Dependency Posted on November 8, 2021November 12, 2021 by Professor Shannon | 15 Comments from xkcd Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window) Posted in Ideas, Technology and tagged Digital Infrastructure, xkcd.
While I was looking for an article to do for the weekly blog posts I was surprised to run into what was just a simple graphic. The image is a structure of what looks like a bunch of stones of different sizes and shapes that are stacked on top of each other with the top being the more extravagant structures of stones labeled “All Modern Digital Infrastructure.” While at the base of the stacked stones is a smaller stack to the left and then a single vertical stone holding up the entire structure labeled “A Project Some Random Person in Nebraska has Been Thanklessly Maintaining Since 2003”. I would like to discuss what I think this image is meant to convey. There was a random person in Nebraska in 2003 who created something that would jump-start what would become modern digital infrastructure. Little do people know people like Bill Gates are the most genius people in the world, which could be true, there is some random person who started companies that wouldn’t be a thing if it wasn’t for a random person who invented the technology that would change everything. I think this is something that happens all too often. People are not getting the credit that they deserve, and people who are high up are taking the credit for these great inventions. All of this is something that we don’t even think about most of the time, we just assume that Apple and Microsoft created everything that would be modern infrastructure today. Even though all of that is false, and there is someone who actually started up those companies and he/she doesn’t even know. I find it very cool that such a complicated thought can be put into such a simple cartoon. The carton displays very well that if it wasn’t for that random person, then the entire modern digital infrastructure wouldn’t be a thing, it would just tumble to the ground.
I’ve been following XKCD for a long time, since about 2012, and his content is never short of hilarious. If you visit his website, you can actually see an additional set of words/caption by hovering over the image. https://xkcd.com/2347/
Regardless, the image is obviously some sort of satire on modern digital infrastructure. In general, digital infrastructure can be represented by this sort of strange stacked diagram, as there are many systems that are needed to run the more sophisticated higher systems. Looking at a very handy website known as explainXKCD (https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/2347:_Dependency), we can see that the above illustration is a joke on the heartbleed bug. Essentially, the “cryptographic software library” OpenSSL is a library that is the most widely used SSL and TLS protocols in the world. About two-thirds of all web servers use OpenSSL. The worst part is that it is effectively only maintained by a few volunteers. Two of them, to be exact. The issue arises because of the difficulty of maintaining libraries. It is incredibly difficult to do without extensive insider knowledge concerning the numerous functions, operations, and uses of the library, which in turn makes it very difficult to maintain for long periods of time. If the maintainers of OpenSSL were to abandon the project, which they likely will have to eventually, it could spell a huge amount of trouble for, well, the modern digital infrastructure. It could quite literally collapse, as the only thing protecting us and people using software that itself uses OpenSSL from the heartbleed bug is updated versions of OpenSSL. Without it, hackers could quite easily be able to access passwords, content on computers, identify service providers and tap into the traffic, steal data, and tap into communications. Unless large service providers, and again, two-thirds of all webservers, do not switch to other libraries, we might be in a great deal of trouble once the volunteers of OpenSSL stop working on the project.
When first looking at this illustration, I naturally thought of the game Jenga. While playing the block-stacking game, the concept of balance is crucial to success and the importance of a strong, well-supported foundation is equally relevant. This cartoon is a visual representation of how higher levels are so dependent on the lower levels. By removing the single skinny rectangular block from the base “A project some random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining since 2003,” the entire structure would fall. The anonymous person used in this theoretical example is applicable to many situations, like the Heartbleed bug issue in 2014. In this particular situation, a large portion of the internet was susceptible to attack due to a bug in OpenSSL. OpenSSL, for some context, is a software library that is responsible for various security purposes – such as internet eavesdropping or the need to identify the party on the other end, and other encryption capabilities. OpenSSL is widely used by Internet services, and is therefore responsible for the digital safety of millions of people. Behind this program were two men named Steve Marquess and Stephen Henson, two grossly underfunded and overworked volunteers. Marquees was a liaison between Henson and the government, and Henson was responsible for the conservation of the OpenSSL code. These two men singlehandedly had the responsibility of monitoring the safety of millions of internet users. Long story short, these two virtually unknown individuals are the equivalent of the tiny rectangle in the image above. Without them, the structure would lose its standing ability – yet they have little to no recognition from the public eye.
I think this illustration primarily serves as a reminder of how fragile our system is and the important role that every little block along the way plays – especially the ones at the “bottom”. We often neglect giving the people behind the scenes sufficient credit, but it’s important that we start recognizing their significance. While the OpenSSL situation is just one example, it goes to show how easily this metaphorical block tower can crumble. Every block in the stack is dependent on one another in order to maintain its integrity.
This post piqued my interest because of how it is basically up for interpretation after you understand the example. The picture describes how modern digital infrastructure is possible through an unknown person who accomplished a small but important project. Without his/her efforts, none of the work above it would be possible. The illustration represents the balance and power each block holds in regards to the modern digital infrastructure. This reminds me of how important electricity is. When you look at how much technology we use nowadays, it’s incredible how far we have come since its discovery. There were many scientists who found electricity and first utilized it. Scientists such as Alexander Lodygin, Schuler wheeler, Harley Hubbell, R.G. LeTourneau, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, and more. https://www.universetoday.com/82402/who-discovered-electricity/
Since their time, technology has evolved remarkably. We now use it for basically everything. We use it for the toaster, lights, all domestic appliances, and more. Electricity is not only used for energy. Through electricity, computers were invented. Computers became more complex and intelligent. Eventually software was made as an interface. https://www.computerhistory.org/timeline/ . Video games like pong were invented https://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200810/physicshistory.cfm . Computers continually progressed to get smaller and faster. Then in 2007, the Iphone was released. The iphone would combine the computer, camera and phone all at once.https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/steve-jobs-debuts-the-iphone . Everything has progressed incredibly fast since the computer was made. The evolution of our technology is continuously progressing. And to think it all started with electricity.
The discovery of electricity relates to the picture because it would eventually revolutionize humankind. Just like the project some random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining, it is an integral block that carries all the discoveries and inventions after it.
It is incredibly interesting to trace back what current items/technology/infrastructure used as inspiration/built off of during their creation; it is similar to an ancestry tree in the sense that all creations have utilized previous creations when being invented. The image is interesting in the way it portrays how there is an intense amount of modern digital infrastructure being held up by a miniscule block. This block is given a title suggesting that its creation was not highly funded, there was not a huge operation behind it, etc., yet it holds so much responsibility in being the inspiration for many creations that will surpass it in stature and importance. It really goes to show how much of an impact anyone can have on the future, even if their contribution may not be the biggest. As time passes, it will be interesting to see if we hit a point where the small, supporting block cannot bare the responsibility of supporting everything anymore, or if the past is set in stone, without the ability to stop supporting current and future creations.
Looking at this image, I can already picture building blocks which leads me to think of the game Jenga. The image is a reflection of modern society and how one person’s idea can set off a chain of innovation and the expansion of said individuals’ ideas. When I look at this, I automatically think of people like Bill Gates with Microsoft Word or Elon Musk with all of his contributions. These were ordinary people who simply had an idea and implemented it, then their contribution to modern society set off a chain of events, which led them to be the face of technology and information. It reminds me of the game Jenga because you remove one piece and the whole thing comes tumbling down. I believe that’s the message the image is trying to portray because the “random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining since 2003” block is very thin and without it the “modern digital infrastructure” would be unbalanced and therefore would fall down. What is really interesting about the image is the foundation blocks that are holding the entire thing together. It makes me wonder whether it is just the foundations of civilization or if it was ideas that were uncredited and the random guy in Nebraska just simply got lucky.
A fact that frequently flies under the radar today is exactly how long the internet has been around. To many, the internet is considered a new thing. Its often referred to as one of the 21st centuries greatest invention. However, the internet’s origins predate the 90s making it a 20th century invention. Things like the first search engine and webpages are all products of the early 1990s. A way to rephrase this belief and make it correct is by saying that the modern internet is a product of the 21st century. Before the early 2000s, the internet was very basic and slow. It was more convenient to not use it at all in some instances. The same can be said about it in the early 2000s but development really started to begin during this time. A lot of the things that we see as staples to the internet came from this time period. The image that I am referring to shows a tower which is labeled as “All Modern Digital Infrastructure”. The tower is made up of a lot of small parts, all off shooting into their own smaller towers. One side of the tower is being completely supported by a small piece of block. This block is labeled as “A project some random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining in 2003.” The image is supposed to be comical by at the same time it’s showing this ideology of how the internet’s modernization started in the early 2000s. A lot of the basic things that we take for granted about today’s internet stems from this era. Modern webpages, convenient search engines, and even staples of the platform like Youtube and Facebook, all from between 2000 and 2010. No matter how much the internet develops, traces from this era going to be around. The internet has become a money-making machine. Something that brings in money to a platform is its accessibility and convivence. Why change something that is known to be successful, in this case I’m referring to the classic internet template. Overall, despite its simplicity, this image does an excellent job at portraying its message
There is nothing that scares me more than how dependent I am on the internet. My parent held off from getting me a cell phone until my 13th birthday, and before that point in my life, the internet was not really a factor in my life. I knew how to use it. However, I did not have all my subscriptions, banking statements, social life, and private information in a small piece of machinery covered by a thin layer of plexiglass. However, after I was gifted my first smartphone, I can slowly recall my entire life becoming more and more pixelated. As of now, pretty much my entire livelihood can be accessed through my smartphone and my computer. Now that this is the case, I think that I must make an effort to comprehend how thin the fabric of the information superhighway really is. According to CNN, “Today, there are around 380 underwater cables in operation around the world, spanning a length of over 1.2 million kilometers… Underwater cables are the invisible force driving the modern internet”. This reality really relays the image strongly into my mind to where I can relate the message strongly in my own head. While there may not actually be one guy in Nebraska thanklessly maintaining one program since 2003 that carries the entire up and running of the internet. However, we must acknowledge that our internet bears the weight of our entire livelihood, could easily be compromised by a hostile force. It would take much more than a good torpedo or a very high-powered laser to take out one or some of the underwater cables that power the internet. While it would take an extremely reckless and malicious country or group to orchestrate an attack like that on our world, we have to acknowledge that there are quite a few of those that meet those criteria. Meanwhile, we have large companies plus our world governments that are fully dependent on the internet that a lot of the population believes to have total control of all modern infrastructure. These entities have built massive empires of wealth and control over the general public using the internet as a tool to do so. These entities could have all of the modern infrastructures of the world ripped right out from underneath them if they do not take the proper steps to protect themselves, not only in cyberspace but under the sea too.
Upon first look at this image, I couldn’t help but notice the word digital on the side. When we see digital things such as the image that is displayed, we usually see precision when it comes to the shapes and lengths of lines and all of the things that put the image together but in this image it doesn’t look as well put together as one would think a computer can assemble things. Some objects look as if they would fall if they were real objects in physical space. This specifically reminds me of what is happening now with Facebook as CEO Mark Zuckerberg is planning to change the app to Meta, which will be a digital world where people can even own properties that are worth currencies and some economists claim that this will only lead to growth in cryptocurrency.
Even sing the word infrastructure next to digital is a little wacky because that is more of a physical concept than a digital one. The image automatically also reminds me of digital games like Minecraft or Fortnite which are phenomenon amongst the youth of the world. Would the structures in those games be related to this image or ae those separate and independent in their own way. One can’t even argue that maybe these digital platforms that produce games or what motivated Mark Zuckerberg to create his new renovation of what we know as Facebook into something that is more inclusive and honestly has financial benefits to it as well.
When they say a picture speaks a thousand words, this picture is a perfect representation of that. I was looking for an article that went along with this picture but when I didn’t see one, I decided to not go to a different article, but to try and speak about this one to the best of my abilities. When I look at this picture, what I see is all the behind the scenes of this world. How much really goes on with a countless amount of people for the picture shown to the world to happen. Take Tesla and Elon Musk for example. He stands on stage, presenting a new car or idea like it had just come to him out of nowhere, but in reality behind what we see, he is working 100+ hours every week, talking with a team of people to come up with just one aspect of a car. Then doing it all over again just to come up with another aspect the next month until the very end when they have a finished product to present. We don’t see any of that, we don’t hear much about space-x other than when it does something historical, but the amount of hours put in to make that historical event is mind blowing. That is what I think of when I see this picture, all the work that is put in behind the scenes so the final product looks seamless.
While looking through articles to describe for a weekly blog posting, I find a picture that could tell more of a story than any article that could’ve been posted. This simple picture describes our modern society and is worth one thousand words. One simple idea by a common man could lead to a huge idea for a company. The words digital and infrastructure throw me off while looking at the title though. When thinking about things being digital you picture a smartphone or computer and never end up thinking about a piece of infrastructure shown in the photo. The reality of this modern society is that all things whether infrastructure or a common iPhone all have become digital one way or another. The picture and this title show that the random project by the person in Nebraska being enhanced digitally with modern technology.
This is the most interesting blog post I have seen all semester. It is not an article but rather, a simple picture. I really like the change in medium from the other blog posts. However, despite me really admiring this change, I have to admit that I was trying to avoid responding to this post. I had been thinking about what exactly this graphic means for the last few weeks. Now, after thinking about the image more, I have an answer as to what it could mean.
In the image, there is a big grand structure of stones. The way they are built reminds me of a castle and could symbolize royalty or prestige. Above this big structure reads, “All Modern Digital Infrastructure.” Digital infrastructure refers to the technology based systems that we as humans use and cherish everyday. This big grand structure is held up by one little stone. By the stone the image reads, “A project some random person in Nebraska has been thanklessly maintaining since 2003.”
Despite the limited words in the picture, this image is very telling. What the message behind this graphic is saying is that people see and use the technology that is made accessible to us. However, they do not appreciate or do the research to see how exactly everything was made available to them. Another interpretation could be that people appreciate these companies that provide these services more than the origins of how the technology was developed. Regardless of which two one might believe, I think the messaging is important.
People should not only learn how to be more grateful about how these things were made available to them but should also do the research to see how these things were developed. People should think about how much they use digital platforms such as Google to help them complete work. In addition, people should also look to give credit to originators as much as they give credit to those who have helped advance these systems.
Overall, I am glad this was posted to your blog site professor. Sometimes, I am not grateful enough for the technology accessible to me or do not give thanks to those who deserve it. I think that is something that we as a generation should strive to improve upon. I think this is something more people in my age group should see to think about.
Even though it appears very simple and easy to develop, there are many interpretations and meanings to this image. At first glance, I immediately thought of a pyramid. Particularly, a socioeconomic pyramid. As we can see in this image, there are some stones at the top that are the most prominent and according to the image they represent ¨All current digital infrastructure¨, and there are other larger ones at the bottom that may not look so striking and represent the common people. Platforms and creators of digital infrastructure make up the stones that are seen above. These are the ones that inevitably get recognized and praised. And then there are the stones at the bottom. Those are all of us, ordinary people who strive to lift higher the stones above our heads. While we may not be the stones that get all the applause and that everyone can see, we are the most important. If any one of us falls or disappears, the whole structure of stones falls, the pyramid collapses. Thanks to the increasing number of people joining the digital world, the infrastructure of the digital world is growing every day. I can assure you that there are 99% of people on earth today who use technology and all the digital infrastructure available. Being part of this digital world is as simple as using a mobile phone for something or using a WiFi network. Due to the facilities and benefits of this, every day we go deeper into this digital world to the point where we live more in the digital world than the real one. As a result of what we achieve in the digital world, we are looking for ways to survive in the real world. This is the pyramid, a world where the majority works so that a few can gain economic and social status.
To the naked eye this image would be meaningless; just a bunch of blocks stacked on top of each other with few words. But what this image is representing is how the idea of one person can fuel an entire industry in the future without them even knowing. In the picture all of the other blocks are being held stable by the lone block on the right, depicting how without that one block all of the others would not be able to stand. In the case of the image it is representing how a project started by one person in Nebraska is the reason for all modern digital infrastructure, but this idea that all great innovations can be traced back to one person can be related to any modern day item. And without the idea and dedication to make it a reality, we wouldn’t have some necessities which we use throughout everyday life. Take for example Steve Jobs and the iPhone. According to Brian Merchant, author of “The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone” Steve Jobs meant for the iPhone to just be another cellphone. We can see today that iPhones are anything but just a cellphone. They has high-tech cameras, can scan your face to unlock and you can even see the location of someone else through their iPhone. This correlates perfectly with the picture above. What this shows is even Steve Jobs himself couldn’t fathom what the iPhone would be in 10 plus years. When someone comes up with a new invention, they have zero clue what their invention can be capable of in the future. Just like the guy in Nebraska who doesn’t get any recognition for his invention: he wouldn’t even think that what he created in 2003 would become our future in 2023.
Personally, this graphic is very interesting to me because it represents how a community, a society, or even a family sometimes puts too much pressure or depends too heavily on one person or one group of people. While analyzing this graphic, what initially stood out to me was the phrasing to describe the pieces of the tower. At the top of the tower, the phrase reads, “All Modern Digital Infrastructure”, which to me represents essentially what we see on a daily basis. Next, what I see towards the bottom right section of the image is another phrase that reads, “A Project Some Random Person in Nebraska Has Been Thanklessly Maintaining Since 2003”. This phrase is being pointed at the small singular block that seems to be holding one half of the weight of the tower, as the other side is more supported.
As one can imagine, there could be endless meanings to this image as well as being able to apply this picture to countless concepts, but these are some of the messages that I took away from this image:
– First, it can be applied to the nation as a whole. The first thing that came to mind were farmers across the country. As there are approximately 330 million people in the United States, the amount of food and materials that must be grown to sustain the population must be an astronomical amount.
– Second, this can also be applied to our country’s discriminatory history. The United States, although one of most developed countries on Earth, started from very discriminatory beginnings. Most of the infrastructure we see today was built and maintained by several minority groups that were marginalized against for hundreds of years. Some of these groups include Native Americans, African-Americans, and Italian Americans. As we progressively analyze history, these, to my knowledge and research, were three groups that had taken the brunt of building the important infrastructure that we see and still in come cases use today. In some instances, we can still see some “easter eggs” that the past generations have left for us and that they wanted us to know who built it. Furthermore, in some buildings there are small marks or incisions in grounds, walls, or doors to let you know who built it.
All in all, as I said before, I feel as if there are countless examples, meanings, and times in history where this picture is an accurate representation of how things were executed.