Tracking Down the "Ping Meme"

At Seattle MindCamp 3.0, this saturday, Scott Berkun and Adam Loving will host the second annual "Good Thing Rapid Discovery Slam", a 45 minute show-n-tell for geeks.

The first slam, at MindCamp 2.0 featured the reading of an Emily Dickinson poem, the demonstration of an application that generates cacohponous techno "music" based on various graphical and user inputs, numerous and cool user interface concepts, and my contribution: a telling of how my then 1-year old daughter's erstwhile favorite book, the Wheels on the Bus has informed my PowerPoint presentations as a product manager at Microsoft (one moving "feature per slide" is a highly effective communication device).

My daughter is now two and her newest favorite book is one of the greatest classics of all time: The Story About Ping. Following up on last year's theme, I have decided to present what I have learned as a guy who designs social software by reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading this book to her, hundreds of times.

Low tech inspires high tech.

In preparing my presentation (5 minutes max), I have confirmed a long held suspicion that a "Ping Meme" exists whose mode of transmission, nature of infection, and clinical indications are not yet fully known. Consider this Amazon book review:

Ping! I love that duck! , January 25, 2000

John E. Fracisco (El Segundo, CA USA) - See all my reviews

PING! The magic duck!

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.

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.