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September 25 2013

June 06 2012

IPv6 day and the state of the edge

IPv6 logoIPv6 enters into permanent operation today and we'll finally have all the addresses we need. Unfortunately the old system with its baked in scarcity — operating like a tireless gravitational force — has already had a few decades to deform the architecture of the Internet in important and perhaps irreversible ways.

I got a notice from Apple reminding me that my MobileMe hosting is going away on June 30. I'm lazy when it comes to certain things and at one point or another iWeb and MobileMe seemed like a simple way to get a personal web page out there. I just wanted a bit of publicly searchable state to clarify who I am (as differentiated from that other Jim Stogdill on the web) that wasn't mediated, moderated, monetized, and walled off by Facebook or some other Austro-Hungarian Central Power of the web. A little place I could call my own.

Really, this is a stupid problem to have. In the last month those pages have had fewer than 100 visits and I could have served them all from a low wattage pluggable computer stashed in a closet without it breaking a sweat. But the Internet doesn't work that way, or not as easily as it should. And at least one of the reasons is its history of address scarcity.

I attended the "Internet Everywhere" panel at the World Science Festival over the weekend. Maybe the most interesting bit was when Neil Gershenfeld forcefully reminded us that the Internet was never intended to be just a bitnet. He was thanking Vint Cerf for making state-full edges a core design principle of the original web. Distributed state meant that adding nodes also added capability and that ownership and power stayed distributed as the Net grew. Maybe it's a sign of where we are now that the man he was thanking works for the web's other Central Power these days.

Unfortunately that chronic shortage of addresses contracted the web, shifting the definition of "edge" from the device you are looking at to the ISP it's connected to. That redefinition from Internet host to mere remote client means that I have to go through the minor hassle of re-hosting my four little pages of HTML instead of happily forgetting that it's in my closet.

I've long been vexed by the asymmetry inherent in DHCP-enabled second class citizenship and I remember the first time I tried to build a permanently addressable home on the web. It was a bunch of years ago and I had my eye on a used Cobalt Qube on eBay. I figured I'd use it as a web server and blog host etc. But like I said before, sometimes I'm lazy, and a fixed IP address was too expensive and (at least at the time) Dynamic DNS was enough of a hurdle for me to say "to hell with it."

Any geek will tell you that it can be done, that I'm making a mountain of a mole hill, and it's not even that hard. "Pay extra for a fixed and registered IP address or use Dynamic DNS." But IP address scarcity made it just hard and expensive enough to make sure that edge hosting didn't become the norm. I'm not commenting on whether it's possible (it is), but whether it's the low-energy state for the broad population of netizens.

Address scarcity contributes to a strange attractor that deformed the logic of the Internet at scale and helped guarantee the cloud would become the primary architecture. When Vint and his colleagues chose that 32-bit address space they thought they were just making a simple engineering tradeoff based on a seemingly predictable future. But it turns out they were adding a bit of dark matter to our Internet cosmos, perhaps just enough to shift the whole thing from open and expanding to closed and collapsing. Address scarcity added to the gravitational force of centralization and control.

On the other hand, if we had IPv6 from the very beginning maybe a whole lot more of us would be hosting our blogs, photos, videos, and pretty much everything else right there in a DMZ hosted on their home router. In that world services like YouTube might need be no more than curation overlays and CDNs for popular content. Sort of a commercially provided BitTorrent index for the stuff we hosted from our closets.

What else might we have built with such an infrastructure? The cloud gives us a sandbox to build applications in, but it also sandboxes our sense of what is even possible. How many startups don't start from the unexamined assumption of cloud hosting today? Why HealthVault? Why not a device that I keep in my house that is completely under my control for that kind of personal information? I could even put it in my safe deposit box if I didn't have any doctor's appointments.

Maybe security concerns and natural economies of scale would have made centralization and "the cloud" inevitable outcomes without any help from address scarcity. But as our universe continues to collapse into a few very highly capitalized Central Powers I find myself hoping that IPv6 will take away at least some of the gravitational force that is pulling it in on itself.


June 22 2011

Developer Week in Review: Start your lawyers!

Summer is here, so it's time to hit the beach and soak up some sun. You know, sun? That bright yellow ball that blinds you whenever you go out for Doritos and Mountain Dew in the middle of a 48-hour hackathon? I'm told it's actually quite pleasant to be around, once you get acclimated to it. Still, probably better to stay inside, avoid the evil day star, and see what's been happening in the World of Geek this week.

Get your lawsuits

Samsung and AppleIn the latest chapter of "As the Smartphone Turns," Samsung has accused Apple of fathering an illegitimate child with it when Samsung had amnesia, gotten as a result of being hit on the head by an old Motorola bag-phone while trying to save RIM from ending up destitute on the street.

Not really, but the realities of Samsung v. Apple are almost as bizarre. This week, a US district judge told Samsung that, no, you don't get to see previews of the iPad 3 and iPhone 5. This comes as Samsung continues to be Apple's largest supplier of semiconductor technologies. There must be some awesome screens set up to let Apple shovel money into Samsung's bank account while at the same time suing them.

Also in "Intellectual Property Gone Wild" news this week, Oracle is evidently asking for (cue Carl Sagan voice) billiuns and billiuns of dollars as penalties in their Java suit against Google, which means that Google might actually need to clean out the petty cash drawer and make a trip to the bank. And Apple has paid off Nokia to settle a long-running patent suit between the two companies. And BitTorrent came under attack this week when they were sued for violating a "submarine" patent on file distribution granted in 2007. Litigation, the growth sector of the American economy!

In related news, I got a notice this week that my own trademark application will be approved in three months if no one objects. Watch out world, I'm gonna have some IP soon, and I'm not afraid to use it!

Please remember to stretch before logging into your PC

Folks have been hacking the Kinect for a while now, hooking it up to all sorts of esoteric devices that aren't XBoxen (and just what is the group noun for an XBox? A Lanparty of XBoxes?). Now Microsoft has decided to make Kinect hacks officially supported, at least if you run Windows. With the release of the Kinect SDK for Windows, developers can finally make desktop users flail around awkwardly, just like their gaming counterparts.

With the release of the SDK, Windows hackers will gain access to a powerful vision recognition system, and it will be interesting to see what the first third-party Windows applications to come out will look like. Somehow, I suspect it'll have something to do with porn ...

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Where were you when the IPv6 turned on?

The one-day IPv6 lovefest earlier this month didn't seem to break anything significant, but on the other hand, it didn't seem to do much to promote the adoption of IPv6 either. Unless you happen to be one of the 12 people on the planet whose ISP allocates and routes IPv6, the only way to know that anything had happened at all was if you had an IPv6 tunnel set up with a broker such as Electric Hurricane.

With the IPv4 space "officially" exhausted, you'd expect there would be more urgency about this issue, but business seems to be proceeding according to the normal human emergency protocol (that's the one where you ignore a problem until it becomes a crisis, then run around like a chicken with it's head cut off). In the meanwhile, there are still quite a few active class A subnets lying around, each with 16 million addresses (here's a list). One must wonder how long it will be before pressure starts to be applied on entities such as HP (which owns two!) to start freeing them up for the good of the net.

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