Saturday, March 23, 2013

Who worries about the Internet "pipes" getting clogged?

I started looking at the pool.ntp.org project. I manage several data centers with various kinds of connections and some of the machines disagree with each other about the time. The effort behind pool.ntp.org seems to be a really good idea. It made me wonder, why is information about the Internet not shared in the same way?

Remember hearing about Internet blockages in Syria? A private company in the US reported it. Who is that? Who are their customers? Why are we hearing about the state of the Internet from a private company? There could be a distributed group of people sharing information to do the same thing. Sounds sort of like something you would do on the Internet, yes?

I worry about what drives connectivity, because often it seems to not do so. We wanted to serve customers in Jakarta. The Jakarta-based provider have really bad service to Jakarta. It turns out that if you go to Tokyo, the connection to Jakarta is wicked fast. Well, all the infrastructure in Indonesia points out. There is less infrastructure for services within Indonesia.

And then I hear that if you look at connections between the US and Europe on the Internet, the distributed-to-survive-a-nuclear-war-or-massive-disaster-Internet, a massive proportion of them go through Manhattan, an island. Because who would ever attack Manhattan? Really.

What's my point? I am not sure. But if you want a robust Internet, is letting the companies run it put all of the eggs in a very small number of baskets a good idea? Maybe not. Maybe I should find out about the state of connectivity around the things I care about. I bet I know where I can but a $10,000 whitepaper that tells me what I want to know.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Facebook IPO chatter reminds me why Firefox is so important to me...

Hearing all the media blather about the upcoming Facebook IPO has made me think about a couple of things. Mostly, I am so glad I have Firefox available. I learned to develop Facebook applications a few years back, looked at what the applications could see about a user, and removed myself from every single application on Facebook. The amount of information an application user is giving away is amazing.

Luckily, I have Firefox and add-ons like Adblock and Ghostery (for tracking/blocking inter-site data slurping) and other tools of that sort to help me to, perhaps, stay under the radar of some of those people. Somewhat.

On the other hand, Mozilla seems to be reluctant to let the search bar be configured to go to https://www.google.com. (http://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=633773) Hm. Maybe Mozilla is still, in some ways at least, just another company. O well, it is something to think about.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Internet: how are those tubes working anyway?

I am finding myself dealing with an unexpected question. Does the Internet work? You know, the whole moving data from place to place. Is it really working?

Well, of course it is. But perhaps not for everyone. I am trying to find out why we often have problems reaching our data centers. The company I work for sells software for people learning English. I think this is the root of the problem. There might be 2 billion people on the planet with an interest in learning English, but not too many of them live near a T1. Why can't I reach my data centers? Maybe because they are in places like Ulan Bator and Ho Chi Minh City.

Why do we need all these data centers? Often it is because we have to have an in-country data center to avoid having all of our customers take a "Golden Shield" hit. If customers in China, or Vietnam or Saudi Arabia, or other places, need to get content from outside the country, the latency turns out to be very high. Get the content into an in-country data center and your performance problems go away.

But here is an odd thing. We have customers in Jakarta that have connect problems. Getting an ISP in Jakarta does not fix it. Turns out that a connection from one part of Jakarta to another part of Jakarta is slow and unreliable. Serving data from Tokyo to Jakarta, however, is fast and reliable. Hm.

Actually I am interested if anyone has ideas about how to measure connectivity more broadly. One might think the net would have distributed sources of information about connectivity, but it does not seem to be so. One can measure pings, but one needs to keep track of a lot of pings to figure anything out. One can run traceroutes. Or not. Somebody in Mongolia blocks traceroutes, for example. And traceroutes do not necessarily follow the same routes that regular traffic will. Or you can buy reports about connectivity, if you have spend tens of thousands on them or sign up for fairly expensive services. And Akamai and other services work great, assuming you want to sell something to the creme de la creme of the First World. And that is, after all, most of the businesses out there.

I wonder if there is a way to collect connectivity information in a distributed, peer-to-peer manner. Perhaps we can use this Internet thing for that, too. Or is something available and I just have not hit upon it? Does anyone run "weather reports" for the Internet? Could it be accessed as a utility? Looking for suggestions, questions, thoughts, ridicule, insults, jibes, or whatever works for you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why iCloud?

I am increasingly glad that I left Apple to do other things. And I am sure Apple will continue to make more money for a while. But one has to wonder.

Here is a company dedicated to the "Wow!". The stars in their developer teams create these applications that you launch and, really, they are beautiful. They are only 85% finished, but they look good and one does not see the problems until a few days later. Then, hey, you already bought it. They have a Support group to make you feel better about this. And you can file bugs. And wait for the next version. But that's about it.

There was only one place in Apple that spoke about things like MTBF and that actually measured things like reliability. That was the server group. You know, the one whose products got deprecated and that is probably mostly gone at this point. Apple's apps are known for the elegance of their UIs and not for reliability. Everyone else at Apple says "You re-boot and your problem is gone? Problem solved." And these are the people that are going to build a cloud-based music service?

The important people at Apple used to design things, create standards, carve beauty out of technological crap. Now, the important people are going to be running a data center full of HP machines. In North Carolina. It is truly sad.

Of course, iCloud is a good idea for Apple. You used to pay for your music, own your music, and hold your music. With the iTunes Store, you pay for your music and hold your music and Apple owns your music. Now, with iCloud, you pay for your music, Apple holds your music and Apple owns your music. And this is a good deal. Why is Apple doing this? They might say, "because iCould."

Monday, January 18, 2010

China Stealing IP? I'm Shocked, Shocked I Tell You....

We're hearing a lot of news about China trying to steal intellectual property from companies like Google. There's a lot of sanctimonious news coverage about how we have innovative companies and China is trying to steal their way out of having to do the work.

Then one of these "innovative" companies was named. Microsoft. Then it occurred to me where the objection really comes from. Microsoft has never done an innovative thing, ever, except invent OLE. And you can thank that for your virus problems. But they do buy lots and lots of other companies that have innovated. So, in the US, the currency of our society is just that, currency. The dollar rules all. In China, political power is the currency. So, Microsoft spends one type of currency to get access to other people's creativity because they are out of ideas. And China spends another type of currency to get access to other people's creativity because they are out of ideas. They are different, but there are similarities.

We lose a lot of IP because we manufacture in China. We manufacture there because they have weak worker protection laws, no environmental regulations and, basically, business can do what it wants. There is a basic lack of civic law. Want to make cheap plastic crap and dump the waste in the river? Rock and roll! But then our stuff gets stolen. CDs get pirated, designs get copied. Why? Perhaps it is because there is a basic lack of civic law. But isn't that why we want to manufacture there in the first place? And then, do we get to complain about it as well?

People who are really being creative know their work cannot be outsourced. Companies trying to milk a fifty-year old file of patents have reason to be upset. It just does not bother me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Three Pictures

What do these three pictures have in common?







The first is a US Dept of Homeland Security warning. The second is a Proposition 65 warning from California. The third is from Firefox when we add _any_ add-on.

Obvious questions are:
- does anyone feel safer when they see these?
- do these actually inform one of anything?
- why are these being displayed? for whose benefit?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Benefits of Open Source, or Why the iPhone Will Continue to Suck

I am doing less direct development using Mozilla tools lately, but a recent trip to British Columbia has brought home to me, again, why Mozilla is important.

I am doing iPhone development and will, in the future, be doing Android development as well. But I was surprised that, on most of my trip, my iPhone was useless. I often did not have cell service, but when I did, I had no access to network-based services. Apparently I would have had to connect via Rogers and pay roaming charges and I was unwilling to do so. This is the problem with a single point-of-failure in the Internet. This is why we do not have one company, like Apple, running the Internet. Apple is seeking control of the iPhone market for obvious reasons, but this costs us as consumers. We should, as we pay those ever-increasing monthly charges, keep this in mind. Really, the fact that we cannot have data services everywhere is just sad. Companies would rather offer less and control more of it than offer more to consumers if they lose some control. And let's not even talk about how bad the App Store is for finding things. Please. There's to much and it hurts to talk about it.

I am also recently using Chandler for my calendar and for keeping track of 'to do' items. It is an interesting app and I went to see the latest dev versions of it and see about building it. Apparently, I have a level of expectation about open source projects. Apparently it is not worth it to interact with the source unless it builds like Mozilla. Chandler development is Linux-only, and while I could upgrade to the version of Parallels I need (since VirtualBox does not see to do enough for me) and build it that way, I find myself unwilling to do so. Despite my ability to complain about the quirks of building mozilla tools, it seems to work better than most alternatives. But I really only complain loudest about something when I like it. This may not be obvious to people to whom I complain.

It turns out that being connection-less for a time is a good thing, though. It makes you think about the value and cost of being always connected. When I was working for Mozilla, one of the things that was a problem for me (though I did not realize it at the time) is that Mozilla's offices are on-line all the time. It is too easy to be "at the office" every day, all day. Reading most Mozilla posts you see how the veterans deal with it, so that they can keep their families, their friends and their sanity. It probably would have been easier to focus if I had not found the information ecosystem around Mozilla to be so rich and fascinating. One has to balance finding that connection with a new friend in Europe with the need to get things done. It is easier, for now, working for myself, but I will have to figure this out someday. We'll see.