The Petrochemistry of Software

Resourceful as ever mrs. motz pointed us to an interesting presentation a certain Mr. John Day recently held at the "future of networking" conference in Budapest.

John D. Day (born 1947) might not be as well known as Vinton Cerf, Bob Kahn, Larry Roberts or even Jon Postel - really the most important of them all - but like all of them he is a computer scientist, an Internet pioneer and a historian. He has been active in the development of the communication protocols of Internet and its predecessor ARPANET since the 1970ies and has also also been involved in the design of the Open Systems Interconnection Model (aka OSI Reference Modl.

Day is the author of the 2008 book Patterns in Network Architecture: A Return to Fundamentals and the RFC documents RFC 520, RFC 728, RFC 731, and RFC 732.

A critique of the Internet architecture at a historically and technically fundamental level

You will find a pdf of this presentation of Mr. Day's on Future InterNet Design (FIND) at Forum Athena here. That one is for all practical purposes the same as the one he used in Budapest.

Mr. Day is a very classical sort of technology pioneer. Having been there and having co-designed the t-shirt, he knows exactly where the quarrels were and which decisions (in his opinion) went wrong and which problems of today's Internet are connected with which of those decisions. So nowadays he travels the internetworking congress circuit and pokes his fingers into all the wounds, hoping this will result in a real wakeup call.

Everybody knows, we here at tinytalk plc. are buffs for computing and networking history. If you belong to those who know us a bit better, dear reader, you might also know that we are glad about demystification. And though having moved our HQ to Jamaica we also adore any hint at points where we can see that important computing and networking systems still contain technology invented in Europe and not in California or Massachusetts and who the guys were who developed and provided it.

Listen to a short sample of Mr.Day's Budapest talk here. It is an mp3-audio, also provided by Mrs. motz at

Moore's law has made us sloppy.

But enough of the preliminaries. Now we'd like to look at just some of Mr. Days concise aphorisms on why software (especially networking code) is still as inmature as it is: "Moore's Law has allowed us to ignore important questions, it has made us sloppy".

After thorough examination and analysis of this stunning proposition the tinytalk tech stuff gave the following variant as a more correct alternative: "The phenomenon that Gordon Moore observed (called a law by Carver Mead) in conjunction with the current mode of production and distribution has forced us* to decide for solutions that were mostly not bad but had no answers for a lot of important questions".

The meaning of these two variants is relevantely different. Whereas the first one implies that sloppy idiots took the wrong bends in the past and did not listen to better informed people (like Mr. Day maybe), the second one points to a set of circumstances that forced non-ideal decisions that got things ahead while paying price, 'cause, as we used to say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The same goes for the sometimes mysterious success of programming languages and the strange relapse of software practice into the primitive when microprocessors came along. It is just that sloppiness was forced but not the point.

*Society in general and the software academia and industry in particular

An echo elsewhere

The proposition of "Moore's law driving the computer industry" like fossile fuel driving the economy at large and by its "cheapness" (eq. easy availability) preventing "better solutions" finds a nice echo in Steven Wozniak's hope that software will get better, once the run of Moore's law hits the "atomic barrier". As the Wired Archive tells us:
But his [Wozniak's] hope for the future lies with the end of the curve of Moore's Law. Thinking about when designing personal computers might be fun again, Woz projects himself into a time when advances in chip design will have run up against some hard physical limits. Finally, the box will be defined, and, rather than rushing new hardware out the door every six months, we can all take a breather and ask, "How should the software work with the human being?" To him, the current system is driven solely by new generations of hardware that ship too fast, leaving no time for careful study.

Here's a question from an e-mail to Mr. Wozniak:
Woz, I would like to hear your opinions on modern computer directions. Are we where you expected to be by now? What do you see that is exciting for the future?

And here's WOZ's answer:
Too vague for me. Too unpredictable too. My latest hopes are for humanistic software but it may take until about 2020, assuming that Moore's law ends for atomic reasons around 2012.

A preliminary observation

Well, somehow the run of Moore's Law (actually an observation that soon became a self fulfilling prophecy) will not end in 2012, as far as we can tell now, but we we will probably see the day in this very lifetime and not only in our next one. However that be Dennard scaling has ended in 2006 and with it a lot of what was driving the development commonly called Moore's law. Ever more logic gates, multicore and automatic optimization is what's driving progress now.

Seven Layer Reference Model

Post scriptum
This is - as so often here on these pages - mere speculation and prejudice - but somehow we cannot get rid of the feeling that our Mr. Day's rather acrid view of the internet architecture stems from a sort of insultedness that allthough the 7 layer OSI burger had support from the DoD to the complete communication elite of the EC (now EU) in the design of which Mr. Day had a large role, never got its feet on and much less the ground. Reminds us just a bit of how Mr. Nelson always trumpeted of how wrong the designers of http and html got hypertext. All these guys while being adamant about science have their blind spots and have not studied complex biological systems enough. Still all the fundamentals and Woz give us hope that Moore's law and its ill effects on software will end its run in the foreseeable future. What then?

People get ready there's a train a-coming,
you don't need no baggage just a-get on board.
All you need is faith to hear the diesel humming,
you don't need no ticket no no just thank the lord.


now, mr day is still active and writes and tries solutions. take a look at RINA.

no sé if that might be called a solution, though. anyhow, the point i want to stress is: a good thing can be identified by watching closely these exercises ted and john are challenging former/current thinking and solutions: setting free a wake up call; set a seed for thinking and rethinking. repeating mistakes while being informed might be common, but both are choosing the not that easy way; and for that they deserve applause, imho. is it of help? i think so, yes. as there is a sort of "frustration" popping up in the younger crowd with how things are done. therefore the timing might be not that bad at all. especially as the problems are popping up on all coding fronts (parallelism, exascale, cyber physical systems, reliability, and more and more digitals are thrown at society.

john might cut the story short, some times, he even might act impatient, but as an old friend and scholar of heinz von foerster, he is indeed trained in cybernetic thinking.

... plink  


what i wanted to communicate

is just, that if he gave a bit more credit to things done right instead of nearly only saying what went wrong he might be able to modify his thinking and saying in a way, so that more of those good ideas found acceptance and actual mass implementation instead of remaining in safe and obscure places where only nerds like you and me like to look.
I have looked at FIND and RINA. You can google them in their extant form, but in abbreviated form you will hardly find anything and that is a pity.

... plink  

... answer!
last updated: 17.02.20 20:31

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