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Post World Communication: Their Fragility
Created by Ronald Hilton on 10/02/99 9:34 AM

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World Communication: Their Fragility (Ronald Hilton, USA, 10/02/99 9:34 am)


     Much has been made of the Y2K threat to international communications. There are, however, constant, more prosaic threats. In 1996 the WAIS conference on "War Crimes and War Criminals" was interrupted when one evening a rat bit a cable and plunged the Stanford campus into utter darkness.
     A few weeks ago, WAIS transmissions were blacked out when PG and E equipment digging on the campus cut a cable. Every morning I start my work at 3 a.m. to catch the excellent SCOLA news broadcasts from around the world. On weekends when the engineers are not on the job, they often are blacked out because of some technical glitch.
     Presumably because of my loud complaints, Cable Coop began boasting that it had started a 24 hour a day answering service. This morning all the stations are off the air. I called Cable Coop to register a complaint. It turned out that the woman answering the phone was not even in this area. It was just an answering service located probably in Timbuktoo (sorry; it is now spelled Tombouctou).
     I suspect that the cause may be the backhoe of an Ohio gas company, which cut a major communications cable, reducing the whole system to chaos. Operators of digging equipment are supposed to check with utilities people before digging, but clearly they don't. This is plain stupidity and carelessness.
     Meanwhile, we are told of the great technical advances being made. I have one report which begins:
     Cambridge University demonstrated light-speed switching, wireless broadband networks, and an intelligent multimedia network at its Communication Explosion event. University researchers developed light-speed switching through the use of a re-configurable refractive element that directs light from fiber to fiber. The switching system is not protocol dependent.
     This is beyond me. Will it solve the hunger of rats and the stupidity of backhoe operators?


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