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The Contrast Between Two Philosophies

By Charles Miller

In an earlier column I drew a comparison between the industry standards required for Internet communications versus the construction codes enforced by building inspectors. Both the information technology industry and the building industry have their “bibles” that define minimum standards, and they differ radically in their philosophy. The approach usually taken by the Fire Marshal to their code is one of “zero tolerance” because they know that any variance from the code could kill someone. By contrast, the approach taken by those who defined the standards for the Internet was a best effort approach in which they accepted from the beginning that not all traffic was going to go through, and a certain amount of death and dying was to be expected. The contrast between these two philosophies has had a dramatic and sometimes deleterious effect on everyone using the Internet.

As I recounted earlier, the engineers who in the 1960s wrote the first Internet communications protocols realized early on that perfection was simply not something they could achieve. They realized that if all network traffic had to be perfect, the network that eventually became the Internet could never function. Accepting this, they designed their communications protocols to make a “best effort” to deliver connections, yet to simply give up if a connection could not be completed in a timely manner. This approach was and still is the only way to make the Internet work, but I believe it is ultimately responsible for many problems that Internet users experience.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has provided exacting standards for how computer cabling should be installed and how wireless routers should be configured. Electricians and consumers have learned that no matter how badly they install cables, a network will often still function. Wireless routers may come in a box emblazoned with “configures automatically,” but notice: that does not say anything about configuring itself correctly. In fact, most consumers who use a wireless router out of the box are using the router with the wrong configuration. The truth is that no matter how sloppily Ethernet cables are installed and no matter how badly misconfigured a wireless router may be, oftentimes they still work … sort of. Remember that the Internet protocols were designed from the beginning to be fault-tolerant, and thus bad cabling or incorrect router configurations will not always cause the connection to fail completely.

Understand that the nature of the Internet is that when your data transits the Wide Area Network (WAN) that is the Internet, some of your data packets are going to be lost out there in the Internet. You cannot control that, but you do have some control over the packet loss occurring in your Local Area Network (LAN). Faulty wiring or a misconfigured home router in your house is something you can fix in order to improve the reliability of your Internet connection.

Before blaming Telmex, Megacable or your computer for being “so slow,” you should have a qualified technician examine your home network.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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