Winston The Pigeon

Carrier pigeons are diligent workers,
And some have been honored as heroes!
But, sadly, technology changed their careers,
With the messages, now, ones and zeroes.

Information now moves over fibers and wires,
At the speed (so they tell me) of light;
And people accustomed to speed such as this
Aren’t impressed by a pigeon in flight.

But intertubes clog, and cables will jam,
And data gets stuck on its way;
Uploading a file takes forever, it seems,
With the fastest computers today.

A firm down in Durban, South Africa, thought
That their ADSL seemed too slow.
Would a pigeon be faster? They planned out a test
So the firm could empirically know.

Thus, Winston the Pigeon was all loaded up,
Four gigs on a flash memory stick,
From Howick to Durban, about sixty miles,
His job was to get it there quick.

They started the clock when they opened the cage,
And a regular upload as well—
Would bird or technology first cross the line?
The experiment, surely, would tell.

Winston the Pigeon first circled the square,
Then was off at full speed for the coast!
In sixty-eight minutes, brave Winston was there
But of course, he was not one to boast.

In about one more hour, the data were loaded,
It looked as if Winston had won!
But wait—check the status of ADSL,
And they found…only four percent done!

Now Winston the Pigeon is over the moon;
He’s faster than broadband, no less!
But technology marches; the internet, now
Must compete with the Pony Express!

(second link–BBC coverage–includes video of the race!)



  1. says

    Yeah, I heard about this on NPR yesterday. It reminds me of the adage demonstrating the difference between bandwidth and latency: Never underestimate the bandwidth of a tractor-trailer loaded with DVD-Rs.BTW, in my head the story had a slightly different meter:Oh somewhere on the internet a new weblog is born.The kids are playing Halo and there's plenty of free porn.And somewhere bits are flowing, and the DNS does route;But there is no joy in Durban – mighty Cisco has struck out.

  2. says

    Nice, J-Vector!Now you make me curious: Given the Pony Express route (from St. Joseph, Missouri to Old Sacramento, California), and given whatever the current system is (no idea–DSL, FIOS, whatever), how many DVD-ROMs would a pony express rider have to be carrying in order to "pull a Winston"?

  3. says

    OMG, DC likes me! I feel like a teenager meeting Paul McCartney! On the internet, of course.Okay, so let's see. I don't know how long the Pony Express route took, but let's say horses are about as fast as strong cyclists, and the Race Across America teams get from Cali to the Mississippi in about 3 days. 72 hours times 3600 seconds/hr is about 260,000 seconds. I have DSL, at about 1 Mbps, so that's about 260 Gbits, or around 33 GB in 3 days. Divide by 4.7 GB/disc, and you need 7 DVD-ROMs (if they're full). If you have FIOS maybe you get 10 times the bandwidth, so you'd need 70 DVD-ROMs, which is getting significant to a man on a horse.

  4. says

    Hmm… Pony Express riders carried 20 lb of mail, which (if I calculated correctly) could yield some 500 disks, if we do not include jewel cases. At 4.7 gigs per disk, we may decide we want to go with SD flash memory to get more gigs per gram, too (and I am *utterly* ignorant about relative speeds of storage devices for uploading and downloading, which would have to be factored in).On the other hand, the route typically took ten days to cover the roughly 2,000 miles (in relay, of course, with roughly 10 miles per horse, depending on terrain, which was pretty damned rugged).Just as the pony's speed depended on terrain, the data transfer speed would also vary based on traffic and infrastructure (Cuttlehouse gets much better download speed in theory than it does in practice) and how many employees are downloading porn. So… it seems to me that this question is perfect for an empirical answer! Let's test this sucker!Who do we call?

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