Connection Lost (viii)

 The internet made every computer-screen a portal into, not another world, but the world entire. Now the portal was closed, the world was gone, and Alan was just a guy sitting in the dark.

He didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t know if anything even was… he didn’t want to think about it. All he knew was that, sooner or later, he was going to have to walk home.

Unless he wanted to call a cab. Which he couldn’t do, because his cell phone had no signal.

Alan pulled on his hoodie, packed away his laptop, and left the office. He cut over to Mass Ave and pointed himself north. It was the dead of night. Nothing was open, the streets were near empty and the sidewalks deserted. Late night in Cambridge might as well be midafternoon on Ganymede.

As the night air brushed his face and his footfalls made steady rhythm Alan allowed himself to think about what he’d seen. By the time he’d made it to Central Square he’d gotten his thoughts in some kind of order. Not that it helped him much. But then, he didn’t know very much.

It was either a real outage, or else it was just reporting error. In the latter case there were about a thousand things that could have caused it; which one or ones were the culprits didn’t really much matter; they would get fixed, and quickly too. If it was an actual net crash, the scale was still in question: it could either be singular (just him), very small (just MIT, or even one of its sub-nets), localized (Cambridge), regional (Boston), or… bigger.

Alan checked his phone. Still no signal. No 4G, which meant no satellite. Also no wireless internet. Actually it got plenty of wireless – there were live routers all over Cambridge, he’d walked through the signal radii of hundreds since leaving campus – but however strong the signal, once Alan connected he couldn’t get an IP address. The Blinkenlights were on, but nobody was home.

That meant that the outage wasn’t limited to him. It had to be at least as large as Cambridge, and then too it had to stretch across multiple ISPs. But it might just be that. Internet blackouts happened all the time: network maintenance, severe storms, some neckbeard spills his Mountain Dew on his keyboard, or some billion-dollar computron tries to divide by zero.

None of that explained the cascade of failure he’d seen, stretching from West Coast to East. There has to be some other explanation! Relativistic delay of ping from the failing Boston trunk, maybe. Digital information only moved as fast as the speed of light, and in practice not nearly that fast. This didn’t make a lot of sense, but it was a nice way to-

But that didn’t explain why his cell phone was dead.

Alan stopped in his tracks, just astride the first gate of Harvard Yard. Satellites aren’t on the same grid as regular broadband. Satellites don’t go down. They sure don’t do it at the same time as landlines. They just don’t.

Alan started walking again. Then, in fact, he rather began to run.


~ by davekov on 4 November 2011.

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