Category Archives: howitworks

Looking Back at Week 3

I enjoyed week 3 the most out of all of the weeks so far. Steven did a great job leading the class into battle against HTML and CSS. My memory/knowledge on the subject was refreshed, while I also happened to learn a few things. The idea for week 3 was solid as a rock, and I felt it gave people a great look into the world of computers.

#tic104: How it Works Guide

How it Works Guide

The Internet Course, which I can’t stop writing about :), continues to blow me away in thought and deed. This post will focus on a deed done dirt cheap! Last week the course focused on the topic “How it Works,” and the idea was that all seven students focus on succinctly and clearly describing how the various technologies that make up the itnernet work. And that’s what they did to great effect, and major kudos are due to auditor (that’s right, auditor!) Steven Hartzell for running week three so seamlessly. [How many classes are there in which an auditor runs the course for a week? None, that's how many.]

Steven came into week 3 with a clear plan, he broke down how it works into six categories: hardware, protocols, languages, data, networks, and ISPs. We brainstormed what might fall under each category—you can read more about the process and brainstorming here—and after some discussion we came up with one more category: software. Each student took one category and based on the brainstorming went off to research their work and popualte the wiki page for week 3 with what they found. We spent much of Tuesday discussing what they found, vetting the sources, and generally deciding on an agreed upon format.

By Wednesday all the research was basically done and Steven kicked in part 2of his plan: the class would code their own resource page in HTML and style it with CSS. Learn how it works by creating it, baby! He guided us through a tutorial on how to write HTML, use a local editor, uploading .html pages and media to public_html through the file manager on cPanel (did I mention how much I love Domain of One’s Own for making this dead simple?), exploring relative links, and generally playing with HTML. It was awesome, the entire class was actively learning how it works, and it was all business because it was directly related to the project at hand. Everyone was required to code the information for the topic they did their research on.

On Thursday we reviewed each person’s HTML page to make sure they were working properly. After that, we dug into CSS (which blew me away because I didn’t think we could get that far). Steven asked the simple question, “How do we want out site to look?” We talked about inline styles, internal stylesheets, external stylesheets, the revoltuion of cascading stylesheets for design, and more. It was a fun discussion, and by the end of two hours everyone created their own local stylesheets thanks to Steven’s guidance, at the same time they all agreed on a very minimalist, yet effective, design for their collection of old gold HTML pages discussing how the internet works.

Steven took up the rear with collecting everyone’s HTML pages via email, and then making sure the pages linked, the styles were consistent, and the links were realtive and posted it on his site. After that he sent me all the HTML pages, and I uploaded them to a subdirectory  on the course site and they all work perfectly. Check out their “How It Works” guide custom-made in HTML and CSS lcoally in Fredericskburg, Virginia :) Did I mention Steven was an auditor? How awesome is he? NOBODY!!!

How It Works

wp_ss_20140608_0001[1]Last week’s “How It Works” project was pretty interesting. I learned some interesting tidbits concerning different types of software. For instance, I didn’t even know Apache was a thing, nor that the majority of servers use it. I also liked that we used HTML. I’ve used HTML before, but my experience has mainly been with editing already existing documents, or using it to organize new articles or reviews into paragraphs. I’ve never built a web page from scratch using HTML. It was a neat experience. Learning about CSS was also helpful. I might have some use for these new skills in the future.

How does the Internet Course Work? Awesomely!

Image of black board of brainstorming how the itnernet works.

Image of black board of brainstorming how the itnernet works. Click on image for larger version.

Today’s class was awesome. The summer edition of the Internet Course is proving pretty epic, and this morning was a good example as to why. Last Friday we decided we were going to create a site to try and explain how the internet works in as clearly and plainly as possible—inspired by the explainlikeimfive (ELI5) Reddit (thanks to James Dawson for the suggestion!).

E is for explain. This is for concepts you’d like to understand better; not for simple one word answers, walkthroughs, or personal problems.

LI5 means friendly, simplified and layman-accessible explanations, not for responses aimed at literal five year olds (which can be patronizing).

With that idea in mind, this week’s director, Steven Hartzell, came out of the gate running. He broke down the internet into six categories to explain: hardware, protocols, languages, data, networks, and ISPs. The separation of data into its own category was interesting to me, and I think it worked. ISPs as its own was less compelling, but at the same time I think the categories themselves made everyone start to think and discuss how the internet works. We came up with one more category: software.

Steven had us brainstorm the various examples for each category we would want to have explained, that list is recorded in the image above, as well as the wiki page for “how it works.” Each category has 4-5 topics that have to then be explained in as simple a fashion as possible. Each student volunteered, or was assigned, a category and by tomorrow they need to find and link to as many specific sources that explain how each topic works in the wiki under their category. The creation of a resource explaining as many as 30 technical topics to total beginners should be done by Wednesday. By Thursday, they’ll each have to code their section in HTML and post it to their server, another lesson in how the internet works Steven came up with :) I like it!

It could be argued that such technical content as how the internet works would demand the use of a good textbook, or at least predefined content that I choose and present in as boring and alienating a process as possible :) The Internet Course says no to the tyranny of content as infrastructure. The web is infrastructure and “educational” content (at least the stuff branded as such) is just one small piece of it. I’m finding that the creation of that content with students is far more useful as a residue of what’s been learned in terms of the course, than text as the defining tool through which we learn.

How Internet Infrastructure Works.


This article is about the infrastructure that is involved with getting the internet up and running. Every computer that is connected to the Internet is part of a network. People can connect to the internet through ISPs or internet service providers. When you connect to your ISP, you become part of their network. The ISP may then connect to a larger network and become part of their network. The Internet is simply a network of networks. Most large communications companies have their own dedicated areas (backbone) known as a Point of Presence (POP). The POP is a place for local users to access the company’s network, often through a local phone number or dedicated line. However, there is no controlling network, there are several high-level networks connecting to each other through Network Access Points or NAPs. The Internet is a collection of huge corporate networks that agree to all intercommunicate with each other at the NAPs. In this way, every computer on the Internet connects to every other. All of these networks rely on NAPs, backbones, and routers to talk to each other. Routers determine where to send information from one computer to another. They are specialized computers that send your messages and those of every other Internet user. A router has two jobs: It ensures that information doesn’t go where it’s not needed, and it makes sure that information does make it to the intended destination. The National Science Foundation (NSF) created the first high-speed backbone in 1987. Called NSFNET, it was a T1 line that connected 170 smaller networks together and operated at 1.544 Mbps (million bits per second). IBM, MCI and Merit worked with NSF to create the backbone and developed a T3 (45 Mbps) backbone the following year. Backbones are typically fiber optic trunk lines. Backbones help relay data along at high speeds. The internet relies on all of these parts to function properly.


What is an IP Address?


This article is predominately about what an IP Address is and how it works. An Internet Protocol address (IP address) is a numerical label assigned to each device participating in a network that uses Internet Protocol to communication. The IP address has two purposes: host/network interface identification and location addressing. Internet Protocol addresses are assigned to a host either at the time of boot, or permanently by a fixed configuration of its hardware/software. Constant configuration is also known as a static IP address. So, when the computer’s IP address is assigned newly each time, this is known as using a dynamic IP address. Static IP addresses are manually assigned to a computer by an administrator. However, IP addresses are mostly assigned dynamically on LANs and broadband networks by the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). They are often used because it avoids the administrative task of assigning specific static addresses to each device on a network.

How Domain Name Servers Work

In today’s day and age, anyone who goes on a website goes through a DNS, or a Domain Name System. This is the technology that allows us to go from a domain name to an IP addresss. The authors compare the Domain Name System to a GPS system for the internet. They give lots of great examples to explain how DNS works. For instance, the process is similar to that of dialing a phone number to get connected with the person we are trying to reach. On a cell phone, we don’t have to keep our own record of telephone numbers, but rather just click the name and the phone takes us to the number we are trying to reach. When we type in a certain web site, due to DNS, the IP address to that web site is found through a DNS server, which is essentially a big domain name IP address database. The process is called DNS name resolution. Just like a dialing the number on a phone, we are able to get to a web site by typing in the actual IP address right away, but domain names are much more practical and easier to remember. The authors explain how your computer knows what DNS server to use and dive deeper into the complex process of dns name resolution. How Domain Name Servers Work

Domain Name System


Andrew Blum: Discover the Physical Side of the Internet

What is the internet? Where is it really?   Andrew Blum is a best selling author, who went on a two year journey to explore the physical infrastructure of the internet. In his book, Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet, he states, “I have confirmed with my own eyes that the Internet is many things, in many places. But one thing it most certainly is, nearly everywhere, is, in fact, a series of tubes. There are tubes beneath the ocean that connect London and New York. Tubes that connect Google and Facebook. There are buildings filled with tubes, and hundreds of thousands of miles of roads and railroad tracks, beside which lie buried tubes. Everything you do online travels through a tube.” His journey started when a little squirrel bit his Ethernet cable and killed his internet connection. From that day, he ventured into a two year journey documenting giant data centers, yellow fiber optic jumper cables, switches, routers, and even underwater cables. This video gives a better understanding of what actually goes in into making this network of network possible. 

Andrew Blum: Discover the Physical Side of the Internet


Understanding the Internet: TCP/IP, The Internet, Intranets and Extranets

Chapter one , from a book called Understanding the Internet: A Clear Guide to Internet Technologies by Keith Sutherland, talks about some of the things that make the internet work. The author explained TCP/IP, intranets and extranets. He explained that the TCP/IP stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol. Communication between computers on a network is accomplished through this protocol called TCP/IP. It creates the rules for how data is passed through the internet. I found it interesting to learn about the architecture of the TCP/IP. It has a 4 layer system: application layer (email, FTP, the web), Transport layer (TCP), Internet Layer (IP), and Network Layer (ethernet). The author elaborates on how everything works.

Additionally, the author goes to talk about the intranet and the extranet. The intranet is a private, internal network that uses TCP/IP for its own internal use. Extranets is simply an intranet that has internet connection, but with added security of an intranet network. The chapter has great illustrations to aid in understanding the concepts.

TCP/IP, The Internet, Intranets and Extranets