Postcards from the Bleeding Edge
Paul Vixie vs Verisign
Once upon a time, the internet was run by responsible engineers. People like Jon Postel made decisions for purely technical reasons, by consensus with the users, as part of the internet social contract. The contract started to tear when he died, and while ICANN squabbled, control of the Net shifted from recognisable people to faceless corporations. Mostly.
Verisign, the company that controls the .com and .net domains, and has a stranglehold on the cryptography that ensures 'safe' commerce, introduced a new "service" yesterday that redirects mis-spelt domains to an ad for Verisign's domain sales service. On the face of it, it's a a brilliant marketing idea, but the reality is that this 'feature' breaks
the Net in a fundamental way - spam filters, among other things, don't work anymore. No engineer would have approved this change to the basic structure of the Net.
Thankfully, as Lessig wrote, "Code is law" - and coders can still make a difference. People like Paul Vixie, that still believe in the internet's social contract, continue to fight for the original dream. His non-profit company, the internet software consortium, still controls the software that runs domain service, and in one day, ISC is releasing a patch to bind
that blocks this insane change to how the Net works. It's not a political decision, but an engineering one - Verisign broke the internet, Vixie's fixing it.
I don't know how quickly this patch will propigate, but I'm willing to bet it will cover the globe in a matter of weeks for a large percentage of sites - but many users, for years, will have to put up with an ad every single time they mistype a domain name. It's one hell of a penalty for typos.
My thanks to Paul Vixie, a recognisable, responsible face on the internet. The guy still answers his postmaster email!
Confessions of someone that wasn't always as responsible
I remember exactly when I got burned out on banner ads. I was sitting in a meeting with a bunch of high muckety mucks and advertising people, all talking about new places to force their messages down people's throats. Finally I lost it, and started babbling about the new IPv13 protocol:
"The new IPv13 protocol replaces IPv4 at layers two and three. After 14-256 ACK packets is a required ADV (advertising) packet, which can be up to 32k bytes in length. Once enabled, it permits advertising over telnet, irc, gopher, and database links. Best of all, it works transparently to the underlying application, and there's talk of an extension for streaming media and flash!"
Now: There is no IPv13 protocol
. I had just lost it, completely. I was making it up, riffing on this single, preposterous idea. I'd cracked. I was the technical expert in the room and I couldn't stand what these people wanted to do to the internet. I shudder to think of what would have happened if the same people had been present at the early stages of the internet design - because... because... of the 10 in the room that day, every last one
thought IPv13 was a great idea and started incorporating it in their plans. Even the few that should have known better bought the story hook, line, and sinker.
I knew then, that I had to get out of that biz. I went and worked on banner ad blocking software for a while, and then I found something even more wholesome and positive to do. Someday, I thought, I'd write up an april fools day rfc for IPv13, but I'm afraid too many would take it seriously.
I know, that somewhere, in Verisign, there's an engineer that helped, unwittingly, break the Net, yesterday. Maybe he or she didn't realize what they were doing. Maybe they didn't care. Maybe the money was good. I just hope that maybe - he or she - realizes their error, and finds a way to sleep at night.
You see, it took me ages to figure out what was really bothering me. After I implemented junkbuster
on my personal server, I figured, cynically, that banner ads did really serve a purpose - they funded some really great services, and who was I to care if nobody else was as tired of looking at them as I was - if they were, they'd install junkbuster, too.
As the numbers piled up, I stayed on at that job, working towards that day where all the perl code I'd worked on would be replaced by java code I'd never touched. Every day I'd get these glowing reports of: "3 million hits at 10AM - 27 million for the day - Atta Boy - we're doing great - we're gonna go public with a bang!" and it bothered me. I knew that code I'd worked on was annoying some percentage of those internet users - a college student, perhaps, hanging off the edge of the network in Belize, spending their last dime in an internet coffee shop waiting for the ads to finish downloading at 9600 baud, or a doctor trying to do a quick search on yahoo.
The sheer waste of bandwidth that banner ads represented - sometimes 95% of the page download time - there had to be a better way! By the time that code was retired, it had served up over 6 billion banner ads, either I'd bothered everyone on the planet once, or everyone on the internet 60 times!
I carried angst around until I met a guy named "elf" - who'd been at the first meeting at hotwired where they created the darn things, set the format size, and turned them loose. There's guilt for ya. Oddly enough, I felt better after we talked. I realized that the core of dissonance was not just the waste of bandwidth, and of time - but that banner ads marked the decline of Truth found on the internet. Truth is hard to find, as it is... it's why I blog. Anybody but me noticed that Micro$oft has an ad campaign running on every story that mentions Linux these days?
I do understand that banner ads funded the internet expansion, and keep some great services alive. I find that Google's text ads are vastly superior to banner ads, and yet so many services don't use them (cost model? Inertia?). I have hope for micro-transactions, too.
Anyway, as whatever engineers modified DNS for Verisign looks back on their handywork, at the hit counts for mis-typed url after mis-typed url, perhaps they too will come to the same realizations as I did. It takes time to understand an error of this magnitude.
In the meantime, if seeing the ad for mistyped urls bothers you - or your spam load has gone up since monday, like mine has - send an email to verisign with your concerns. Or call them up. Maybe they'll pull the service. Who knows?
Thanks, Paul, for reminding me that there are good men doing something so that Truth, Justice, and the Internet Way may prevail!
Get a grip on traffic conditions with Know Traffic
of Raging Network Services
, friend, co-author, former roomate, sailing buddy
, has just started Know Traffic
, a new service that sends you traffic conditions (speed/accident reports) on your route to work to your SMS-enabled cellphone. He's looking for testers... and wrote me
Good Afternoon Mike!
I was thinking to myself, 'self, where could I find a group of vocal, opinionated, technically savvy folks to use my service and give me feedback?. Of course, the blog community! So if you could put a blurb on yer blog, let fellow bloggers with cellphones and commutes know that I'd love to give them free accounts on KnowTraffic.com in exchange for some good feedback on the service. Just have them email greg.
KnowTraffic is a real-time traffic alerting and reporting system tailored for each subscriber's traffic routes and schedules. It uses SMS text messaging on the existing cellular infrastructure - available anywhere at any time and with no additional special equipment.
Automatically receive accurate and timely traffic information!
Sitting in traffic for hours because of an accident is now completely avoidable. This system takes the pain out of commuting.
Greg took turns kicking my ass in starcraft and finishing the code for it last week - and I beat Know Traffic
around a little - I like it. It seems like a great idea that could use a few people banging on it. I remember when we used to have police radio scanners - are they still legal? Anyway - this service is legal, so far as I can tell, so try it out before the guy in the car next over does.
This is ordinarily a commercial-free blog but I owe greg. Dang those pesky little humans, they outproduce us Protoss every time...
The Ball and Chain
Remind me not to buy a house in the middle of a downturn next time, ok? Given how much money I was making last year I figured that my house near Santa Cruz was a safe investment. It took me 4 offers on 4 places - on most of which I was outbid by 10% or more - before I got this one. So... I figured I could always sell the place quickly at a nice little profit if I changed jobs.
Ha. The place has been on the market for what I bought it for for 60 days, as of today. No takers.
I've been out of work for 90 days. Geez, I remember when my phone rang off the hook, all through 97-99, just because recruiters could find my resume via a search engine. I turned down job after job at dumbideas.com before I settled in for Mediaplex's run at going public. They made it in late 99 but the stock went bust in march, leaving a lot of employees in the dust.
I'd been smart, I thought, I stayed on as a contractor and never took any stock - but the hype around the embedded linux market and all the successful offerings (redhat, VA Linux, slashdot) whetted my taste for stock options - so I joined a likely candidate for that pie in the sky.
I stayed on for three years. In the early days it was the classic startup, I got to keep on doing the open source things I had been doing prior, and work on everything - cross-development, it, research, hacking in general - a lot of fun. Later on I headed up the Graphics (& sound) project, hacking on mozilla, dillo, gtk, x11 on all kinds of neat hardware. By the time the 20th board rolled around, though, it was getting old, and I was getting sick and tired, and it was obvious that we wasn't going public any time soon.
When I left I figured, oh, by august something would turn up, and I'd spend the time on the beach working on problems that I had put off working on for 6 hectic years of the boom and bust... and maybe have a little fun, too. I had forgotten why I lived in california and I needed to remember.
I hadn't realized one thing - that I'd become a little overspecialized. There's not a big market for a Linux X11/gtk guy with tons of cross development expertise. As a matter of fact, as best I can tell, there's no market - nationwide I've only seen 8 job postings that use the best of that skill set, and half were in San Diego. 3 years of work, useless. I'd always managed to dodge the personal obsolescence bullet before (although I was a mite worried about NT before Linux took off)
Ah, no problem, I thought. I really like San Diego and San Francisco, I figure when my house sells... I'll... wait... house?
This is one of those "Oh, shiza" moments. The Ball and Chain around my ankle has slipped up to my throat. I could rent the house out, but then where would I live? Jefe's RV is dead, as much as I'd like to pack it up and go south, it isn't going to happen.
Nothing left to do but ride it out, and refresh older parts of my skill set. It hurts to code in C these days anyway - too tedious, I can't sit still for it. SQL seems to work, DHTML (thanks to the blog) makes sense to me now, lessee, what else is marketable? Plenty. Perl, php, sysadm... There's lots more to catch up on - it's going to be a long fall.
Some rules for taht-watchers though...
0) When I contract for a pre-ipo firm, take the job and the options.
1) When I get in the stock market, get out.
2) When I get into a house, sell yours.
When I get out of this hole I'm going to start using the I Ching to make decisions.
On the invention of the Form
In the End, there was BUREAUCRACY.
In the Beginning, there was DARKNESS - but that's besides the point.
They say that God created the universe, fire, sex, fishing and a lot of other neat things but still the poor fool won't admit that paperwork was His fault. He gave Man papyrus, and quill, and said: "Go out unto the world and prosper and create unto it!".
Man, quivering, with inkpot in hand, walked out into the cold new world. Soon afterwards, two men stepped back into back into God's chambers...
"Oh, our Lord?" they cried in unison.
"Speak Unto me, what have you created?" - thundered God.
The first man, a little short, a little bald, a little fat, timidly cleared his throat. "I, uh... O' Great, uh, Sir," said he, gathering strength enough to draw something out importantly from his stained robe, allowing a note of pride to creep into his voice, "Have Invented.... THE FORM!". The other man stepped forward now and spoke unto the echoes - "And I, Lord, have invented TRIPLICATE!" They each then threw handfuls of papryus into the air, clasped hands and danced in a circle (a rite continued to this day, behind closed doors, of course).
God spoke presently, "That's nice. But what do they do?"
"Well you see, " said the first man, "you spend several hours with quill and ink making these little marks on the paper, you know, and then you throw it on the fire to keep warm."
"Ah," the Lord said, "But what do you do for heat in the meantime?"
"That, O most heavenly sir, is where my triplicate comes in, " man Two grinned.... "Now we can have thrice as much heat from one form!" Then the two proto-bureaucrats glanced at each other in pure joy and went into their merry dance again.
Faced with the impeccable logic, God pronouced the thing Good, and sent it out into the earth to prosper, and multiply.
Well, Man took 'forms" to heart, quite unlike his usual reaction to God's bounty. Man soon was scribbling and burning, scribbling and burning. It was great fun - and what else can one do to while away the cold hours between dusk and dawn? Sex before the invention of condoms had consequences that scribbling on forms did not. Forms became gifts in the cold season, you'd hand your host a card at a party, it would be ceremoniously lit and everyone present would dive towards the fire to keep warm.
Suddenly, different people in all corners of the world discovered that the 'form' could be a means of communication!! The concept of 'writing' developed. Letters and words, appeared! We wrote left to right, while peoples on the other sides of the globe wrote right to left or up and down. People would read a letter, and THEN ceremoniously dump it in the fire. Now everyone was gleefully passing letters back and forth. It so happened however that some people kept (and burned) more letters than they sent out. They were therefore warmer than those who sent out more letters than they received - who often died of cold. This division of survival rates between 'reader' and 'writer' persists to this day.
Then someone invented green forms and the public went wild! They thought that these forms were so valuable that they could trade them for other things like food, water, or women. This 'green stuff' was so valuable in fact, that it couldn't be burned, and quite a few people froze to death before the advent of Technology. God is thought to have died during this period as more people worshipped 'money' than Him; money was so much more fun than He had ever been, and His hopes that money was only a fad were demolished.
His last words: "Brother, can you spare a dime?"
Soon afterwards Bureaucracy covered the earth, and like the darkness that preceded it, it was boundless, but it was not - without form
I wrote this story Dec 20th, 1982... the commentary on it was "Very interesting! But it really wasn't what I wanted. What are the chances of getting that essay, too?" Very cold of the teacher, that was. She did give me an A-, but I would have prefered a little criticism on the writing itself, but that's the story of my childhood - I never could deliver quite what the teacher wanted.
The plight of the writer vs the reader remains - except: in the electronic age, both parties keep warmer by running faster computers, and use gas or electric heat in addition. Light is provided not by God, but by a carbon filament.
The original purpose of the form is retained in some parts of our language. Arguments held via email are called flame wars...
I think I've proven that: writing sheds more heat than light.
And that: I should really go back to writing code for a living.