Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lighthouse of Pharos

... was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Located offshore Alexandria, Egypt, it was 120 metres high by far the tallest man-made structure of its time. As well as its beacon, it purportedly had lenses allowing it magnify specks on the already 120 m high horizon. In this way Alexandria survived any attacks upon it.

This a telecommunications/IT post so if you are not interested in such things (and that which constitute my line of work), exit here.

In January much of the Middle East and South Asia suffered enormous telecommunications (and hence Internet) failures when five undersea fibre-optic cables were accidentally cut. An interesting analysis of both the technical and financial impact of the cuts can be found here (the link is to the first post in a series of seven).

I was also pointed to a fascinating article by Neal Stephenson in the journal Wired, dating from 1996, about the development of international digital communications from ancient times until now, and our current dependence on under-sea fibre-optic cables (illustrated multiple web-page version here, print version here). The Lighthouse of Pharos was obviously part of this - its mirrors and lenses being a ¨reflection¨ of equipment invented in the 19th century to read and write the first digital signals transmitted over transoceanic cables.

The Lighthouse of Pharos fell - the Byzantine Empire put out some misinformation that Alexander the Great´s treasure was buried underneath it and the local ruler of Alexandria ripped up the foundations and ... it fell over.

In a stunningly ironic piece of deja-vu the 1996 Wired piece by Neal Stephenson states:

¨The collapse of the lighthouse must have been astonishing, like watching the World Trade Center fall over.¨

Alexandria was now defenseless and the Byzantine Empire proceeded to walk in.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to The Yorkshire Ranter for the links cited. Alex is now moving TYR over to Wordpress. New link here - I´ll update the sidebar when he has completed the transition.

No comments: