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More on Postel
Subject: IP: Remembrance/postel
From: Dave Farber [[email protected]]
I, and others I fear, have spent a sleepless night after hearing of the
death of Jon Postel last night. This morning there was a note in my
mail box from Vint Cerf that said many of the things I feel at this
time. I asked him for permission to send on which he granted.
I also remember Jon. I was his primary thesis advisor along with Jerry
Estrin and I remember with fond memories the months spent closely
working with Jon while his eager mind developed the ideas in back of
what was a pioneering thesis that founded the area of protocol
verification. Since I was at UC Irvine and Jon at UCLA we used to meet
in the morning prior to my ride to UCI at a Pancake House in Santa
Monica for breakfast and the hard work of developing a thesis. I gained
a great respect for Jon then and 10 pounds of weight.
I will miss him greatly. Jon was my second Ph.D. student. The first,
Philip Merlin, also died way before his time.
October 17, 1998
I REMEMBER IANA
A long time ago, in a network, far far away, a great adventure took
Out of the chaos of new ideas for communication, the experiments, the
tentative designs, and crucible of testing, there emerged a cornucopia
of networks. Beginning with the ARPANET, an endless stream of networks
evolved, and ultimately were interlinked to become the Internet. Someone
had to keep track of all the protocols, the identifiers, networks and
addresses and ultimately the names of all the things in the networked
universe. And someone had to keep track of all the information that
erupted with volcanic force from the intensity of the debates and
discussions and endless invention that has continued unabated for 30
years. That someone was Jonathan B. Postel, our Internet Assigned
Numbers Authority, friend, engineer, confidant, leader, icon, and now,
first of the giants to depart from our midst.
Jon, our beloved IANA, is gone. Even as I write these words I cannot
quite grasp this stark fact. We had almost lost him once before in 1991.
Surely we knew he was at risk as are we all. But he had been our rock,
the foundation on which our every web search and email was built, always
there to mediate the random dispute, to remind us when our documentation
did not do justice to its subject, to make difficult decisions with
apparent ease, and to consult when careful consideration was needed. We
will survive our loss and we will remember. He has left a monumental
legacy for all Internauts to contemplate. Steadfast service for decades,
moving when others seemed paralyzed, always finding the right course in
a complex minefield of technical and sometimes political obstacles.
Jon and I went to the same high school, Van Nuys High, in the San
Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. But we were in different classes
and I really didn’t know him then. Our real meeting came at UCLA when we
became a part of a group of graduate students working for Prof. Leonard
Kleinrock on the ARPANET project. Steve Crocker was another of the Van
Nuys crowd who was part of the team and led the development of the first
host-host protocols for the ARPANET. When Steve invented the idea of the
Request for Comments series, Jon became the instant editor. When we
needed to keep track of all the hosts and protocol identifiers, Jon
volunteered to be the Numbers Czar and later the IANA once the Internet
was in place.
Jon was a founding member of the Internet Architecture Board and served
continuously from its founding to the present. He was the FIRST
individual member of the Internet Society I know, because he and Steve
Wolff raced to see who could fill out the application forms and make
payment first and Jon won. He served as a trustee of the Internet
Society. He was the custodian of the .US domain, a founder of the Los
Nettos Internet service, and, by the way, managed the networking
research division of USC Information Sciences Institute.
Jon loved the outdoors. I know he used to enjoy backpacking in the high
Sierras around Yosemite. Bearded and sandaled, Jon was our resident
hippie-patriarch at UCLA. He was a private person but fully capable of
engaging photon torpedoes and going to battle stations in a good
engineering argument. And he could be stubborn beyond all expectation.
He could have outwaited the Sphinx in a staring contest, I think.
Jon inspired loyalty and steadfast devotion among his friends and his
colleagues. For me, he personified the words “selfless service.” For
nearly 30 years, Jon has served us all, taken little in return, indeed
sometimes receiving abuse when he should have received our deepest
appreciation. It was particularly gratifying at the last Internet
Society meeting in Geneva to see Jon receive the Silver Medal of the
International Telecommunications Union. It is an award generally
reserved for Heads of State but I can think of no one more deserving of
global recognition for his contributions.
While it seems almost impossible to avoid feeling an enormous sense of
loss, as if a yawning gap in our networked universe had opened up and
swallowed our friend, I must tell you that I am comforted as I
contemplate what Jon has wrought. He leaves a legacy of edited documents
that tell our collective Internet story, including not only the
technical but also the poetic and whimsical as well. He completed the
incorporation of a successor to his service as IANA and leaves a lasting
legacy of service to the community in that role. His memory is rich and
vibrant and will not fade from our collective consciousness. “What would
Jon have done?” we will think, as we wrestle in the days ahead with the
problems Jon kept so well tamed for so many years.
There will almost surely be many memorials to Jon’s monumental service
to the Internet Community. As current chairman of the Internet Society,
I pledge to establish an award in Jon’s name to recognize long-standing
service to the community, the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award, which is
awarded to Jon posthumously as its first recipient.
If Jon were here, I am sure he would urge us not to mourn his passing
but to celebrate his life and his contributions. He would remind us that
there is still much work to be done and that we now have the
responsibility and the opportunity to do our part. I doubt that anyone
could possibly duplicate his record, but it stands as a measure of one
man’s astonishing contribution to a community he knew and loved.