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The fascination of networks and webs

Does anybody still know what Bitnet is? A difficult question, isn’t it? Well, what used to be behind this acronym for “Because It’s Time Network” was the only virtual connection between Brazil and the United States and Europe, before the first internet signals started coming into the FAPESP computers on an indeterminate day in January, 20 years ago. The old network linked the Foundation directly to Fermilab, the physics laboratory dedicated to high-energy atomic particles in Illinois, from where Brazilian researchers could establish contacts and exchange information with their peers at other research institutions in the United States and in Europe. The connection established in 1989 worked with a point-to-point phone line that did not require any dialing, a copper wire inside a submarine cable. And no, optic fiber wasn?t yet available for this type of service in that distant world.

Actually, more than distant, we are talking about an inconceivable world as far as the new generations are concerned. A few months ago, I heard one of my granddaughters, aged six at that time, while playing with a computer game or perhaps (I can no longer remember this clearly) creating in front of the TV an avatar for me which had a remarkable similarity, perplexedly ask my daughter,: “Mum, how did you have fun when there wasn’t any internet?” A capital question: what was that other world like that we lived in, just 20 years ago? And how was the one we now live in set up? This is the political and technological side of this absolutely fascinating story, particularly from the Brazilian aspect, which is the cover story of this month’s Pesquisa FAPESP, celebrating the two decades, as of January, of the internet’s existence in Brazil.

The unmissable report, which shows in an inspired and detailed way the early days of the establishment of the internet in Brazil and which highlights its key characters, was prepared by our technology editor, Marcos de Oliveira. And it really could not have been written by anyone else on our team, because Oliveira, along with the journalists Claudia Izique and Roberto Tanaka, is the author of a book on the subject that is in the final stages of preparation by FAPESP, under the guidance of the Foundation?s communication manager, Maria da Graça Mascarenhas. I bear witness to the fact that insistence on writing this book overcame all barriers along the way, especially the issue of how to handle the text and the double-checking of each piece of information, a process that has taken almost one decade. Its upcoming publication merits celebration. And, the reader may ask, what does FAPESP have to do with the implementation of the internet in Brazil? I will limit myself to stating only this: everything! And I recommend to our readers that they promptly turn to page 16 to check out this article and enjoy a fine journey through time and virtual space.

Out of sheer fascination, I got stuck on the internet web for longer than I had planned. However, there is still room on the page to deal with other webs, such as those of the Araneus omnicolor spiders, which allow themselves to be shamelessly exploited by the Hymenoepimecis veranae wasps. I will only cover a small segment of the article by Maria Guimarães, our Online Research editor, for our reader to feel the drive to go to page 60: “(…) found a wasp on a web with no spider in sight (…). Soon thereafter, a fly was captured in the web, the spider came out of the rolled leaf that formed its shelter and, before it reached its meal of the day, it was attacked. The wasp grabbed the spider and inserted its ovipositor in the mouth of the owner of the web, releasing a paralyzing substance for long enough to stick an egg on the rear of the victim’s abdomen.”

To end our journey through networks and webs, my last highlight: the article by our humanities editor, Carlos Haag, on CSN – Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional (the steel company) and why it was a crucial test of the development-oriented philosophy. More than supplying steel for the construction of Brasilia and the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro subway systems, among other fundamental projects that anchored Brazil in the twentieth century, or, in other words, more than its economic weight, CSN became the symbol of the “Brazil of the future,” the promise of economic and social independence put forth by the New State. Thus, a little about the base of Brazil, starting on page 82, adds value to this issue, which, as the reader may have noticed, has indeed aroused my editor’s enthusiasm.