From: Mataio Kahalili <>
Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
Subject: He lei nalu ho`okahi
Date: 1 Dec 1998 00:17:23 -1000
Organization: Ansuz BBS (250) 472-3169 (new number!)
Lines: 189
Message-ID: <>
X-Translation: ur yrv anyh ub`bxnuv: n fbyvgba jerngu

    My grandson, consider the shark.  He swims up to a school of fish like
    the missionary's cat stalking an unsuspecting bird.  Then - KA! - he
    strikes, rushing the school, gulping down as many fish as he can before
    they scatter.  Now he has his belly full.  But is he satisfied?  No, the
    greedy bastard has to chase down every solitary fish, one at a time,
    until he is hopelessly stuffed and tired.  There are plenty of fish in
    the sea and plenty of time to hunt them.  The shark could wait until he
    is hungry again and the school has re-formed; then he'd enjoy it more.

OK, I admit it: I get obsessive over my work.  I've always been that way,
and grad school encourages it.  When I left home I wanted to change the
world, and even then I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to do it.  Now
that I finally seem to be on the right path, I don't want to make one step
that doesn't advance me to my goal.  I want to build protocols; I want to
write RFC documents; I want to teach the computers of the world to sing in
harmony.  Is that a crime?

Maybe it's true that I've been more obsessive than usual about this phantom
traffic problem.  It must have seemed so.  As I walked down the hall of the
admin building with Dr. Sakharoff, explaining my latest theory (cross-talk
in the fiber amplifier loops - just as incorrect as all the other guesses,
but it seemed possible at the time), she suddenly whirled on me, raising her
hands as if she were about to seize me by the throat.  "Enough phantom
traffic!  For the past two weeks it has been phantom traffic this, phantom
traffic that, nothink but phantom traffic!  Concentration on work is
laudable, yes, but have you no life?  You can write a perfectly good thesis
with 87 percent of the packets delivered correctly. That is far more than
the best anyone else has achieved in this environment.  It is not necessary
to make it 88.  Leave it for someone else to worry about."

We were standing next to the bulletin board outside the Provost's office,
and Dr. Sakharaoff scanned it desperately, then ripped off a poster,
thumbtacks flying off and ricocheting from the far wall.  "Look, a lecture
on linguistics this evenink.  Nothing to do with computer networks.  Go."
She handed the poster to me, wrenched the slide projector I'd been carrying
from my hands, and stormed off down the hall, leaving me standing there with
the torn poster.  Almost at the end of the hall, she stopped and hollered
back at me, "Ordinarily I'd tell you to ket laid, but!"  Then she disappeared
around the corner.

    The missionary allowed me to look at a book that he said was the book of
    his God.  The words inside were in his language, of course, and I could
    not understand any of them.  He asked rather mockingly if Pele had ever
    taken the time to write down laws for Her people; when I explained that
    she speaks to us continually in the rumble of the volcano and the other
    voices of nature, so no writing is needed, he didn't like that at all. 
    He said the next ship would bring many copies of his book written in our
    language, and I could have one, and he would teach me to read it, so I
    might see how a proper God would have people live.  I said that of
    course, I appreciated his gracious gift, and I always wish to learn new
    stories.  But since the book was in his language, how could it be in
    ours too?  He said it would say the same thing in the two languages -
    just as his "Heloa" is the same as "Aloha".  But the missionary must be
    a fool to speak so, for he knows perfectly well that our words and his
    are not the same at all, and "Heloa" does not mean "Aloha" even if both
    may be said when people meet.  Consider, trying to write his words in
    our language would be like the fish trying to crawl on land; even if it
    could succeed, briefly and after a fashion, it would not be the same. 
    There is nothing wrong with the fish or the land that it should be so;
    only fish ought to stay in the sea!  This is why you must learn our
    stories, my grandson; the missionary means well when he listens to me
    and tries to write the stories in his books, but I fear the stories he
    hears are quite different from the ones I tell.

The lecture was about the tragedy of dying languages.  It was given by a
little Asian man with a whiny voice; he had a lot of slides with graphs
showing how the number of languages in the world has decreased exponentially
in the last 50 years.  My immediate thought, of course, was "So what?", but
he then proceeded to explain why he thought it was a bad thing, and I must
admit, he seemed to have a good point.
Basically, he thought that every language was tied to its own unique
world-view; when a language dies (by having no more speakers, or no more
native speakers), we lose a way of looking at the world.  That's a bad thing
for the meme pool in just the same way that monoculture and the extinction
of species are bad things for the gene pool; limiting humanity's pool of
languages screws up our ability to adapt to our changing world, and to cook
up new ideas.  The lecturer blamed the spread of electronic communications
and computers as the biggest causes of language extinction.

Naturally, I wasn't going to let that one pass unchallenged.  In the
question period I stood up and said, "I don't think anyone would deny that
television and the Internet encourage everyone to speak a similar language,
but isn't it true that people incorporate their own ideas and words into the
language they speak, whatever language that happens to be?  Maybe your
declining number of languages is being counteracted by greater diversity in
the remaining languages, and in that case, surely the move towards a single
diverse language, enabling everyone to talk to everyone else, is a Good
Thing, right?"  The response went off on a tangent about how parent's choices
in educating their children represent a Prisoner's Dilemma of individuals
wanting to be understood by the most people, versus the common good of
language diversity.  But I hadn't expected a real answer anyway; I was just
trying to stick up for computer networks.

    You have told me of what you call mikini ho`onalu, considering machines
    (or surfing machines?) with amazing powers.  I smile and nod and we both
    know that I don't understand.  That is okay, my grandson.  You are young
    and growing; these islands are likewise young, and growing not only by
    the fire of Pele's lava but in more abstract ways.  Truly, she moves
    mysteriously.  I am near the end of my life and it is not mine to
    understand your path.  But remember my stories when I am gone.

When the lecture ended at about 9:15 I crept back to the networking lab and
booted up the network analyzer.  Yes, I suppose I felt a bit guilty, as it
were disobeying my advisor's "get a life" order, but I told myself that if I
could just get another set of test traces when the LAN was quiet, maybe the
problem would become clear.  I started ring circulation, locked in a
standard virtual circuit test, and triggered the beacons.  As usual, the
channel utilization quickly stabilized at 87%.  I told the machines to log
everything to disk, even collision fragments, and went home to bed.  (Alone,
Dr. Sakharoff.  Sorry.)

I awoke to an angry email from the sysadmin for having filled up the
communal disk partition.  Fortunately, he'd dumped my logs to tape rather
than deleting them outright.  I sent off an apology and started hacking my
analysis program to work from tape.  That was non-trivial because it had
been designed assuming random access to the trace file, but I managed to
collapse the algorithm down into two sequential passes, and I started
running the logs.

I systematically went through all the different categories of packets,
looking for the missing 1%.  I was in luck - general LAN traffic had been
low that night, so I had relatively little unrelated garbage to mask out of
my stats.  I compared the observed results back and forth with the model,
adjusting the model as I went along, until it agreed with the observed
statistics except for one point: predicted collisions 4.26%, observed 5.32%. 
Now (assuming I wasn't totally off base) all I had to do was go through all
my captured collision fragments and I'd have the phantom packets.

    I have only once seen a ghost, my grandson.  It was on the great feast
    night many years ago, after everyone had eaten their fill and the stars
    were out and the singing and dancing had begun.  My uncle, then
    unmarried, was trying to put the move on a lovely girl, but he was
    unaware that his clothing had come unfastened and he was making a
    ridiculous spectacle of himself.  I saw my grandfather, many years dead,
    standing behind my uncle, tapping him on the shoulder, trying to whisper
    in his ear and tell him what was wrong.  But over the noise of the
    music, the ghost could not make himself heard.  Finally he gave up.  He
    looked at me standing on the other side of the beach, shook his head
    sadly, and then ran into the surf and disappeared.  I consider that
    no-one else saw him.

Filtering the collision fragments turned out to be easy; soon I was looking
at a dump of pure phantoms.  At first I thought there must be bugs in my
analysis program, because the phantom fragments obviously weren't fragments
of any packets that had any business being on the lab network.  All the
addresses were wrong; several were even in network 10.  Some of them seemed
to be neither UDP nor TCP.  I'd have thought I had left the noise generator
on, but they were fully valid IP packets (or pieces of such); they just had
apparently random higher-level traffic.  The hop counts were strangest of
all; a packet would go by with a hop count of 65, then it'd be 63, then jump
up to 67, but they'd all be the same packet, as if it were getting repeated

I got out the storage scope and spent several pleasant hours examining the
bits on the wire, microsecond by microsecond.  I'd forgotten how much I like
electronic debugging.  It was true: I'd gotten so balled up in software
concerns that I'd neglected other worthwhile pursuits.  I won't bore you
with exactly what I did (and I have another reason not to tell you).  The
punchline, anyway, was that I found a very general bug in the way our
network handled packets.  Under certain rare data-dependent circumstances,
when packets collided the fragments would make their way to the ends of the
cable, bounce back weakly from the terminators or from impedance mismatches
along the cable, but then the two or more weak copies would constructively
interfere and produce a new packet almost identical to the old one and just
barely strong enough to be picked up by the receivers.  Some differences
would appear in certain fields - most notably, the low bits of the hop
count.  Certain packets with exactly the right bit patterns could persist
indefinitely this way, never consuming enough resources to be noticed but
also never quite dying; the continual random changes would give them some
ability to evolve and "live" on other networks.

After a little poking around on the Net, I found a DOS-based network
analyzer from 1993, and an emulator to run it.  The phantom packets began to
scroll up my screen.  Sure enough, they were all valid fragments of packets
from obsolete protocols; bits snipped out of time and repeated for years by
the oddities of network propagation.  Display Support Protocol, NI MAIL,
Micro Focus Cobol, EMFIS Control Service, HEMS.  With a little concentration
I could recognize each separate thread as it slid out of my LAN, circled the
world, and returned.  Sometimes the hop count come back higher, sometimes
lower; sometimes I'd see dozens of copies and other times only one or two. 
Occasionally a protocol would disappear completely, but just when I'd be
ready to give up hope, it'd be renewed in a flurry of packets from all over
the Net.  I opened up the collision tolerance on the lab system, and watched
the traffic rate climb as the ghostly voices gained power.  I left them
telling their stories as I went home to write my thesis.

    My grandson, you must consider the shark, and forget your mikini
    ho'onalu technobabble.