Spoiled Rotten

We’re spoiled rotten.

We walk into air-conditioned homes, flick on a light switch, pull a cold imported beer out of the refrigerator, and call a pal on the mobile phone while we turn on the satellite-fed TV.

Everyday life in America.

When I began working for big telecom companies, I also began to realize that networks were the Eighth Wonder of the World. Consider this: dialing a few digits on a regular telephone can get you connected to another telephone in, say, Kathmandu Nepal with zero human intervention.

Networks like this were never designed. Alexander Graham Bell never took a map of the world and designed the international telephone network. No one designed the national power grid. No one designed the global packet-switching network. It was all built a piece at a time, connected by engineers basically jury-rigging connections between independent subnetworks with differing standards. And it all works better than 99% of the time.

Astonishing.

City Journal recently published an article by John Robb that is simply a must-read. A few excerpts to entice you…

Most of the networks that we rely on for city life—communications, electricity, transportation, water—are overused, interdependent, and extremely complex. They developed organically as what scholars in the emerging field of network science call “scale-free networks,” which contain large hubs with a plethora of connections to smaller and more isolated local clusters. Such networks are economically efficient and resistant to random failure—but they are also extremely vulnerable to intentional disruptions

Further, the networks of our global superinfrastructure are tightly “coupled”—so tightly interconnected, that is, that any change in one has a nearly instantaneous effect on the others. Attacking one network is like knocking over the first domino in a series: it leads to cascades of failure through a variety of connected networks, faster than human managers can respond….

The fragility of network management is a WMD. That’s why the Chinese are working very hard on “satellite-killer” technology, because satellites are nodes. That’s why the Islamoterrorists attack the Baghdad electrical nodes and repair crews. That’s why the Religion of PeaceTM targeted the economic root node of America, New York city. That’s why the Madrid attack targeted a train transfer station, a transportation node.

Attack the nodes, kill the networks. Kill the networks, destroy the ability of the infidels to respond. If Osama bin Laden isn’t smeared all over the wall of a cave in Tora Bora, he understands this very well. He’s an engineer.

The best defense against a terror attack isn’t duct tape. But it could well be a propane-fed 25 kW generator and a full 1000 gallon underground tank.

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