Re: [BITS] ICS 230 Midterm: Social Construction of the Internet

Einar Stefferud (
Tue, 24 Feb 1998 10:00:18 -0800

Hello Rohit -- Yes, this kind of sparring is great exercise...

You really should read "... Wizards ..." as it fits perfectly into
this discussion. The Nuclear Blast Survival technology of Paul Baran,
as noted in Wizards, did not directly flow into ARPANET. It was
incidently chosen for the ARPANET IMPS, perhaps in part because it
came free with the whole idea of distributed packet switching.
Distributed packet switching was a primary thrust, whether it was
nuclear survivable or not.

I was not a party to those decisions, though I was hanging around with
some of the folk who made them. (I admit to not understanding what
they were talking about at the time;-)... I also only had vague
understanding of Paul Baran's work in 1962-63, though my office was
next door to him at the time. But, I had a sense of it, and that
sense was that important new ideas were afoot and things were going to
be very different in the future.

But, Paul's work for DoD did not lead to direct use by DoD except by
the indirect route through ARPANET where the military mind did not
have the same feelings about best effort packet transmission. The
military had the same attitude about distributed packet switching that
the bankers had, and they have always had a propensity to go with the
OSI sense of need for extreme reliability. MILSPEC meant rugged
reliability, and packet switching looked fragile and uncertain.

So, I would say that "route around damage" (is ethos the right word?)
has come in from left field, and is still coming in from left field
after 35 years, as new people are absorbed into the Internet at the
same old exponential rate. Each new person has to absorb it
individually because irt is a paradigm shift, and paradigm shifting
only occurs one mind at a time. Somehow, this seems different from
the way new clothing styles spread enmass like wildfire;-)... Is it
that taste and style are more superficial?

If you run the numbers from 1969 to present, I expect you will find
that the Internet has been doubling in hosts and users every 13
months. Not a totally smooth plot, but a good curve fit for gross

So, I expect that we agree more than we disagree, but as both the
Devil and God live in the details, it seems improper to gloss over too
many misfitted details.

See you this PM. I am always interested in meeting with John and his
Class, and my schedule is generally open. But, I am not available
this Thursday;-)...


}> Hello Rohit -- I would guess several things from reading your mideterm.
}Thanks for your reply -- I'm glad to take the debate a bit further. I
}certainly stand guilty as charged on the factual matters discussed
}herein. I can only claim in my defense that neatness seemed more
}important than correctness at the time :-)
}> I am not trying to discredit your writing. Just noting that it is
}> indeed very difficult to impute history from recent memory.
}I hope not! I'm still on a high from some of those turns of phrase. If
}only I could pass the class on style points alone...
}> 1. You have not read "Where Wisards Stay Up Late" by Matt Lyon and
}> Katie Hafner, because they tell a drather different story.
}Yep. I still haven't read it in detail. It's on the stack. Initial
}sighting in the archive (and the FoRK brookstore!) at
}Katie Hafner, in her Amazon description of the book, highlighted
}"collaborative work and simultaneous discoveries" throughout Internet
}history, which is strong evidence of a 'high-commitment frame' in
}social-constructivist-speak. Lots of people sharing the same ideas and
}resources explore similar paths simultaneously. [I wonder if
}'celluloid plastic' hackers would take similar exception to their
}historical treatment! :-]
}> 2. You did not live through it either, as my rememberences from
}> living through it do not track with your story.
}Well, that goes without saying -- which is where history takes over
}from journalism. The magic of historiography is the conceit of
}overlaying a compressed structure on messy events. In this case, the
}contentious hypothesis I'll assume we're focusing on is:
} * Was the Internet's technological development predictable?
}And I think the warning of 'impending 20/20 hindsight' is entirely
}appropriate. I *only* have hindsight to go on...
}[Of course, I fully expect I could be proven wrong on this
}hypothesis. It seemed like a fun position to take for a midterm.]
}> For instance, did you know that IP was developed after TCP failed to
}> work without IP? That was when Cerf and Kahn finally began to
}> understand the fundamental issues with Internetworking by tunneling IP
}> through multiple media types.
}Personally? Yes, since that's why it's TCP/IP, after all. The circular
}dependencies between their development belie the neat layer
}diagrams. Fragmentation, encapsulation, and the end-to-end principle
}were all learned iteratively through failed alternatives.
}As it was represented in my essay? It did oversimplify, in order to
}fit the arc into a single sentence. It *does* still seem reasonable to
}view the Internet effort as first, a chance to build a common data
}communications layer, and then as a common services layer. Your next
}point seems to buttress that view:
}> In the meantime, anxious to commercialize on the original ARPANET NCP
}> protocols, X.25 was born without paying attention to the need to solve
}> the Internetworking problems.
}Now, the next observation you make seems like an *excellent* test of
}the hypothesis. I think we could agree that in the traditional data
}communications 'technological frame' (read: Bell-head) emphasizes
}reliability, and hop-by-hop integrity.
}> Remember that the original APRANET NCP included node-by-node
}> reliability checks with retransmission between packet switching nodes,
}> and delivered reliability to the HOST interfaces. This had to be
}> abandoned to solve the problem with what Vint called the Catenet,
}> which was just a network of tunneling gateways.
}So here's the crux: is the 'discovery' of end-to-end (abandonment in
}favor of reconstruction at the periphery) *inherent* in the 'Internet
}frame' or accidental? I think I can be rightly blamed for circularity
}in defining the end-to-end principle AS part of the Internet
}frame. But within that perimeter, the path seems more fixed. The
}emergence of security solutions for encrypting IP take the same
}form. The application protocols like HTTP take the same form. Ideas
}that don't -- intermediated email delivery and second-generation
}routing of packet flows (which use state-in-routers) -- took longer to
}really shake out and seem grudgingly accepted [the former, I'd say,
}because of the reality of intermittent interconnectivity (we needed
}mail relays) and the latter for intra-network allocation and billing].
}> Etc, et al...
}(hmm. are you implying I overlooked the same events or the same
}people? :-)
}> And, the ethos of the internet stems from the original work of Paul
}> Baran in 1962, with his "Route Around Damage" concept for surviable
}> packet switching, though the path of transfer of his work into the
}> ARPANET was quite indirect. Over time. "route around damage" has
}> transmogrified itself into "Work Around Problems".
}I'm interested in two parts of what you said. The first is the
}'nuclear warfighting' part of the story, which Hafner,
}et. al. particularly highlight. I've felt the connection might be more
}tenuous, since I didn't think the ARPAnet grants were expressly funded
}for that purpose, that ARPAnet technology was used for that purpose
}(i.e. MILnet wasn't *that* sensitive), and that high reliability in
}the face of concerted attack was a community priority.
}[If it *were* directly related, though, I can imagine some fun
}shouting matches about 'patriotism' in support of IP: "if it's good
}enough for our nukes, only Commies must like OSI!" :-]
}Second, route-around-damage is indeed an organizing principle of the
}Internet frame, from the wires-and-packets level to the social ("The
}Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it", John
}Gilmore, NYT, 1/15/96). Now, another test of my bald assertion would
}be to trace the evidence whether this was a founding principle, or an
}innovation "from left field"?
}> All this is now embeded in the IP net, in EMail store&forward,
}> including all those acursed Gateways into non-Internet environments
}> whic did not use the IP tunnelling model to deliver undamaged goods
}> end-to-end. But, good old Internet working around problems had by
}> then infused the core of developers to just make things work anyway.
}Aha! A socially constructed technological pathway in action! We should
}invite *you* over for a day in John King's class... I think this has
}been a very legitimate inquiry into how believable the pat histories
}in our textbooks really are in the face of events.
}> Cheers...\Stef
}Thanks -- I appreciate a well-armed gentleman/gentlewoman as a
}sparring partner!
}Rohit Khare
}In that old Baudrillardian challenge, if one stages a bank robbery
}and carries the performance all the way to the bank, fooling even the
}teller and guards, one arguably has succeeded in redefining oneself
}not as an actor, but as a bank robber. --