Tomorrow, I’ll take part in a panel discussion at ETH Zürich, entitled “Internet and Trust”. From the flyer for the discussion: “The Internet relies on so many layers of trust that one is sometimes surprised that [it] actually works”. This is true, but I suppose that’s a property of any system of sufficient complexity, when viewed by someone who understands it well enough to know how much bubble gum and duct tape is used to hold it together.
Internet architecture and Internet-centered research being a global enterprise, I spend between four and seven weeks a year on the road, depending on which year, your definition of road and your definition of week, and a fair amount of time in teleconferences in various timezones in the time in between. One of the fixtures in my calendar is the thrice-annual meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), taking place right now in Chicago. I’ve only missed three such meetings in the past dozen years, and each time I do I attempt to take part via Internet as best I can. Here are my reflections about well it’s working this time around, how it’s improved, and how it could improve further. For in a world where those who steadfastly believe in borders and walls seem to be gaining the upper hand, it seems prudent to prepare to do the work of Internet architecture, engineering, and standardization without the benefit of free movement of the people doing it.
On the shores of Lake Sarnen in central Switzerland, there’s a museli factory. (Of course there is.) It makes many different kinds of muesli for various markets. One of these is an organic chocolate-amaranth concoction that’s basically the only thing my daughter will eat for dinner this week. I happened to glance at the ingredients, and it occurred to me that there are basically three kinds of people in the world.
Wasting time at Christmas by burning the site to the ground and starting over seems to be a tradition around here…
Wow, that year went quickly, on which more later.
I’d wanted to try my hand at brewing for a while, but was put off it by the (accurate) fear than ninety percent of the work was washing bottles and cleaning pots. Then, last winter, as a newly-minted father of a baby with an age measured in weeks, life consisted mainly of sterilizing bottles and not sleeping. I made an offhand comment to the effect that if I was going to spend so much time boiling glass I might as well make beer. Ariane gave me a starter kit, and a year later I’m about seventy liters in and think I have a reasonable clue what I’m doing.
I’m off to New York in a couple of weeks to present a paper at PAM (which I mentioned here, though sadly the flashy automated demo I was hoping to build was a bit optimistic). The question: “is it safe to turn on ECN on client machines by default, completing the end to end deployment of a simple fifteen year old protocol to give us a better way to signal network congestion than simply dropping packets on the floor?” The answer is: “define safe.” Our key findings:
In German, there’s a word for an organization which takes its mission very seriously but is adorably incompetent at it: “Kaninchenzüchterverein” (lit. “rabbit-breeding club”). There’s another word for an organization which is bad at what it does because nobody cares: “Saftladen” (lit. “juice shop”).
The issues identified in of part one of this post led to yet another search for solutions to the problem of making (especially passive) measurement repeatable. Of course, this has been done before, but I took as an initial principle that the social aspects of the problem must be solved socially, and worked from there. What emerged was a set of requirements and an architecture for a computing environment and set of associated administrative processes which allows analysis of network traffic data while minimizing risk to the privacy of the network’s end users as well as ensuring spatial and temporal repeatability of the experiment. For lack of a better name I decided to call an instance of a collection of data using this architecture an analysis vault.
Mail is broken. This is nothing new. RFC 822, after all, wasn’t the beginning of Internet e-mail, merely an attempt to fix it, which admittedly worked reasonably well for a while. But even with all the brokenness of mail, I wasn’t expecting to dig into my Postfix logs today to find that USENIX couldn’t send me mail because the firm they’ve outsourced to was too lazy to create IN PTR records for their nodes in the cloud.