RFC1149: AVIANnet lives!

You probably need to be a techo type to appreciate it, but I can't resist passing on this story.

The internet protocols, which are the technical rules by which the internet runs, are all desribed in a series of documents called Request For Comments, or RFC for short. The reason for the odd name is at the very beginning of the internet one of the guys working on it put together a set of notes on how the protocols they were designing worked, and issued the notes as a request for comment. No one ever got around to issuing a final version. To this day that very first document is marked as RFC 1, and every documented that followed has been labeled RFC followed by a serial number.

For example, the HTTP protocol you are using to read this is defined in RFC 2068. It's all very technical and ultra boring language.

It wasn't long before people starting issuing joke RFCs, almost all of them issued on 1st April. The first was RFC 527 ARPAwocky. The internet was originally known as ARPAnet and ARPAwocky was a parody of Jabberwocky.

Another good one was RFC 968 Twas The Night Before Startup, written by Vincent Cerf himself.

But my all time favourite is RFC 1149 A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers. Let me quote the opening sections of RFC 1149:
Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low
altitude service. The connection topology is limited to a single
point-to-point path for each carrier, used with standard carriers,
but many carriers can be used without significant interference with
each other, outside of early spring. This is because of the 3D ether
space available to the carriers, in contrast to the 1D ether used by
IEEE802.3. The carriers have an intrinsic collision avoidance
system, which increases availability. Unlike some network
technologies, such as packet radio, communication is not limited to
line-of-sight distance. Connection oriented service is available in
some cities, usually based upon a central hub topology.

The IP datagram is printed, on a small scroll of paper, in
hexadecimal, with each octet separated by whitestuff and blackstuff.
The scroll of paper is wrapped around one leg of the avian carrier.
A band of duct tape is used to secure the datagram's edges. The
bandwidth is limited to the leg length. The MTU is variable, and
paradoxically, generally increases with increased carrier age. A
typical MTU is 256 milligrams. Some datagram padding may be needed.

Upon receipt, the duct tape is removed and the paper copy of the
datagram is optically scanned into a electronically transmittable
That's right, RFC 1149 specifies how to run the internet over carrier pigeons.

Very funny, you might think, and go back to your normal lives. But not the Linux User's Group in Bergen in Norway. In 2001, these people, with seriously too much time on their hands, implemented RFC 1149, pigeons and all. It worked.

End of story, right?

Not quite. Recently people in South Africa have been complaining their broadband infrastructure is too slow. One company decided to prove the point. They raced the country's broadband network against a carrier pigeon with a 4GB memory stick taped to its leg.

The pigeon won.


Mimzy said...

I find this hilarious! ....And the realization that I'm a dork comes back to me.

I'll be a dork with laughing CS major friends though! Kimo and John are going to find this hilarious.

MattDel said...

Hey Gary,

I nominated you for an award. Go check out the most recent post on Free The Princess.

And yeah, I love tech jokes like this.

@Mimzy -- at least we're all dorks together. ;)

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Matt, you're the second person who's nominated me. I must get around to it...

Hope your CS friends like it Mimzy. My wife tried clicking her fingers by the way but it didn't work.

T. Anne said...

Ha! Go Pigeons!

CKHB said...

HA! Awesome.