Ever wonder how information gets from the Internet to your computer screen?
Well, Brigham Young University student Kirk Ouimet created a Web tool that can track your connection between sites as it travels thousands of miles and possibly hops continents.
Ouimet didn't start out with the intention of creating a marketable Web tool, but serendipity works in strange ways. As a junior at BYU, Oiment created the Web site yougetsignal.com to practice some of the fundamental skills he had learned in his courses. However, after posting it to the World Wide Web, his tracking tool took off and has received about 450,000 visits within the last month.
The tool works by identifying the Internet Protocol addresses of each server the signal hops to along its path to the designated network address. So if you are using the Internet from the comfort of your living room in Salt Lake City, you could track the path your connection to BBC.com as it travels 7,130 miles from the U.S. to Poland, into France and finally England in the span of about 20 seconds.
"I wrote these tools for fun," Quimet said. "They were a sort of practice problem. You just never know what things can turn into."
While Quimet knew he had created a useful program for curious searchers, small-business owners and webmasters, he never expected the FBI to be shouting kudos for his free service. Popular Science, a tech-based news service, recently featured Quimets tool, and he received thousands of diggs from users of the online service digg.com, helping his service gain notoriety within the computer community.
Quimet said that soon after bringing his yougetsignal.com to the public, he received an e-mail from Michael Geraghty, the manager of the New Jersey City Police High Technology Unit, expressing thanks.
"I currently teach classes to law enforcement and prosecutors on behalf of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. These involve investigations of online crimes against children. I use and refer to your site in all my classes," Geraghty said. "... I wanted to let you know that your work is appreciated and has been very useful."
Typically the FBI and police will identify the IP address for suspected child predators and then systematically locate the person by backtracking through their network until they can locate their Internet Service Provider. Quimet's Web Site helps narrow the field by providing a visual experience that details the direct path to a particular IP address, at times detailing the country, state and city it originated from.
Yet this is only an example of how Quimet has begun shaping his education into real-world opportunities. He also operates a Web page, socwall.com, and has started the business AD Hock Labs with his roommate. The goal of the lab is to create Web sites where users generate and promote the content on the pages, because those sites can typically manage themselves.
Clint Rogers, Quimet's mentor and past professor, said it has been a treat watching Quimet succeed because every teacher's dream is to see their students apply what they've learned in inventive ways.
"(Quimet) is only at the beginning of his career," Rogers said. "Keep your eyes on him, he'll only keep growing from here."
As Quimet rounds out his final year at BYU, he said he will keep creating tools and Web pages he sees a need for, but that's just what he enjoys doing.
"I've had so much fun with my education, and that's what I've learned at BYU," Quimet said. "It's been great learning to take concepts from an amateur level to a large scale."