Now, I never did Computer Science at University level, but my beautiful (and, may I add, highly lust-worthy — but keep your hands to yourself!) wife did, and one of the earliest examples used in exams she drew my attention to concerned bandwidth. And trucks.
(Wake up in the back there. It does get more interesting later).
Anyway, apparently the classic CS exam question had to do with the relative bandwidth of a modem (which at the time was pretty slow) sending data from Sydney to Perth (or a destination of your choice, I guess), versus a truck, loaded up with data tapes, driving to the same destination. At the time, the truck had a higher bandwidth rate, even given the distance it had to travel. It’s a great visual metaphor, and it was something that I just presumed was an example of the time.
Until today. It turns out, this stuff still goes on — and not in dry theoretical exams, but the real world.
I got a letter from my financial institution yesterday, informing me that my credit card may have been used for fraud, and that I’d need to call them to arrange cancellation and to get a new card. Because of the time I was able to read the letter, it was too late to call (I could have cancelled the card overnight, but not renewed it), so I waited until this morning to actually call. Having gone through the usual verification how-do-you-do stuff, I cancelled the card — and then it occurred to me to ask if they knew (or could tell me) which transaction may have been fraudulent. After all, if I’ve unwittingly dealt with a dodgy merchant, I’d rather know about it and be able to avoid them in the future. This is what I was told:
“Oh no, Mr Kidman. It’s nothing you’ve done. In fact, it’s all rather James Bond. What happened was that a truck in Sweden which was full of CDs of soon-to-be-discontinued VISA card numbers was hijacked. Your number was due to expire shortly, and was part of the shipment, so VISA contacted us, and we’ve in turn contacted you.”
There’s a couple of cool factors that get my inner nerd tingling here. For a start, given the data capacity of a CD, and the capacity of a truck, and the fact that a sixteen digit VISA number wouldn’t be that data intensive, I shudder to think exactly how many billions of numbers were in that truck. And, for that matter, how many trucks there are like it, travelling worldwide.
Then again, I’m also in awe of the computing power that VISA must wield to be able to retroactively backtrack and work out which numbers were actually in the truck, and which financial institutions they were attached to. Thats’ some serious number crunching, right there.
I also have to wonder if there’s some poor grubby soul sitting in a flat somewhere in Uppsala, inserting, copying and ejecting CD after CD after CD after CD. Seems like a lot of work to go to for the sake of my measly savings. Then again, my measly savings * several billion numbers would be an impressive sum.
* A quote from Bottom. But I’m not using the alternate version, because the NSW Dept Of Education porn filter would hate me even more than it already does. You can Google it if you really must know…