visionaries & Agent 001

Khare (
Fri, 2 Jan 1998 03:56:14 +0530

[12/29/97, inflight on the 2.5 hr trip CCU-BOM -- which left 2 hrs late
to begin with...]

As you might imagine, I've been extraordinarily bit-starved these weeks in
India. I've been reduced to mining a stack of unread Wireds I brought with
me, and a vast array of random filmi mags and political newsweeklies from
the railways and airport bookstalls. The complete Comer and Stevens TCP/IP
series didn't last as long as I thought it would -- though it does convince
me there is a market for yet more Internet engineering textbooks. [Although
I didn't have time to buy the revised Unix Network Programming, which Roy
mentioned has tons and tons of new material]

{aside: I must have been influenced somewhere, somehow by the term for one
of the first integrated IP routing codes for Berkeley Unix: the fuzzball
routing package. I swear I never conciously heard it, but it indeed
delivers the literal truth of running a routing algorithm on every node (a
newish idea then -- although the default routes are set by adminstrators).}

One of the bits in Wired was a semi-revisionist view of Vannevar Bush.
Mainly, though, the political Big Science Funding debates took backstage to
the usual hosannas for the memex paper. This was one of the few articles to
ever mention that Bush revisited the 1945 essay himself; there are bits of
reference to a 1965 article I hadn't heard of. But by and large, his
reputation was built for specifying the problem and the its end-solution,
if none of the technologies in between.

So, what should I do to establish the same reputation? :-)

In fact, I realize I haven't often written about the ground truth about
munchkins. A lot of postings are about the latest wireless technologies or
hypothetical social situations. Of which I will digress into one here:

In April 98, the Northwest Territories will split into two provinces. The
new one is a sort of Inuit homeland, but it's as unwired and unpopulated as
you might imagine. In preparation, there's been a contract let to wire all
the cities and villiages in that area. Bringing the Internet to such vast
expanses seems to be an impossible task for the close-in, cell-phone style
of munchkin I've proposed. Here, you *have* to have expensive
point-to-point microwave (or better: Al Haig Jr's company to do Internet
access from stratospheric baloon platforms got the FCC to begin licensing
users at 47 Ghz). Presumably, the expense of a fat-pipe could be recouped
in munchkin credits, but it seems to reintroduce central administration and
'phone companies.'

Instead, one para mentioned that nomadic Inuit already have a habit of
setting up camp, running a 90m wire across the icepack, and setting up
shortwave relay stations, allowing for effective message delivery up to
1000 miles. Just a reminder that there are many, many permutations of
communication media at ranges from inches to light-seconds, but one missing
need: ad-hoc, paranoid routing.

Here, then, a stab at a statement of the fundamental problems munchkins

Imagine that computing is entirely free: that rather than the world of
compounded growth in conventional magnetic media and conventional
synchronous processor design, nanotechnology allows us to construct entire
systems at the cellular level. Systems of such complexity MUST be possible
and WILL be possible, someday: Mother Nature has left too clear a blueprint
to ignore. Every biological cell argues that digital ones can be grown as

What biology CANNOT do is communicate across this scale: the range and
bandwidth of cellular communication is limited by chemistry and evolution.
The central nervous system is an extraordinary triumph against this
backdrop, but it is only an intranet solution hacked by buliding extremely
large cells. Interconciousness communication proceeds by other senses.

Cells are not addressed individually, either. They are truly replacable
parts, but somehow also very specialized. I can't quite grasp this
contradiction, of how an undifferentiated egg can grow into the myriad
organs and structures of man, by and large without growing hair inside of
brains or teeth rattling within eyeballs. Think about it -- consider the
computational goop Sussman and Abelson are working on: a homogenous mush of
identical processors. How can you even tell which side is out?

Starting from that undifferentiated mass, it seems very, very hard to
imagine collectively deciding issues such as addressable grids and other
"whole-system" qualities. Leader election in asynchronous networks, after
all, is a fundamentally insoluble problem, and still problematic in timed
ones. Which side is out, indeed?

Maybe it doesn't seem hard enough in the context of computational paint,
but yank back to today's reality of Internetted workstations.When routing
packets or email, which way is out? Sure, on a wired ethernet, we can
answer firmly: on this wire we are brothers; he who can reach other wires
is out.

[After a day sightseeing in Mumbai... don't you hate it when the moment of
inspiration disappears on landing? Let me see if I can try to resconstruct

[I failed: It's now 9:30PM IST 12/30, and I'm inflight BOM-DEL. This is the
only 'real' Air-India leg, and I see their equipment and service is up to
"par". Although it is nifty to have Indian pop on the audio channel -- and
I see they've launched a Hindi inflight video-magazine (featuring "the 90's
bachelor"). It's a pretty light flight, as you might imagine on the
penultimate night of the year. On the other hand, once I made it through
harrowingly bad traffic, arriving at 7:45 for an 8:10 flight, the
proceedings at the airport itself were mercifully brief. Now, try to get
back to our story...]

[Well, no, I can't. After I pulled out the laptop, I struck up a
conversation with a young lady from Osaka who works at AB*ROAD, , an overseas travel magazine. She's
heading back from a field visit to a Masai lodge in Kenya designed by noted
modern Japanese architect Suzuki-san. A fellow world-traveler, to say the
least! She's been everywhere (including several months in San Diego and
LA), and we had a lovely time comparing notes and trying to explain the
FoRK mailing list. I was so overjoyed that after 15 days, I finally found a
use for the lone Japanese-translated business card I had brought to India!]

[Speaking of completely accidental meetings, I was having a beer at Cafe
Wodnegar behind the Taj Hotel in Mumbai with some youthful hosts when, just
before l left, I got the besotted impulse to ask this lovely Indian lady at
the next table if she was, as her accent belied, from California. To my
utter surprise, though here family lives here in Bombay, she lives in
Brentwood and works at Imagineering with Bran Ferren and Danny Hillis, et
al -- yes the very same characters from the New Yorker profile and from my
PICS days at W3C/MIT. I had to bug out, since I wasn't too sure about even
standing up straight, but I'm looking forward to perhaps meeting back in
LA. Oh, and her companion was a pretty interesting fellow, too: works at
Merrill in NY, on derivatives. They both had friends at D.E. Shaw; I still
wonder whether Adam was right when I reject his vote (at one point) for it
over W3C...]

[Later: 12/31/97, 12:15 IST]

Had to get up and scam some electric power. Real bitch, since unlike
Western airports, they don't vacuum the carpet; peons hand-wash the marble
floor -- which means no convenient floor-level power outlets. I look VERY
conspicuous here umbilicall'd into a ceiling fan socket... all kinds of
bored customs officials seem to have taken an interest in what processor
speed this dumpy ol' HiNote VP500 supports.

[Recharged: 033 IST. The UA flight to Hong Kong was scheduled to leave at
030, but I see a huge line going in reverse from immigration, so it must
have been canceled at the last minute and they're all going to be spending
an involuntary New Year's Eve in Delhi. I can only hope that enough of them
scream to be put on the flight to London that I can get bumped -- because I
WANT to go spend New Year's here (or in London). Besides, if it's Delhi, I
have an excuse to call up that lady I met on the flight in...]

You know, this visionary business is hard stuff. It requires a
single-threaded clarity of thought I find consitutionally oppressive.

[12:48 AM. Turns out the situation is worse than I thought. The fog over
New Delhi is so severe that even though my AI flight landed (presumably
using microwave ILS (a/k/a Autoland), UA diverted its incoming HKG flight
to Karachi, Pakistan. This must really suck for them, since UA has zero
station facilities in Karachi to arrange lodging, etc. The part that sucks
is that they're housing people in Delhi for an expected 9AM departure.
Which would mean, still, no New Year's Eve in Delhi. But, if the flight
inbound from London also diverts, then, hey, a later departure from DEL
meay mean a misconnect in LHR, which I might be able to persuade UA into
making overnight accomodations in London or, at the outer limits of
outlandishness, swapping my coupon for a CDG-IAD segment so I can chunnel
over to party with Rob & Myriam...]

[12:54 Have I passed the point where I have more parenthetical comments
than main narrative text? If not, here's another random meme: If I'm
hunting for an NRI woman, the departure lounge at Delhi ought to be it.
While I've been profoundly heartened by the hip street crowd in upper-class
Bombay and New Delhi, I'm back to being slightly worried by the sparsity of
flirtable faces here. Of course, that may be because most of the flirtable
faces are accompanied by glowering and/or weary mothers, fathers, and
hyperactive siblings :-]

[12: 58 X-files theme music playing on the PA: there's an episode
broadcasting on the in-airport CCTV. In fact, the monitors are these
really, really Orwellian ceiling-mounted housings with backlit yellow signs
declaring it to be "ENTERTAINMENT". The semiotic onion here is too damn
thick for me to unpeel, I tell you...]

[1:38 AM The entire departures board at Indira Gandhi International Airport
is "DELAYED". Both flights have now been diverted to Karachi. London flight
maybe by 10AM. I'm now sitting on the transmission of the bus, in the
driver's cabin (quite a crush, you can imagine, but it's still better than
what the poor souls at Karachi are enduring: they'll prolly spend the night
in the airport itself). It IS incredibly foggy: the parking lot light
standards 80 feet up are barely visible. You can't see from one end of the
airport terminal to the other. May be five car lengths ahead on the

This kind of situation happened two days ago, too. There's a friendly UA
guy squeezed in here who's watching this all. He says the last 20 days have
been bad -- the last 15 have used up the rest of the year's emergency hotel
budget -- quite a neat ending, eh?

We're going to Le Meridien, a fine, fine hotel which we also stayed at in
Tokyo twice. I was here at this Meridien not two weeks ago, having dinner
with my mom at the rooftop Le Belevedere -- we had a private band!. The
Hong Kong pax got to go to the Oberoi, which is possibly even more opulent]

[3:52 AM After a long hot bath, I'm ready to accept this in stride. To
contain costs, the first thing they did on assigning us rooms was to send a
crew out to empty the minibars -- reasonable enough, I suppose, given the
potential for fraud and angry pax. They also didn't activate the phones, so
I had to wait about an hour for a call to get through to the States.

This is one of those times I'm kicking myself for not keeping a United
schedule on hand. In addition to not having any firm handle on how the hell
Adam and I are going to get to Basel on Jan 19th, I don't know what my
alternate reroutes are out of London. If we leave by noon, we'll be
arriving by 6PM, at which time there are only xatlantic departures to JFK
(and that too, by Concorde :-) Seriously, direct IAD flights I think are
9AM and 2PM; if I miss that, I have visions of reroute through Chicago on
New Year's Eve. Ideally, it misses cleanly and they have to book me another
room in London.

MTV, CNN, and running hot water: I already feel back in civilization.

In the meantime, let me recap my acquaintance with Vineet Khanna, customer
service with UA/DEL. He's the same age I am and having a ball working for
United as it established the new base. It looks like DEL-HKG is doing
extraordinarily well, so the 747 rumors are well justified. AAI, as
landlord, is the main block to opening a Red Carpet Club: they have
certainly got the paying traffic for it -- and that still with only two
flights a day. They certainly have the most professional presence there,
along with BA. As we left, there were shouting matches with AI pax and
staff; United took some pains to comb the halls looking to notify folks
(though they did go to their lounge area first with news, which I had to
throw around 1K status to dig out). And, oh yeah, that's one more United
employee who claims to have never seen or heard of PassPlus...

Continuing the strange coincidences department, I ran into a Dr. Soni I met
on the DEL-NAG flight. He was coming back home to India for the first time
in 15 years with his American (white) wife and two kids. Says he spent his
whole week receiving a stream of relatives -- I'll believe it! We had a
good conversation about the NRI experience, about the blurring of color and
culture lines -- at least in Canton, Ohio.

4:19 AM. The hotel staff interrupts to call and say breakfast will be at
6:30 sharp.

4:30 AM Tragic news: the power supply to this laptop seems to have shorted.
Really dramatically: I got shocked from the PC Card slot; lights flash
I don't have a screwdriver handy (damn! what kind of geek am I?!?) so this
may be it: no more transfusions from the umbilical as this battery charges
slowly fades to its final home. In fact, terror of terrors: the power
connector is utterly proprietary, and even back in the states, all my
buffered emails like this one may be imprisoned on this laptop. I can't
even make a floppy backup, because the floppy drive's in the checked
baggage! I have half a charge left, so the only safe thing to do is
cold-hibernate this machine and hope the charge lasts idly until

FINAL WORD: I *DO* have a vision for munchkins. Unfortunately, this battery
is too small to fit the proof :-)

[8:43 AM IST Of course, there's never a truly final word from me. I imposed
on the Le Meridien concierge to get me a screwdriver at the breakfast
buffet (wherein I pigged out, in anticipation of a looong day of delays --
India has been *very* bad for my weight) and disassembled the power supply
over eggs benedict. Reseating the analog components seems to have done the
trick. The upside of a low-capacity battery is that it recharges *real*
*fast* at 220V. I'm back at my old power umbilical in the departure hall at
IGI Airport. 'Good Morning India' is playing on the TV. The flights have
landed from Karachi; the fog is still terrible, but passable on
instruments. At least we got housing out of the deal; I see a lot of
haggard, drunk folks who spent the night here (they seem to look the other
way about consuming Duty-Free goods before embarkation). ]

[9:43 AM I'm past the final security check -- they're hassling innocent
goras about AA-powered walkmen, but said not a word about my laptop or
camera or penlight or ... reverse racism in action. Here, we're finally in
carpeted land, so there's even a spare outlet or two. In the line, I met a
fellow from Huntsville and his two sons; he's a EE who struck out on his
own 11 years ago and founded a telecom consultancy now 200-strong ( Sigma
Tech, -- Johnboy, have you heard of him? Gurmesh S.
Sandhu). Of course, web design is part of that business, too. It's kind of
frustrating that being a Web geek is a great way to break the ice, but I
have to go build up Tim Berners-Lee's reputation from scratch every time.
It's cool to work for a celebrity, but only if he/she's famous, you know.

Some commotion at the UA gate. Guess it's time to do that final charge-up.]

[10:00 AM False alarm, not too suprising. There's still no estimated time
of departure on the flight boards yet. There's no long-distance phones here
after security.

10:01 AM Wow! Action! The queue is moving, there's UA personnel (Hi
Vineet!) herding the line. At least I don't have a big carry-on, so there's
absolutely no hurry to board, 1K early boarding or not.]

[10:24 AM finally onboard. It's not quite 100% full, so no operational
upgrades to first, but I was pleasantly surprised to see at least one 1K
recognition kick in: the computer locked out the seat next to me. I have 29
A&B, which forms as nice a corner office as any coach cabin can be (OK,
well, there's no personal video screens and the projector is twenty rows
away. On the bright side, all the unaccompanied women are in coach :-) I
spy an Irish lass who appears to be one of the cricketers from
Calcutta...). It's full width, if not full-pitch; toss over a blanket and
you can merge them. The triple-seven has bucket seats, so it's quite
painful to sleep or sit across them.

But seriously, let's return to the topic at hand. Well, no, let's at least
wait until we're airborne, so it won't seem like such an abuse of battery
power. ]

[ 6:25PM IST Well, the flight's been pretty smooth, but since it got
shifted to daylight, there's shortages of drinks, etc, which were packed
for a sleeper run. The seat next to me, annoyingly enough, was actually
occupied -- but it was a cool enough fellow from the UK; we compared noted
about the Indian dating scene, which is quite developed in London. He
recommended a few clubs: Slough's: expect a 101% chance of picking up an
Indian chick: off Oxbridge road, the 25-35 crowd. If that's busy, try this
club off duxbridge road, after the power station on the left-hand side.
Zany in London is even more Asian.

There's a black American steward on board who's doing his first run to
India. He's having a hard time getting used to the neediness and shrillness
and avaricousness of the Indian pax -- I've offered a few lessons about why
customer service isn't based on democratic principles here yet :-)]

The ground truth is, Biology can compute at the molecular scale, but it
can't communicate. Parallel computing is about balancing both. DNA doesn't
(yet) encode private keys, so there's no individual identity for these nano
component. Communication range is limited to a very small radius; messages
have to cascade through innumerable chemical systems to translate into
action. What if the human body used HTTP? That's the question I'd like to

Or, to paraphrase Roy Fielding's unanswered FoRKpost, what is the object
model of a liver cell?

The shift to digital nanocomponents is that each element *can* have
identity. The space of private keys can be large enough that it can locally
generate a probably-globally-unique identifier. Now, how can it (locally)
build a consistent map of the network? The Internet, I assert, depends on
globally consistent measure functions: unique IP, contiguous IP within an
AS, hierarchical link structure.

Munchkin world has no address-homogeneity to cluster routing on. Munchworld
is predicated on a *flat* link strucutre: a vast, equi-capacity mesh, as
opposed to an upstream/downstream backbone model.

[Is this useful or just repetitive ranting? I think the three tanqueray &
OJs are getting in the way.]

M-x philosophy-mode

Why the hell do I want the world wired anyway? Sure, it would be convenient
for *me*, with my voracious curiosity and data gluttony, if I could point
my tricorder at any object in real life and scan its history and links.

[power failed out]

[6PM GMT, Ramada Heathrow

The flight arrived at 3:30PM London time, and they had bumped many of the
Washington pax to the next day. They tried to squeeze me onto the 6pm
flight to JFK, connecting to IAD, arriving 11:40PM, which I declared to be
entirely not worth it. I said I'd rather stay here, and in the ensuing two
hours of queueing, I've met several others of the dozen in the same boat.
One father-daughter pair was going to Chicago (premed at Northwestern),
another prelaw at UC Davis was split from her family, which went via HKG to
SFO (and probably beat her back!). Another family was planning a New Year's
in Virginia with relatives who'd driven all the way from Connecticut,
scotched, and so on.

I don't have any plan here, really; I imagine I'll take the tube into
London and wander the streets and see what happens. The tube will be open
late tonight.

On the other hand, it's already been far too eventful already. I'm still on
an adrenalin crash from a screaming match with a father of two in the
lobby. Well, actually, he did all the screaming. I'm apparently gone from
zero to dangerously subversive pervert flirt -- bar the doors! :-)

Seriously, he was giving the howler treatment for attempting to give his
daughter my W3C card -- they lived a few miles from Knoxville, TN, where I
used to live, and we were discussing the patheticness of the the TN school
system and why women don't hack. He just lit in with the most amazing
obscenities about my lack of shame in hitting on a 15 year old "I know your
type! you filthy bastard! you've been doing it all night!"

I'd consider that a compliment, if true, but it plainly isn't. I don't mind
having my character defamed in a hotel lobby quite as much as I fear for
that poor girl getting berated later.

Later that night I went to New Year's eve in Trafalgar Square and wandered
around the City for five hours watching the crowd. I think I said one word
all night, "camera" to the police frisking the thousands entering the
Square. Well, a couple Happy New Years to ward off revelerous passerby :-)

That silly incident left me in a really depressed mood. I didn't have the
heart to impose on miss UC Davis' company for the evening and spent the
night feeling like a sack of shit. Irrational, yes, but the the big
realization is that I'm still pretty childish about defining away that
which I can't acheive.

In this case, it was the mass profusion of extremely hip South Asians I ran
across all night long. London is far more cosmopolitan, in terms of
languages on the Tube, than even NY or LA. In this case, I realized,
finally, that all my whining about the One is really quite pathetic in the
face of a billion Indians. I felt like shrinking away, like redoubling,
retripling my commitment to work, work as my savior goddess.

I got back to the hotel at 3 AM, paid a lousy $17 for the taxi fare back
to the hotel -- usually $3.70 during the day.

11:23 AM Red Carpet Club Heathrow
Another warm welcome, unlike 1K checkin -- They seem to have revoked the 1K
privilege to check in at International First Class - gotta check in with
the Connoisseur plebes, which was a mob scene in itself at Heathrow. A real
mess: security hassles, back-and-forth because I only had a flight coupon
for yesterday's flight. Oh, and by the way, I think that my gift of a copy
of O'Reilly's Traveler's Tales: India [Highly recommended!] to a woman I
met at IETF met her on the next day's Delhi flight thanks to the RCC staff.

2:12 PM, enroute to London
I'm thoroughly soused, watching Michael Douglas in _The Game_. At least 1K
kept the seat next to me open this time. I invited the youngest boy from
the family in Virginia to use the window seat for takeoff- brilliant and
fetching, he reminds me of my youth, he hasn't abandoned his voracious
curiosity like so many products of public schools. At the club I had a
triple Bacardi and OJ; Grand Marnier; Corvousier VS; Dom Benedictine; a
double OJ and Tanqueray; and two splits of Chandon, United's lousy
champagne. I LOVE this feeling, dissolving into a trip-seven like a lazy
Jabba the Hut. Only, I can't lounge across two seats because the armrest
doesn't come all the way up; and I don't have Carrie Fischer in a brass
halter top on a chain attached to my pinky finger.

I don't know, maybe I am turning into an obnoxiously extroverted flirt.

In reality, alcohol can do wonderful things to disequilibriate my careful
mix of congenital impulsivity and Stoic recluse.

Time to hibernate the laptop until I can get back to sobriety...]

[2:32PM Well, wait, _The Game_ has gotten interesting. The dungeonmaster of
Michael's personal hell has stolen his identity and all his accounts.
"After all, he was hacking for Citibank for the last five years." That
reminded me of what subtext most offended me of that asshole's harangue in
the lobby: that the Internet is a pervhaven: that the act of handing out an
_email address_ is now inherently for deviant purposes.

Oh, and by the way, the StarTac serves as a brilliant accessory in _The
Game_. It's even available across India: computers and cellphones, etc are
now available there, at the same prices as the US, within mere months. The
sub-$1000 PC will light a wildfire there....]

[2:41PM GMT battery's at 17%; I might as well make use of it now while I
can. I drunkenly tipped my lunch over onto my seat; it's awkward to use the
tray in front of you for a PC and eat from the tray to the side of you. On
the other hand, it recovered nicely and I was pretty much done eating
anyway :-) {and on the bright side, after losing 50 lbs, I can at least
actually unfurl and use! a laptop in coach pitch!!}

I took the tube in at around 8PM to Liecester Square, just after Picadilly
Circus. I wandered back and forth among the cafes and chinatown and tourist
holes. I eventually staked out a spot in Trafalgar by 10:30, not knowing
quite what to expect, but hoping for a countdown, fireworks, etc. The local
instrument of choice was a police whistle, in place of the long plastic
horns in Times Square. Otherwise, the same global rowdy crowd, quite
un-British, having a good time. But there was no countdown, no music, no
spectacle. The unsecured zone, outside the Traflagar cordon sanitaire, was
littered in broken glass bottles, so I can see that the massive flourescent
yellow police presence was warranted...]

[5:32 PM EST Back Home

As you can see, I never did get IP connectivity until I came all the way
back to Baltimore. At least I have two tabs of Marmite to show for my

Happy New Year,
Rohit Khare