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It's funny.  Laugh. Books Media Book Reviews

Review:The Story about Ping 71

Posted by Hemos
from the it-all-makes-sense-now dept.
Doc Technical, one of our highly trained book reviewers, has submitted for us Marjorie Flack, Kurt Wiese's book The Story about Ping. A rare technical manual, this is one of the few computer books in the field in which the illustrator is as important as the author. To truly understand the glories of Ping, click below to read more. Yes, we know it's on Amazon. They stole it from us. Or Doc provided it to them.
The Story About Ping
author Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
pages 32
publisher Viking Press
rating 9
reviewer Doc Technical
ISBN
summary New perspectives on a classic networking
Using deft allegory, the authors have provided an insightful and intuitive explanation of one of Unix's most venerable networking utilities. Even more stunning is that they were clearly working with a very early beta of the program, as their book first appeared in 1933, years (decades!) before the operating system and network infrastructure were finalized.

The book describes networking in terms even a child could understand, choosing to anthropomorphize the underlying packet structure. The ping packet is described as a duck, who, with other packets (more ducks), spends a certain period of time on the host machine (the wise-eyed boat). At the same time each day (I suspect this is scheduled under cron), the little packets (ducks) exit the host (boat) by way of a bridge (a bridge). From the bridge, the packets travel onto the internet (here embodied by the Yangtze River).

The title character -- er, packet, is called Ping. Ping meanders around the river before being received by another host (another boat). He spends a brief time on the other boat, but eventually returns to his original host machine (the wise-eyed boat) somewhat the worse for wear.

The book avoids many of the cliches one might expect. For example, with a story set on a river, the authors might have sunk to using that tired old plot device: the flood ping. The authors deftly avoid this.

Who Should Buy This Book

If you need a good, high-level overview of the ping utility, this is the book. I can't recommend it for most managers, as the technical aspects may be too overwhelming and the basic concepts too daunting.

Problems With This Book

As good as it is, The Story About Ping is not without its faults. There is no index, and though the ping(8) man pages cover the command line options well enough, some review of them seems to be in order. Likewise, in a book solely about Ping, I would have expected a more detailed overview of the ICMP packet structure.

But even with these problems, The Story About Ping has earned a place on my bookshelf, right between Stevens' Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, and my dog-eared copy of Dante's seminal work on MS Windows, Inferno. Who can read that passage on the Windows API ("Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous, So that by fixing on its depths my sight -- Nothing whatever I discerned therein."), without shaking their head with deep understanding. But I digress.

For my next review, I will discuss the internals of several well-known routing protocols as described in the Old Testament. New contemporary evidence points to the possibility that Job was a sysadmin on an early MULTICS system.

Buy this book over here and Slashdot gets a little money. It'll buy Rob and I 0.5 beer.

Doc Technical is not a real doctor, nor does he play one on TV. Hell, Doc Technical could never even fit on a TV. Well, maybe a bigscreen.

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Review:The Story about Ping

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  • I remember hearing that story, too (though I can't vouch for the "original TCP/IP guru" part). FWIW, I think he was using either a NeXT or a Sun in the version I heard, and the sound played was a sample of the person's voice, saying "ping."

    Read it in a magazine some time in the 1980s, I guess (how's that for rigorous references?). The incident I'm thinking of could have been a copycat of the one you're thinking of, mind you...

  • Maybe you should read "Lord of the Token Rings", it has some startling insights. ;)
  • I keep a script around for doing exactly that, because a couple of my network segments have chronic problems... when they start getting flaky, I start the script up and wander around wiggling connectors until I hear the "ping!".

    #!/bin/sh

    while [ true ]; do
    echo -n "ping"
    ping $1 -c 1 | grep "1 packets received" > /dev/null
    if [ $? = 0 ]; then
    echo " PING!"
    wavplay ding.wav > /dev/null
    else
    echo ""
    fi
    done

  • by cduffy (652)
    Wow -- I never knew my mother, a kindergarten teacher, was teaching her students valuable high-tech skills!

    If we could just convince them to continue such education...
  • Posted by korto:

    it will be a colector's item in about 30 years...
    it's a sure investment...:\
  • by EricRCH (728)
    You really made my morning!

    e.
  • In genisis Abraham is told to go on a journey, but he isn't told how to get where he is going, or why. Just a Get thee to Cannon. Obviously a foreshaddow of Layered packets where the content is of no importance, and while the destination is generally known, routers in between decide how where you will go next. Moses took the Children of Iseral on a similear journey, but he was hampered by the fact that like a true man he refused to ask the routers direction, and wanderd 40 years before he died, and his successor promptly asked which(1) direction and arrived.


    Jumping forward a bit, we find King david who finger(1) anouther man's wife, and eventially got her with a child process. This (remembering the cultural differences of those days) made it nessicary for him to kill(1) the other man(1). He accomplished this via a different person, obviously a foreshadowing of distributed processing.


    There is of course more to be found in this wonderful book or prophcies, but now that I've wet your appitie perhaps you want to read it yourself.

  • In genisis Abraham is told to go on a journey, but he isn't told how to get where he is going, or why. Just a Get thee to Cannon. Obviously a foreshaddow of Layered packets where the content is of no importance, and while the destination is generally known, routers in between decide how where you will go next. Moses took the Children of Iseral on a similear journey, but he was hampered by the fact that like a true man he refused to ask the routers direction, and wanderd 40 years before he died, and his successor promptly asked which(1) direction and arrived.

    Jumping forward a bit, we find King david who finger(1) anouther man's wife, and eventially got her with a child process. This (remembering the cultural differences of those days) made it nessicary for him to kill(1) the other man(1). He accomplished this via a different person, obviously a foreshadowing of distributed processing.

    There is of course more to be found in this wonderful book or prophcies, but now that I've wet your appitie perhaps you want to read it yourself.

  • Maybe I'll write a review about Moses and the Exodus (obviously a forshadow of streaming media)...
  • I remember reading that book as a child. Obviously I was destined for computer greatness even then :)

    What about those other great technical manuals, Jack and the Device Tree and Goldilocks and the Three BSD's?
  • Sorry, no more Price Checks from me. If Slashdot ever does turn into a Big Bad Business (please, no) then I'll start again. But as it seems to be they're genuinely scratching around for the next few (thousand) dollars to keep this thing going, then I'm not going to interfere any more with one of their few meagre revenue sources.

    Rob, Hemos, does Slashdot's commission deal also work with Amazon.co.uk too? I could maybe use that more than the US version?

    Regards, Ralph.
  • I agree. Proper grammar seems to be an odiously underappreciated art in this day. All you need to do is look at the use of "irony" (even in respectable publications) and you'll shudder with horror.
  • Someone hod too much free time. =)
    David E. Weekly (dew)
  • by Shag (3737)
    I actually read that book as a child. When I was 8 years old, my parents bought me some Pekin ducks for my birthday. (Not to be confused with Peking ducks, which is what they are *after* you cook them.) I named the first one Ping. The second one I named Pong, even though at that age I had no concept of video games. They also bought me a part-Mallard drake I named Paddle. But anyway. 'Tis a good book indeed.
  • by Puff (3954)
    You know, it may sound strange, but I once read that Lucent accually stands for "Lucifer Enterprises". Scary, eh?
  • Wouldn't you think that Dante's inferno would be about Lucent's Inferno? After all, same name.

    Gordon
  • Am I the only one that actually
    thought this was a real book
    for any decent period of time?

    It wasn't until I tried the
    Amazon link that I found it
    was a children's book.

    I suppose after the fake
    JWZ death post, it would
    have been more obvious
    that this was tongue in
    cheek.
  • Oh I found it funny in retrospect,
    but it was much more funny that I
    read the whole review believing that
    some Unix nerds of the 60s wrote
    a book about ping
  • It warms my heart to see top-quality children's technical literature reviewed in a place like /. Now we need a good review of adult literature like Waiting for Godot - the story of the Windows 2000 development project...
  • Reminds me of Granddaddy's old early data transport manual "Waiting for Baudot"
  • It's Monday, I have a headache, and now /. is playing mind games with me. I thought this was for real until I started reading the comments... guess that's a good one one me.

    Keep up the good work, "Doc Technical" - just not on a Monday, OK?
    ________________________
  • Yes, at the company I worked for (one of the "Big Four" networking vendors) we actually had this in the center of our lab for reference! (Way to go, Pat!)

    And now, as far as I know, it's at another big networking company (I forget the name; I think it starts with '3'). Hey Willie, you still got it?

    An absolute 'must read'. Thrilling drama. It taught me a lot when I was starting out.

    Have a great day, everyone.
  • I actually had this book when I was a child!!!

    (Clearly, it was subtle impressioning which would lead me towards Unix in the future.)
  • This reminds me of my first textbook on recursion, "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" by that master of modern technical writing Dr. Seuss. It's sitting on my office bookshelf, right next to Sipser's "Introduction to the Theory of Computation".
  • Great review. I remember this book from when I was a child...I think I still have it somewhere. Little did I know that it would continue to be a useful professional reference.

    VMole.
  • I remember that book! I read it when I was kindergarten student! Hmm.. No wonder I turned out the way I did.

    Can someone tell me what the ring around Ping's neck to prevent Ping from swallowing whole fish meant in the metaphor? :p
  • Zoopomorphize (pronounced zoh-oh-pomorphize).
    That covers all animalae.

    I suppose you could say avepomorphize, and just go to the birds.

    And I for one am shocked (SHOCKED, I SAY!) at the appalling lack of knowledge concerning classical languages evidenced by /. posters.

    Carpe Aptenodytes (sieze the penguins)!
  • I think you mean a quackwhore.

    Sorry.
  • Somehow this screams for a computer networking episode of Sesame Street. Any CTW people lurking here? :)
  • You should be ashamed of yourself... Do you know how embarassing it is to be seen shooting orange juice out your nose? I do now.
  • The boat captain of the wise-eyed boat, Captain Torvalds wanting to see if his friend Captain Stallman was on the river, creates a duck out of mid-air. He tags the duck with a collar around his neck with Stallmans name and then sets the duck on the river. The duck almost immediately materializes on each and every boat on the river (or at least up to any locks).

    On each boat, the boat's captain sees his copy of the duck and looks at its collar. Now the boat captains on this river are all bloodthirsty. All boat captains who don't recognize the duck, immediately kill it.

    If Captain Stallman is on that section of the river, and he sees the duck with the collar with his name on it, he accepts the duck with a big hug. He feeds the duck, then retags it with Captain Torvalds name and puts the duck back on the river.

    The duck once again mysteriously shows up on everyone's boat. Where in we get another bloodbath of ducks being killed. Captain Torvalds sees however that his duck has returned. He is happy to know his friend Captain Stallman is on the river. He then kills the duck anyway, knowing it has served its purpose.

    Now if Captain Stallman and Captain Torvalds are on two different sections of rivers separated by a lock, the lockmaster will help out and transport the duck between the two sections of river, but he never bothers to feed the duck. Just like on the first river section, the duck multiplies on each boat (and other locks). More blood is spilled. Other locks will let the duck pass, but after awhile, if the duck can't find Captain Stallman, the duck dies of starvation.

    The end.

    :-P

  • Obviously, the ring represents the maximum packet size, showing that Ping must not consume TOO much bandwidth...

  • nah, Inferno is an allegory the OSI layers. Literary circles debate endlessly about the two extra levels, though...
  • I'd like to see a see a sequel to this book where Ping has little ducklings and it explains how traceroute works. :-)
  • Doesn't he have some trademark for technical manuals with animals on the cover?

    Oh, this was written in 1933? That shouldn't matter! I'm sure the patent office wouldn't view it as prior art.
  • ...actually Doc Technical has a dictionary chip surgically implanted.

    More succinctly, what we have here is perhaps best described as meta-anthropomorphism, where networking concepts are metaphorically described in terms of animals, who themselves are given anthropomorphic characteristics.

    Thanks for attempting to clarify Doc Technical's use of the english language, unless your actual intent was to make him look stupid.

    In that latter case, Doc Technical can but say, bite me.

    Doc Technical

    "Practice random acts of intelligence & senseless acts of self-control."

  • There's another story about a duck.

    It's about a duck who pinged a lot: he pinged all the way to Antartica. Obviously he was called the pinging duck. Later he was called 'pinging' and eventually just 'pinguin'.

    And we all know what happened to this pinguin during the 1990's.
  • I'm quite please to have another reason to give it a read-through.

    It's intriguing to note that in the end, ping was a bad packet; further, all successful packets must be bad and therefore harshly processed at the local host.

    Now, if someone can just explain what was up with the breadcrumbs and those diving birds....
  • While a considered expert in the field of absurdus speculaitus, Doc Technical again asserts himself/herself as the preemminent source of supreme technical wisdom and knowledge by bringing to the fore this seminal study on the low level functioning of our favorite troubleshooting utility...PING. Without this great work, I feel I am truly missing the big picture. Thank you, Doc Technical, for again showing us how little we really know.
  • HAHA! I've been refering to the process of continually waiting for Windoze to reboot "Waiting for Godot" for a year or so and so far have only found 2-3 ppl who even got the reference, let alone actually used it.
    Nice to know there is someone else in the world who made the connection. :)
  • by IceFox (18179)
    Yes, I remember back when I was just learning about pings and packets. What a good book. My parents didn't want to give me a fun book, instead they gave me a technical book. Look at what I have become!

    Benjamin Meyer
    NW Admin
    Senior @ AHS
  • I think both the old and new testaments were the first open source documents. The code was free and everybody could use it. Also, Moses had RFC 1, the rules with the capital R.
  • by gr0k (113968)
    What's really funny was when I first started reading this I thought it was serious. Then when I saw the book cover I was thinking "oh isn't that cute, they used the cover of that book I remember from when I was a child". Then it sunk in that it was a joke. lol

    ---
    gr0k - he got juju eyeballs - http://www.juju.org [juju.org]

UFOs are for real: the Air Force doesn't exist.

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