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Crimson Crux

Pseudo-techblog where the Corsarius gets serious. Visit blog.corsarius.net for his alter ego.

ACM Webcast a Blast!

Thursday, August 25, 2005 at 3:30 PM

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The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) A. M. Turing Award Lecture entitled "Assessing the Internet: Lessons Learned, Strategies for Evolution, and Future Possibilities" was held at the University of Pennsylvania last August 22, 6PM Eastern Standard time, and was webcast live to various gatherings of geeks and geekettes all over the world.

For the Philippines, local chapter UP ACM paid gracious host to the historic event at the College of Engineering Theater, University of the Philippines - Diliman, on August 23, 6 to 7:50AM Philippine time. UP ACM members and UP Diliman Department of Computer Science faculty were in attendance.

After Eduardo Glandt, Dean of UPenn's School of Engineering and Applied Science, kicked off the event, ACM President David Patterson gave an overview of ACM, its distinguished history, its stature as the world's first and largest society for computing, and the "Nobel Prize of Computer Science", the A.M. Turing Award.

Patterson then wasted no time in introducing the night's main attractions -- Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn, recipients of the 2004 A.M. Turing Award and developers of the TCP/IP architecture, which basically allows the existence of the Internet and should be showered by 'hallelujahs' from Net addicts the world over.

"Vint" Cerf and "Bob" Kahn presented their lecture as what most (lay)men would call a "geeky" chat (I'd prefer "intellectual" conversation) between them, with ACM SIGCOMM Chairman Lyman Chapin moderating the talk. The wizardly duo proved to be engaging speakers, displaying the wit which absolutely made the lecture a lot lot more entertaining than I believe it should've been. (After all, academic lectures are meant to inform, not entertain.)

Several key points in the lecture which this relatively computer networks neophyte found to be interesting:

* Layering, while a very effective implementation strategy, isn't exactly a fundamental requirement for networks. Also, the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) architecture's distinct lack of an Internet layer was mentioned by the speakers. Ah, the good ol' OSI vs. TCP/IP match-up...

* The end-to-end nature of TCP/IP spawned a lot of creativity. It allowed P2P connections, for example, to flourish, because the two endpoints need only to know what the heck they're trying to accomplish, never mind the medium between them. Cerf also touched on his idea of "the Edge" of the Net.

* SIGCOMM Chair Chapin broached the idea that innovation can spawn from any point, whether it's from "the Edge" or from different interfaces.

* The environment/structure of the Internet today doesn't allow for a big architectural change to occur, unlike the research environment of the past (uh, sandbox mode, anyone?). Nowadays it isn't the logical structure of the Net which is being thoroughly understood by people -- it's the business models.

* Cerf and Kahn were one in stating their idea of "creeping incrementalism"; the Internet is incrementally evolvable and improvable. Kahn also expressed his belief that even incremental change can be very hard to attain in a distributed system. The mobile nature of today's networks were also contrasted against the fixed terminals of the old, thus illustrating the need for file persistence.

* Kahn gave an analogy with Physics: like in Computer Science, the Physics timeline has key points where major upheavals had occured. The good ideas behind these upheavals not only needed to be damn good, but were strongly backed up by credibility.

* Other trains of thought were on "uniqueness and commonality", and interplanetary Internet (oh yeah, baby).

After a standing ovation signified the end of the lecture, an open forum took place. Several interesting points raised:

* After being asked, "Is there a way to shut down the Internet?" (analogous to the emergency situation of shutting down a nuclear power plant going critical), Kahn responded that we have no compelling reason to suddenly put the entire Net in the freezer. Not his exact words, but you get my drift.

* The speakers expressed their belief that the "Everything is connected!" nature of the Net works both ways -- it has a good side and a bad side. The latter rears its ugly head when organizations want to isolate parts of their own networks from the whole (e.g. internal networks). This is one of the driving reasons for the proliferation of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

* Kahn issued a challenge to the audience: Throw away the basics of Computer Science (yes, those early stuff you get to learn in BS CS). Can you identify the really major ideas that have popped out in the recent roll of years?

A second (and well-deserved) standing ovation marked the lecture's conclusion, with everybody ending up a lot more geeky and brighter. Count me in as one of those guys. Truly, an informative session.

And of course, UP ACM didn't fail to take care of its ranks, providing free food delivered hot straight from Jollibee. Boo-yeah!

Here's one looking forward to the next ACM Webcast!

[Watch out for a possible re-run of the Turing Lecture Webcast (recorded) in the upcoming Gee!CS event of the Department this September 14, 2005.]

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Blogger ia @ 8/26/2005 11:54 PM

Can't wait for the Gee!CS' Day :P

Because of their interesting discussion (that lecture was not a lecture at all, it was a geeky conversation with lots of geeky humor, which we could relate to in some eerie way), I await the day when each body of information becomes an intelligent entity of its own, its nature to gravitate towards related pieces of information. We'd have information running towards each other all the time and in some way it becomes easier to access the all details related to a certain idea.

Maybe I'm basing this on the City of Lights, where bodies of energy roam the land. It's supposedly Heaven.

Imagine a place where that energy is intelligent, too.    

Blogger Corsarius @ 10/02/2005 3:55 AM

to ia: Too bad the ACM Webcast wasn't replayed on the Gee!CS day itself. Damn technical problems. :(

to anonymous: oh well.    

Blogger Corsarius @ 10/28/2005 2:02 AM

A reason to have a trackback system:

I belatedly came across a blog which had its own ACM Webcast post. Catfish
in the Memepool
mentioned and linked to this post. Thanks to the guys out there.    

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