Doc Technical, one of our highly trained book reviewers, has submitted for us Marjorie Flack, Kurt Wiese's book The Story about Ping. A rare technical manual, this is one of the few computer books in the field in which the illustrator is as important as the author. To truly understand the glories of Ping, click below to read more. Yes, we know it's on Amazon. They stole it from us. Or Doc provided it to them. 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.
The book avoids many of the cliches one might expect. For example, with a story set on a river, the authors might have sunk to using that tired old plot device: the flood ping. The authors deftly avoid this.
Who Should Buy This Book
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.
For my next review, I will discuss the internals of several well-known routing protocols as described in the Old Testament. New contemporary evidence points to the possibility that Job was a sysadmin on an early MULTICS system.
Buy this book over here and Slashdot gets a little money. It'll buy Rob and I 0.5 beer.
Doc Technical is not a real doctor, nor does he play one on TV. Hell, Doc Technical could never even fit on a TV. Well, maybe a bigscreen.