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This post is part of the Blog March 2017. Every day this month a different blogger is writing about politics. Please march along with us!

A personal drumbeat of #resistance

A friend of mine recently commented that she'd like to get more involved in the resistance. She had attended a march or two, but those were occasional and spur of the moment activities. She asked if I had advice about how to turn her occasional activism into something more sustained? In other words, how could she make more of a difference but not quit her job and dedicate her life to the resistance?

I thought back to the 1990s when I was much more involved in politics. I was involved in multiple organizations but I still had a full time job. Was there something I could suggest? Activism is very different today than it was back then (we met in person and sometimes sent faxes!)

Times have changed but what works is still the same: Create a personal drumbeat of activism in your life.

A personal drumbeat sets that cadence for your work. It sets you up to do a little work each week. Over time this amounts to a lot of effort. However it doesn't feel like a lot because you've done a little at a time. More importantly, whatever you do becomes easier the more you repeat it.

For example, suppose you decided that your personal activism cadence would be to call 1 representative every Tuesday morning at 10am. The first time might be difficult, but the second time it a lot easier because you know who to call, and what to say. The third time you are a pro. Soon you can make two calls in the same amount of time. A call each week is going to generate more calls than if you make calls... when you think of it. Even a single call each week is better than, say, occasionally calling or planning to call but not actually doing it.

If everyone contributed 1 more hour per week to the resistance, we could achieve anything! This is very different than the old days before social networks. Back then efforts had to be more centralized (i.e. committees) because we didn't have mass communication tools like Facebook and Twitter. Now we can get more done with everyone doing little bits of work because it is easier to reach more people.

When has the resistance been successful?

If you look at Trump's first 100 days, you'll see that 100 percent of the resistance's victories involved an outpouring of people.

Public support is like oxygen for an issue. Without it the movement dies, with it the movement has a chance to see another day.

The huge numbers at The Women's March told Democrats in D.C. "we've got your back!" and gave them the confidence to put up a fight. Without their new-found backbones, they would not have stood up to Trump's policies at all.

The courts had the confidence to knock down the hate-fueled Muslim ban because crowds of people flooded airports and protested.

Trump failed to kill the ACA because of the outpouring of Democrats that showed up at townhalls and other venues as recommended by the Indivisible Handbook. Blue-state Republicans were terrified of not being reelected (basically the only thing that motivates them). In fact, the ACA repeat didn't even make it out of committee because the chair, NJ-11 Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, has been dogged by constituants relentlessly (and by "relentlessly" I mean appropriately, politely, and never backing down). Keep up the good work, NJ11!

This brings me to 3 suggestions for setting up your personal drumbeat:

Technique 1: Set aside a specific time and place

Set aside the amount of time that is right for you. It can be five minutes each morning, once a week, or once a month. Something is better than nothing. Pick what is comfortable for you.

One day I realized that I wasn't making any progress on an important project. There was always a reason to put it off. I'd be invited to do something Monday night, and I'd say to myself, "It is ok. I'll work on that project on Tuesday." Tuesday I'd get home from work and be too tired to work on it. That's ok, I'll work on it Wednesday. You can guess where this is going. Soon it is Monday again and I've missed another week.

To fix this I set aside one night as my designated night just to work on that project. I picked Tuesday. If someone invited me out on Tuesday night, or if my boss asked if I could work late, I could honestly say, "no, I have a prior committment."

Nobody has time for big projects. People only make time for big projects. You have to say "no" to a lot of things to create the time for a big project. Creating an excuse (like, "Tuesday is my activism night") is one way to force yourself to create that time.

Think about committee meetings. If they meet weekly at the same time each week, it sets a cadence. It is difficult to find a night that everyone is available, but if the meeting repeats at a predictable cadence, everyone can make time for it.

If you are a procrastinator, the tasks you promise to do at one meeting tend to get done the night before the next meeting. By having the meetings weekly you get more work done than if they met monthly. If you have trouble setting aside time, maybe you need to join the organizing committee.

Technique 2: Be a body at events

Anti-Trump rallies and protests that have been very successful. The recipe is simple. A few people do a lot of planning and a lot of people show up. The goal is to create a big spectacle that looks impressive in photos and videos. That requires having a lot of people show up.

So... show up.

Believe it or not, they need a lot of people to "be a body". If you think of it like a movie, you are an "extra". I'm not saying that to belittle extras nor protesters. A movie with a big crowd scene would look silly if there was no crowd in the scene.

Rallies need a lot of bodies. Just show up and stand there. You don't need to prepare what you are going to say because you are part of the crowd... you don't need to talk! Heck, you don't even need to listen... just applaud when others do! (I'm only half serious there.)

Some townhalls do require RSVPs or have a limit on the number of people that can attend. RSVP if you can, but show up even if they run out of tickets. Just show up. If you don't get in, you can be part of the crowd that stands outside. Now the reporters have a second story to write about: the event plus the fact that there was an overflow crowd. ("Hey, why is that politician intentionally booking small rooms so that he doesn't have to face all of his constitutients! What is he trying to hide!?!"). That is the kind of spectacle you want to create.

"Being a body" is awesomely low-commitment. You don't need to get dressed up, do homework in advance, or nothin'. You don't have to make a sign. The people that do make signs probably have extras, or will be very glad if you hold their sign when their arms are tired.

If setting aside a specific time each week sounds like too big of a commitment, set a goal of "being a body" at every rally and meeting. Find your local indivisible group, put their events on your calendar, and just show up.

It is amazingly low-effort yet urgently needed. Oh and you might meet a neighbor or make a new friend.

Technique 3: Donate

If public support is a movement's oxygen, then money is the fuel. While grassroots organizing is less expensive than national activism, money keeps the movement moving.

Nobody can afford to donate in response to every request they get in email. It is much better to set a budget and stick to it.

Here's a strategy that I like. I donate the equivalent of 1 hour's wages each week. 1 hour out of 40 is 2.5 percent. Giving 2.5 percent to good causes is completely reasonable. (After taxes that's like 3.6 percent.)

How much do you make in one hour? If you are paid yearly instead of hourly, the math is quite simple. There are approximately 2,000 work hours in the year. Dividing by 2,000 is like lopping off the 3 zeros at the end of your salary and dividing by two. So, if you make $40,000 per year, take off the 3 zeros (leaving you with "40") and divide by 2 (leaving you with "20"). So, if you donate $20/week to a cause that's one hour's of wages.

Because I'm lazy, I don't want to have to click on a group's website once a week. Instead, I pick 4 charities and set the all up for automatic monthly donations.

Organizations love automatic donations. They can budget around it. They can make big, long-term, plans. Imagine if your car had a 1-gallon gas tank and you had to spend all your time worrying about whether or not you'll see a gas station in the next 20-30 miles. You would never plan big trips. Organizations need monthly donors so they have the confidence to make big plans... like taking back the house and senate. The right-wing knows this and uses long-term funding strategies from billionaries to fund things like national gerrymandering strategies and ALEC. We won't have a left-wing response to either without a guarantee of long-term funding by millions of grassroots people like yourself.

I also love automatic donations because I'm lazy and, to be honest, if I can "set it and forget it" then I'm totally happy. (And I get to delete all other fundraising emails without guilt!)

There's another trick I use related to money. Remember how I mentioned I donate the equivalent of 1 hour's wages each week? I actually have a specific hour! It's Wednesday from 10am to 11am! The money I earn during that time is what I donate.

Ok, that's totally not true. Money is money and I don't know which specific George Washingtons I earn during that hour. However I pretend that it is the money I earn on Wednesday from 10am to 11am!

Why? Because it is fun. If I'm working hard during that hour, or attending a painfully boring meeting, or even being yelled at by my boss (not really... my boss doesn't yell at me), I can smile and know that this is the hour that I'm helping save the world.

It is also a great conversation starter. "Guess what I'm doing right now? I'm saving the world."

And that's pretty cool.

(I won't reveal which organizations my 4 donations go to, but here are a few very worthy causes: NDRC (gerrymandering), ACLU, DNC LGBT Caucus, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NGLTF, BiNetUSA,

"A personal drumbeat of #resistance" is a part of Blog March 2017, a movement for Raising Voices for Freedom of Expression, Knowledge, and Information. We will be broadcasting voices throughout the month of May. Follow up on May 16th with Diana Adams!

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

Blog March... GO!

Each day in May a different blogger will be writing about something true, important, or moving.

I hope you will read along each day this month. Interact and ask questions. Quote, share, comment, and challenge, with respect. Appreciate, learn, and "march" along with us.

Links to each day's blog post will appear on The Robin Renée Blog. Robin is a friend and fellow activist who I've known for decades. I'm honored to be part of this movement.

My blog post will appear here on on Monday 5/15.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

*Lately there has been a renewed debate over the use of encrypted communication. Terrorists could be using encryption to hide their communication. Everyone knows this. The problem is that encryption is required for ecommerce and just about everything on the web.

Should encryption be banned? regulated? controlled?

Lately there have been a number of proposals, good and bad, for how to deal with this. Luckily I have a solution that solves all the problems!

My solution: (which is obvious and solves all problems)

change_your_password.pngMy solution is quite simple: Every time a website asks you to create or change a password, it would send a copy to the government. The government would protect this password database from bad people and promise only to use it when they really really really really really need to. Everyone can still use encryption, but if law enforcement needs access to our data, they can access it.


I've received a number of questions about my proposal. Here are my replies:

Q: Tom, which government?

Duh. THE government.

Q: Tom, what about websites outside the U.S.?

Ha! Silly boy. The internet doesn't exist outside of the U.S. Does it? Ok, I guess we need a plan in case countries figure out how to make webpages.

For example if someone in Geneva had the nerve to create a website, they'd just turn the passwords over to their government who would have an arrangement with the U.S. government to share passwords. This would work because all governments agree about what constitutes "terrorism", "due process", and "jurisprudence". Alternatively these Genevaians could just turn the passwords over to the U.S. directly. They trust us. Right?

Q: Tom, what if the government misuses these passwords?

That won't happen and let me explain why: There would be a policy that forbids that kind of thing.

If they have a written policy that employees may not view the passwords or use them inappropriately, it won't happen. I believe this because in past few years I've seen CEOs make statements like that and I always trust CEOs. I believe in capitalism because I'm no dirty commie hippy like yourself.

Q: Tom, how do we define when the government can use the database?

3348566.jpgDude. What part of "really really really really really" didn't you understand? They can't just really really really really need to use one of those passwords. They have to really really really really really (5 reallys!) need to use it!

Q: Tom, what if someone steals the government's database?

Look, the government has top, top, people that could protect the database. It would be as simple as protecting the codes that launch nuclear missles.

Q: Tom, doesn't the OPM database leak prove this is unworkable?

What? Why would the government name a database after one of the best Danny Devito movies ever? Look, that movie was fictional. If you aren't going to take this debate seriously, stay out of it. Ok?

Q: Tom, wouldn't this encourage terrorists to make their own online systems?

Dude, you aren't paying attention. They'd be required to turn their passwords over to the government just like everyone else! If they don't, we know they are terrorists!


Hi. Thank you for reading this far.

Obviously the above proposal is not something I support. It is a analogy to help you understand that the FBI and other law enforcement organizations are proposing. When you hear about "law enforcement backdoor" legislation or requiring that phones be "court unlockable" this is what they mean.

The proposed plans aren't about passwords but "encryption keys". Encryption keys are "the technology behind the technology" that enables passwords to be transmitted across the internet securely. If you have a company's encryption keys you can, essentially, wiretap the company and decode all their private communication.

Under the proposal, every device would have a password (or key) that could be used to gain access to the encryption keys. The government would promise not to use the password (key) unless they had a warrant. We'd just have to hope that nobody steals their list of passwords.

Obviously neither of these proposals are workable.

This debate is not new. 20 years ago FBI and NSA officials went to the IETF meetings (where the Internet protocols are ratified) and proposed these ideas. In 1993-1995 this debate was huge and nearly tore the IETF apart. Finally cooler heads prevailed and rejected the proposals. It turned out that the FBI's predictions were just scare tactics. None of their dire predictions came true. "Indeed, in 1992, the FBI's Advanced Telephony Unit warned that within three years Title III wiretaps would be useless: no more than 40% would be intelligible and in the worst case all might be rendered useless. The world did not "go dark." On the contrary, law enforcement has much better and more effective surveillance capabilities now than it did then." (citation)

We must reject these proposals just like we did in the early 1990s. Back then most American's didn't even know what "the internet" was. The proposals were rejected in the 1990s because of a few dedicated computer scientists. Today the call to reject these proposals should come from everyone: Sysadmins, moms and dads, old and young, regardless of political party or affiliation.

All the encryption lingo is overwhelmingly confusing and technical. Just remember that when you hear these proposals, all they're really saying is: The FBI/NSA want easy access to anything behind your password.

I literally never thought I'd see this day arrive.

In 1991/1992 I was involved in passing the LGB anti-discrimination law in New Jersey. When it passed in January 1992, I remember a reporter quoting one of our leaders that marriage was next. At the time I thought Marriage Equality would be an impossible dream, something that wouldn't happen in my lifetime. Well, less than quarter-century later, it has finally happened.

In the last few years more than 50% of the states approved marriage equality and soon it became a foregone conclusion. States are the "laboratory of democracy" and with 26 states (IIRC) having marriage equality, its about time to declare that the experiment is a success.

There were always predictions that marriage equality would somehow "ruin marriage" but in the last decade of individual states having marriage equality not a single example has come forward. What has come forward has been example after example of problems from not having marriage equality. The Oscar winning documentary "Freeheld" is about one such example. Having different laws in different states don't just create confusion, it hurts families.

"Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable", wrote Martin Luther King Jr. It is not automatic: it doesn't "just happen", it requires thousands of little steps.

This day only happened because of thousands of activists working for many years, plus hundreds of thousands of supporters, donors, and millions of "like" buttons clicked.

A lot of people make jokes about lawyers but I never do. No civil rights law or court decision ever happens without a lawyer writing legislation or arguing before a court. The legal presentations given in Obergefell v. Hodges were top notch. Implementing the decision requires operational changes that will require policy makers, legal experts, and community activists to work together.

This is really an amazing day.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in CommunityPolitics

How to win the most votes? Let me share two datapoints:

  • The Obama campaign was lackluster and just couldn't get momentum. About a month ago he changed his speeches to be pretty hardcore liberal talking points. Suddenly the enthusiasm and polling started doing much better.
  • In the last weeks of the campaign, Romney started stealing Obama's talking points, sounding as liberal as he could be. Suddenly the Romney momentum started building. In fact, if he had kept this up or if the election was a few weeks later, he might have won.

Both of these data points indicate that to gain more votes, politicians need to "run to the left". This is because when polled on the issues, Americans are increasingly aligned with progressive principles. Yet the idea that America is a "center-right" nation persists. I think that's because Republicans strategies understand the marketing concept that to make something popular, you need to tell a lot of people that it is popular.

In the coming 2-3 years you will hear pundit after pundit saying "Romney's loss proves we need to run candidates that are more conservative". This can't be more wrong. "Consider the speaker". This message is coming from people that are conservative! Anything else would be like expecting a vegetarian to recommend that people should eat meat. It isn't going to happen!

I don't believe in conspiracy theories but I do believe that once a strategy becomes obvious, a lot of people glom onto it. It was mathematically unlikely that Romney would win earlier this year when Romney was picking a VP. If you are a forward thinking political strategiest you are already thinking about 2016 and how to move the right people into position so that no matter who gets the nomination it is someone you want. The RNC machine wants someone like Paul Ryan to be running in 2016 (assuming Obama wins) so by putting him into the VP slot this year, it puts him in the right place for 2016. And, heck, if Romney wins in 2012 he's in an even better position for 2020. The RNC thinks in the long term and has been willing to take a small loss now if it means a big win in the future. That's very smart. Any time you create a situation where if you win you win, and if you lose you win... you are being very smart. Putting someone like Ryan into a position to run for president in 2016 is especially smart: he's one of the few politicians that has the political balls to actually end Medicare, Social Security, and all the New Deal and Great Society programs that Republicans have always tried to prevent from coming into being and tried to weaken after they've passed.*

In the 2016 election both Republicans and Democrat candidate positions will be "up for grabs." This is fairly rare (except 2008). In 2016 Obama will have hit his term limit and Biden has said he won't be running for President. That means for the first time in a decades neither party will have an incumbent or a past VP.

What the Democrats need to do to win in 2016? There hasn't been a Democrat that's won without being from the south (except Obama) since before I was born... and before that the VP was from the south if the Dems won. Obama wasn't from the south, but he flipped a number of southern states that hadn't voted Republican for decades (Obama broke a 44-year streak in VA, for example) because of changing demographics.

So for the Democrats to win, they need a southern democrat to make it a slam-dunk. The person I like, sadly, is not from the south. I like Andrew Cuomo, but considering that everyone knows he is going to run, expect the Republican Scandal Machine to kick in and take him off the chess board in 2013 or 2014. The Republican Scandal Machine is smart enough to know to stomp out a problem when it is small, before it grows into a difficult to fight problem, or as the Sun Tzu says, "Anyone who excels in defeating his enemies triumphs before his enemy's threat become real." What Andrew Cuomo needs to learn is the Japanese saying "出る釘は打たれる" which means, literally, "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down."

What the Republicans need to do to win in 2016? They need to ignore the self-serving, wholly biased, conservative consultants who will push them to nominate an arch conservative. They need to run the most liberal candidate that they can stomach: someone that will not bring back the Bush cronies or Reagan proteges to the White House, someone that will have a cabinet and staff that is aligned with American's new progressivism.

The reason they lost is because they didn't run someone liberal enough. To win in 2016 the Republicans need to nominiate the most liberal person they can find.

...and thats my one non-sysadmin, totally political post of the year...

Thank you for listening.

Tom Limoncelli


  • You younger readers might not appreciate how important Medicare and Social Security are: "Go back to before Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid existed [1937 and 1966 respectively]. You have to look at the poverty numbers for elderly and remember the stories of senior citizens eating dog food and dying from perfectly treatable disease because they couldn't see a doctor. To know what America was like before Social Security you need to just think about that seniors went from being at the highest risk for living in squalor to being relatively stable and middle-class within a few generations. This didn't happen by accident. This happened because Americans said 'that's enough. I don't want my mother to work her whole to be eating Purina One out of a can in a slum house. Do something!'" link

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

[first draft]

Someone asked me about "The Internet Needs a New Pair of Pants" and I thought it would be a good chance to post some thoughts I've had.

For the most part he's asking the wrong questions. Only #10 and #11 really matter.

But first a quick tangent...

We don't "store data" on the internet. You can 'store data' by putting it on a hard drive and then powering it off. That's easy. Anyone can do that. What you do on the internet (or "in the cloud") is you make data available (either to everyone, a restricted group, or just yourself). To make it available it uses a constant amount of power, upkeep, maintenance, backups, etc. Backups is often 9x the cost of hard drive you bought to store the data.

That said...

In the future we will store more and more of our information on other people's computers simply because it is cheaper. Energy is very expensive and typical data centers are built where power is cheap. There are efficiencies of scale to power one big data center rather than a million hard drives, each in that person's home. The power in data centers will always be greener than what you get in the home not because cloud providers are pollution-hating hippies but because when you do things at big scale it becomes cheaper to do things green. Lastly, at big scale things like backups, upkeep, maintenance, etc. all become much cheaper. The cost of a huge robotic tape backup system may be millions of dollars, but the cost of millions of homes each doing backups is hundreds of millions. More and more of our data is being stored in the cloud not just because it is easier that setting up a home system to do it for us but because we can't afford to do it any other way.

That said...

If we are going to put more and more of our data in the hands of other people, we need a "bill of rights" that protects us and the providers:

Users should:

  1. be able to know what data is being stored about them (example)
  2. be able to get a complete copy of all their data in a format that lets them change providers any time they want, no fees or penalties (example)
  3. users should be able to grant access to their data to other people, easily see who has access, and revoke it (a good start)

Providers should:

  1. Have a clear procedure to determining when a government subpoena for a user's data is valid (not a fishing expedition or witchhunt)
  2. Not have all their computers confiscated due to a single user; even if user's data is mixed with others.
  3. Should be required to publish statistics about which governments are making subpoena and take-down requests, how often, and whether or not they were rejected (example)

That list is just a start.

As system administrators we are probably the most aware of these issues. Sadly these decisions are generally made at the CEO level where we have very little influence, or in smokey, dark rooms where political decisions are made (and we have even less influence).

The problem is that the current laws are insufficient, new laws tend to be written by people that are against the things listed above, and nobody knows how to deal with data in one country being stored by a person in another county that breaks the laws of yet another country.

I've linked to services that do the things I talk about. I'll gladly add links to other services that have these features (email me or post a comment). I think everyone should go to their providers and ask (demand) all of the above, and we should ask (demand) our elected officials create laws that make these things possible, if not required.

But who has time for that, right? I mean... we're sysadmins! We're too busy to get political.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

The headlines like, "Sen. Reid kills SOPA bill" should really read, "Sen. Reid tells people SOPA is dead so Hollywood can work on more stealthy bill."

What to do about this kind of thing in general?

Joel Spolsky nails it:

The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us... then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, "OK, compromise," and gets half of what they want. That's not the way to win... that's the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.
The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It's time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we've got. Let's force the RIAA and MPAA to use up all their political clout just protecting what they have. Here are some ideas we should be pushing for:
* Elimination of software patents
* Legal fees paid by the loser in patent cases; non-practicing entities must post bond before they can file fishing expedition lawsuits
* Roll back length of copyright protection to the minimum necessary "to promote the useful arts." Maybe 10 years?
* Create a legal doctrine that merely linking is protected free speech
* And ponies. We want ponies. We don't have to get all this stuff. We merely have to tie them up fighting it, and re-center the "compromise" position.

The dismal corruption of congress has gotten it to the point where lobbying for legislation is out of control. As Larry Lessig has taught us, the core rottenness originates from the high cost of running political campaigns, which mostly just goes to TV stations.
A solution is for the Internet industry to start giving free advertising to political campaigns on our own new media assets... assets like YouTube that are rapidly displacing television. Imagine if every political candidate had free access (under some kind of "equal time" rule) to enough advertising inventory on the Internet to run a respectable campaign. Sure, candidates can still pay to advertise on television, but the cost of campaigning would be a lot lower if every candidate could run geo-targeted pre-roll ads on YouTube, geo-targeted links at the top of, even targeted campaigns on Facebook. If the Internet can donate enough inventory (and I suspect we can), we can make it possible for a candidate to get elected without raising huge war chests from donors who are going to want something in return, and we may finally get to a point where every member of congress isn't in permanent outstretched-hand mode.

Read the entire thing here:

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

[This is still at 'first draft' quality, but I thought I'd post it sooner rather than later. Please ignore the typos for now.]

I recently twittered my delight that the FCC approval of "super Wi-Fi" is going to be regarded as a historic moment five years from now. I mean it.

Here's why:

In geek terms: This gives permission to treat the airwaves like Ethernet networking, not like Teleco networking. More modern and more flexible.

In non-geek terms, this decision by the FCC makes it easier to innovate. It makes it safe and easy to try new things With the possibility of experimentation comes new applications and ideas. It will be a game-changer.

Let me explain...

Let's first look at how spectrum is allocated today: In blocks. You want to do something "on the air", request a license, go through tons of approvals, put together a consortium of like-minded folks, wait months or years, and get a block of spectrum from frequency X to frequency Y in a particular geographic area. The process is so long that by now I've forgotten what the original idea was. Sigh.

Of course, when the FCC was created in the 1930s this made sense. We didn't know any other way and we didn't have the technology to do it any other way. Electronics were imprecise and stupid (and analog) so the best thing to do was to allocate big blocks and waste some space by putting gaps between those blocks to take into account "drift". It was centrally-controlled, graceless, but it worked. To manage a precious, rare, resource, it made sense. Did I mention this was the 1930s?

This is comparable to how telecoms traditionally have handled bandwidth. You may recall that a T1 line has 24 channels (DS0's) that are 64 kbit/s each. The total bandwidth of a T1 is 1.5 M but it is divided into 24 timeslots. If you are DS0 number 13, you know that your bits are transmitted 13 time units after each clock sync. If you don't have anything to transmit, zeros will be transmitted for you. It is wasteful and graceless but thats the best you can do in 1961 (which meant most of the design was done in the 1950s). That's nearly a decade before we landed a man on the moon and 20 years before the Commodore 64 first shipped.

Compare that kind of resource allocation scheme to Ethernet. On Ethernet every device that wants to transmit "listens" to see if anyone else it talking and as soon as there is silence "you just start sending". If two devices send at the same time it is considered a "collision" and both parties back off and re-try a random amount of time later. No central authority deciding who should talk when. Everyone just has to agree to use the same rules for how to back off when there is a problem. No central authority, just "benevolent self-interest" that requires everyone to follow the same rules: You follow the rules out of your own self-interest because if everyone does that, everyone can win: Talk when nobody else is and politely back off if you find you are interrupting someone.

It works because data protocols are done by computers that can think, look around, and retry when there is a problem. Analog electronics couldn't do that.

Also compare to how TCP/IP allocates bandwidth on the internet. Send all the data you want, ramping up to the max rate you can send. If there is congestion, the network drops your packets and you respond by slowing down. There is no attempt to allocate the perfect amount of bandwidth for you so that you don't have to deal with congestion. Your protocol follows specific rules on how to back off; and it works because everyone is following the same rules. Your protocol can try to cheat, but it is in your own self-interest to follow the rules and the rules are simple: Talk and and politely back off when there is an indication the system is overloaded.

Imagine if the telecom world or other old-school thinkers had tried to invent a data-networking system based on their old antiquated values? Every time you wanted to SSH to a host, first your protocol would contact some great authority in the sky, beg for an allocation of bandwidth, promise not to go outside that allocation, receive that allocation. With that allocation you would then start transmitting, always careful not to send more than you had promised. Once you were done you would notify the great authority in the sky and the bandwidth would be freed for use by others. But what if there wasn't bandwidth available? During the allocation request you would be given a busy signal (or sent to voicemail?) so you knew to try again later. At the end of the month you'd get a "phone bill" that would list every connection you've made with a dollar amount to be paid.

Now, obviously that's a silly way to run a network. Nobody would create a network like that... oh wait... someone did!

Do you think the telecom industry learned from experienced data network inventors? Heck no. In fact, the telecom industry's response to the internet and TCP/IP was ATM (the confusingly named "Asynchronous Transfer Mode") which was based on sending data in timeslots or "cells" that are 53 bytes each. (That's not a typo... yes, the packet size is a prime number!). The first stage of each session was an allocation process. You (your software) would talk to your nearest router and explain how much bandwidth you needed and for how long. It would negotiate on your behalf with every router between you and the destination to allocate your specified amount of bandwidth. That bandwidth would be allocated just to you. (more on that later) You then have this "virtual circuit" that you transmit your data on until you are done and then the routers de-allocate that bandwidth allotment.

Laughable? Yes. But from 1988 to 1995ish the telecom industry tried to "take over" the internet and force it to be replaced with ATM. Imagine every SSH session taking 0.5 to 2 seconds to start up as bandwidth was allocated to you. Of course, that didn't work well therefore the ATM Forum proposed that you allocate yourself a big chunk and use it for all your TCP/IP needs, doing your own suballocations from that larger block. In other words, they were going to give you a T1. In fact, "T1 Emulation" was a big feature of ATM equipment.

And... oh dear. You would you get a phone bill at the end of the month, listing all the connections you made and a sum total for you to pay. Insane. In fact, one of the jokes about ATM was that the acronym was "A Tariffing Mechanism".

ATM did have one concession to the way real-world data networks operate. The channels didn't have to be fixed sizes. They could be "variable rate". Also, if you weren't using your entire allocation the network could use the "spare" bandwidth for "best effort" protocols. In fact, a large part of the research around ATM was how to oversubscribe allocations and still assure that all bandwidth guarantees would be satisfied.

Here's the part I think is the most funny. The most complex part of an ATM system is all these mechanisms serve the purpose of assuring that the endpoints see a perfect network with perfect bandwidth allocation and perfect reliability and perfect fidelity. However, at the top of the protocol stack data you (your protocol) still has to do end-to-end error checking. Even if you are promised the network can not possibly drop or corrupt a packet, the top level protocols (the applications) still check for problems because the error may have been somewhere else: the cable between the computer and the perfect network, for example. Thus ATM went through all this hand wringing on behalf of upper level protocols that didn't need it, or find much utility in it. Here is a list of things that data protocols can handle on their own: missing packets, dropping packets, corrupted packets, data being sent too fast, data not being sent fast enough. Did I say "can"? They have to. Thus, ATM's generous offer to handle all of that for you is a waste of effort on ATM's behalf. It does, however, justify the ability for the ATM provider to send you a bill. What a great business model.

The fact that ATM didn't replace the internet was no accident. It was a huge effort to "push back" against some very big heavy weights. If you recall, these were the same years that small ISPs were being bought up by Telcos. Eventually all the major ISPs were entirely owned by Telecos. The equipment companies were entering the telecom space and didn't want to piss off their new telco customers. Thus, the people that needed to fight back against ATM were now all owned by megacorps that wanted ATM to win. Wired Magazine wrote the definitive history of this battle and I encourage everyone interest in internet history and governance to read it. The people in this story are heros.

This brings us back to the recent FCC decision.

The airwaves are allocated in blocks. It is wasteful, graceless and ham-fisted but it works. And most of all, it worked given the technology of the 1930s that created it.

The new regulations permit radio transmitters to share spectrum. As long as everyone plays by the same rules it all "just works". As long as everyone has an incentive to play by the rules, it will continue to work. The rules are both "the carrot and the stick". "The stick" is FCC penalties. "The carrot" is that if everyone plays by the rules, everyone will continue to be able to play.

So here's how it works. If you want to broadcast on frequency X, you listen to see if anyone else is broadcasting. If nobody is, you start broadcasting until you detect that someone else is broadcast at which point you have to stop broadcasting. It's a lot more technical than that, but that's the premise. It is like Ethernet and TCP/IP: Talk when nobody else is and politely back off if you find you are interrupting someone.

Of course, you probably are going to listen to many frequencies: scanning up and down for free frequencies so you always have enough available to send the data you have. One of the FCC concessions is that there will be a database of frequencies that are allocated "old school style" and devices will have to stay away from those. Devices will download updates from that database periodically. The database is geographic. The entries are not "don't use channel 9" but "In New York, Channel 9 is in use".

The frequencies that are now available include the "whitespace" airwaves (channels that are unused in the TV frequency range) as well as the gaps between channels that used to be needed due to "analog drift". Now that transmitters are digital they are more precise (they can stay within a more narrow frequency band) and self-correcting (no drift). Being able to use those gaps alone is a big innovation.

At last! Instead of going through tons of work to use any airwaves at all, we can simply build devices that know how to "talk when nobody else is", scan frequencies for available bandwidth, and sync up to a central database.

These are things that modern computers do very well.

None of this was possible until recently. In the 1970s a transistor radio might cost $10 and be so simple it might have come in a kit. Imagine if it had to scan frequencies and so on. With 1970s semiconductor technology it would be a million dollar product. Not something anyone could afford. Oh, and your hand-held radio would only fit in your hand if your hands were as big as the Statue of Liberty's.

Moore's law predicts the "march of progress" in semiconductors. It was easy to predict when such compute power would be affordable and therefore making it economically possible for such devices.

While Moore's law may be hitting the limits of physics, we are still benefitting from it. Ironically there are entire industries that have tried to deny its existence. The economic justification for creating ATM was based on the notion that silicon chips would never be sophisticated or powerful enough to be able to process variably-size, large packets; network speed would hit a limit if we didn't change everything to 53-byte packets. This is entirely true to anyone that is ignorant of, or denies, Moore's law. People that lobbied against "super Wi-Fi" and the use of whitespace also were ignorant of, or in denial about, Moore's law. Of course electronics could do this, it was a matter of time. The music industry was told, based on Moore's law, which year MP3 decoders would be inexpensive enough to put music on a PC, and what year it could fit on a portable player, and what year being able to download an MP3 would be economically feasible; their surprise when these things happened were either due to ignorance of, or denial about, Moore's law. The term "feigning surprise" is one way to describe how someone acts when predictions they've ignored all come true.

But I digress...

This new FCC regulation is a major step forward. It is a modernization of how we allocate wireless frequencies. It is an acknowledgement of Moore's law and the improvements digital electronics bring to the field. It is the gateway for new experimentation which will lead to new wireless applications and services.

Mark my words! Five years from now we'll look back at all the progress that has happened and point to this day as the historic moment that started it all, even though the announcement was mostly ignored at the time.

Well, ignored by everyone except you, dear reader.

Tom Limoncelli

(See you Dec 22, 2016!)

P.S. The only coverage of this FCC decision that I've been able to find has been in the foreign press. What's up with that? It's as if the U.S. incumbents are in cahoots to make sure it will be easy to feign surprise about this some day.

Stopping SOPA

The problem with companies that used to support SOPA but have turned around, is that they supported it in the first place.

The problem with stopping SOPA is that the people behind it are committed to bringing it back in another form, some day, some how.

The problem with SOPA is that many of the bad things in SOPA are things that the U.S. government has been doing lately either unofficially or through "cooperation" with companies.

The defeat of SOPA will not be the end of the general problem.

The real solution is that we pro-internet, pro-innovation, pro-freedom folks need to be proposing our own legislation or, better yet, a constitutional amendment, which establishes freedom of speech, freedom to encrypt, and freedom to link as inalienable rights of all citizens.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

Someone sent me email asking, "With your familiarity of SysAdmin personalities, would you vote for a SysAdmin for president?"


Years ago I worked at a very small company. Their head of sales was boasting about being a Republican in a way that I believe was trying to mock me for being a Democrat. However it was a good opportunity to explain why I thought we were both "in the right place".

"You see", I explained, "Republicans value money over everything else, and that's how I think people in sales should be. Democrats value of expertly-run, centrally-controlled, and generously-funded infrastructure, and if you knew what's good for you, you'd realize that your ability to get your job done depends IT being that way."

So would I vote for a sysadmin for president? Hell yeah. All roads would bepatched the first Tuesday of every month. Nobody wouldn't complain about the DMV because they wouldn't exist any more: you'd renew your license via PayPal and download a PDF of your new license. "Jocks harassing smart kids" would become a federal crime or at least we'd reduce/eliminate school sports programs and redirect the money to the Chess team, math and science classes, and other intellectual pursuits. Schools should be palaces, don't you think? And lastly, the military would be replaced by robots... awesome robots. A ninja robot army with a pirate navy. Arrrrrrr.

But before a syadmin gets elected president, consider this: Obama understands that making government data available "electronically" as a bitmap or PDF is not the same as providing it in a parsable format like XML or CSV. Example: Politicians have to document where all the donations come from and the government made this data available as scanned bitmaps in PDFs. The Sunlight Foundation went to congresspeople asking them to change the law so that the the data was available not just "electronically" but in a parsable, usable format. In an interview with someone from the Sunlight Foundation (reference needed) they said that none of the senators they met with understood that "PDF wasn't good enough" until they met with (then) Senator Obama: he "got it", he didn't need it explained. So when people balked at him wanting to keep his Blackberry it wasn't a surprise to me: he's my generation of geek.

And consider this: The President is just one person. To change the entire government takes movement from the top and the bottom. The entire concept of "Government as a Platform" is basically being driven that "get it" about IT. That's why I'm excited about things like the Gov 2.0 Conferences, the concept of "Government APIs", and various forms of E-Government.

So until an actual sysadmin is elected president support Gov 2.0 efforts. It's going to bring government into the 21st century.

--Tom Limoncelli

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

Thomas Marino GOP congressional candidate Thomas Marino misreported income.

When not doing that, he GOP Candidate Thomas Marino defends swindlers.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan

Jon Runyan is the Republican candiate for NJ-3

Jon Runyan is medocre, a bully, and one of the dirtiest players. Every year NFL players vote on the meanest, nastiest and dirtiest players in the league, and Runyan ranked near the top of that list in every single season that he played.

Posted by Tom Limoncelli in Politics

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