Cringely slips up on his pulpit

, posted: 26-Jul-2006 12:16

ToadRobert X. Cringely is an excellent read most of the time. He doesn't shy away from controversy, and often picks up on stuff other geek commentators miss. His last column, They Wrap Fish, Don't They? in which he rants against news on the Internet versus printed news misses the mark though, I feel.

I can appreciate his point that not everything is on the Internet, especially when it comes to news, but that's just common sense. Probably worth driving that point home though, especially with many younger people who never buy newspapers or go to the library.

While I was able to find many reports about different kinds of outages at Network Solutions, the day-long email one Cringely mentions as example in his column doesn't appear to have registered anywhere. Perhaps this is because it wasn't important enough for people to care?

Cringely gives another example of a story nobody allegedly covered on the Internet:

But wait, there's more! Last week I wrote about Skype's super nodes and how they steal bandwidth to perform Network Address Translation ( NAT) traversal while keeping eBay's costs as low as possible. Well since then Stanford University banned Skype from the campus for exactly this reason. Stanford has so much bandwidth, so many powerful workstations, and such gullible, er, friendly people that super nodes were rampant and seriously affecting network performance. Where is the story about this? Nowhere.

The stories about Skype Supernodes are everywhere. It's disappointing to see a self-professed Internet veteran not having the basic Google skills to find all the Skype Supernodes stories.

Kevin Tolly wrote about Skype Supernodes in October last year and we ran the story in Computerworld. The story caused quite a stir amongst readers, and I wrote a follow up two weeks later. I wasn't able to then coax Skype into becoming a supernode, but have seen it happen when an ISP techie plugged his laptop into a switch at a data centre.

Cringely's piece mixed in new owners Ebay, but misses some important collateral damage caused by Skype's indiscriminate Supernode technology, namely that it can open up a huge amount of TCP connections and overwhelm routers as well as appropriate bandwidth. Either way, it's not that hard to stop Skype from going into Supernode mode, but I can fully understand some organisations like research institutions banning its use. Having your 10Gigabit/s network go supernode is probably not ideal.

There you have it though: Tolly's story ran in the US and elsewhere, and my one was picked up on by the IDG wire and was published all over the place (no, didn't get any royalties, sigh). Yes, the story was both in print and on the Internet.

As a sidenote, have a read of this Cringely snippet from his March 17, 2005 column:

And there are other dirty tricks available to broadband ISPs. Telecom New Zealand, for example, is reportedly planning to alter TCP packet interleaving to discourage VoIP. By bunching all voice packets in the first half of each second, half a second of dead air would be added to every conversation, changing latency in a way that would drive grandmothers everywhere back to their old phone companies.

This is because phone conversations happen effectively in real time and so are very sensitive to problems of latency. Where one-way video and audio can use buffering to overcome almost any interleaving issue, it is a deal-breaker for voice.

Not sure if "interleaving" is the right way to describe the whole thing (queueing the packets would seem more appropriate because the order in which they're transmitted doesn't change) but he's spot on about the effects of it. The story was picked up by the Dominion Post (bad Google Cache copy here), which spelt his name "Cringley". Hmm, yes, the superior printed news.

Other related posts:
The problem with VDSL2, part 2
The problem with VDSL2
The mysterious Dynamic Line Management on VDSL2

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