What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

What The Hell Is IPv6?

IPv4 exhaustion
The Red Line Shows Remaining Available Internet Addresses

So did you enjoy World IPv6 Day?

All right, there’s a fairly large chance that you have no freaking idea what I’m talking about. To put it as briefly as possible, the Internet is running out of addresses. The old system (IPv4) could only handle four billion of them. And as every computer, phone, tablet and other device connected to the Internet needs one, we were going to break the four billion mark sometime very soon. So, much like when your local telephone system adds an extra digit to its numbers to make room for new subscribers, the Internet is making its addresses longer. The new system is called IPv6.

We do not talk about IPv5.

But adding one digit to a phone number lets you create only ten times as many. The switch to IPv6 is more expansive than that. Seriously more. It will allow for 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 times as many Internet addresses as now. This is what mathematicians call a “silly number”.

As an end-user you’re not going to notice any difference. The process started years ago, and will take more years to complete. Yesterday’s “World IPv6 Day” was more or less a publicity stunt organised by some of the Net’s bigger names, Google and Facebook among them, to alert the industry to the necessity of upgrading. IPv6 was tested on a bigger scale than ever before and, well if you’re reading this then I guess nothing broke too badly.

So, a good thing then. We needed more addresses for the Internet to keep on expanding. But… this many? It will mean we could all have a few trillion to call our own. My toes can have a Skype account each. You could Internet-enable every leaf on every tree. It’s hard to imagine how you could ever use that many.

And there may be a downside to that. More anon!

Little Boxen

A USB flash drive in the shape of a piece of i...
I'm Starting To Hallucinate

Sitting in a late pub, torn between throwing up my hands in despair at those damn computers, and going back and coddling them all like sick hens. They really are depressing. Aside from some of them being basically made of string and spit, they have been the unfortunate victims of good ideas.

Naturally in a net café you want to keep the computers safe from the customers and whatever crap they might download or bring in on their dirty little flash drives. Someone had a scheme here, to totally lock down these computers. Good? Unfortunately, they’re locked to Windows Updates, to new software, to antivirus that can still  get updates… You can’t change anything as a user and you can’t log on as an administrator, even in Safe Mode. These computers are frozen in the past.

There are supposed to be Norton Ghost images to restore them from, but so far every one I’ve tried has this anti-change software on it, so they’re just frozen further in the past. It’s like whoever did this job last decided to set a fiendish puzzle to those who came after. Normally I’d relish such a challenge, but this café does need to start making money some time.

Your Phone Can Replace Your PC

Tux, the Linux penguin
The Penguin Cometh

My big tech news: I have a desktop computer on my phone now.

It’s running Linux, the free alternative to Windows or Mac. With it I can edit Word documents and spreadsheets, create PDFs, do Photoshop-class image editing. The screen is pretty tiny for that kind of thing of course, but it’s doable. In essence, I don’t need a computer anymore. It even runs Firefox. Not the new mobile version you can get for Android, but the full-scale desktop one.

Oh, and it still makes phone calls.

I’d tell you more, but I’ve been messing with this stuff half the night and I take on an even bigger project tomorrow. More of both these things anon.

Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet…

The woman in my life is asleep beside me. She’s had a long day. First working all Saturday until late, then a bus journey of three hours. To see me. I feel privileged; spoiled even.

It’s been a very full day. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to write much. Later I hope to fill you in on the further travails of the Very Sick Computer. Also, I have an announcement to make: I know which is the best phone.

Hint: It probably isn’t what you think is the best phone. But I hope to write a guide to help you choose the right one for your needs and desires.

Good night

Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet…

The woman in my life is asleep beside me. She’s had a long day. First working all Saturday until late, then a bus journey of three hours. To see me. I feel privileged; spoiled even.

It’s been a very full day. I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to write much. Later I hope to fill you in on the further travails of the Very Sick Computer. Also, I have an announcement to make: I know which is the best phone.

Hint: It probably isn’t what you think is the best phone. But I hope to write a guide to help you choose the right one for your needs and desires.

Good night

The Cookie Monster

Cookie CartoonLook at this, this is cool! The classic arcade game Defender, but miniaturised to the 16-pixel square of the page’s favicon (the little logo that appears in your browser’s address bar and bookmarks). You can actually play it.

Of course, you may fairly ask what is the point of playing an old video game in a space about one ninth the size of a postage stamp. But I don’t care, it’s a wonderfully clever bit of Web programming.

Speaking of which, do cookies worry you? The browser ones I mean. Perhaps they should. They were innocent things to start with, just a simple file that a website you visit is allowed to leave on your computer. Yet that can be extremely useful, allowing sites to recognise you when you visit again and log you in automatically.

But then, they can be abused… Suppose you visit a site that has an advert on it. The ad will normally be served from a whole other computer, belonging to the advertising service. And that computer gets to leave a cookie too.

Think what happens next – you go to a lot of sites, you see a lot of ads. But many of these will actually come from the same source, and when that computer reads the cookies it put on your computer earlier, it has a record of other places you’ve been.

A picture can then be built up of your movements across the web, and even used to serve adverts tailored to your particular interests. Or predilections. You might see that as a boon and a convenience, but others may find it uncomfortably intrusive. Especially if they share a computer with family or colleagues.

I’m in two minds about this. After all nothing you do on the Web is really private anyway, so making a fuss about cookies is like complaining that the gorilla on your chest has dandruff. And yet I don’t much care to look at adverts in the first place, so I like the idea of them watching me back even less. I routinely block all cookies, making exceptions only for the sites I visit regularly. This is easy enough with Firefox, using an add-on like Cookie Monster. Call me paranoid, but I’ll get upset if you do.

And it seems the European Commission agrees with me. An e-privacy directive will mandate that sites will only be able to track you with your explicit permission. Is it going to work though? Some argue it will make browsing irritating, with sites continuously popping up messages saying things like “Can I track you please? There are many benefits!” But in the competitive world of the Web, I doubt that users will put up with such nonsense.

So I think it will work. The real danger perhaps is that the ban will give people an illusion of privacy. It means no such thing. If you want real privacy on the Internet, use a proxy.

The Last Paper Column

This will read a little strangely. It’s unedited from the version as it appears in the paper.

Alas This is Fake
The Paper Gives Me A Decent Send-Off

This is the last Micro Cosmopolitan in the City Tribune. I’m leaving the paper. After sixteen years – can you believe it? So much has changed over that time. Why back then there was a Fine Gael/Labour government.

I’m going to miss it badly; in particular, being able to say “I write for a paper”. There was something grand about that. But the world is changing, rapidly. Instead of being a columnist, I’ll be a blogger. Instead of it appearing once a week it will be several times a day. Instead of writing on Wednesday for you to read on Friday, it’ll be instant comment on events as they happen. There will be cartoons too, and you’ll be able to have your own say.

I gave you the address before, but now there’s a new and much shorter one – “I doubt it”. Simply type I.doubt.it and you go straight there. Neat, no? Just dots between the words, no W’s or nothin’. And if you don’t like going to websites you can receive it by email for free. Those of you without computers may find that you can read it perfectly well on your phone.

Otherwise though, you’re stuck. This is the sad fact about the way things are going. You won’t have to buy a daily paper, but you’ll need a machine. In the time I’ve been at the Tribune, the publishing industry has changed out of all recognition. I am fortunate perhaps to have started back when we were still something you might recognise as a “classic” newspaper. I actually brought my column in on a piece of paper, held in my fist. Someone had to type it out again. That almost seems crazy now.

1995 wasn’t quite back in the age of typewriters though. The paper had Macs, and I had a primitive sort of word processor you would point and laugh at now. There was just no way these two computers could communicate with each other. Two years later, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, I started e-mailing my stories. I soon had a computer of my own, and though I couldn’t yet afford an Internet connection – and certainly, not a Mac – I was bringing my stories in on floppy disk. And now… Well, we’ve cut out the paper altogether.

I mean, the whole newspaper.

The business is going through a crisis. On one hand it’s being squeezed by new media; I get a large proportion of my news from blogs, from upstart online-only papers, even from Twitter. Now it’s the papers that can’t afford to buy Macs. The oldest mass medium can and will adapt, they have the core skills that are essential for gathering and recounting the news. But they have to find new ways to make it pay, and they need to do that now – right in the middle of the worst recession since the war.

You support those skills when you read the print version of the Tribune, so I hope you will continue to get it – even without me. And do tell all your friends who stopped buying it while I was here.

http://I.doubt.it – Think of me whenever you hear a politician speak.

Love and out,

Richard Chapman

Untangling The Cables

Enough about the government for a while. Time to catch up on the gizmo fun we’ve been missing.

When I heard that the new MacBooks sported a connector called Thunderbolt I admit I was mystified. Sure, it’s said to be twice as fast as USB3 (only just out itself), but twice as fast was not enough. I knew that Intel had a fiber-optic connector called Light Peak in the works. In future, computers were going to be linked by light, not by the same old copper wires that have been with us since the days of the telegraph. It wasn’t like Apple to be going down a technological cul-de-sac.

It turns out of course that Thunderbolt is Light Peak – but in a transitional copper-wire form. If things go according to plan, it will be upgraded in the future to fiber-optic versions. We’ll see. For the moment though, it does 10 Gigabits per second. That may not be light speed, but it is roughly twenty times faster than USB2. Fast enough to, say, transfer a HD feature film in 30 seconds, or enough MP3 files to play non-stop for one year in just ten minutes. So, it’s a start. And though it’s being launched in cooperation with Apple, it should soon be everywhere.

But the really interesting thing about Thunderbolt is that it isn’t just for the usual things you’d connect up by USB – printers, hard drives, scanners and so on. It can also be used for external displays. So in the near future, the same cable could be used for just about every device a computer can connect to.

On top of that, it also carries power – like USB does, only more so. It’s capable of providing 10 Watts. That means many devices that now need external power supplies such as printers or routers, and even some displays, will be able to get it over the connection to the computer instead, cutting down greatly on cable clutter.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? 10 Watts is sufficient to charge some quite potent devices. The iPad requires a 10 Watt charger, funnily enough… Charge your iPad by plugging it into your MacBook.

So you can imagine Apple very soon building a device with just a single socket – used for charging, printers, displays, everything. A single port, a single cable; it can’t really get much more simple than that.

Untangling The Cables

Enough about the government for a while. Time to catch up on the gizmo fun we’ve been missing.

When I heard that the new MacBooks sported a connector called Thunderbolt I admit I was mystified. Sure, it’s said to be twice as fast as USB3 (only just out itself), but twice as fast was not enough. I knew that Intel had a fiber-optic connector called Light Peak in the works. In future, computers were going to be linked by light, not by the same old copper wires that have been with us since the days of the telegraph. It wasn’t like Apple to be going down a technological cul-de-sac.

It turns out of course that Thunderbolt is Light Peak – but in a transitional copper-wire form. If things go according to plan, it will be upgraded in the future to fiber-optic versions. We’ll see. For the moment though, it does 10 Gigabits per second. That may not be light speed, but it is roughly twenty times faster than USB2. Fast enough to, say, transfer a HD feature film in 30 seconds, or enough MP3 files to play non-stop for one year in just ten minutes. So, it’s a start. And though it’s being launched in cooperation with Apple, it should soon be everywhere.

But the really interesting thing about Thunderbolt is that it isn’t just for the usual things you’d connect up by USB – printers, hard drives, scanners and so on. It can also be used for external displays. So in the near future, the same cable could be used for just about every device a computer can connect to.

On top of that, it also carries power – like USB does, only more so. It’s capable of providing 10 Watts. That means many devices that now need external power supplies such as printers or routers, and even some displays, will be able to get it over the connection to the computer instead, cutting down greatly on cable clutter.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? 10 Watts is sufficient to charge some quite potent devices. The iPad requires a 10 Watt charger, funnily enough… Charge your iPad by plugging it into your MacBook.

So you can imagine Apple very soon building a device with just a single socket – used for charging, printers, displays, everything. A single port, a single cable; it can’t really get much more simple than that.