Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Wordy Wednesday - Bandwidth

You may have seen this story over the weekend. An IT firm in South Africa was experiencing problems with transferring large amounts of data over the internet between two of their offices, 50 miles apart. They decided to put the data onto a flash card and send it by carrier pigeon, and at the same time try and send the data electronically. By the time the pigeon got to its destination, they'd only downloaded 4% of the information via their ISP, which uses signals travelling at the speed of light.

Apparently South Africa suffers from a lack of bandwidth. This is, of course, a term that comes from radio communications. Although people talk about broadcasting on a particular frequency, depending on what that is, and on the information rate, a certain amount of space either side of that frequency is also used up in that broadcast, and this is referred to as bandwidth. Or something. I'm not fully up on all the gory details.

Because it's do with information rates, your radio station needs more bandwidth than someone sending Morse Code, and your TV station needs a lot more than either of them.

Faster Than the Speed of Light

Although they only sent 4GB an hour via this pigeon (forgetting about the time it took to load the data onto the card), they could presumably have sent 256GB just as easily - you can get 256GB cards that aren't very big these days. So the pigeon could have been sending data at the rate of 2 million Megabits/second. Compared with, say, the 1.5 Megabits that I get at home.

Someone has even worked out a way of using carrier pigeons to sent regular internet (IP) traffic. It's called IPOAC (IP over Avian Carriers), and is RFC 1149. All internet standards are documented in RFCs. This one was written for April Fool's day 1990, but it has apparently been implemented by some students.

Of course, the main problem with using pigeons is latency. They might transport a lot of data fast, but the round trip that takes your google search to California and back would be even slower than the South African internet. And not much faster than mailing them.

I've been rather busy this week, and tired in the evenings, but I have continued my rather painful piano playing by attempting to play the Maple Leaf Rag. Like that IT firm, I'm going at a fraction of the proper speed and still making mistakes. I found someone on youtube who does it much better. As I've said before, I love these videos that people make and send in, instead of just ripped-off copies of professional videos.

Please Note: This video doesn't work very well by carrier pigeon.

23 comments:

Jean Knee said...

I always suspected pigeons were superior to the computer

at least in some things

I used to have a pet pigeon. It lived in our old house and when the present owners left and we bought the house it wouldn't go with them. All was great until Drew stopped feeding it- then it hit the road pretty quickly.

I'm pretty sure this works with most living things--even pesty girl friends

Chris Wood said...

Technical first, as nobody else claimed it!

(gloats hideously until looks dangerously disturbed)

I always store my data on pigeons. It's the only way. BTW Brian, that's a well researched article. Good stuff!

Jean Knee said...

oh yeah, FIRST!!!

Bee said...

I'd set up a little shop at the corner of Armitage and Western in Chicago were I would sell pigeons and make a bundle because they're everywhere in Chicago. Not in the suburbs though that's weird. We do have those weird non pelican things though. I can't remember what they're called. Uh uh uh uh still thinking hmmmm I just asked Andy and he said they're sea gulls but he can't tell me why we have sea gulls in the suburbs since we don't have a sea. I don't know.

Bee said...

Andy just said that it's probably because of the lake but the lake is far. I don't know.

Bee said...

Andy says pigeons are rats with wongs and are full of diseases.

Bee said...

Uh, I meant *wings* but they may have wongs. I don't kow.

Bee said...

I rhink I shoudl go to bed now.

Bee said...

::sigh::
*think* *should*

Bee said...

Ha ha ah! I was just scrolling the comments page up and down and my picture looks funny in a row like that!

Jean Knee said...

Uh, Brian

If Bee sent you any emails do not open, delete asap

Jean Knee said...

the non pelican things might be egrets

Brian o vretanos said...

Jean Knee:

Pigeons are better at flying, diving and crapping.

Chris:

Cheers!

Bee:

What was that Andy laced your Nyquil with???

Jean Knee:

I deleted all of them on receipt.

Wasn't there a Frank Sinatra song about that? "Egrets, I've had a few..."

Jean Knee said...

yeah, I remember that song. I didn't know Frank was an avian connoisseur

Brian o vretanos said...

Frank was an early avian pioneer. He described his experiences in his hit song "Come Fly With Me"

Kat said...

Sorry if my comment only reaches you today. My pigeon was too tired for a channel crossing. Thus the slow delivery.

Brian o vretanos said...

Kat:

You're a genius! I thought that the "cheque's in the post" style excuses were unusuable in the Electronic Age, but you've given me new hope.

In gratitude, I've sent you a large sum of money via electronic fund transfer. It won't be my fault if you don't receive it, but I bet it's some kind of shooting season somewhere between here and Germany ;-)

Kat said...

Electronic fund transfer huh? I won't get my hopes up.

Chris said...

Our speeds are slow here I am pretty sure a pigeon could load your page faster. *sigh*

Brian o vretanos said...

Chris:

That's a pity. Still, things can only improve...

Anndi said...

Bee, pigeons are HAD by Wongs, but mostly in Chinatown.

Brian, my gran used to play that on the piano. She was the pianist for several radio programs and musical reviews. But I don't think they used pigeons, we're Canadian... we used beavers. At least nothing froze when you tried to download it, on account of all their heavy warm fur. (I know, a stretch... but at least I'm here... late... um...)

Jean Knee said...

warming up to be first

Brian o vretanos said...

Anndi,

I love the idea of IP over beavers, though routing might be a problem, depending on the terrain.

Jean Knee:

I've just got in from work, so I'm afraid you'll have to keep warming up for a little longer...