikipedia on bittorrent for people in places like africa to hand carry to remote villages.

    the problem with sneakernets is latency. being able to move gigs fast is only one part of the equation. the amount of time it takes to do something with those gigs and respond is also an issue. if your data is lost/damaged in transit, it might take while to determine that and request a retransmit.

    speaking of sneakernets, i have had great success trading 1TB usb hard drives with friends. that's pretty much the best way to move huge amounts of stuff, rips of several DVD boxsets.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Josh (profile), 11 Sep 2009 @ 9:01am

      Re: yeah, but what about latency?

      This is it exactly.

      Bandwidth =/= latency.

      Despite being slow, there are significant advantages to an always-on connection that handles a small amount of data constantly.

      If you had the choice between connecting up to your city's water system, or instead building a water tank and having a truck come by to fill it once a month, which would you choose?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yakko Warner, 11 Sep 2009 @ 7:59am

    Faster than the U.S.

    Just to drive home the point, I saw a forum post where someone crunched the numbers and determined the bandwidth of the pigeon-net to be around 4½ Mbps, which is better than the estimated average broadband speed for a US customer. (Even if the numbers weren't quite accurate, all you'd have to do is use a bigger memory stick and you'd get there.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    dev, 11 Sep 2009 @ 8:17am

    one word

    latency

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ben, 11 Sep 2009 @ 9:48am

    Not Meaningless, the uninformed will only see that a pigeon beat a DSL line. The rest is in fact irrelevant. A lot of people have little actual comprehension of the size of bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes or gigabytes. To them, and this is a huge part of your customer base, a pigeon beat a DSL line.

    Now, IDK if this was a advertisement stunt, but that also is irrelevant, this will cause people to switch. It would be the same with any other product, in which exact circumstances being met caused undesirable problems of mass proportion, despite how stupid that test may seem to those in the know. The end result being that those not in the know shy away from that product, failing to realize the unlikelihood or the fact that "they're rather meaningless."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    James, 12 Sep 2009 @ 6:20pm

    You're just jealous

    that you didn't think of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 12 Sep 2009 @ 10:15pm

    You need "meaning" in everything?

    OK... here it is: it's funny!

    Just enjoy it for what it is--a good chuckle.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Louis, 13 Sep 2009 @ 5:07pm

    That was so slow

    Let the pigeon beat this, the record for file transfer of 25.6 TB a sec. http://www.gizmowatch.com/entry/world-record-for-fastest-data-transfer-set-at-256tb-per-second/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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