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.
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.
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:
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.
Part one of this post painted a somewhat bleak picture of the state of Internet measurement as a science. The dreariness will continue later this month in part two. And yet there seems to be quite a lot of measuring the Internet going on. It can’t all be that bad, can it?
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.
I spent quite a lot of time in 2014 thinking about the following problem: if I hand you a paper that claims something about the Internet, based on data I cannot show you because I am bound by a nondisclosure agreement due to corporate confidentiality or user privacy issues, generated by code which is ostensibly available under an open-source license but which is neither intended to run outside my environment, nor tested to ensure it will produce correct results in all cases, nor maintained to ensure it is compatible with newer versions of the compiler, interpreter, or libraries it requires, what reason have I given you to believe what I say?
Shamelessly inspired by Alexander Calder, who I followed from Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Zürich, and inexpertly crafted from stuff I found at Migros, I present my first attempt at a mobile.
(And for those of you who have not yet heard, yes, this commission has a customer: we’re expecting a daughter in a few weeks. We won’t be boring the Internet at large with piles of baby pictures, though.)