What can the IETF learn from History? Lessons from Heisenberg

Can we learn something about inclusiveness from history? A look at the 1920 physics conferences.

The Internet Engineering Task Force has had an ongoing debate about inclusiveness in many dimensions. Many of us lament that there are not more women engaged in the industry; and that we are unable to engage in a better way engineers from developing countries. However, there is also a debate about the interdisciplinary aspects of our work, where the merits of engaging beyond the engineering discipline becomes a bit less clear.

In the early 1990s Marshall Rose somewhat cynically coined the term many fine lunches and dinners to describe conferences like the IETF.1 It is comforting, therefore, to have learned that we were following in the footsteps of great minds.

In the 1920s, there were a number of physics conferences, and one in particular in Brussels that featured Bohr, Einstein, Planck, Born, the Joliot-Curies, Pauli, Heisenberg, and others. The vast majority of the attendees were Europeans (and men). The European aspect was due to location of the conference and the difficulty of traveling across continents.

God does not throw dice” was the hotly debated statement versus quantum theories.  Heisenberg later recounted that they all stayed in the same hotel, and that the real discussions occurred not during the paper presentations, but at dinners.2 I don’t think we can say that those conferences were where the true discoveries occurred, but I think they helped in directing researchers in the right direction. This is why the IETF meets in person from time to time.  This is also why hybrid work is so important, where one splits time working with others and on one’s own.

People who attended those conferences in the 1920s were physicists, and they were very focused on a very narrow a particular aspect of physics, even though those aspects had profound consequences to society.  Had they invited philosophers, my take is that the philosophers would have gotten in the way, and neither group would have gotten anything out of the interchange.

IETF conferences and work styles are aimed at engineers.  That aspect should not change, and in some cases perhaps it should even revert a bit.  However, the practice of engineering evolves, just as the understanding of physics did back then.  A colleague of Einstein’s dressed him down for using such a simple platitude as an argument, and you can read in the record how the “old guard” (yes, even Einstein) was slow to accept new concepts. This sounds eerily familiar, and is a cautionary tale to those of us in that group to pay attention to new concepts.

Engaging new blood is key to any organization. Traveling internationally to new places to find new people may or may not be valuable. The IETF tried this in 2014 by traveling down to Buenos Aires, to see if we could engage more people. The answer seems to have been no, but the costs of going to Argentina also seemed relatively small. To me, it increasingly difficult to justify in this day and age that the conference has not been held in India.

  1. Rose, M., The Open Book: A Practical Perspective On OSI, Prentice Hall, 1990. ↩︎
  2. Rhodes, R., The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Simon and Schuster, 1987. ↩︎

The Israeli/Gaza War

Let there still be hope.

Everyone wants everyone to say something about what is happening in Israel and Gaza. Here in Switzerland the conversation since the attack has been All Israel All The Time.  Everyone around the world has an opinion, of course.  Here in Switzerland, the discussion is thoughtful.  You would not hear anyone defend Hamas’ murderous actions.

It’s one thing to have opinions; it’s quite another to be grieving the loss of one’s friends and/or family, and worrying about one’s children who have been called up.  My employer’s Israeli offices are somewhat emptier for that reason.

President Anwar Sadat, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and President Carter

I look up at my office wall these days and see a response from President Ford’s staff to a letter I wrote him in 1975 about Israel when I was a child. I remember writing him, suggesting that he throw both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in a room and not let them out until they have a peace plan. Back then I knew I had the answers.

Prime Minister Itzak Rabin, Chairman Yasser Arafat and President Bill Clinton.

Over the years, there have been signs of hope. Seeing Sadat engage Israel, or the work that successive administrations undertook that led to the famous handshake you see here. Those days led to the hope that Israelis and Palestinians could live side by side.

Now I worry that this conflict will survive me and my generation, as it will have our parents.  I hope and pray that it does not outlive our children, and that they will be more imaginative than us.

You may have seen my #MusicMonday list.  Last week’s contribution was Hatikva.  The Hope survived, even as many of the children in that video did not.  The hope of peace and prosperity must survive for all. My only plea is for all parties, Israelis and Palestinians in particular, to work to preserve that hope.

Ode to Di Fi

Diane Feinstein was a force to be reckoned with, and she gave her all for San Franciscans, Californians, women, the LBGTQ community, and America.

I want to say a few words about our late Senator and my late neighbor, Diane Feinstein.

I remember when Di Fi ran for governor and lost to Pete Wilson in 1990, and how disappointed I was for her, and how excited we all were when she and Barbara Boxer were both elected to the Senate in 1992, along with Bill Clinton. We all departed some friends’ Election Night party, and piled onto Castro Street, and then the party really began; and she was there. She was always there for California and for Americans.

A common “social” event in those years in the Bay Area was a funeral for a person who died of AIDS, and Di Fi was right there for the LGBT community, as it was called back then. She was also there to defend a woman’s right to choose, and she was there to govern, as she had with San Francisco, having been the person who found Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk shot dead by Dan White. That’s where she learned that to govern, you have to find common ground with those who don’t always agree with you. It’s an important lesson that is lost on many in the House of Representatives these days.

The brutal death of her friends shaped her politics, to be sure. She was a hawk in the same vein as Sam Nunn, although they didn’t agree on social issues. She viewed encryption as a threat, and I was witness to one side of a conversation in which she lambasted one of my friends who was a policy maker at the time. She had no truck with those she thought were in the wrong. That is not to say I agreed with her on encryption- I did not. She could often be blunt, but she understood that we are all Americans, and that we had to work together for the good of the country, and that did mean crossing the aisle on occasion.

I do think she stayed at least one term too many. Some records should not be broken. If this is her biggest failing, as a long time constituent, I could easily forgive her this fault.

“Neighbor”, you ask? Yes. In 1992, Di Fi was my neighbor on the other side of Temple Emanuel. She lived on one of the wealthiest streets in San Francisco, Presidio Terrace, while I lived in a broken down flat on Arguello Blvd. We didn’t exchange calling cards back then, but I had visited her Senate office a few times.

Republicans, pick one: win at any cost or support Democracy and rule of law?

Our way of life and form of government require the sternest possible punishment for those who would attack either. Republicans need to support America, and not just winning.

The charges that have been leveled against Trump are political but not in the sense that Republicans claim. Our way of life requires that those who attain high office be severely punished when they attack our American system of democracy and justice, as Trump and his lackeys did.

Some people might say, “Well, these are just Democratic prosecutors going after a Republican they don’t like.” Let’s look at the accusations:

  • In New York, Trump stands accused of felony bank fraud for having falsified records in his attempt to cover up his affair with a porn star. He is accused of doing this to win not just any election, but a presidential election.
  • In Washington, Trump and others stand accused attempting to fraudulantly thwart the peaceful and legal transfer of power, and the prosecutors have produced overwhelming evidence, including Trump’s own words.
  • In Atlanta, Trump and others stand accused of fraudulently attempting to “find” over 11,000 votes, once again in an attempt to overturn an election.

In short, Trump attempted to steal an election. It is undeniable.

Trump’s own tactics have been to accuse others of exactly the crimes he has knowingly committed. Thus we hear the rhetoric of “Stop the Steal”, when he himself attempted to do the stealing, as the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates. The idea that Trump started his own social network called “Truth” demonstrates the depths of his depravity. He and truth rarely have met, and only ever to his disadvantage, as these indictments and the facts behind them demonstrate.

Trump had many co-conspirators, many of whom remain unindicted, such as the so-called “news” organizations like Fox News, who had to settle with Dominion voting for the lies they perpetuated; NewsMax, whose day is coming; and Republican office holders who disgraced themselves by violating their oaths to protect the Constitution. Many of those people have yet to be held accountable by their constituents. That in itself reflects the depths of trouble in which American democracy finds itself.

I note that not all Republicans are in disgrace. Former Governor Chris Christie stands out as the most vocal and consistent of Trump’s critics. But judging by the polls, Christie is in a small minority.

So, Republican citizens: the day of reckoning is here. Is the object simply to have your guy remain in power, no matter the lies and cheating? Will you put country before winning and before worship of this grifter and once again make America a beacon of democracy? That is what will make America great again.

It’s that simple.

Thanks, Sam.

On Aoril 27th, we said להתראות to my dear Uncle Samuel Lear. Sam leaves very big shoes to fill. He is seen below with my aunt his wife and girlfriend, my indefatigable Aunt Joan Lear.

Here are a few of my own memories.

You know that fancy digital watch you have on your wrist? In 1973 Sam was the first on his block (and nearly every block) to wear a Pulsar P2 LED watch. That matched the car phone that he had. He was a futurist in many ways.

Sam and other friends started Temple M’kor Shalom, and was very active in the Jewish community for a good part of his life. He was a staunch supporter of Israel at the time, commuting back and forth from Cherry Hill. One of my earliest memories is dropping him and Joan off at JFK. One of my favorite pictures of him is shaking hands with Menacham Begin. Begin was grateful for his support. He had great friends in Israel, and least two of his granddaughters visited through the Birthright program. And it was no surprise to see Israelis present today. I was wrong to think I had come the farthest.

While I can’t say that it was Sam alone that instilled in me a need to be politically involved, he had a role. He and I would regularly talk politics from an early age. On my wall to this day hangs a letter to a 9 year old Eliot from the Nixon White House, thanking me for my letter, in which I suggested that they lock the Israeli PM and the Egyptian president in a room, and not let either out until they had a peace. Food optional. Sam would discuss and debate, and if one listened, one would learn a thing or two.

Eventually Sam would break with Israel. I learned of his discontent one day in the 1990s when I was perusing the Jerusalem Post, and there was a letter to the editor from a man berating the ultra-conservatives for them trying to dictate to him and others about who is and is not a Jew. It was Sam. It wasn’t chutzpah, but protection of his family that motivated him.

It was family – מִשׁפָּחָה – that was most important to him, and he and Joan put it all on the line for us. Times weren’t always easy, but he and Joan were always – always – there. Most importantly his values live on in his daughters and grand daughters. And I must say, as testimony to this fact, a funeral was NOT needed to bring us all together.

And his friendships were only of one type: life long. Friends WERE family. It was wonderful to see friends of his from Lear-Mellick like Rita. To those who were his friends, I can only say, .שָׁלוֹם חברים

I don’t believe in the Orthodox Jewish notion of righteous ones, or צדיקים. Some strive to be righteous. Sam was about as righteous as they come, and religion was but a part of that. Sadness washes over me at the magnitude of this loss. I am eternally grateful for every moment we had together.