The WING Blog

The Web and Internetworking Group at BU/CS

Oct

3

Is “social pressure” enough to fix the Internet?

By matta

From ACM TechNews, Wednesday, October 3, 2012…

Hmm, Kleinrock is hoping “social pressure” and “sentimental pressure” will help mitigate the Internet’s problems :) Is he serious?

Internet Pioneer Dr. Leonard Kleinrock Still Pushing Emerging Technologies
Network World (10/01/12) Jim Duffy

University of California, Los Angeles professor Leonard Kleinrock has helped launch several technology companies over his 50 years as a computer scientist and Internet pioneer. Now, Kleinrock is developing an exhibit of the nodes involved in what is considered to be the first host-to-host communication that led to the modern Internet. “We’ve created an Internet history center at UCLA, the idea being that the Golden Era was a very special time,” Kleinrock says. The UCLA team is combining the Interface Message Processor with other materials from that era. “We’re not simply going to ask them just what did you accomplish; we’re going to ask them, what was the environment that allowed you to accomplish what you did,” Kleinrock says. The effort is complementary and cooperative with the Internet history work being done at the Computer History Museum. Kleinrock says although the Internet has its dark side, it will evolve into a more positive incarnation. “So much depends on the Internet that those who disrupt it or exploit it or abuse it there’ll be an awful lot of social pressure brought to bear, and sentimental pressure that would hopefully modulate and moderate the extent of the abuse,” he notes.

May

4

How quickly things change!

By Azer Bestavros

Five or so years ago, I served on a provost committee headed by Jim Collins to look into building a library in front of the College of Communication. At the time, I was one of three dissenting voices about the need for (more) book shelves and robotic-operated stacks, instead calling for nice seating, espresso machines, magazine racks, and large wall LCD displays for visualizations, telepresence, etc. — only to be ridiculed by the library people, including the one quoted in this BU Today article as saying:

During the decades when Mugar acquired books only, Hudson says, “what we had been doing is building more book stacks and taking away seating.” Digitization reversed that, allowing “us to take some of the stacks down and start rebuilding student use space—computers, but also carrels, group interactive spaces, classrooms.” In short, “we’re more than books” and need student work space.

How quickly things change!

Feb

26

Cryptographic keys and self incrimination…

By Azer Bestavros

The Fifth Amendment states that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.”

This is not to say that physical evidence such as diaries and other documents are not admissible in court against their authors. Quite the contrary, such evidence is not only admissible, but over the years the courts have ruled that an author may be compelled to surrender such evidence, even if such evidence is incriminating. But, what the courts have taken away by limiting the scope of the Fifth Amendment to exclude physical evidence, technology may be giving back thanks in large to modern cryptography. In a recent federal appeal’s ruling, the court decided that forcing a criminal suspect to decrypt their previously-encrypted hard drives so that their contents can be used by prosecutors is a breach of the Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination. This “question” is not settled by any means; at least one other federal appeal ruling by a different court on a different case under slightly different circumstances have come out with an opposite opinion, suggesting that in all likelihood this question will be revisited by the Supreme Court at some point in the future.

[Read more from the Electronic Frontier Foundation]

Dec

16

Extreme data mining

By Mark Crovella

Attention: here are six research articles just waiting to be written!   Even better, the data has already been analyzed!

Dec

3

Think like a computer scientist or …

By Azer Bestavros

A fascinating view of the difference between those who are taught to “program” and those who are taught to just “use” a program.

For students taught to use programs rather than to create them, “their bigger problem is that their entire orientation to computing will be from the perspective of users. When a kid is taught software as a subject, she’ll tend to think of it like any other thing she has to learn. Success means learning to behave in the way the program needs her to. Digital technology becomes the immutable thing, while the student is the moving part, conforming to the needs of the program in order to get a good grade on the test”.

 Corollary: Students taught to program see themselves as immutable creators, and see digital technology and its users as the moving parts that conform to their needs, empowering them to control the world around them!

Nov

12

Serious numbers

By Mark Crovella

When times are mysterious / Serious numbers / Will always be heard

- Paul Simon

I’ve been reading “Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air” It’s by David MacKay — yes, the same David MacKay that wrote the terrific book “Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms”.   I got started on the topic after reading and thinking about “Networking in the Long Emergency” (which I previously posted about).    Once you start poking around in the related literature, all signs point to MacKay’s book.

The first half of the book consists of a fascinating assessment of energy consumption and production, broken down into categories like cars, planes, heating, light, etc.   The power of the book is that it makes clear where the big problems are, and which issues are just distractions.

On the right is a graphic from the book that shows the breakdown of average energy consumption per person in Britain.ConsumptionStackMacKay

What jumps out from this chart is “Jet flights.”   Surely this “average person” is jet-setting around the world, no?   Actually, no.  This bar corresponds to exactly one intercontinental trip per year. That’s it.

Well, this must be because air travel is so inefficient, no?   Again, no.   The book does a wonderful job of explaining the physics of transport and where the energy actually goes.   To boil it down: the problem is not that it’s air travel.   The problem is simply how far you travel when you go to another continent.

Of course, this makes sense.    My commute is about 40 miles per working day.  At 250 working days per year, that’s 10,000 miles in a year.   For comparison, next month I’ll attend CoNEXT in Tokyo.   The round trip is 14.290 miles, for a five day trip.

So what does all this have to do with networking?    Nowadays, there is a growing research effort on “green networking” and “greening the Internet.” My take is that to really make a difference in favor of responsible energy use, we should be beefing up the Internet.    I take anywhere between 4 and 8 trips per year, often traveling overseas 3 or 4 times in a year.   That kind of travel absolutely dwarfs all my other energy consumption combined.    What if I could eliminate one or two of those trips through the use of telepresence?   That would actually make a significant impact on my carbon footprint.

What do we need to make the routine use of telepresence commonplace?  The social / human factors answer is that we need telepresence to provide an acceptable substitute for the personal experience of being in a room with a group of people.    And we need to carefully identify the meetings where being together with a group of people socially is an essential component, and distinguish those from meetings where the social component is an afterthought.    For example, I think that some conferences fall in the first category, and some meetings fall in the second.

The engineering answer is that we need a quantitative improvement in the Internet, and a qualitative improvement in HCI.    At present, the Internet is not quite up to multiway-telepresence as a reliable service on a global basis.   But the current rate of network buildout, if it continues, will take care of that.    The real issue is the HCI component: how we think about our displays.   For telepresence to be routine, we need to stop thinking about displays as tools that sit on our desk and allow us to manipulate computers.   We need to think about displays as part of building infrastructure — something that is designed into every office space and has standard properties that can be relied upon to make the telepresence experience consistent.    We know what to expect in terms of social and nonverbal cues when we are in a room with someone.   We need to figure out how to make that consistently available over the Internet.

So, the bottom line for me is that while “greening the Internet” is important, ”Internetting people” will make a bigger difference in the long run…

Sep

28

Internet Governance and the United Nations

By Azer Bestavros

Interesting developments (and political maneuvers) are afoot at the United Nations as world powers jostle for control of the Internet, with China and Russia drawing a line in the sand with a joint document submitted to the General Assembly on Internet “Code of Conduct”. Quoting: “To settle any dispute resulting from the application of this Code through peaceful means and refrain from the threat or use of force.” Sounds like somebody is trying to cover their backs  : )

Here is the link: http://news.dot-nxt.com/2011/09/13/china-russia-security-code-of-conduct

Who said networking is boring?!

Sep

11

Serious about being Green

By Mark Crovella

One of the “best papers” at this year’s Green Computing Workshop at SIGCOMM was Networking in the Long Emergency.   This paper is well worth a read, perhaps after you’ve looked at the striking slide deck.

The paper is sort of a “coming of age” message for green networking:  whereas most green networking papers have taken the general approach of “let’s see what percent of energy consumption we can save”, this paper starts by looking at why energy savings is so important.   Once you start from that perspective, research goals become rather different.

One of the valuable parts of the paper is that it explicitly enumerates a large body of principles and example research questions.

Sep

9

Groupon paper

By John Byers

While I’m thinking of it:  those of you who are interested in participating in Groupon’s IPO (assuming it eventually does transpire) may want to peruse the recent measurement paper we posted on arXiv studying Groupon, LivingSocial, and the interplay between daily deals sites and social networks, namely Facebook and Yelp:

Daily Deals: Prediction, Social Diffusion, and Reputational Ramifications,
John W. Byers, Michael Mitzenmacher and Georgios Zervas.

Sep

9

Hourglass paper at SIGCOMM ’11

By John Byers

Easily the most widely discussed paper in hallway conversations at this year’s SIGCOMM was this modeling paper:

The Evolution of Layered Protocol Stacks Leads to an Hourglass-Shaped Architecture, by Saamer Akhshabi and Constantine Dovrolis (Georgia Institute of Technology).

For those of you who enjoy controversy, or who are prepping for this year’s DWE exam, I think reading this paper is worth your time.  Advocates for this paper thought that the topic is a fascinating one, and that trying to understand and model how an hourglass-shaped architecture arose is a worthwhile research line.  Detractors said (I’m paraphrasing using family-friendly language) that not only does the model fail to reflect or approximate reality, but the nature of an endeavor where you know the answer (hourglass) and contrive to build a model that produces the answer is bad science.

We decided to take this paper at the PC meeting in spite of its warts, since we knew it would lead to intense discussion and debate, and, as Jeff and I wrote in our opening remarks as PC co-chairs: “… we hope we took enough risky papers to get at least some of you upset.”  We succeeded!