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November 21, 2012 | 0 comments

Linus Torvalds created Linux, which now runs vast swathes of the Internet, including Google and Facebook. And he invented Git, software that’s now used by developers across the net to build new applications of all kinds. But that’s not all Torvalds has given the Internet.

He’s also started some serious flame wars.

Over the past few years, Torvalds has emerged as one of the most articulate and engaging critics of the technology industry. His funny and plainspoken posts to Google+ routinely generate more comments and attention than most stories on The New York Times — or even Wired.

Linus, you see, has the gift for the geek gab. Some of his gems — “Talk is cheap. Show me the code.” — are the stuff of T-shirt slogans. Others — such as his portrait of the hard drive as the new Satan or the F-bomb he dropped on Nvidia, “the single worst company” the Linux developer community has ever dealt with — have a certain knack for keeping marketing people up at night.

Torvalds can say what he wants because — unlike most of the world’s best-known software developers — he doesn’t work for a big technology company with a public relations department. If he worked for IBM or Red Hat, he’d probably be clamped down. But Torvalds is a free operator, his salary paid by the non-profit Linux Foundation. So whenever he needs a break from code-wrangling the Linux project, he fires...

November 13, 2012 | 0 comments

It is a bit of a surprise when Danny Cohen sits down at the table in his Palo Alto flat with nothing but a few sheets of paper, and a lovely vintage Mont Blanc fountain pen. As someone who built some of the foundational technologies we use today, you expect a flurry of gadgets to accompany a conversation about his journey through the inspiration and insights related to flight simulators, conference calls and chip making. Turns out a pen, ink and paper is more than enough to sketch out a lifetime of big ideas when wielded by the man whose curiosity and creativity yielded them.

Cohen, born and raised in Israel, had a friend in his days at the nation’s leading engineering school who was a fighter pilot. This was when Israel was still battling Egypt, and Cohen’s pilot comrade would tell stories about combat in the skies above the Sinai desert. Cohen became interested in flying, not just as skill to master (he would later become an accomplished pilot), but also as a problem to represent graphically on a computer. Here’s where the fountain pen ink starts to fly.

“The biggest problem in drawing this kind of thing, is there is a line that starts in front of you and ends behind you,” Cohen says, drawing out a simple flight path in blue ink. How do you represent that line, that mountain, enemy plane or runway as a feature that behaves like 3-D...

October 15, 2012 | 0 comments

One January day in 1998, Jon Postel emailed eight of the 12 organizations that handled the address books for the entire internet. He told them to reconfigure their computer servers so that they pulled addresses not from a government-backed operation in Herndon, Virginia, but from a machine at the computing facility he helped run at the University of Southern California. And they did.

According to news reports at the time, Postel made the switch without approval from anyone. Some said it was merely a “test” meant to show that the internet’s directory infrastructure could be repositioned as needed. But others said that Postel was making a statement — that he was trying to show the White House that it couldn’t wrest control of the internet from the widespread community of researchers who had built and maintained the network over the previous three decades. The White House was just days away from revealing a plan to reorganize the way the internet’s directory system was governed.

Whatever Postel’s intentions, the incident shows what a key figure he was in the rise of the internet. In 1969, he was part of the team at the University of California, Los Angeles that set up the first node on the ARPAnet, the research network that eventually morphed into the modern internet. He helped define the protocols that underpinned the network. And for years, he was the network’s primary...

October 9, 2012 | 0 comments

What did John Klensin do for the Internet? A little bit of everything.

In April, Klensin was inducted into the Internet Society’s (ISOC) Internet Hall of Fame, entering alongside such notable names as Vint Cerf, Bob Kahn, and Larry Roberts. But unlike many of the other inductees, Klensin isn’t known for one seminal idea or creation you can describe in a sentence or two. If you look back over his role in the evolution of the Internet, he’s more like the jack of all trades.

Klensin was part of a small group of academics and other minds who built the ARPAnet — a research network funded by the U.S. Department of Defense — and gradually turned it into the worldwide internet we know today. He’s the author of over 40 Request for Comments, or RFC, the technical documents that have defined the architecture of the network for more than 40 years.

The way Klensin tells it, he grew up in southern Arizona, enrolled as student at MIT, and “never quite escaped.” His area of study was political science, but part of his work involved how communications could influence social and policy sciences,...

October 1, 2012 | 0 comments

It was 4:00 in the morning, and Leonard Kleinrock was sitting inside MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory on the outskirts of Boston, hunched in front of a massive computer system known as the TX-2.

This was the early 1960s, and Kleinrock, an MIT graduate student, was designing a new means of sending information between the TX-2 and other computers of the day. But on this particular night, he was at the end of his rope. “I was tired. I was hungry. I was grumpy. And I had a bad taste in my mouth,” Kleinrock remembers. And then the TX-2 started to hiss.

The TX-2 was an experimental machine, and, well, this was the early 1960s. Kleinrock was worried the system was about to die on him. Just above his head, there was a small gap in the front of the system — an 8-inch by 1-inch hole where a panel had been removed for repairs — and as he looked through the gap, he suddenly realized where the hiss was coming from.

“I saw two eyes staring back at me through the hole in the console. It was that son of bitch Larry Roberts!” Kleinrock says. And in this case, “son of bitch” is a term of affection. Larry Roberts...