A new way to look at networking

I finally got around to watching A new way to look at networking yesterday. This is a talk given by Van Jacobson at Google in 2006 (yes, it has been on my todo list for a long time).This is definitely worth watching if you are interested in networking.

A couple of quick comments (These are not particularly deep or anything. This is mostly for my own reference later.):

  • He says that the current Internet was designed for conversations between end nodes but we’re using it for information dissemination.
    • Me: This distinction relies on the data being disseminated to each user being identical. However, in the vast majority of cases even data that on the surface is identical such as web site content is actually unique for each visitor. Any site with advertisements or with customizable features are good examples. As a result we are still using the Internet for conversations in most situations.
  • He outlines the development of networking:
    • The phone network was about connecting wires. Conversations were implicit.
    • The Internet added metadata (the source and destination) to the data which allowed for a much more resilient network to be created. The Internet is about conversations between end nodes.
    • He wants to add another layer where content is addressable rather than the source or destination.
  • He argues for making implicit information explicit so the network can make more intelligent decisions.
    • This is what IP did by adding the source and destination to data.
  • His idea of identifying the data not the source or destination is very interesting. A consequences of this model is that data must be immutable, identifiable and build in metadata such as the version and the date. It strikes me how the internal operation of the Git version control system matches these requirements.

The Semicolon Wars

Interesting programming language article.

The Semicolon Wars from American Scientist.

A catalog maintained by Bill Kinnersley of the University of Kansas lists about 2,500 programming languages. Another survey, compiled by Diarmuid Piggott, puts the total even higher, at more than 8,500. And keep in mind that whereas human languages have had millennia to evolve and diversify, all the computer languages have sprung up in just 50 years. Even by the more-conservative standards of the Kinnersley count, that means we’ve been inventing one language a week, on average, ever since Fortran.

Extra, Extra – Read All About It: Nearly All Binary Searches and Mergesorts are Broken

If you follow many software or computer science related blogs you may have already seen the article linked below. I’m going to link to it again anyway because everyone who is involved in software should read it.

Extra, Extra – Read All About It: Nearly All Binary Searches and Mergesorts are Broken

The general lesson that I take away from this bug is humility: It is hard to write even the smallest piece of code correctly, and our whole world runs on big, complex pieces of code.

Operating system design

The following article offers a nice introduction to some design techniques that may be used to create more reliable operating systems.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that microkernels long discarded as unacceptable because of their lower performance compared with monolithic kernels might be making a comeback due to their potentially higher reliability, which many people now regard as more important than performance. The wheel of reincarnation has turned.

Can We Make Operating Systems Reliable and Secure? by Andrew S. Tanenbaum

CASCON 2005

Last Tuesday I attended CASCON 2005. CASCON is hosted by IBM’s Centers for Advanced Studies. I have been to many technology conferences in the past such as Internet World but this was the first academic conference I have attended. As such, I don’t have anything to compare CASCON against. The conference itself seemed to be organized well. The atmosphere was very relaxed.

The keynote speech for the day was by Rob Clyde from Symantec Corp. His speech was entertaining and had lots of good statistics on the current state of computer security. Throughout the whole speech one thought kept circling in my mind, the security industry is far more worried about managing the security problems that plague computer networks than solving them. This makes sense since it is hard to sell solutions to problems that no longer exist. The moral for this story is that computer science as a discipline shouldn’t be looking to the main stream computer security industry for solutions to basic security problems.

A key part of CASCON is the technology showcase. Interested faculty and students are given small booths where they can present their current research to anyone interested. The closest analogy may be an elementary school science fair for adults. This is a great way to get some idea of what other people are currently researching and also provided me with many ideas for my own thesis topic.

Perhaps the most memorable part of my CASCON experience came after the conference was over for the day. During diner I lucked into sitting beside Dr. Morven Gentleman. A short while into the meal I discovered that among several other distinguished positions, Morven had worked at Bell Labs during the late sixties. If you know anything about the history of computing you probably know that both Unix and C were developed at Bell labs during this time. Hearing first hand anecdotes about the formative years of Unix and C was absolutely fabulous. The rest of the diner consisted of me peppering Morven with questions about the history of computing which he seemed happy to answer. Hopefully I wasn’t too annoying.