Learn By Doing

A Lifelong Learner Shares Thoughts About Education

First vehicle on the information superhighway was a rundown van

First vehicle on the information superhighway was a rundown van: “A lot of people think the Internet just happened,” says Vint Cerf, one of its proud papas. “But it was a lot of hard work.” That’s why we need events like the one Wednesday at the Computer History Museum to mark the 30th anniversary of the first TCP-based transmission between three dissimilar networks — widely regarded as the first true Internet connection. Otherwise we’re in danger of losing historical nuggets like the story of SRI’s “Internet van.”

In November 1977, the van, loaded with the latest technology (including two packet radios, each a cubic foot and costing about $50,000), started cruising up and down the Peninsula along Interstate 280, broadcasting data at 100 to 400 kilobits per second through multiple networks and on to the University of Southern California’s Information Sciences Institute in Los Angeles. And to the delight and amazement of all concerned, after a half-second round trip, the data came through, intact. “I said, ‘Holy cow! That actually worked!’ ” Cerf recalls. After it served its purpose, the van sat neglected until someone from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers asked about it in 1996. Now it’s been restored, with much of the original technology intact, and sits parked outside the museum, to be remembered and admired. The van “represents what a Land Rover does in Africa,” said Cerf. “It helped us explore terrain that didn’t have any roads.”