Why the Internet was Created?
The year was 1958. I was a radar maintenance technician stationed on a remote radar site in Southern Japan on a mountain top called Suburiyama. We were part of a United States Air Force radar network called AC & W (Aircraft Control and Early Warning). Our mission was to search for Soviet aircraft entering our airspace and scramble fighters jets to intercept the enemies aircraft. It was part of the Cold War strategy.
The radome atop Mt. Suburiyama
F86D Fighter used in Cold War
AUTOVON Telephone, 1958
My first encounter with the embryonic seeds of the Internet was with a system called AUTOVON (Automatic Voice Network). We used it to send our secret code of the day and status to other radar sites in our network. The dialing worked on a technology that was called DTMF (Dual Tone Multi-Frequency). When one of the buttons was pressed, it would generate two frequencies. The four red keys were used to establish a priority based on importance and authority. The keys were labeled:
- FO Flash Override
- F Flash
- I Immediate
- P Priority
Today, it is called touch tone dialing. At that time, civilians were still using rotary dials on their phones.
It wasn't until decades later when I worked for Toshiba Information Systems, Telecommunications Systems as an online course developer that I learned that touch tone dialing was really the AUTOVON system. When you press any key, you hear the tones. Those tones are the generation of two frequencies, that tell the telephone systems, which buttons you are pressing. Those four red buttons (frequencies) on AUTOVON are still used today, but you can't see them. They are used to generate Caller ID and Call Waiting, and other codes that are used to communicate with the telephone system.
Ethernet then and now
My next encounter with the Internet was in 1985. I had just formed my own technical writing consulting company. I had received a contract from Cal Comp. Cal Comp designed and built plotters for all types of applications. The contract I was working on was for a system for the U.S. Geological Survey.
A PC was mounted to the side of the plotter and the PC was to communicate over a system called the "Internet." I had no idea what that was, so I asked some engineers. they said it was a network of about 85 users (the total population of the Internet at that time) that were connected via a digital network so that the academic and scientific community could communicate with each other. It used Ethernet, which had cables the size of a garden hose running all over the lab floor. Ethernet has been standardized and reduced in size and has become the LAN cables that we connect between routers and a PC. The protocol that was used was called TCP/IP (Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) which is still used today. When I asked the engineers what that was , they pointed me to a stack of specifications that were so big they could sink a battleship!
What does a Rolodex File have to do with the Internet?
When I first started consulting, I was using the first Macintosh computers. A programming language came with it called Hypertext. It was a high level language that allowed writing programs that were linked. It worked like a Rolodex file where you could go forward and backward from page to page or jump to a page. I remember seeing the illustration of the Rolodex file in the Macintosh user's manual. Does that concept sound familiar? It is how the browsers of today work and how our links work.
The language it uses is HTML (Hypertext Markup Language). My first encounter with this type of language was with a word processing program called Word Star. It used a coding system to format page text so that what you see is what you get on the screen. (WYSIWYG). It was very much like today's HTML coding.
Packet Switching, Routers, and Browsers
My next encounter with the Internet, was in 1990 when I worked for Sony Trans Com. We developed in-flight entertainment systems for airlines. One day we were told that we would be using the World Wide Web for research and it used a browser called Netscape.
It was later I found out, that the World Wide Web and the Internet was really a marriage of the United States Military and the world's scientific community. Starting back in the days of the cold war, the U.S. military wanted a way of sustained communications in the event of a nuclear attack. It started with ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) that was funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). They came up with a method of breaking up information into small packets and routing it to the destination where the packets would be re-assembled into the original information.
Let's say you are going to mail a letter. Instead of putting the letter into an envelope and mailing it, you first sliced the letter into many pieces and sent each piece via a separate car for each piece. Each car would be free to take any route it wanted because of congestion or blockage on the freeway (nuclear attack). When each envelope arrived at the destination, the letter would be re-assembled in the proper order. That is the basis of packet switching and routers that were developed from the technology of the 50's and are still used today.
CERN and the World Wide Web
The World Wide Web was developed by CERN (European Organization of Nuclear Research,) so that scientific agencies world wide could share information with an easy to use system. This system was to be compatible with different computer platforms that were used by the various agencies around the world. It used a language called Hypertext, where pages where linked backward and forward, like a Rolodex file and a browser called Netscape. Sound familiar?
When these two technologies were merged in the 90's, the result was the Internet that we know today. I feel privileged to have grown up and evolved with the early development of digital Internet technology.
This is also a testament as to how diverse cultures and technologies can create something bigger than the separate parts and how the department of defense can leverage technology to be used by the military as well as the civilian population.
This is also how CERN was able to isolate the God Particle. But that's for another article. Thanks for dropping by. I hope you have enjoyed my journey with the Internet technology.