Regular readers of my tweets may have seen a couple of carrier pigeon ones. I don’t have any particular interest in carrier pigeons, but it is randomly interesting to see how data transfer can be done in other ways and how it compares with traditional online methods.
|Image source: https://cuteoverload.com/2010/04/14/those-carrier-pigeons-just-get-smarter-and-smarter/|
I was first inspired to think about this by South African Kevin Rolfe’s protest against slow download speeds from his company’s ISP in 2009. He flew a carrier pigeon carrying a 4GB memory stick thus beating the equivalent download.
As memory gets cheaper and smaller, it is true to say that the volume of data that can be transmitted over the average home broadband connection is not getting much better, particularly in rural areas. In some places in the UK, it is probably better to get a wireless 4G contract if coverage permits.
Anyway, back to Pigeons. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) have a couple of spoof RFCs which define a standard for IP over Avian Carrier (RFC1149); the revised version adding Quality of Service too (RFC2549).
Calculating the data payload is relatively easy as you can see:
Payload of a carrier pigeon. This Reddit thread says 75g. Being unscientific as we are, we’ll go with that.
- Weight of normal sized SD: 2 grams
- Weight of microSD: 0.4g +/- 0.1g
So basically physically we’re talking:
- 37 full sized SD cards (with 1/2 a full sized one to spare)
- 187 microSDs (with 1/2 a microSD to spare)
I’m not sure exactly how these would be bundled up, I’ll leave that to a Pigeon expert (which I am not).
This is changing on a regular basis as new SDs get released, but here are some examples:
- 256GB microSD (May 2016)
- 1TB SD card (September 2016)
- 2 TB SD micro SD card supported in Nintendo Switch (January 2017)
|A hostile pigeon environment. Source: Wikimedia Commons: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_pigeon#/media/File:Shooting_Homing_Pigeons.png|
start using carrier pigeons to transmit all their data, but what it does demonstrate is a viable offline mechanism for data transfer that doesn’t involve wires or antennae. The fact that I wrote it entirely on the train whilst connected (in and out, but mostly in) is quite a nice feature of the modern world, for me anyway. However, the internet and web isn’t architected for such large latency scenarios and the offline web appears to be neglected by most of the big information companies who seemingly would rather you accessed the data when they can gather data about you. Perhaps it might be useful in the interplanetary/galactic internet/web as a catch-up mechanism – dump a large offline copy onto the next ship going up a space station or planet.