The End is Near! Or is it?
From time to time we see the doomsday headlines in mainstream media about the “Internet-Armageddon” or whatever dramatic name the editor conjures up. It was supposed to happen in 2008, then in 2011 and now they’re talking about 2013. What I’m talking about is, of course, the point where all the four-part numeric IP-addresses will be allocated and the pool of available addresses is completely depleted.
As some of you know, computers on the Internet are identified by four numbers between 0 and 255. Typically, an address is written as for numbers with periods between them, for example 184.108.40.206. That means that there are (theoretically) 256*256*256*256=4,294,967,296 (about 4.2 billion) addresses. In real life, there’s a little less than that, since some address ranges are reserved for various purposes, but it’s still in the range of about four billion. So clearly, with a world population approaching seven billion, there aren’t enough addresses for everyone on the planet, especially when people in the industrialized world carry something like three Internet-capable devices with them at any given time.
You may also have heard that the adoption of the “fix” for the address problem, something called IPv6 (Internet Protocol Version 6), is running at a snail’s pace. Here in the United States, IPv6 typically makes up less than a percent of the total Internet traffic. So are we looking at a crisis similar to the US Federal Deficit problem where everyone is aware of the problem but no one does anything? No, at least in my opinion, the IP address problem isn’t even a crisis. In fact, it’s hardly a problem anymore, since the industry has already adapted itself to a world where there aren’t enough IP addresses to go around.
A Quick Summary on How It Works
An IPv4 (the “old” current system) address identifies computers using a four number scheme, for example 220.127.116.11. The first number can be seen as an “area code” and identifies the “network” of an address and the next number can be seen as a “sub area code” and so on. (In reality, each number can be subdivided into more than one “area code”, but that’s beside the point for this article). As a user, you rarely use IP addresses directly. Instead you’d type something www.cnn.com, which is then looked up in a global “phone book” called the DNS (Domain Name System) and translated into an IP address. So the textual web addresses you normally use are just a beautified version of the IP address that makes it easier to remember.
When you request IP addreses you can either get them one by one or purchase an entire chunk by claiming all the addresses in an area code. For example, IBM owns the entire 9.x.x.x area code. That’s almost 17 million addresses! A smaller company would request a smaller range, for example 145.65.78.x, which comes out to 256 addresses, minus a couple that are reserved for special purposes.
IPv6 (the new stuff), on the other hand, uses a whopping 16 numbers instead of 4. This allows for over 3.4×1038 adresses, a number so large that you could easily give every cell in every body on earth its own IP address without being close to exhausting the pool of addresses.
Why the World Hasn’t Ended Yet
In 2011, the final chunk of IP addresses was checked out from IANA, the international agency dealing with such things. So we already live in a post-IP-exhaustion era. How come email and web still works?
The answer is something called NAT (Network Address Translation). In simple terms, it’s a technique that allows several computers to share a single address. In fact, your home network most likely uses NAT. Your home has a single IP-address exposed to the Internet. This is normally the address of your modem or broadband router. Your computers are given “fake” addresses that aren’t visible outside of the network. This works because virtually all communication is initiated from your computers and not to it. When you ask for a web page, you initiate the session from your computer, so the fact that the address of individual devices isn’t visible to the world is not a big deal.
Even large corporations with hundreds of thousands of employees use the same NAT technique as your home network does. Your large bank may only expose a handful of “real” addresses, while all of its thousands of employees are happily typing away on computers with “fake” internal addresses.
The reason NAT provides relief against address space exhaustion is because the internal “fake” addresses are considered “junk” addresses that anyone can use without having to draw them from a world-wide pool. So if your huge mega-company uses NAT (which almost all of them do), they can get by with very few addresses, even if they employ hundreds of thousands.
The Problem with NAT
IPv6 activists don’t like NAT. In fact, their favorite sound-bite is “NAT doesn’t solve the problem”. They are only partially right. IPv6 pundits usually have two issues with NAT:
The first complaint is easy to dismiss, since it’s of interest only to the most hard-core Internet protocol geeks. The second argument is more interesting, but mostly falls apart on today’s Internet. Today, very little communication is truly point-to-point. We typically interact with some central resource or go through a middleman. Also, from a security point of view, it’s obviously desirable to make internal computers inaccessible from the outside world. It’s important to know that NAT alone doesn’t replace a firewall, but it definitely provides an extra level of security. The only serious problem is with programs, such as certain games and file sharing software that require point-to-point communication. This can usually be handled by re-configuring routers, but requires a bit of skill.
The Problem with IPv6
So if NAT doesn’t provide a perfect solution, why hasn’t the world already moved to IPv6 if the new protocol solves all the problems of address exhaustion without the disadvantages of NAT? There are several reasons:
Why the Internet World Won’t End Soon
I hope you’ve been enjoying our discussion so far and maybe even picked up some new knowledge. But the question remains unanswered: What will happen to the Internet over the next years and decades? In my view, it’s going to be business as usual to a large extent and the adoption of IPv6 will remain slow for the next 5-10 years, if not longer.
The reason for that is very simple: Capitalism. Let me explain.
While most people are perfect happy with NAT, some people with applications requiring point-to-point communication will still need dedicated “real” IP addresses. These people would have to pay some kind of premium to do this. Let’s say it costs you $5/month extra on your Internet bill to have your own IP address. While this isn’t a lot of money to most people, it has some interesting implications when you start thinking in terms of the monetary value of an IP address. If you can charge $5/month, it means that an IP address would bring you $60/year, so owning and renting an address to someone could be an interesting investment. Let’s say the market says an address, based on it’s future cash flows, is worth $100 (definitely an investment I would consider!)
Now, let’s talk about the A-networks! In the early days of the Internet, some large organizations, such as GE, HP and IBM were allocated huge chunks of addresses called A-networks. Each A-network has almost 17 million addresses. Now, consider that thanks to NAT, even a large company can get away with a lot less than that, maybe a couple of hundreds or thousands. If you’re the lucky owner of an A-network, maybe in some not too distant future, you can sell chunks of your block of addresses. At $100 a pop, you’re looking at 1.7 billion dollars for an A-network! $100/address is a bit arbitrary, of course, but even at a much lower price, selling your huge block of IP addresses you don’t use makes a lot of financial sense. This would then create a market for IP addresses, similar to stock and bond markets.
Although we might not have a market for IP addresses anytime soon, it is safe to assume that having your own address will come at a price, so people who don’t use them will want to relinquish them back to the pool again. People who don’t need point-to-point access will get a discount and placed behind a huge NAT with maybe a whole town sharing a single “real” address.
I personally believe we could go on for at least a decade without anything significantly bad happening even if the World doesn’t switch to IPv6.
Is IPv6 Dead In the Water?
Some people are starting to question whether IPv6 will ever catch on. I think it will, but very slowly. This is what I think will happen:
While most people would happily continue to use IPv4, there will be applications and devices that can benefit from IPv6. I think especially some mobile applications would benefit from point-to-point capabilities. So we will see an up-tick in IPv6 adoption in some markets. The rest of the world will muddle along with IPv4 without noticing much change.
To summarize, there’s no cause for alarm. You, as a regular Internet user will not be affected in any meaningful way anytime soon. If you absolutely need your own IP address, you may have to pay a fee, but that system should be fairly self regulating, since it would immediately refill the pool from people who don’t need and don’t want to pay for an address. This is why it bothers me when Internet pundits are claiming the sky is falling and media occasionally picks it up and blows it even further out of proportion.
The US has the highest healthcare costs in the World. It also arguably has the best healthcare in the World, but the superiority of the quality doesn’t warrant the extreme difference in cost.
Why is the cost so high?
I think one reason is that healthcare provides love to milk the system. Here’s something that happened to me recently.
Like so many other Americans, I was prescribed cholesterol medication a while ago. After about 6 weeks, my doctor wanted to test my blood for efficacy of the drug and for side effects. So she gave me two appointments, one to see her to draw the blood and one to come back and discuss the results. Now, I told my doctor that I had a lot of work to do and I questioned the need to come in for two office visits just to check some blood. After pushing her a bit, she admitted that I could really go to any lab location and have them draw some blood and them she would call me if they found anything worth discussing.
So all she was doing was to try to have me come in for two completely unnecessary office visits, for which she would have billed my insurance company $100-200 a pop.
This goes on ALL the time!
A few years ago I had some minor infection on a toenail and I was given a “nail polish” to put on the nail that was supposed to kill off the infection. The foot doctor had me come in every week to check on my toe, like it was some life threatening issue. I finally got fed up with wasting so much time in his waiting room that I told him I was just going to follow the directions on the box and call him if the drug didn’t work or I had side effects. Why couldn’t he have told me to do that in the first place?
I’m definitely not complaining about the healthcare I get here. It’s excellent and I love the freedom to choose whatever healthcare provider I want! But the problem is that it’s almost TOO excellent. No one needs to see a doctor twice to draw some blood or weekly to check out a trivial nail infection.
Romney wins in Wyoming. Well, good for him, but let’s look at what really happened in Wyoming (and in a bunch of other states).
Wyoming is the least populous state of the US. According to Wikipedia, only 509,293 lucky souls enjoy the beautiful mountain vistas of the Great State of Wyoming. Even with such a small population, the data from last night’s caucus make me feel a bit uncomfortable. As you probably know, Wyoming selects its candidates through an archaic and arcane process called a “caucus”. This is essentially a meeting where you have to listen to some surrogates for the candidates debate for a while. Then you are asked to write the name of your favorite candidate on a piece of paper which is then collected and counted.
Due to the convoluted procedure, the voter turnout in caucus states is typically very low. In Wyoming 2,108 people cast their vote at the caucus. That’s a mere 0.4% of the population. Ok, you’ll have some underage and non-US-citizens who aren’t allowed to vote, so let’s say you have 80% of the population that’s eligible to vote. That’s still only 0.5% of the potential voters showing up. And even if we count only Republican voters, the turnout looks scary low. In 2008 about 65% of the Wyomingites voted republican, which gets you to a 0.8% turnout among potential Republicans. Still incredibly low. The best I can do to get that number up a bit is to put the turnout in relation to the number of Wyomingites who actually voted Republican in 2008. That number is 164,598. Put the 2,108 voters in the caucuses in relation to that and you get a turnout of 1.28%. I’m still not impressed!
Why does this matter at all? It matters because it creates an illusion of a victory and in the end an illusion of democracy. With such a tiny turnout, it’s sufficient for a candidate to convince a certain group, say members of a certain Church or workers at a certain factory, to go vote. If you look at the difference between Romney and Santorum in Wyoming, it’s only 149 votes, or 0.09% of the estimated number of Republican voters (based on 2008)!
The problem with this situation is, of course, that the election result has absolutely nothing to do with the opinion of the people, but only how effective the campaigns were at finding and convincing key groups to vote.
Now, you may say, the Wyoming caucus was largely ignored by media, so why does this matter? To answer that question, let’s go a couple of weeks back and look at Minnesota. There you had a total voter turnout of about 2.6% of the population likely to vote republican (estimate based on the 2008 election results). This particular caucus was reported in media as a big win for Santorum. Even though Santorum’s victory was pretty decisive when expressed in terms of percentage points, we still need to remember that with such a miniscule turnout, the result hardly represents the opinion of the people, but simply how successful Santorum’s campaign strategists were at seeking out pockets of voters who already agree with him and just convince them to go to the caucus.
So, you ask again, why does this matter? It matters because it creates a domino-effect. It is very clear that the performance in one race determines who voters view the candidates in the next race. This effect is amplified by media that love to trumpet that a certain candidate has “gained momentum” and “shows strength” after a certain race.
How can we fix this? Well, I’m no architect of political systems, but it seems to me that the best way to address this problem is to remove any obstacles for the voters to maximize voter turnout and create a larger pool of voters that is more difficult to manipulate. The caucus system doesn’t look like it belongs in this century when you view it with my blue Swedish eyes…
Unless, of course, you (as a political figure) have something to gain from having access to a tiny pool of voters that’s easy and relatively cheap to manipulate… But let’s not engage in conspiracy theories.
A little background may help.
I didn’t grow up in a very religious home. I clearly remember being told to respect religion and religious people and we celebrated Christmas and Easter, but there was no prayer and we almost never attended Church.
Yet, I’ve never thought of myself as an atheist. In fact, although I have what you could call a scientific mind, I have always felt that there must be something more beyond science and beyond what our minds can comprehend. I guess you could say that I’ve always been open to the idea of a “spiritual dimension” of the World.
Fast forward to when I met my wife. One of the many things I admire about her is her Christian faith. It’s simple and straightforward, yet so strong. I noticed how her faith helped her cope with life and I figured I should open myself up to it. Since then, I’ve been attending Church semi-regularly and making some progress in approaching the Christian faith.
But lately I’ve run into some serious obstacles. The radicalized and vulgarized Christianity that fills up the public space here in the United States really nauseates me and turns me away from Faith. Instead of opening up my heart to faith, I now have days I feel like I’m about to turn into a full-blown atheist. I simply can’t stomach how the Christian faith has been turned into a tool for promoting a radical and hateful political agenda. I realize that if you look over a longer historical perspective, this is hardly unique, but the fact is that these radicalized forces are about to reverse many of the social advances we’ve made over the centuries.
But then again, on some of my better days, I realize that the way the extremists act really have very little to do with the teachings of Jesus.
Does Jesus want us to hate gays? No he doesn’t. He clearly tells us not to judge others (Matt 7:1). Instead we are supposed to turn inwards and examine our own souls before judging others (Matt 7:3-5). Whatever beef God may have with gays or anyone else, we better leave it to God to deal with it.
Does Jesus want us to bomb Iran? Probably not. In fact, Jesus seems to be completely opposed to taking up physical arms against his oppressors. Instead, he preached turning the other cheek and refraining from even resting attacks from an evil person (Matt 5:39). Again, Jesus appears to be telling us to turn our focus inwards and escape evil by opening our hearts the the grace of God. Jesus wants the fight to take place on a spiritual plane, not in the skies over Iran.
You can even make a pretty strong case that Jesus is a proponent of a separation between the Church and the state. In the famous passage in Matt 22:21 Jesus discusses taxation tells us to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. It’s often assumed that this simply means that religious matters and politics don’t mix. At least it is very clear that he is completely uninterested in politics and has no intention to intervene in the tax policies of the Roman Empire.
So maybe I don’t have to turn atheist. Maybe it’s enough to acknowledge that the loudest voices of Christianity today have either completely misunderstood the teachings of Jesus or that they are hypocrites using a twisted version of the religion to push their agendas.
What amazes me the most is that they get away with it. I understand that it could be done in medieval times when reading the scriptures for yourself was a privilege of a small elite. But today, when everyone can pick up a Bible and read for themselves or just google it (like I usually do), I really don’t understand how people fall for it.
So I will do my best to filter out the Limbaughs, Santorums and Coulters of the World and not let them feed my inner atheist. My inner atheist has gotten pretty fat over the last few months.