A couple of months ago, I posted about leaving academia. Two weeks ago, I joined Google as a Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) manager. I’ll be working to keep bits of Google’s technical infrastructure running smoothly, at least once I’ve learned enough about how it works and what all the various switches and levers do to be dangerous. The past two weeks have been a deluge of new things to learn, but I’ve finally got my head far enough above water to reflect on things a bit.
About three years ago I started working part-time (20%) on SCION, a secure, available future Internet architecture. Since I wasn’t around much, I was given a nice easy project that wasn’t on anyone’s critical path: desigining the naming system for SCION (as to that time it was assumed SCION would just use DNS with new RRTYPEs to handle the new address families it introduces).
After a few months of part-time thinking about (and rejecting) blockchains and distributed hash tables, I arrived at the design of RAINS, whose recursive acronym ostensibly stands for “RAINS, Another Internet Naming System”, but is really a comment on the weather in Zürich in November.
Looking back over the arc of my career in pseudoacademia, especially over the last three years of digging into transport stack evolution with the MAMI project, there are a few bits of work I’m especially happy to have been a part of. One of these is the inclusion of the spin bit into the QUIC transport protocol. The spin bit was conceived as the minimum useful explicit signal one could add to a transport protocol to improve measurability, the benefit for the overhead is IMO quite worth it.
The IETF uses Jabber for instant messaging during working group meetings, as does the IAB for its own teleconferences and meetings. Since I didn’t really feel like shopping around for a Jabber account, and XMPP integration with Google Talk shut down in the middle of the decade, I decided a few years ago to run my own server, which I pretty much only use for connecting to IETF conference rooms and for chatting with IETF folks as a backchannel during meetings.
I always love going to Schloss Dagstuhl, a retreat for computer scientists in the middle of nowhere in Saarland, Germany. It’s a little difficult to get to, but the train ride (Wallisellen to Saarbrücken via Zürich and Mannheim) is a nice, slow way to step back from whatever context-switching overhead is dominating my days at the moment and start thinking about the theme of the workshop.
Last October, I went to what’s probably my last Dagstuhl seminar for a while, spending three days around the billiard table and in the wine cellar figuring out whether there’s anything to be done about Encouraging Reproducibility in Scientific Research of the Internet.
A year and some after Switzerland’s plucky protofascist poster art collective cum Trumpist political party, the SVP (Swiss People’s Party), screamed Verfassungsbruch! (lit. “Constitution break!”; fig., accusative: “you’re breaking the Constitution!“) on the floor of Parliament at the admitted non-implementation of their unimplementable vandalism of the Swiss constitution in the name of nativism, they’re back at it again with the almost-reasonable-sounding Selbstbestimmungsinitiative (lit. “self-determination initiative”; SBI if you’re into hashtags). One has to read the details to see how broken it is.
I’m writing today from Berlin, after an excellent Passive and Active Measurement conference and a very long but fruitful week in London for IETF 101, which, for me, came to be dominated by the The Spin Bit.
The spin bit is an explicit signal for passive measurability of round-trip time, currently possible in TCP but not in QUIC due to lack of acknowlegment and timestamp information in the clear. It’s an example of a facility designed to fulfill the principles for measurement as a first class function of the network stack we laid out in an article published last year.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a completely optimisic post about politics, but today seems as good a day as any to try. Today was an Abstimmungssonntag (“referendum Sunday”) here, and the most important question before Switzerland at the national level was a revocation of the federal government’s authority to levy a compulsory television and radio fee: NoBillag. I’ve already written about this referendum, and how it represented not a mere return of four hundred francs per year to every household, not a mere privatization of a few television and radio stations (one of which I’m listening to right now), but a frontal assault on public media and an attempt to drive the country’s media landscape into low-information territory; in other words noch ein Schritt zum kriechenden Beitritt der Schweiz in die vereinigten Staaten(1).
My opinion on Billag(1) is complicated. It seems like it could fairly simply be replaced by payments from the general fund, overseen by a non-political body to evaluate applications for funding from SRF and regional providers. What we have in NoBillag, instead, is an attempt to Americanize the Swiss media landscape. Thankfully, I’m not the first to point this out, and I hope I won’t be the last. tl;dr, hey Switzerland, you want Bundesrat Trump?
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.