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Ask Slashdot: Software For Learning About Data Transmission?

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the take-this-string-and-those-cans dept.

Education 79

bellwould writes "In teaching information tech to a 13-year-old with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I've found she's wildly interested in the details of data transmission but not programming. We've had limited success with command-line tools like traceroute and tcpdump, but now I'm seeking tips/advice on software that may help her explore and visualize things like transmission protocols." What would you recommend?

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Umm (5, Informative)

M0j0_j0j0 (1250800) | about 2 years ago | (#42151119)

Play data games with a wireshark on someones network, and have fun decoding the packets.

Re:Umm (2)

_merlin (160982) | about 2 years ago | (#42151569)

What about OPNET [opnet.com] ? I thought it would've been obvious, but I haven't seen it mentioned below. It may not be cheap, but it's a professional-quality tool, and it lets you easily design and simulate protocols by drawing state machines. I used this while working on 802.11n proposals back in the day, and I'd still recommend it.

Re:Umm (3, Informative)

Zen-Mind (699854) | about 2 years ago | (#42152005)

Might want to check OMNet++ as well then, it's probably not as complete, but it's free and you can build your own modules.

Re:Umm (2)

autocannon (2494106) | about 2 years ago | (#42151593)

This...wireshark is the most awesome tool for tcp/udp. It even supports custom plugins if you get creative.

As for a real world data usage. Look up the IEEE DIS standard. That standard is used by many military systems for simulating distributed environments. At least then there'd be a real world example that might get the kid even more into it knowing that the army and navy use it. Make your own dummy DIS streamer, or find one online if a free one exists.

Re:Umm (1)

Trubacca (941152) | about 2 years ago | (#42152823)

Haha, you took the "This" right out of my mouth. At my community college, our capstone Network Ops course was based on packet analysis with Wireshark. It really solidified my understanding of the network flow in a way that gave me a true sense of visualizing The Matrix. I will need to follow up on your suggestion on DIS... a quick Wikipedia jaunt reveals it to be something I would like to invest more time in. Many thanks for the tip.

Re:Umm (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42153835)

Just get her a job on Wall Street working in HFT. Problem solved all around - she can be exploited, her employer will reap huge financial benefit, and you won't be responsible for her care and maintenance for a lifetime. Sometimes utilitarian philosophy has its place in society. Seriously, if your daughter is autistic then she could be encouraged to pursue a field of study requiring a willingness to stare at data for weeks and months at a time to see patterns and then take those observations and apply them to real world solutions for the benefit of society.

Networking Instructor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42156603)

I teach networking, amongst other subjects. In the process, I use Cisco Networking Academy curriculum, TestOut Labsim curriculum, WireShark, NMap, Angry IP Scanner, Nessus, real equipment, subnetting guides, and everything that I can get may hands on.

For your Autistic child (I have one too), consider enrolling them in a vocational or community college class where lab equipment is used, and quality curriculum is available. Even if your child is homeschooled, they can enroll in the public education system to take this one class. If the child is underage for the class, call an IEP and make an exeption.

Re:Umm (1)

The_Revelation (688580) | about 2 years ago | (#42174749)

Yeah, Wireshark would be my go-to as well. You might also look at demonstrating ways she might want to triangulate radio locations (ie, wi-fi) using things like WiSpy, and demonstrating the ways in which all of those hidden earthed wires create invisible wireless shields that for some reason no one in the industry seems to grasp (the old 'you only need two of these radios for your entire school' scenario).

AUTOMATIC ?? STICK ?? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151133)

Used to be there was one speed: GO !!

Thank about that !!

Wireshark (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151149)

Wireshark is the way to go. And being autistic, she's probably got the focus (fixation?) to understand it thoroughly. www.wireshark.org/

Nmap with GUI (5, Informative)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 2 years ago | (#42151163)

Nmap comes with a GUI called Zenmap. If you want to be visual, the GUI has a tab labeled "Topology". There are also self-explanatory tabs for "Hosts" and "Services". It's also a nice way to teach your child about security.

Re:EtherApe (5, Informative)

rwa2 (4391) | about 2 years ago | (#42151325)

Careful with the CamelCase, but http://etherape.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] is a fun real-time connection visualizer. We used that for a lot of network demonstrations.

The command-line based "iftop" is also really nice to get a quick realtime overview of what's using bandwidth.

I think she'll have lots of fun with any of the Wardriving software, which would also give you maps.

For Android, there are a few pretty interesting real-time displays. "Wifi Analyzer" will have her running all over the place exploring wifi signal attenuation. "OpenSignal" is also a cool app I just started playing with that will let you do the same with cell towers, which also shows their location on a map. Also look at "GPS Status" to visualize where all of the GPS satellites are, and what kind of attenuation you'd get from each one's signal with trees / buildings / mountains in the way.

Have fun!

Re:EtherApe (1)

DontScotty (978874) | about 2 years ago | (#42151511)

e the rape?

Seriously... naming people - think it through...

Re:EtherApe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151923)

It's actually a contraction of 'ether' and 'rape'. Since you know if you can't get them willing, then unconscious is the next best alternative :D

Re:EtherApe (2)

bondsbw (888959) | about 2 years ago | (#42152195)

My favorite was always expertsexchange.com (now experts-exchange.com [experts-exchange.com] ).

Either way, they want to take an appendage in exchange for information.

Re:EtherApe (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | about 2 years ago | (#42152291)

kidsexchange was worse. And it is still live. http://kidsexchange.net/ [kidsexchange.net]

Re:EtherApe (1)

oobayly (1056050) | about 2 years ago | (#42153353)

Can't believe it's still running, seeing as child trafficking is illegal.

Re:EtherApe (1)

jedwidz (1399015) | about 2 years ago | (#42158329)

Powergen Italia could've done with a strategic hyphen insertion too.

Re:EtherApe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42157623)

e the rape? Seriously... naming people - think it through...

So all names with r-a-p-e are banned? What are therapists [funnyordie.com] going to do in your world?

Re:EtherApe (1)

lsatenstein (949458) | about 2 years ago | (#42187875)

Careful with the CamelCase, but http://etherape.sourceforge.net/ [sourceforge.net] is a fun real-time connection visualizer. We used that for a lot of network demonstrations.

The command-line based "iftop" is also really nice to get a quick realtime overview of what's using bandwidth.

I think she'll have lots of fun with any of the Wardriving software, which would also give you maps.

For Android, there are a few pretty interesting real-time displays. "Wifi Analyzer" will have her running all over the place exploring wifi signal attenuation. "OpenSignal" is also a cool app I just started playing with that will let you do the same with cell towers, which also shows their location on a map. Also look at "GPS Status" to visualize where all of the GPS satellites are, and what kind of attenuation you'd get from each one's signal with trees / buildings / mountains in the way.

Have fun!

I think that the child can learn from http://class.stanford.edu/networking/Fall2012 [stanford.edu]
There are some very basic informations. Pictorial representations, and concepts of flow, etc. I as a 13 year old became fixated on electronics, and this child may be fixated the same way on the TCP/IP.

Footnote: I pluraled information

VisualRoute.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151171)

They have a nice way of visualizing tcp traffic routes, using a map of the world.

Textbooks, Ham Radio and Packet Radio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151181)

If she likes that sort of thing then you could get her a software defined radio to play with. Also, textbooks on datacom might be nice (BPSK, AM/FM, QAM, ect)

Re:Textbooks, Ham Radio and Packet Radio (3, Informative)

Tactical Lime (2578731) | about 2 years ago | (#42152159)

This is the way to go. In the beginning was the bit and it was good. Start with looking at CW (Morse code) on a waterfall display, then other modes, these relatively simple modes are the building blocks of almost all after them. Here are some tools to help:

http://www.websdr.org/ [websdr.org] - MANY web enabled SDR rigs with a java app that includes a waterfall.

http://software.muzychenko.net/eng/vac.htm [muzychenko.net] - Virtual Audio Cable software to make audio from previous app available to a lot more apps.

http://hfradio.org.uk/html/digital_modes.html [hfradio.org.uk]
http://wb8nut.com/digital/ [wb8nut.com]
http://members.storm.ca/~ve3iay/digital.html [storm.ca] - Some examples and basic info.

This will get the ball rolling in increasingly complex modes of transmission...then you begin to throw in real complexity by going over how some of this good old tech was made into the modern internet. Remember this is where the TCP in TCP/IP came from. If your area has an active VHF packet network that will keep her busy for a few years at least. There is a BBS on the space station she can use too (callsign RS0ISS-11, AR1SS, RS0ISS-3).

Have fun.

Re:Textbooks, Ham Radio and Packet Radio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42152205)

Baudline is an *AWESOME* waterfall display and analog signal analyzer. With a little soldering, you could make a wire probe for the sound card with a 600v 1uF (small, cheap, ceramic ok at first) inline.

http://www.baudline.com it's not OSS but it runs on Linux, FreeBSD and OS X I think.

To me it sounds like she doesn't know what she... (0, Offtopic)

blahplusplus (757119) | about 2 years ago | (#42151183)

... really wants.

You said: "We've had limited success with command-line tools like traceroute and tcpdump,"

Well if she was REALLY interested she would want to know EVERYTHING about it, including the boring parts. Perhaps her interest is misplaced and she doesn't fully grasp that fact?

I mean I was a tinkerer as a kid I had to learn everything about computers by reading things like manuals (I read the dos manual!) and once you learn a few things and mess around the rest becomes second nature the more you do it. If she really DOES have the 'tinkering' gene then she will tinker and learn on her own. An interest as (seemingly) ephemeral as your daughters doesn't seem to me to be very valid. She doesn't seem to be mature enough to understand she's not really as interested as she says she is.

You may have to wait a couple more years if there is anything there. I would venture anyone who is truly interested in a thing doesn't give up so easily.

Re:To me it sounds like she doesn't know what she. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151321)

Your comment is pretty ignorant. She's 13, she almost certainly doesn't know what she wants but having tools to help convey the higher level concepts will help her in the long run. This is why there are tons of programming languages and other tech tools aimed at kids (Scratch, Alice, LEGO robots).

But fuck them, they should do everything in assembly. If it's too hard, then they're 'not ready'.

Re:To me it sounds like she doesn't know what she. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151341)

You come off sounding like a pompous a@@. The kid is autistic and has found something she is excited about. If you can't contribute something helpful then stfu.

Re:To me it sounds like she doesn't know what she. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151345)

You pompous clueless idiot. She is autistic. Do you know anything about autism? Wait...I'll answer that. NO. Geeh.

Netwitness Informer freeware (1)

cavtroop (859432) | about 2 years ago | (#42151209)

I use the commercial version, but you can get it as freeware:

http://netwitness.com/products-services/investigator-freeware [netwitness.com]

basically, grab a pcap anywhere on the network, dump it into investigator, and then sift through the data. It's really powerful, but may take a little getting used to. Shows you all kinds of neat stuff about the data, lets you slice and dice it however you want by a whole host of criteria. Highly recommended.

Some suggestions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151227)

NeoTrace
  - geographically trace data transmissions (not a broadcast visualization)
Etherape
  - visually draws connections per subnet (when machine is using 802.1q even more segments are visible)
NIST virtual machine
  - a few visual network monitoring tools integrated with google earth
Honey net
  - http://map.honeynet.org/

start from the top (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151287)

A Mathematical Theory of Communication [bell-labs.com] by Claude E. Shannon

Re:start from the top (1)

Cogline (188518) | about 2 years ago | (#42158301)

Although an incredibly dry beginning, reaching into information theory may be the most rewarding path. A neat thing about information theory is that it isn't all discrete sets and number crunching. You could start with an oscilloscope and just show what data looks like moving around. Such as a serial port--very easy to visualize and a stepping stone to any fancier stream. Also with a scope you can show AM and FM with different phase/amplitude modulations. Which leads right up to a ham radio license. I suspect she'll get just as caught up in error correcting/detecting codes, such as Hamming codes and Reed-Solomon codes, where some redundancy can make all the difference in receiving data correctly. And how much noise can a transmission tolerate? (Clue: CRC) Ethernet 10-base-T might be a nice case study of all of the above, and how carrier sense and collision detection was necessary. On top of error correcting codes you can introduce her to compression, covering both dictionary (LZA) and frequency (Huffman) approaches. Anyone that has dial-up (v.42bis and friends) is employing all of the above. After compression, introduce cryptography--being in some ways the opposite of error correction and compression. And there are a wealth of examples for cryptography and information theory, both full mechanical and computer programs! I think once you know where to look, this is a great opportunity!

Firewalls, NIDS, TOR (3, Interesting)

Whomp-Ass (135351) | about 2 years ago | (#42151299)

Use your router to see where things are going. Set it up such that the firewall reports back to your computer (or displays when you log into it's interface), Or do the same with the firewall on the box you are using, or both. Wallwatcher, Syslogd, whatever works best for your situation.

Set up a separate box to act as a NID (e.g. Snort) and ratchet up it's output to verbose. Behold nearly infinite data to play with.

Set up a remote host, or log into a remote host you already have available, instruct it to portscan your home network, keep wireshark on, use resource manager to watch the TCP/IP connections come up and down, or task manager, or what have you.

Use TOR and watch the map screen that shows you your connection route, try to have the kid logic-together why the web takes so long to surf that way.

Lots and lots of tools that should be pretty much at your disposal with minimal effort are out there...

Data Transmission (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151317)

I would say start with the very foundation of telecommunication. Give a history lesson on the telegraph and telephone/circuit-switching. Move on to packet-switching and ip addresses/ports. Give hands-on experience building her own network topology. Once you have the foundations down, you may not need some fancy software to visualize something that is arcane and abstract. Work your way up the OSI layer model until programming becomes neccesary and understandable.

Network / socket programming would be very impressive at 13.

Re:Data Transmission (1)

swalve (1980968) | about 2 years ago | (#42154229)

I was going to say the same thing. Get her a CCNA book from Cisco Press and see how she does.

her? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151329)

raspberry pi + vibrator.

I see a rewarding career path ahead... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151363)

I'm an adult female with ASD and I, too, was fascinated by data transmission. I couldn't hack school but for a couple decades I was an excellent (and highly compensated) network engineer, I recommend Wireshark and some books: "TCP/IP TCP/IP Illustrated, Vol. 1" by Richard Stevens, "Data Communications, Computer Networks, and Open Systems (4th Edition)" by Fred Halsall, and "Interconnections: Bridges, Routers, Switches, and Internetworking Protocols (2nd Edition)" by Radia Perlman.

She might also be interested in databases, which is where I went when networking started to get dull.

Re:I see a rewarding career path ahead... (1)

chaosite (930734) | about 2 years ago | (#42154405)

+1 for the Stevens and Perlman books. I haven't read Halsall's book, but I might now that I see it placed next to those two.

I'm in a similar boat. (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 2 years ago | (#42151371)

I tried to get into programming but just couldn't. I really don't like doing it.

However I LOVE networking. You might have her go to your local Cisco network academy, and go to one that is offered at a community college. Not all are created equal, but the one I go to the instructors are very caring about their students, and will go that extra mile to help a motivated individual learn better.

I have a condition that I suspect is autism spectrum, but there's no name for. I have many traits of Asperger's and many traits of OCD, but not the full traits of either. I have a problem where I work fast but I take tests really slow, and I prefer smaller rooms/spaces. The psychologist I saw said he doesn't believe its autism, but said he does believe that I do have some kind of condition that there is no name for (I get accommodations for longer test time from Pearson Vue for industry certs.)

I'm a kinetic learner myself, yet still the instructors at the Cisco network academy are awesome. If you happen to live in the Phoenix metro area, have her go to the MCC network academy. Many employers recruit from there because it is easily regarded as by far the best place to learn networking in the state. Several of the students from there even go on to become CCIE's, which is in HUGE demand and pays very well, and its very rare for anybody to go into that.

Re:I'm in a similar boat. (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 2 years ago | (#42151389)

Oh also, go get Cisco packet tracer. In simulation mode, it does little visual demonstrations of how the packets traverse the network, and even shows you how the individually layered datagrams are broken apart and what they do. It also does everything you need to get a CCNA.

Re:I'm in a similar boat. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42152795)

you might have Non-Verbal Learning Disorder. Symptoms are on autism spectrum but the causes are not from there at all.

the "longer test time" is what made me think of it. check it out, especially if you are getting "sorry we don't know what it is" from professionals

http://www.nldontheweb.org/

best wishes!

Re:I'm in a similar boat. (1)

AlphaWolf_HK (692722) | about 2 years ago | (#42154735)

Yeah that seems to fit me to the letter, except for the spatial analysis part. I did pretty well in geometric calculus (3d charts were no problem in calc 3, I got an A in that class, even took it as an honors credit.) Also my language skills are apparently tip top. Or rather, the psychologist who gave me a full functional evaluation told me I am 18th level grade English in spite of only taking a single year of it in college, and without ever taking any courses related to writing or anything like it. According to that website, that is to be expected with that condition.

Thanks, that gives a lot of insight!

What's transmission without TCP (1)

Progman3K (515744) | about 2 years ago | (#42151377)

Anyone can understand packet braodcast and transmission but you should get the child interested in the harder stuff: TCP.

Sliding windows, data-retransmission algoritms, congestion backoff timers, etc...

It will explain not only how the data gets where it's going but how it gets there, ordered!

Fascinating stuff, really.

It's pure computer-science from there on.

Maybe the kid doesn't want to be a programmer but maybe the kid could end up designing/optimising data transmission algorithms, you never know.

Understanding TCP's challenges is the way towards that.

Good luck!

Make a demo (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#42151391)

I ~wrote my ow)n softWare to ddemonst^rate tHe priincipples of comM&uniction sofwware andd %it woRkks likee aa c!harr m ; + ~

Network Modeling with System Dynamics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151405)

You might have fun playing with a systems dynamics tool like Vensim. It is commercial software, but free for personal use. Its a lot of fun to play with in visualizing the stocks flows of any kind network whether it is in computer, ecology, or the way businesses work.

Wireshark +! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151457)

Wireshark has some very cool graphical tools under the "Analyze" and "Statistics" menus

Grace Hopper on nanoseconds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151475)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEpsKnWZrJ8

Are books out of the question? (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about 2 years ago | (#42151597)

Because there are a number of them that explore communications theory. Of course you could also just look at the TCP/IP stack on a computer.

Traffic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151625)

Think big, the improtant concept is traffic. Traffic for most people is an enourmously obvious and self evident problem, but most people don't necessarily ask questions or look for answers. There are many practical examples you can teacher her from. She might learn that from Sim Building or more indirectly she might learn the issues of latency because other people are shooting her before she has a chance to shoot back when playing Doom. The simple act of waiting in a queue. There may be real world examples you can teach from and there are certainly an abundance of academic papers you can teach from, and knowing the problems that people are trying to solve migth be more useful than knowing the specific methods.

I've had to work at a variety of levels & sugg (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42151641)

I've had to work at a variety of levels and would suggest:

Wireshark [wireshark.org] at the packet level.

Fiddler [fiddler2.com] at the HTTP protocol level

A Wi-Spy 2.4x [metageek.net] from Metageek or one of its equivalents to show what's happening the RF level for 802.11g. It's a fascinating way to visualize wifi traffic that's constantly whizzing all around you everywhere you go.

(If want to go really geeky, the RF Explorer [arocholl.com] does the same thing as the Wi-Spy across a broader spectrum, albeit with lesser resolution.)

Netdot (1)

funkboy (71672) | about 2 years ago | (#42151731)

Well, if you've got admin access to a decent sized network, go install NetDot [uoregon.edu] , which gives you a visualization of all your gear & how it's connected at the physical & logical level, and will draw nice little network maps for you showing the paths between devices on the fly.

Netcat! (2)

fa2k (881632) | about 2 years ago | (#42151747)

Netcat is good for experimenting at the application layer, especially combined with wireshark.

Sniff buses, other traffic (1)

pclminion (145572) | about 2 years ago | (#42151817)

People are mentioning tcpdump, wireshark, etc. Why not sniff something a bit more lower level, a bit less documented, and therefore a bit more interesting?

Buy a cheap logic analyzer (here's one for $50 [dangerousprototypes.com] ). For even more fun buy a Bus Pirate [dangerousprototypes.com] , which works kind of like the old Game Genie game modification device from the 90's. Connect probes to conductors on various devices and try to figure out how they communicate at the electrical level, then modify the signals themselves to try to make new things happen!

Re:Sniff buses, other traffic (1)

steppin_razor_LA (236684) | about 2 years ago | (#42152133)

Best not to start w/ the microwave... :)

Read Shannon and watch the MIT class (1)

mveloso (325617) | about 2 years ago | (#42151845)

First, she needs to read claude shannon's "a mathematical theory of communication"

http://cm.bell-labs.com/cm/ms/what/shannonday/shannon1948.pdf [bell-labs.com]

Also, this class may help:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/principles-digital-communications/id341597796?mt=10 [apple.com]

An oscilloscope and a spectrum analyzer. (1)

Myself (57572) | about 2 years ago | (#42152059)

Start at the bottom, work your way up. Any local hackerspace should be able to help.

Re:An oscilloscope and a spectrum analyzer. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42152535)

seriously?

tcptrace + jplot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42152137)

nicer and more flexible tcp visualisation that the wireshark built in, see http://www.tcptrace.org/ and http://tcptrace.org/jPlot/ (or xplot if you prefer)

also, see http://research.protocollabs.com/captcp/ which has a fancy "sound/spectrogram" output mode, which is blingy enough for a 13yr old.

-jg

Lisp (2)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 2 years ago | (#42152217)

Besides all the good tools mentionned, there's probably going to be interest in twiddling bits, or even protocol implementations and algos. Lisp is a little more ASD friendly and it's easy to write tools to interact with networks.

Perl (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | about 2 years ago | (#42152441)

and let her write her own client/server apps to talk to each other.

Packet Visualization (1)

David_Hart (1184661) | about 2 years ago | (#42152479)

I guess it depends what you mean by visualizing communications.

- An oscilloscope and a spectrum analyzer will show electrical properties at the hardware level.
- Traceroute, tcpdump, and wireshark will give you path and packet information.
- NMAP.org has a decent packet header reference for IP (http://nmap.org/book/tcpip-ref.html).
- NMAP is a very powerful network tool for scanning for open ports, etc.
- If you want to get deeper into packet headers, you can get into encapsulation such as VPN headers, Layer 2 encapsulation over layer-3 networks (i.e. Cisco OVT, EoMPLS, etc.)
- A Netflow application can graphically show you the breakdown of traffic type (i.e. http, ftp, etc) being sent across the connection. For this to would you would need a netflow capable device (i.e. Cisco router, etc.). Most also allow you to dig deeper into the actual conversation.
- For WiFi, there are applications where you can upload a floor blueprint and display a heat map based on the AP model and attached antenna. You play with it to see what AP/antenna combinations produces the widest range, throughput, etc. The better ones allow you to define walls, etc. where signals have problems penetrating. (i.e. AirMagnet)
- There are network monitoring tools that shows bandwidth usage, latency, etc.
- If you want to simulate a network I would recommend GNS3. It lets you run virtual routers, etc. in a virtual environment using the actual vendor firmware. It can be configured to interact with external devices through physical ports on your computer. Note: your CPU usage will be high unless the idle-pc value is set correctly.

Most of these are available as either open source or freeware. Most of the open source tools run on LINUX. If you are using Windows, most basic tools are free and most vendors offer trial versions.

Network simulator (2)

mishu2065 (1616553) | about 2 years ago | (#42152571)

You could try playing with a visual network simulator, which should make things easier to understand (and experiment with). This page [wustl.edu] seems have a nice overview and some screenshots to get you started. Have fun!

Telnet and manual SMTP/HTTP (1)

A nonymous Coward (7548) | about 2 years ago | (#42152607)

I am not exactly sure what you mean by "data transmission". But might running SMTP by hand using telnet be on the right path for beginners?

I have astonished a few friends who think computers are complicated just by "telnet domain.com 25" and running through a simple SMTP session to send a simple email. It's suddenly not quite so mysterious as before.

You can also do HTTP, but usually the returned data is too complex for a tty window. On the other hand, if you run your own webserver and "telnet localhost 80", you can set up simple pages to return.

Some more tools (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42153193)

Wireshark was already mentioned, so I'll list some other tools I've found useful:

Mtr [bitwizard.nl] is better than traceroute. It has ncurses and graphical versions.

For persistent ping tests, I can recommend SmokePing [oetiker.ch] .

Any modern network should have SNMP monitoring capability in the switches and routers. Ask permissions to get read-only access on the devices and there's a wealth of information to be gathered. From basic information like port status, packet/byte counters, to more advanced like topologies learned by MAC learning and neighbor discovery protocols (CDP, LLDP). Or you can just buy one for the class. 100M 24-port managed switches are not that expensive and a Linux server can be used as a SNMP-enabled router (Install and configure snmpd).

To actually act on that data.. You can try one-off tools like Cacti [cacti.net] for traffic monitoring, and NetDisco [netdisco.org] for device and topology discovery. Or a huge does-it-all tool like OpenNMS [opennms.org] .

Managed network devices can also dump traffic, either using "monitoring ports" (that mirror traffic from other ports), sflow (sampled stream of packets, unless 1:1 sampling, only useful for statistical traffic measurements) or nflow/ipfix (aggregated flows).

I'm especially fond of nflow, in addition to previous tools. Nflows can be used to analyze, post-mortem, who contacted and where and how much data was transferred at what kind of approximate pattern. This kind of data can be dug out from a full dump, but it's usually infeasible to dump _everything_ to disk. I've used flow-tools [google.com] .

aircrack-ng (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42153207)

I would recommend aircrack-ng to play with

Soundmodem and AX.25 (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 2 years ago | (#42153239)

Set two machines up with their soundcards hooked together - you don't need radio for this, although if you've got an appropriate licence you may as well - and install soundmodem on them. Set it up so it appears as a network device.

Now when you ping from one machine to the other, you'll see (or hear) the ARP request and response, and the ICMP messages. You'll need to use something like ping -t 5 to make the pings slow enough. You will also need a suitably patched version of tcpdump or wireshark, that supports AX.25 as layer 2.

This lets you watch IP work in "slow motion" with each packet taking about a second. By adjusting the frequencies in soundmodem you can make the two machines sound slightly different (but not so much that they can't decode each other) which helps trace what's going on. You can even browse the net, *slowly*...

what about... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42153279)

http://online.stanford.edu/content/introduction-computer-networks

Scapy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42153625)

TCP/IP Illustrated Vol.1, wireshark and scapy.

Scapy in particular is an essential tool in any protocol ninja toolbelt.

Maybe if you can find a cheap copy... (1)

pev (2186) | about 2 years ago | (#42153675)

...maybe buy a copy of James Gleick's "The Information" and see if any of it piques her interest? I have a sneaky suspicion that some of the concepts described that are broader may catch her imagination. Or read it yourself to explain some of the ideas in your own words to start with. I'd start with getting the _ideas_ across and let that fire up her imagination before trying to explain existing protocols too far. Maybe try and explain why the 7 layer OSI model is why it is but don't start with trying to detail TCP/IP!

tcptrace (1)

klapaucjusz (1167407) | about 2 years ago | (#42154017)

I've had some success getting young people interested in reliability and congestion control using tcptrace. See pages 3 and 4 of this document [univ-paris-diderot.fr] for screenshots.

--jch

The Clack Graphical Router (1)

gratuitous_arp (1650741) | about 2 years ago | (#42154225)

The clack router is a little old but it's a great idea:

http://yuba.stanford.edu/vns/clack/ [stanford.edu]

There might be too much abstraction for someone first starting out, though.

Learn phy layer communications (1)

colsandurz45 (1314477) | about 2 years ago | (#42154407)

There are a few good books out there like "Digital Communications" by Proakis. Try writing some algorithms in MATLAB or python with all the pylab tools.

Logic analyzer to look at bits (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42154955)

Looking more directly at the bits of data through a logic analyzer may be something to consider. The signal from a PS/2 keyboard would be a good candidate to look at. Press 'a' on the keyboard; about a dozen bits will be sent from the keyboard; eight of them will be data; and those eight data bits will match the scan code for 'a' (scan code of hex value 1C).

(Note: If you want to look at the signal, it's much easier to do using a serial PS/2 keyboard than a USB keyboard.
Also note: "Make" scan codes are for pressing a key, while "break" scan codes are for releasing the key.)

http://www.computer-engineering.org/ps2protocol/ [computer-engineering.org]
http://www.computer-engineering.org/ps2keyboard/ [computer-engineering.org]
http://www.computer-engineering.org/ps2keyboard/scancodes2.html [computer-engineering.org]

You all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42155829)

What a wonderful thread!

ya'll some helpful motherfuckers.

Bus Pirate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42157617)

Get a Bus Pirate from HackaDay. You can do some pretty amazing things with just about any serial protocol out there.

http://hackaday.com/2008/11/19/how-to-the-bus-pirate-universal-serial-interface/

Hackerspace (1)

asticia (1623063) | about 2 years ago | (#42159139)

Do you have any local hacker/maker space nearby? May be great and practical way to get introduced to tech and engineering.

DaCoPan - Data animation based on tcpdump logs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42160337)

I'd say that for a very simple and intuitive user-controlled & animated GUI using real tcpdump logs (of your choice), you can check out our old uni project app (standalone jre): http://www.cs.helsinki.fi/group/dacopan/screenshots.html

It's both focused on using real data transmission protocols AND meant to be easy for people starting to learn them.

What I used to learn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42197703)

Use Packet Tracer! it's free!

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