Fragmenting the Internet?

As a followup to my previous post, I’ll mention this article in the Herald Tribune that brings up the possibility that other countries may set up their own DNS systems, creating a parallel naming scheme for Internet sites, not controlled by the US.

Just to clarify, ICANN has two primary responsibilities, from what I can tell:

  • IP address allocation
  • DNS top-level domain management, which includes operating the root DNS servers

Both of these functions are core to the Internet’s proper functioning: everyone needs to acquire a unique IP address from some central distributor who ensures there are no collisions, there needs to be a distributor for domain names, and someone has to operate the root DNS servers that resolve the top-level domains (.com, .net, etc).

If countries outside the US wanted to be rid of ICANN, they would need to create alternative infrastructure for both of these functions. Of the two, IP address allocation is a lot stickier than DNS domain administration. If you don’t want to rely on the ICANN to distribute IP addresses, you need to start making up your own addresses, but that immediately breaks routing between your hosts and hosts on the Internet proper (since you may well reuse addresses already in use on the Internet).

If a new IP-address-allocating system were set up, it would create a second Internet, and routing between the Internets would only be possible if hosts on either side were willing to encapsulate traffic to the other Internet and route the encapsulated traffic to gateway machines. This would resemble the tunneling schemes to run IPv6 over IPv4.

This kind of machinery isn’t built into current consumer-grade machines in a nicely accessible way today, so a breakaway faction that made up its own IP addressing scheme would first face the enormous hurdle that regular users would not be able to communicate with its hosts without some explicit configuration. The easiest thing I can think of to enable people to communicate with the new Internet would be to set up VPN servers on the current Internet that gateway to the new Internet; users would need to open a VPN to communicate with the second Internet. Later, the URL naming scheme could be extended to indicate which Internet you are talking about, and end-user machines could be smart enough to use well-known gateway routers colocated on the first and second Internets to route inter-Internet (as it were).

US won’t give up control of the Internet

Slashdot points to an interesting Business Week story: several countries, particularly developing ones, are calling for control over Internet address and domain administration, currently the responsibility of ICANN, which was appointed by the US Commerce Department.

The article mentions:

Some negotiators from other countries said there was a growing sense that a compromise had to be reached and that no single country ought to be the ultimate authority over such a vital part of the global economy.
A stalemate over who should serve as the principal traffic cops for Internet routing and addressing could derail the summit, which aims to ensure a fair sharing of the Internet for the benefit of the whole world.
[Some countries] want greater assurance that as they come to rely on the Internet more for governmental and other services, their plans won’t get derailed by some future U.S. policy.
"We’ve been very, very clear throughout the process that there are certain things we can agree to and certain things we can’t agree to," [US representative] Gross told reporters at U.N. offices in Geneva. "It’s not a negotiating issue. This is a matter of national policy."

He said the United States was "deeply disappointed" with the European Union’s proposal Wednesday advocating a "new cooperation model," which would involve governments in questions of naming, numbering and addressing on the Internet.

On the one hand, ICANN has functioned pretty well thus far in administering the addressing and name-resolution systems. On the other hand, the US could wake up tomorrow and decide to block name-resolution on all domains outside the US, or, say, just the ones it doesn’t like. Or it could decide not to allocate any IP address blocks to countries it disapproves of. If we want the Internet to be a global, public network that provides a channel to governments and international organizations, it does seem a little suspect that a key portion of its infrastructure be under the control of a single country.


I saw a surprisingly good movie last night: Murderball. Somewhat surprisingly, I thought, given the title, this is not a horror movie, but rather a documentary about quadriplegic wheelchair-rugby players. The movie is sad but also very funny, and documents various people involved in the Canadian and US wheelchair-rugby teams in the time leading up to their confrontation at the Paralympic Games in Greece, in 2004.

The quadriplegics in the movie had generally acquired their handicap through accidents; the captain of team USA, for example, had fallen asleep in the back of a friend’s pickup truck, and was hurled out of it when his friend, driving drunk, made a sharp turn. Part of the movie shows the ordeal of a recently-injured young man, Keith Cavill, as he completes his (10-month!) physical rehabilitation process and returns home in a wheelchair. One resonant detail for me was that Keith was injured in a motocycle crash.

It was in the segments about Keith that I was struck by a relatively small detail: earlier in the movie, one of the Team USA players mentions offhandedly that everyone, when they are first injured, clings to the idea that they will walk again, that they will run again, and that they will somehow manage to recover and be as they were before the accident. Of course, for someone with permanent spinal damage, this is impossible. There is a segment where Keith meets the captain of Team USA, who comes to the medical center where Keith is recovering to do a presentation about wheelchair rugby and encourage the quadriplegics there to consider the sport. During the Q&A period, Keith asks the team captain if he would be kicked off the wheelchair rugby team if he recovered enough to walk again.

It was a brief moment in the film, but it reminded me of how I felt as I was recovering from my own, much less serious, accident. When I was in the hospital, and later in a wheelchair and going to physical therapy, I realize now that the idea that I would make a complete recover was essential to my sanity. I asked a lot of questions about whether the hardware would cause problems, because I needed to believe either that I would never notice it, or that it could be removed to fix the problem. I focused on getting in shape for the 2004-2005 snowboarding season, and was on the slopes as soon as there was snow cover.

15 months or so later, my leg still isn’t quite the same, and it may or may not ever be exactly as it was before the accident. Obviously, I was very lucky, and I’ve made my peace with the idea that some minor annoyances and pains may be the price to pay for being alive and otherwise intact and healthy. Having gone through a traumatic accident, though, I can’t imagine the amount of willpower it must take to get through the day when you know that things won’t get back to normal, that you won’t ever walk again, and that your arms and legs will never function properly.

So, I have a great deal of respect for the rugby players in this movie, and pretty much everyone who manages to carry on under the weight of severe injuries. We should all be thankful for what time we each have to enjoy good health and an able body.

Intelligent Design is not science (again)

I think the message may finally be seeping into broad consciousness. At any rate, I’m getting a little tired of hearing the point repeated, but I suppose it bears repeating.

William Saletan explains again that Intelligent Design shouldn’t be taught in science class because it isn’t science, just a set of negatives.

For a lighter take on the issue, though, read this other Slate article:

But the critics are missing the beauty of this new theory. Because the really great thing about intelligent design is that it takes all the awkward uncertainty out of science. It says, “You know those damn theoretical gaps and conundrums that send microbiology graduate students into dank basement laboratories at 3 a.m.? They don’t need to be resolved at all. Go back to bed, sleepy little grad students. God fills those gaps.”
Think of the applications. Science is, after all, teeming with unresolved conundrums. What if we just recognized, for instance, that we can’t make the Standard Model of particle physics work? This theory, which purports to describe all known matter—including subatomic particles, such as quarks and leptons, as well as the forces by which they interact—is plagued by scientists’ failure to observe something called “proton decay.” Now, if we apply the ID principle to particle physics, no one ever needs to put on a lab coat again. Quarks and leptons? They’re made of God.

The Giant Squid hates you

Slate has a hilarious article about the Giant Squid, sort of in the spirit of Shouts and Murmurs in the New Yorker. Definitely worth a complete read.

The giant squid is an “eat the crew, ask questions later” kind of cephalopod, and motion pictures have rightly depicted it as a very angry animal that’s not given to conversation. To see a giant squid is to be attacked by a giant squid, the saying goes. But, like Tom Cruise between movies, the giant squid is camera-shy. And, just like the diminutive actor, Architeuthis dux spends long periods lurking out of sight, surely up to no good, before bursting forth, tentacles flailing, and exercising its alternate belief system.

Fear the Giant Squid!

Fire show pictures

I have posted images from a fire show that was held at our friends Meg and Nathan’s house last weekend:

A voice from the past

I was listening to Alternative Radio on NPR this evening and it featured a speaker arguing for the impeachment of President Bush. As part of his preamble, he read from a speech that Senator Robert Byrd delivered in the Senate during the deliberation over the empowerment of President Bush to invade Iraq. The relevant portions are included in this report:

Byrd used a quote to begin his final speech:

“It is the leaders of a country who determine the policy. It is always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, a parliament or a communist dictatorship, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders….

All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

Byrd then identified its author: “Herman Goering, founder of the Gestapo, president of the Reichstag, convicted war criminal.”

The emphasis is mine. I was struck by how prescient this choice of quotation was.

More on the “freed” British soldiers

More on the story I just posted (see below): The Guardian reports that four Iraqis were killed, and 44 wounded, “in violence surrounding the raid last Monday”. Nonetheless, the UK is unapologetic:

“An apology to the police or the government would not be appropriate because there were orders to the Basra police from the interior ministry to release the two soldiers and they didn’t obey,” Karen McLuskie, a British diplomat in Basra, told the Guardian. “Our people were considered to be in danger and our actions were justified.”

The first question one might have, of course, is why two British soldiers were “in danger” while being held by the Iraqi police in a jail cell.

She said there were no special plans for compensating the relatives of the four Iraqis killed and the 44 injured in violence surrounding the raid last Monday.

“Any citizen who was hurt can apply for compensation in the same way as if they had been hit by an army Humvee or truck,” said Ms McLuskie. There were no plans to help rebuild the police station.
Lewa’ al-Batat, the deputy governor of Basra, said: “If they had asked we would have given the two soldiers over. Generally we have not had trouble with the British. But they broke the laws and insulted our institutions. We will cut relations with them until they apologise and offer compensation for the relatives of [those] who died, as well as for the rebuilding of the police station.”

British soldiers busted out of Iraqi prison

I’ve pointed out before in this blog that the “coalition” forces in Iraq carefully exempt themselves from local law. This is enshrined in Iraqi transitional law. This has led to some bizarre consequences. This past Monday, two British soldiers were arrested by Iraqi authorities “after allegedly shooting two Iraqi policemen who tried to detain them”, CNN reports.

Later Monday, British armored vehicles crashed through the prison walls in an operation to rescue the two soldiers. They were subsequently found in a nearby house in the custody of militiamen, Britain said.

Basra authorities said the operation violated Iraqi sovereignty, and the governor ordered all government employees to stop cooperating with the British, who have 8,500 troops in the Shiite Muslim-dominated region.

Judge Raghib al-Mudhafar, chief of the Basra Anti-Terrorism Court, said Saturday that he reissued homicide arrest warrants for the two soldiers on Thursday.

But the British government said they are not legally binding on the British soldiers.

The Seattle Times reports that British troops attempted to negotiate for the soldiers’ release, but plowed into the jail complex when negotiations stalled. The incident, which took place in Basra, touched off a riot, and the British troops that stormed the jail complex were attacked with gasoline bombs and rocks.

Bushism of the Day

Slate has a good Bushism today:

“We look forward to hearing your vision, so we can more better do our job. That’s what I’m telling you.” —Gulfport, Miss., Sept. 20, 2005.

Google builds a private Internet

This interesting article at reports that “Google is building a network so massive that several service provider specialists believe it could end up with one of the world’s largest core transport networks, effectively building its own private Internet.

“This could create a shift in where public IP interconnects,” speculates Newby. “Traditionally, people went to Internet peering points. But because Google is so large, it could be the Internet. People would go there and never leave.”

Are we rebuilding New Orleans wisely?

In a Slate article from a few days ago, Steven Landsburg points out that the amount of federal money slated for Katrina relief and rebuilding in the Louisiana area is roughly $200,000 per affected person. Steven asks:

For the cost of reconstructing New Orleans, the government could simply give $200,000 to every resident of the region—that’s $800,000 for a family of four. Given a choice, which do you think the people down there would prefer?

The point here is that some of the affected people may wish to cash out and leave the area, and the people who stay may have different ideas about how the city should be built than the government does.

Chromalark has RSS

chromalark now has a (hopefully) functioning RSS feed.

A funny thing happened at the White House…

A strange exchange occurred today during the daily White House press briefing:

Q: I have an observation and a question.


Q: The observation is I’ve heard you say several times that the Judiciary Committee has acted in a civil and dignified way. Did you expect otherwise? Isn’t that pretty condescending? [...]

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s what the American people expect. I mean, we have seen at times where —

Q: Why do you keep saying it?

MR. McCLELLAN: — where things — well, because, I think we all recognize here in Washington sometimes things tend to get down into the bitter, partisan debates. And the Supreme Court is our highest court in the land. The President has an obligation to nominate someone for the bench when a vacancy occurs, and it’s the role of the Senate to move forward on confirming that nomination.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I can also express my — I can also express the President’s appreciation to the Senate for moving forward in a timely manner and moving forward in a civil and dignified way. We commend this —

Q: It’s condescending.

MR. McCLELLAN: No. It’s complimenting them on the process.
Q: — the vote was 13-5 in favor [of approving Justice Roberts' nomination]. I didn’t know —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q: I just learned the vote was 13-5 in favor —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if that’s true, we commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for moving forward. As I said, Judge Roberts is going to make an outstanding Chief Justice and someone that the American people can be very proud of on the bench.

This is McClellan the straight-man. Immediately after having been asked if it’s condescending for the White House to “commend” the legislative branch for doing its job, he commends them.

Winter is coming

Whistler-Blackcomb just got their first snow of the fall, and temperatures are now sub-zero, so they’ve started making snow. Winter is coming! Let’s hope this ski season turns out better than last year’s fiasco, or I’ll need to start thinking about moving to the Canadian Rockies.

Is Bush drinking again?

The National Enquirer reports that Bush has started drinking again, says a Salon brief. We are talking about the National Enquirer here, so don’t reach for the AA hotline number just yet.

Pentagon blocks Congressional testimony

Lately, people have been getting worked up about allegations that an intelligence program known as “Able Danger” had identified at least one of the 9/11 highjackers, Mohamed Atta, long before the attacks were carried out. The motivation, obviously, is to find out whether there was an egregious failure of government intelligence agencies to act on collected information and possibly prevent the terrorist attacks.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Arlen Specter, has been looking into the issue. To date, the committee has been told that Mohamed Atta had been specifically identified as an Al Quaeda operative, and that the Able Danger program’s 2.5TBytes of data (that’s a lot of data, in case you’re wondering) was destroyed during the Clinton administration.

In a strange twist yesterday, the Pentagon, at the last minute, moved to block several witnesses from testifying before the committee. This ticked off the Senators on the committee, who started using words like “cover-up”.

It seems pretty suspicious for the Pentagon to order its staff, as it appears to have done, not to answer any Congressional questions relating to the Able Danger program, if nothing is, in fact, amiss.

Jet Blue passengers watch their own fate unfold on TV

Bizarrely, the Jet Blue passengers on flight 292, which experienced problems with its landing-gear and made an emergency landing at LAX yesterday, watched their own drama unfold live on TV while they were inside the plane. Jet Blue’s planes have satellite TV. One passenger said it would have been much calmer in the cabin if everyone weren’t watching television.

Deathcab rocks

I saw Death Cab for Cutie in concert last night with Chesty (yes, of femur vs. car fame). They were playing a benefit concert at the Showbox for Katrina victims, before setting off on their cross-country promotional tour for their new album, Plans, which you should run out and buy immediately.

It was particularly cool seeing Deathcab at the Showbox, which is a fairly small venue, because we could get up close to the stage. Random things I was struck by:

  • Ben Gibbard’s songwriting ability has really developed; they played some of their very-old titles from their first album and they were dramatically muddy and uninteresting, compared with their new material.
  • In a characteristic moment of humility, Ben thanked the audience for being “so receptive” to the new material. But it’s not like the audience was just clapping politely when they played a song from Plans. Ben played “I Will Follow You into the Dark ” solo with an acoustic guitar as an encore, and the crowd almost overpowered his voice while singing along. This means that a respectable fraction of the audience had memorized the lyrics to a song that’s been released for only a few weeks.
  • Deathcab is pretty socially gracious, but the audience wasn’t always so. At one point, a bandmember asked everyone to send “good thoughts” to Texas, which is staring down Hurricane Rita, but someone shouted out “don’t miss!”

Last note: I see that Plans is #18 in Amazon’s music rankings today.

Chromalark goes beta

I’ve always found it to be an unfortunate tradeoff to post images to this blog, since the layout and presentation don’t really focus on the images (for one thing, it’s hard to make each image big enough without screwing up the layout).

Because of this, I’ve started a separate site, chromalark, which is structured as a photoblog. The main presentation page emphasizes a single image, and any verbiage or discussion is off on a separate page.

There are quite a few similiarly structured photoblogs popping up all over. One of the ones I follow regularly is chromasia, which I modeled chromalark’s name on. Photoblogging seems to be a straightforward consequence of the advent of good-quality digital cameras; there is now a substantial subculture of DSLR and digicam-wielding amateurs producing attractive and interesting work. Whether I can count myself in that group remains to be seen.

For now, I’m still working on chromalark, but I’ve started posting content (today’s image is the first entry). Here is a crosslink to get you started: