Life in the Fast Lane

No more dirt roads to the Internet for me. Comcast came out and hooked up a DOCSIS 3.0 modem (it’s a Motorola) this morning, speeding up my downloads to 53 Mb/s per Speedtest.net and jacking up the upload to a bit over 4 Mb/s. Both of these numbers are about double what I had before with the Blast! service that’s advertised at 16/2. I had the dude put the modem in the living room to get my router closer to the center of the house in order to improve my Wi-Fi coverage, which only took a splitter off the TiVo’s feed. The old modem remains installed for phone service, but its MAC address has been removed from the DHCP authorization list. It turns out the backup battery had been installed incorrectly in the old modem, so he fixed that. The only incident that turned up in the install was the discovery that my TiVo HD is feeding back a noticeable voltage from the cable connection, which can apparently cause bad things to happen to the DOCSIS connection. He installed a voltage blocker off some kind to keep that at bay, but I’ll have to complain to TiVo about that feature.

As I had to go to the office as soon as the installation was completed, I haven’t had time to play with my privileged fast lane service, but I did enough to notice a fairly dramatic difference even in ordinary activities like reading e-mail. I use an IMAP server on the host that handles bennett.com, and its location in Florida tends to make for sluggish response when deleting mail or simply scanning a folder. It’s so fast now it’s like a local service. (People who use the more popular POP3 e-mail protocol won’t understand this, so don’t worry about it – when you delete an e-mail it’s a local copy, but mine is on the network.)

So the main effect of this super-fat Internet pipe is to make network services and content as readily accessible as local services and content. Which is a very wonderful thing for a couple of reasons: accessing content and services from the various machines I have connected to the Internet from home involves maintenance and security hassles that aren’t always worthwhile, so it’s convenient to outsource data to a system in the cloud that’s secure, well maintained, and backed up. It’s very easy to do that now, all the way around. And for the data that I still access locally, such as media files and the like, an off-site backup will be very painless.

One of the next exercises is going to be media streaming from my server in Florida to my TV in California, after I’ve got all my data encrypted and backed up. At this point, I’ve got three devices at home connected to the Internet that are something other than general-purpose computers: a TiVo, a Blu-Ray player that also does Netflix streaming, and a Blackberry that does goes to the web via 802.11a/g Wi-Fi. At any given time, I’ve got two to four general-purpose computers on the ‘net as well (more if we count virtual machines,) so it’s clear that the balance is turning in the direction of the special-purpose machines. This is what makes Zittrain sad, but it shouldn’t. It’s in the nature of general-purpose systems not to require much multiplication; one that’s fast but stationary and another that’s lighter and mobile and one more that’s super light and ultra-mobile is about all you’ll ever need. But special purpose machines multiply like rabbits, as more and more purposes are discovered for networked devices.

So the future is obviously going to embrace more specialized (“sterile tethered appliance”) machines than general purpose machines; that’s a given. The “Future of the Internet” question is actually whether the general-purpose machines also become more powerful and capable of doing more things than they do now. In other words, don’t just count machines, count functions and applications. The failure to understand this issue is Zittrain’s fundamental error. (Gee, the fast Internet made me smarter already.)

Attaching a controller/monitor to my aquarium that I can access across the Internet is the next exercise, and after that some security cameras and an outdoor Wi-Fi access point. It never ends.

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