If you follow Hacker News or keep up to date on Twitter, you doubtlessly saw the fun little hack to view the opening text of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” through traceroute by Ryan Werber. If not try the following at a terminal/command prompt:
nix$ traceroute 220.127.116.11
win> tracert 18.104.22.168
In this short post I am going to go into how this hack works, and a little about how a traceroute works too.
How Traceroute Works
To know how this hack worked, we first have to know a little about traceroute.
For those who don’t know, Traceroute is a network utility used to display the routers and networks a packet would have to traverse between a client and a target. You may be familier with the
ping command and
traceroute also uses the ICMP protocol in its operation, however instead of simply ensuring a host responds, it takes advantage of a particular value in the packet.
Know as the time-to-live or hop-limit of a packet, this defines how many routers a packet may pass through before it is discarded. This is to prevent a packet from being forwarded around routers endlessly. When the hop-limit is reached, the routers dropping the packet sends back a reply to tell the client it has done so. Traceroute works by starting with a low hop-limit value of one, and for each “dropped” response it increments the hop-limit by one until the packet reaches its intended recipient. In doing this, traceroute can build up a picture of the path travelled by a packet.
How The Hack Works
As a side feature, traceroute also resolves Reverse DNS queries. A Reverse DNS query is the opposite of a normal DNS query. Instead of mapping a name to an IP address, it maps an IP address to a name. Traceroute does this for every router it displays as being on the route (by default).
This is exactly how the hack works, there are a long chain of routers through which the packet passes that have had their reverse DNS entires set to the opening text of A New Hope.
If we look at one of the IP addresses returned by traceroute and run a reverse DNS query on it, you will find that the reverse DNS entry is also the line of text shown in the traceroute. Lets try it on
22.214.171.124, you should get an output similar to below:
$ nslookup 126.96.36.199
188.8.131.52.in-addr.arpa name = A.NEW.HOPE.
You can see the reverse DNS entry is
.hope is not a valid Top-Level Domain it is still a valid reverse DNS entry.
All the IP addresses that the packet passes through have been configured in a similar way and the result is as shown.
With the advent of HMV going into administration, there have been many fingers pointed in many directions as to the factors resulting in the demise of this high street institution. None more so than Amazon and the Internet in general. However it seems the case is that HMV killed itself, or more specifically, it’s management and it’s inability to adapt did.
I often end up in HMV when out in the city centre, usually to just have a browse or to kill time, and I believe many others will be the same (the HMV in Churchill Square, Brighton is usually pretty busy except from where it counts, the till). This dark and dingy store is usually filled with young people who it seems sole purpose is to hang about and purchase silly £3 posters. The staff, many of whom are also teenagers, are often rude and unhelpful; and like to play a game of hide-and-seek in the backroom or behind the checkout. This is incredibly unhelpful in large stores like HMV which have many rows of identical shelves and like to make the space between aisles around half a meter wide.
The product currently on offer in HMV are more akin to a clearance store with a broken price-tag-machine which adds 15% to the price for no just reason. An example is the pre-owned game section which all HMV’s now have. It has all the charm (or lack thereof) of CEX or Replay, but doesn’t have the dirt-cheap prices to justify it. I bought a used game from CEX once for £4 only to find it later that day find the same used game in HMV for £25. It’s clear to see who the winner there was.
HMV failed to realise that the entire shopping experience is changing and never bothered to capitalise on the few advantages it had left. Chiefly among these is customer service, face-to-face service can be above and beyond any experience that the internet can provide and is unique to physical stores.
Lets look at a chain who understands this: Waitrose, who along with its parent company John Lewis, are posting record profits even in this downturned economy. Waitrose of late has taken a different approach to the supermarket price wars, it knows it probably cannot compete on price with the likes of Tesco or ASDA, so it has focused its efforts on providing a higher quality selection and impeccable customer service. An own-brand ready-meal from Tesco costs around £2, whereas an own-brand ready-meal from Waitrose will set you back around £3 to £5. That is a major difference, so the choice is obvious right? Not quite, looking at the two meals, without considering the price, there is no comparison. The Tesco ready-meal will leave you thinking that it has already been digested once, and the Waitrose one wouldn’t seem out of place on an actual menu in an actual restaurant. Suddenly the price doesn’t look that bad for a decent meal. It is not just the product itself, it’s the whole package they sell you with it. From picking one (i’ve had staff recommend their favourite ones) to adequate serving suggestions and even deals where you can pick up the main dish, side, dessert and a bottle of wine for less than the cost of going out.
Now how can we apply this to HMV? To put HMV into the context of above, imagine it is a supermarket that offers similar products; is more expensive; and has worse customer service and all-round experience than everyone else. This is the position HMV is currently in. It seems to boil down to very poor management of the brand and an inability to invest in itself. Looking at Waitrose again, they have spent large sums investing in it’s staff, staff training and staff welfare which translates into an overall better experience for the customer; something which HMV doesn’t currently get.
An outcome I’d quite like to see out of all of this is that one of the Directors from Waitrose/John Lewis go over to the board at HMV and implement these changes. However what is more likely is that the administration will destroy the company, the directors will hawk over to another company to destroy, and the husk of the former high-street giant will be sold at a cut price to die under some other brand.