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January 24th, 2011
03:15 pm

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Men behaving pretty well, actually
So last month, I was in a conversation regarding the book The Lonely Man of Faith, which I had not at the time read, and it was fascinating. One of the participants organized us into a book club, and this past shabbat I had the opportunity to be the least educated person in a room discussing it.

Wow.

Now, I like philosophical discussion; much of it is of the "have you ever looked at your hand? I mean really looked??" variety, but on those occasions when folks are willing to admit what they do not know and really wrestle with concepts and ideas, it can be tremendously uplifting. I get a real kick out of learning new ways of approaching a question, and even the question "what is it precisely which is causing Soloveitchik to be lonely?" had four or five distinct answers provided by the seven people in the room.

The experience reminded me of a salon run by a different friend after her mother passed away - she held a group study of Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), and I remember that the experience radically transformed my appreciation of the text, to the point that it's now one of my favorite Biblical books.

So in the spirit of a true symposium we drank excellent wine and the discussion ranged from cabbage to kings, and I found it tremendously pleasant. Perhaps this is why book clubs are so popular? In any case, my candidate for our next book is William James Varieties of Religious Experience, which none of us have read but comes with such high recommendations that I have a hard time imagining how great it must be to receive all of this praise.

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Jeff Doyle is the author of about a bazillion classic networking books, including the authoritative Routing TCP/IP, so I was pretty pleased to discover that he had written a book (OSPF and IS-IS: Choosing an IGP for Large-Scale Networks) about the two significant Interior Gateway Protocols (IGPs) used by service providers. His aim in writing this was to explain IS-IS to people who knew OSPF and vice versa: this was not precisely what I had expected, but I did learn a decent amount more about IS-IS networking and the nature of the scaling properties of both protocols.

So in general, this is a good book, and the first chapter is a lovely overview of the history of the development of the Internet back in the days of BBN and the early IMPs. Sidenote: the University of Utah was node 4, which explains why I was able to get an Internet email address in 1987, but that was really merely due to hanging out with Chris C - I didn't do much with it until the early 90s.

However, the book does have a few flaws. One major flaw from my perspective as someone who was (and is) familiar with both protocols is that there was insufficient depth in the discussion of some of the particulars of summarization behaviors in OSPF and IS-IS: the major discussions of summarization assumed that the big issue would be in concerns related to summarization's effect on iBGP sessions. Another flaw was that most of the assumptions regarding multi-area topologies in OSPF assumed only a single exit point between areas, even as the design guidance was that there should always be more than one ABR. Likewise, the L1 areas shown were connected to L2 backbones via a single L1/L2 router, and the L2 examples presumed a relatively small number of routers in each L2 area rather than the more real-world example of "300 routers in a single L2 area" or the like. Another lack is the discussion of the behavior of the ATT (attached) bit - it should not go without saying that a L1/L2 router will only set this if it knows of L2 routers in a different area.

And then there is a bit of design guidance with which I vigorously disagree: Doyle sets off the options of redistributing connected routes vs setting interfaces as passive and makes the recommendation that the former will scale better than the latter, while completely ignoring the fact that most networks which require multi-area OSPF can set most of the nonzero areas as stubs, thus preventing the type 5 LSAs from being relevant - toss in some good address planning, and while the passive interfaces make more LSAs in the stub area, they don't propagate past the ABR, while the E1/E2 approach would be computationally less expensive but require that the nonzero areas not be stubbed off.

However, these flaws should be viewed as just that: flaws in an otherwise excellent work, and one which should be read by anyone who will be designing or working on service-provider quality networks.

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Rabbi Soloveitchik's The Lonely Man of Faith is awe-inspiring and inspirational. I don't believe that Soloveitchik intended it as inspiration - he frames his essay as a discussion of a feeling that he himself has, and that he believes others may have as well: the loneliness experienced as a person engaged in a covenantal lifestyle rather than a utilitarian one.

He lays out the difference between a covenantal approach to God and a religious one - that is to say that the former is ineffable while the latter can be co-opted by humanity's utilitarian nature, and in so doing opened my eyes to the some inadequacies in my own encounter with God via prayer.

The book is short and easy to read, and highly recommended

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