Thursday, March 26, 2009

SIP to Share

I originally wrote this entry on September 17, 2004, and published it on

A minimal knowledge of the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) should make it obvious how it can be used to build a file-sharing system.

By the way, SIP is finding its way to Solaris, too.

The Network is the Computer

I originally wrote this entry on September 15, 2004, and published it on

In my mind, there's no more revolutionary concept in computing, networking and information technology than the motto which Sun coined in many of its corporate PR campaigns: The Network is the Computer. The origin of the motto, within Sun, remains unknown to me, but I would sure like to discover it by some piece of corporate archaeology. (I'm sure we have our un-official, as well as official, archaeologists here who know the answer.)

I can even imagine a new PR campaign based on the motto--a TV advertisement perhaps: A large number of sleepy and tired workers in cubicles are running routine errands of the most stifling kind; the beautiful jumble of the New York skyline can be seen in close view and is visible through the wall-length windows but no one is paying any attention to it; a rumor begins to spread from a remote corner of this vast room; "The Network is the Computer," whispers someone as if awakened with new life; as the "rumor" spreads throughout the room (the building and the town, in the later frames), the mood swings to jubilation and true excitement--the revolution is here. The last frames focus on a person who, the audience can guess, may have something to do with the rumor--a young engineer with a Sun T-shirt on. [That would be a cool ad ! Perhaps, I should receive some sort of compensation for designing it! (Please excuse my indulgence. My only sin is that my father was an advertising executive in Iran in the mid 1970s, and he did take me to work a few times.)]

Many others, including Tim O'Reilly, have opined on the motto.

To me, it has an almost esoteric meaning, and I'm fond of such esoterism:

  • The only computer that matters is the network.
  • The network is equivalent to one giant computer with multiple entry points. Ultimately, it is equivalent to a single Turing machine. (Or is it? What about external, interacting "machines". Surely, their purpose could not be modeled as merely random.)
  • The only computing that matters is the one that make the network more effective and efficient.
  • Those that claim the desktop to be the (or a?) computer have gotten it totally wrong.

To you, I'm sure the motto could mean something quite different, but if it could mean different things to different people within Sun, how could it be a component of its corporate identity or its organizational purpose? The answer is probably that, in fact, there's a great deal of commonality in how people at Sun understand the motto: The Network is the Computer.


Spam As Failure Affords No Finite Solution

I originally wrote this entry on September 9, 2004, and published it on

It looks to me that there's actually no absolute or fail-safe method of preventing spam.

This sort of claim is bad marketing if one wants to sell a product that claims to do just that, but I'm sure product limitation discussion will surface if the buyer is sophisticated enough to ask some of the right questions.

As long as the network is useful, there will be those who will use it "improperly." Let's define spam as the improper uses of the network to generate unwanted content. (There are other, more limited definitions of spam.)

Furthermore, if we think of improper uses of the network as failure events, we may be able to apply some work in termporal logic cited in Ken Birman's book (Building Secure and Reliable Network Applications), which basically says that as long as we can always add one more failure recovery method, we will be able to recover from all failures.

In other words, there is no finite solution to the failure problem, in this case spamming as defined above. Of course, this is no excuse to deploy operating systems and computing environments that are more prone to such attacks. Let's face it. Even if the problem has no finite solution, there are environments that are more secure than others. A system's level of security and protection is based on the effort required to break it.

My claim regardging the infinitude of the spam problem is similar to saying that biological viruses are always going to be around.

Viruses are made to take "improper" advantage of the extreme usefulness of certain biochemical structures including self-replicating macromolecules. To fight viral and bacterial attacks, our bodies use the versatile, highly-tailored antibodies to defend our physical perimeter.

I think those who wish to make "proper" use of the Internet should probably use similar methods to fight spam and other improper uses of the network.

The Global Rise of the Chinese Network Equipment Providers

I originally wrote this entry on September 9, 2004, and published it on

If you have an online or hard-copy subscription to the Wall Street Journal and deal with the global telecommunications equipment market, you may want to take a look at the article by Christopher Rhoads and Charles Hutzler on the global rise of the Chinese telecommunications equipment providers, including Huawei, Fiberhome Communication Technology Ltd. and Zhongxing Telecom Ltd. The article appeared this Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2004, on Page One of the WSJ.

Information or Telecommunication Service?

I originally wrote this entry on August 30, 2004, and published it on

The government has appealed to the Supreme Court a Ninth Circuit Court ruling on cable services that required the FCC to regulate them as telecommunications services.

Last October, the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, found unwarranted the FCC characterization of cable high-speed Internet services as unregulated "information service."

The court ruled that cable-modem services should be regulated more like a telecommunications service, which is more heavily regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. (See, for example, the unbundled network element requirements imposed on telecommunications service providers. The requirements have briefly been discussed on this very weblog: 1 and 2.)

The Ninth Circuit Court's decision came from a lawsuit filed by a small Internet-service provider called Brand X, which sued after the FCC developed rules that only lightly regulated cable broadband, (FCC v. Brand X).

"The high court will add the case to its docket and will likely make a decision on the appeal sometime late this year," reports Mark Anderson of the Wall Street Journal.

The Ninth Circuit is very active in rulings on communications services. (See the material on music sharing on this very weblog: 1 and 2.)

To Share or Not to Share, That's the Question

I originally wrote this entry on August 26, 2004, and published it on

On August 19, 2004, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in the Grokster case that the makers of peer-to-peer software were not responsible for what users do with their network. The list of plaintiffs vs. defendants is quite interesting to review. Here are some significant paragraphs from the BBC report on the case:

In their ruling, the judges said the case had parallels with older cases which said video recorders should not be banned just because some people put them to illegal ends.

"History has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player," wrote the judges in their opinion.

The judges said it should be up to Congress rather than the courts to change copyright laws.

One factor that led the US court to rule in favour of Grokster and StreamCast was the lack of central servers that co-ordinate file-swapping activity.

In the past Napster's use of central servers led the same court to call for that network to be shut down.

"Today's decision should not be viewed as a green light for companies or individuals seeking to build businesses that prey on copyright holders' intellectual property," said Jack Valenti, MPAA chief executive.

This is a reasonable analysis.

Only a few days later, on August 26, 2004, reports said that U.S. FBI agents had raided five homes across America as part of the government's first federal crack-down on file sharing networks. The five peer-to-peer file sharing hobs raided in Wisconsin, New York and Texas operated on Direct Connect software. DoJ siezed equipment but made no arrests, reported the BBC.

The DoJ raid seems to be somewhat at odds with the Grokster ruling. In other words, DoJ is breaking up an "innocent" private network rather than arrest or punish anyone misusing it. Perhaps, an arrest will lead to legal arguments where the concept of fair use will have to be finally settled in more detailed outlines.

Richard Posner has written briefly on the interaction of technology and law in the Grokster case as well as on fair use.