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A Review of "The Story About Ping"
The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese, (c) 1933, 1961.
Published by Viking Press, 32 pages.
Review in a Nutcase: New perspectives on a classic networking utility.
reviewed by Doc Technical
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
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
(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.)