The best Nerf war I have ever seen

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

Okay, so usually I don’t ever do posts that consist solely of an embedded YouTube video, but this one you have to see. Check below the fold.

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Animated visualization of Pakistan’s YouTube hijacking

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Yesterday, Pakistan censored YouTube in such a way that YouTube became inaccessible to the greater Internet for a period of about two hours. It was a remarkable screw-up that necessitated mistakes being made on multiple levels.

The gist of the story is that Pakistan Telecom, a Pakistani telecommunications company, advertised a /24 route for YouTube in a botched attempt at censoring YouTube from within Pakistan at the request of Pakistani officials. Unfortunately, Pakistan Telecom’s upstream provider, PCCW, didn’t filter that route, and it superseded the less-specific /22 route YouTube already had with routers on most of the Internet. Within about two hours someone finally got through to PCCW and they disconnected Pakistan Telecom, making the bad route disappear. YouTube was thus accessible to the Internet once more.

Now you can see all of this insanity in a graphical fashion thanks to BGPlay, a graphical visualization of BGP routes in the form of a Java applet. Visit the site, click the “Start BGPlay” button, and type in as the prefix. Then set the date range to 23/2/2008 to 25/2/2008 (European date notation). Then hit OK.

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The Internet sucks because idiots are legion and vocal

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I’ve been pondering for awhile now why the Internet sucks so much. Sure, it has its good points (like free knowledge), but it also has the largest collection of idiots ever assembled in one place, virtual or not. All you have to do to verify this for yourself is to spend a few minutes browsing through random profiles on MySpace (don’t spend too long though; that level of stupidity is contagious). Some of that has to do with the anonymity that is frequently afforded on the Internet; after all, if you fear no repercussions, no damage to your reputation, then you won’t hold your tongue. But the problem goes deeper than that.

The problem is that the morons are incessantly vocal with their idiocy while the smart people generally know better and only pipe up when what they have to say is actually worthwhile. Let’s use this blog as a case study. The level of commenting here is overall pretty decent (though active moderation plays a bit of a role in that). But there’s one particular post that has attracted attention from the absolute worst of the web’s denizens: my post about Zwinky.

Zwinky is a crappy online “game” targeted at children, and it shows. The comments on that post are simultaneously ignorant, vulgar, poorly put together, and unnecessary. Like an intrepid scientist studying a fatal disease in a Petri dish, I have resisted destroying that which I know is evil in order to better study it, so the comments remain thoroughly and dangerously unsanitized. I dare you to read through all of those comments in their native state and not feel terrible for the prospects of humanity’s future.

These kids are just so damn dumb. They don’t know how to spell, they don’t know how to punctuate, they don’t really know how to write at all. It’s as if their English teachers tried their best at the Sisyphean task, realized the futility of it, and then, in sheer desperation, began having sex with their students in order to be sent to adult prison, where at long last they are no longer tormented by idiot kids. This is what IM speak does to people! And it’s horrendous! I tried to make a “New Rule” to elevate the level of conversation:

All comments must observe proper written English punctuation, spelling, grammar, capitalization, and proper style. All offending comments will be subject to immediate disemvowelment at my sole discretion. I don’t know if it’s all the lessons on creationism or sex with teachers, but it seems like they’re not teaching kids writing anymore in schools?!

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Pakistan brings down YouTube

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Through network magic I know not much about, Pakistan has caused YouTube to be inaccessible from the majority of the world. It’s not just that they blocked access to YouTube from within their own country; they did it in a way that isn’t filtered by their upstream ISP, so it affects pretty much everyone else too. What happens now?

Well, this damage is going to be routed around pretty quickly, as Pakistan having the ability to knock off websites is an error that will shortly be corrected. I predict the fallout will be immense though. Censor sites and the world looks down upon you, but do it in a way that (temporarily) removes the rest of the world’s access, and you’re in another circle of hell.

Maybe Pakistan is about to find out what the true meaning of “Googlebomb” is.

Update 1: So after a little more edification, I think I have a better handle on what’s going on. First, read up on the AS7007 incident, because what’s going on now is essentially the same thing. The Border Gateway Protocol that the Internet uses to establish routes prioritizes specific routes over more general routes. A network in Pakistan set up a /24 route, which is about as specific as you can get (/25 and beyond are commonly filtered out), declaring that YouTube was located within their network. Since this was the most specific route, it propagated out across all the routers, and now most of the Internet thinks YouTube is located within that network in Pakistan. Of course, it’s not, and they’re simply dropping all of those packets as part of their censorship. There are two possibilities: a network admin in Pakistan messed up and accidentally implemented their censorship in a way that affected the whole world, or this was done maliciously. If the latter is the case, well, the Pakistanis may soon be discovering that they need the Internet more than the Internet needs them.

Update 2: As of around 16:00 EST, YouTube is back up and working. Either PCCW filtered the bad route or the Pakistanis stopped sending it. And do check out Greg’s comments below; he’s the networking expert.

Update 3 (Feb 25): Here’s the best technical synopsis of what happened to YouTube yet.

Update 4: This animated visualization provides the clearest view of the hijacking yet. Watch all of the routes divert to Pakistan Telecom within a matter of minutes, and then two hours later, revert just as quickly back to YouTube.

Update 5: Hey look, MSNBC has picked up the story! I wouldn’t have guessed that this would make mainstream media. Or that they would get the technical details right. But it looks like they talked to the knowledgeable folks at Renesys, who I linked to in Update 3.

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Did we learn nothing from the dotcom burst?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

The scariest, indeed the defining, aspect of stock market bubbles is that nobody sees them coming. If we saw them coming, the prices wouldn’t rise any higher than the companies involved were actually worth, and there’d be no bubble. In hindsight, of course, bubbles are incredibly obvious, and everyone and their dog can point to them and recite a litany of reasons why they were bound to happen. Yet it’s very hard to distinguish bubbles from true organic stock growth on a going-forward basis. For instance, the advent of computing looked for all purposes like a bubble — oh look at this newfangled technology, it can’t hardly be as revolutionary as they claim it is. But of course, it was even more revolutionary than anyone except scifi authors had anticipated, and companies like IBM, Intel, Microsoft, et al, all minted their own billionaires off it.

The dotcom bubble seemed to most people to be the next revolutionary stage in computing. It would be even more groundbreaking, and mint even more billionaires, than the original computing revolution. Of course, the Achilles heel was that very few people actually knew how to monetize these new dotcom websites. The ideas were grandiose. The business reality simply wasn’t there. I sometimes feel that we failed to learn the lessons of the past dotcom bubble, and that we’re currently in another one. After all, the vicious thing about bubbles is that no one can see them coming, not even when they’ve already happened before.

How do sites like Facebook, MySpace, Digg, and YouTube justify their valuations? They have lots of eyeballs, sure, but the monetization simply isn’t there. Their sole selling point is their exponential growth, pushing the problem of how to effectively make money off their site into the future; after all, for the present, they can just continue growing, right? Except they can’t grow indefinitely. The addressable market is only so large. They will stagnate. And what will happen to them then?

Face it, online advertising sucks in a multitude of ways. It’s trivial to block (just install the Adblock Plus extension for Firefox*). No other form of advertising can be combated nearly as effectively. Click rates are horrendously low. People using the web have learned to tune it out to a very large degree. It’s just not enough of a revenue stream to sustain the huge valuations of sites like Facebook. $15 billion?! Come on! And Digg? Digg is just terrible now. It’s so overwhelmed by the lowest common denominator that no one takes it seriously. I use it for finding mildly amusing stupid photographs and that’s about it. It’s constantly derided for its low quality advertising that no one clicks on. Can anyone really justify the amount of money it is claimed to be worth? It works out to how many hundreds of dollars per active user?

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Breakpoints on streaming video

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

YouTube has been around long enough that it has a significant number of competitors. Some of them are good while some of them aren’t. And many of them are simply unusable. Here’s why.

The amount of bandwidth allocated to the kind of streaming video that Flash players do is not a spectrum of qualities. Either enough bandwidth is provided for the video to run in real time, or not. It’s very much binary. Video services that can’t pump out enough data to view the videos in real time without having to pause for buffering aren’t worth using. YouTube is good because they have enough bandwidth to transfer videos to you at faster than the rate that they play at. Thus, you can spend hours browsing around the site from video to video with a completely uninterrupted viewing experience.

Now compare this to other video sites that have insufficient bandwidth. You load up each video and then have to wait awhile for the site to buffer the video enough so that it can play through uninterrupted. Even worse is when the algorithms used do a poor job of estimating how much data should be buffered before starting playback, and so the video starts playing and uses up all of its buffer before the end of the clip. Then, the video has to be paused, in the middle of whatever the viewer was watching, and re-buffered. RealPlayer became infamous for this “feature” alone.

Exceeding playback throughput with download throughput is the one breakpoint on streaming video that decides whether a video site is good. Of course, really fast data transmission rates are nice, because you don’t have to wait awhile before being able to skip to a later point in the video, but this isn’t nearly as important as simply being able to play the video uninterrupted without a huge wait at the beginning.

Well, there’s one more issue that makes a video site unusable: if they try to force you to view an ad before the video you were interested in starts playing. These sites are the absolute worst, and I always just close the site rather than let them force me to sit through some ads.

YouTube’s failures

Monday, February 26th, 2007

CNet is carrying an insightful article on five ways that YouTube is failing. The analysis is pretty dead on. Basically, back when Google bought up YouTube, we all thought there’d be some big improvements on the way. But they failed to materialize. YouTube is still the same as ever: a large collection of amateur videos and ripped-off commercial videos. That’s it. They haven’t signed any new distribution deals, and in fact, they lost the distribution deal they had with CBS and Viacom. YouTube is still #1, but it won’t last long. The other services are catching up quickly, and they are offering improved features and distribution deals that make them more attractive than YouTube.

If I had to place a bet, I would say that YouTube is going to be dethroned, and Joost is replace it. Joost has everything going for it. It was created by the duo who brought us both Kazaa and Skype. Talk about a proven track record in Internet innovation! It already has distribution deals signed with some major companies and many more are interested. Also, its infrastructure is a lot more robust: it’s more peer-to-peer than YouTube, which is simply client/server. And finally, Joost is focusing more on being “Television over Internet”, rather than YouTube, which is mainly focused on being “Random video clips over Internet”. It’s a huge difference, and it definitely works in Joost’s favor.

What is wrong with YouTube these days?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2007

Earlier I wrote about some terrible speed issues I was having with YouTube. Basically, it’s taking a long long time to download videos, much more time than it actually takes to play such videos. As a result, the entire site is basically unbrowseable. I thought maybe YouTube was just having overall connection issues, but I’ve talked with some other people who live in different places and use different ISPs, and they aren’t having any YouTube issues at all.

So what’s up? Is my ISP doing something fishy with connections to YouTube? Are they throttling the bandwidth, trying to edge out someone they see as a competitor? My ISP is Verizon, and the service we get here is FIOS. I know, from this recent net neutrality debate, that ISPs absolutely detest content providers online (actually, they seem to detest every company that makes the net worthwhile in the first place, which is an idiotic stance). My Internet speed is blazing fast when it comes to everything except YouTube. I present here two traceroutes that shows some fishy goings-on.

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YouTube speed issues

Sunday, January 14th, 2007

I’ve been noticing recently that YouTube is suffering some significant speed issues. It used to be that speed was no problem, and the video would be entirely downloaded faster than one-quarter of the way through playback. Now, YouTube can’t even seem to transmit the videos in real time, meaning the video will frequently stop and stutter. It’s like RealPlayer’s “Buffering … buffering …” all over again. To watch a video without these annoying interruptions now I have to pause the video and let it load most of the way (meanwhile I’m browsing something else in another tab). Finally, when the download is mostly done, I unpause it, and hopefully the download finishes by the time playback reaches the end of the video.

What’s going on with YouTube? I know they’re growing exponentially, and they still don’t have a revenue model. Still, they were bought by Google, and you’d think that gives them enough money to buy infrastructure with. But it looks like their traffic has severely surpassed their infrastructure. They simply don’t have enough servers and/or bandwidth to handle everything coming at them, and as a result, the service is really suffering. I’ve mostly lost interest in YouTube now because I cannot just sequentially watch as many videos as I want. It’s a chore now; I have to identify stuff I want to watch, open them in new tabs, and wait awhile for them to load. Sorry, I’m not going to bother.