Friday, October 19, 2007

Travel, redux

I'm sitting in the SLC airport on my way home. Courtesy of a 3-hour layover, I seem to have some time to kill.

My return flights are not turning out to be nearly as nice as the trip out. The first leg of the return trip was The Flight With Large Men. When I'm one of the smallest people on board, we're in trouble. I spent the entire flight plastered to the window, since there wasn't room for my shoulders to fit between the side of the plane and the guy next to me. He wasn't the biggest guy on the plane - that was the guy in front of me.

My next leg is full, so I'm sure to get something similar. I've come to loath the CRJ when it's full. Oh, and one more serious flaw in the CRJ: the windows are too low. I guess only small children like to look out the windows of airplanes. That, or all Canadians are really short. (Or Bombardier engineers, perhaps.)

I'll update this tomorrow, once I'm home and can report on the remaining leg. Time to go walk aimlessly around SLC some more....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The End, take 2

This version of the end of the internet as we know it is a bit more subtle than simply running out of numbers. This one is usually described as the "routing" problem. Let's see if I can describe it for folks who don't naturally count in binary.

For an analogy, let's talk about the post office and the zip code system. The way US mail works is pretty simple, actually. Mail gets sent to regional centers, where it's sorted into sets of mail based on the zip code on the envelope. (It's actually a bit more complicated, but let's stay with this for a moment.) Imagine that a sorting center can only handle 1,000 buckets, perhaps due to a limit on available physical space. There are, on the other hand, 10,000 zip codes. Fortunately, not all of the zip codes are in use.

Pretend that only 500 are in use. In that case, everything works great - there's plenty of bins to cover all of the zip codes. The number of zip codes in use slowly grows, however, so at some point there might be 950 zip codes in use. While there's still enough bins, there's clearly a limit coming. Perhaps the post office decides to upgrade their facilities to support 2,000 bins. That's an excellent solution, for the short term, but you eventually run out of available bins. The only solution is to build 10,000 bins. (Or, do something entirely different, like sorting regionally on the first three digits, and then sorting locally on all five digits, which is actually more how it works.) If there's not room for 10,000 bins, you'll have to get creative. If some facilities can support 2,000, while other can support 3,000, some of this model can get kinda complicated.

In the internet, IP addresses are used to route traffic. (Remember those from yesterday? They look like, for example.) We don't use a fixed set of those digits for routing, but it's sort of like the idealized post office described above. We're running out of bins, and it's difficult to make enough.

There's another angle to this problem, too. The post office doesn't specify where you live in your zip code. That's only used to get the envelope close to the right general place. The identifier for where you live is your street address. In the internet, that IP address is used for both functions: it identifies where you are *and* who you are. That combination is helping to fuel how fast we run out of bins. This is, in the industry jargon, the loc/id split problem. (For the truly geeky, go read the IRTF RRG working group's mailing list for waaaaay more information than you really want.)

To get back to our analogy, if the Internet worked like our fictional post office, we'd need bins not just for all of the zip codes, but for every single possible mailing address, and that's just to route letters to the right place! As you can imagine, this is a bit of a scaling problem.

I'll admit that this one is a bit more obscure than simply running out of addresses, but it's just as nasty for the ongoing operation of the Internet.

In my previous post, I mentioned NANOG, the North American Network Operators' Group. They are definitely worried about this one. I kind of did these posts out of order, though, 'cause the group really worried about the addressing problem is ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers.

Lots of very smart people are working on both problems. Let's hope they get it figured out before it all breaks!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The End

There are at least two key problems that could entirely break the Internet, or at least severely limit its future growth, and I'm going to try to lay them out such that people who aren't card carrying geeks can understand them. For today, let's stick to one of them: the address problem.

First, a bit of background. When you use, for example, a web browser, you enter an address for a page you want to view. You might, for example, ask for The underlying network that connects you to Google (and your own computer, too) has no idea what that set of roman letters means. There's a system for converting that name that's (mostly) readable by humans into something that a computer can understand. Not surprisingly, that address is in binary; that is, it's a bunch of zeros and ones. It's normal for network operators to look at these addresses in a more human readable format, so the address for might be something like

So far, so good.

Here's the problem: we're running out of these addresses. The central authority (IANA) that coordinates these numbers will run out of available space in 2010. It will become difficult to acquire new ones in about 2012 as a result. (There's a certain amount stored up in regional registries, but that's a piece of complexity that's unnecessary for our discussion.)

Fortunately, there is a solution. It's called IPv6, and it's a vastly larger pool of addresses, although the new addresses are incompatible with the old addresses. That's a real problem.

For devices like routers (the pieces of the network that decide where to send your data), supporting IPv6 means an upgrade. I don't know how often any of you upgrade your home computers, but service providers don't like to upgrade too often - it's expensive! Content providers (like Google, Amazon, eBay, et al.) have no reason to upgrade (yet) because there's not a good justification for the cost, since no one will use the IPv6 version. (The web page would look the same, only the technical goo would be different.)

This is a basic chicken and egg problem. Until there are users, there won't be content on this "new" Internet. Symmetrically, there won't be any users until there's some useful content. It's also a bit like the Y2K problem, expect there isn't a hard deadline, and the deadline will be different for every organization. Also, hitting the deadline won't cause your network to stop working, although you won't be able to make it bigger.

Given the time required to make the necessary changes, we're already too late. This is going to be a mess, and probably very expensive. You can bet that the cost will get passed on to someone.

Why is this interesting on this trip? I'm presently at the NANOG conference. Check out the link if you're feeling geeky.

I'll talk about the other "death of the Internet" problem sometime soon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I can fly!

I'm off on a business trip, which seems like a good time to blog a bit more. Let's see if I can!

Topic number one: travel. In this day and age, travel can only be described as a serious pain. To my slight surprise, my experience getting from San Jose to Albuquerque was pretty darn easy.

Let's start with the airport security nightmare. Given the War on Fluids, I came prepared. After checking in my one bag (which was easy, as there was no line), I headed for security, not knowing what I'd find. To my surprise, the line was entirely empty. I breezed through in no time, and had a nice chat with the TSA folks in the meantime. I was mildly annoyed by this, actually, as I signed up for a Clear card to help speed my way through security. It didn't have a value add this time, since there was no one in line! (I expect to test this next month when I fly out of terminal A at San Jose, which often has a line out to the parking garage.)

Once the plane showed up, we managed to board. I was a little concerned about my flights, as both legs were on CRJ-700s. I don't mind regional jets for short hops (and these were both only 90 minutes each), but I've always flown on the ERJ series, which have only three seats in a row, and I always sit on the 'A' side to avoid sitting next to anyone. The CRJs are two+two seating, so that wasn't an option. To my surprise, both legs of my flight were nearly full, but no one sat next to me on either flight! The CRJs seem to also have just a wee bit more room than the ERJs, which was helpful. In SLC, I ended up leaving from the gate where I arrived. (Different aircraft, though.) Certainly made the plane change trivial.

After arriving in ABQ, I simply took a cab to my hotel. As stressful as travel has gotten, I was really quite relieved that it was so simple and easy.

Next topic: the end of the internet as we (well, some very exclusive and geeky version of "we") know it.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The other, other red meat.

I haven't written in a while, mostly because I have a nasty rant about stupid drivers that I'm working up the energy to write.

In the meantime, I'll share that we had a seriously yummy dinner tonight. Perhaps I'm just a food hedonist (okay, guilty as charged), but this was definitely a top notch affair.

While I worked on dinner, the better half sliced some cheese to have with a bit of wine. The cheese was a Basque sheep's cheese called "Istara". We paired that with the wine of the evening, the 1997 St. Supéry red meritage. (Yes, we're members of their wine club, which is why St. Supéry features so frequently in these entries.) This was an ideal pairing, as the cheese is a bit sharp and pungent, with a salty edge, while the wine is silky smooth, with hints of heavy fruit and oak, combined with a bit of spice.

While we feasted on the cheese, I sliced some golden beets, and rubbed them with some olive oil and salt and pepper. I also split some cipollini onions and brushed them with some more olive oil. Once the grill was hot, I started the vegetables over a medium fire.

As a side note, I don't think I've mentioned my views on grills. Gas is for inside cooking. Real outdoor grilling is done over fire. It really is that simple. I recently upgraded grills. I'm mostly happy with the new one, although there's a bit of a learning curve.

While the vegetables cooked (and taking care not to burn the beets too much, although it's impossible to not carmelize something with that much sugar), I sautéed some mushrooms (a combination of button and more interesting varieties) in a bit of oil and butter, and added a dash of wine for extra flavor.

Finally, once the veggies were done, it was time for the main course. It wouldn't be incorrect to describe these cuts of meat as New York strips, except that would imply the wrong species. These were strip steaks from another part of that state: Buffalo.

Seriously, folks, bison is like beef, but better. This is the first time I've grilled my own bison steaks - I've always cooked burgers before. I read that it's important to trim the fat off of buffalo before cooking, which seemed odd. I didn't, but it turns out there's a good reason for that suggestion. For future reference, the fat turns extremely tough after grilling, which makes steak disassembly a bit more of a challenge. It's still delicious, though. Be careful if you go for doing this yourself, since bison isn't as fatty as beef, and you could easily dry the meat out.

The steaks were rich and flavorful, with noticeably less fat than well marbled beef, but with much more intense flavor. This worked well with the sweetness of the veggies, the slightly earthy scent of the mushrooms, and the rich and fruity wine.

This was a feast entirely suited to a food hedonist's dream. Yum!