- I was
a scholarship researcher at the CNUCE institute (part of the state research
body CNR) before I finished my degree. In 1988 we were working on a study
contract for IBM (ASTRA - Application Software & Technical Reports
for Academia) which in retrospect I would call a precursor of WAIS, which
was a precursor of GOPHER which itself preceded the WEB explosion.
- Some years
afterwards I participated with Laura, Stefano and other close friends from
CNUCE at the INET91 conference in Copenhagen. After graduating I did my
military service but tried anyway to collaborate on the RINAF project (Regional
Information Society Network for Africa), financed by Unesco with the objective
of linking networks in some African countries.
- I remember
I had managed to get a furlough so that I could participate at a convention
where, perhaps for the first time, I was to address a seminar on telecommunications
networks for an audience of delegates from these African countries.
- I was
struck by the widespread use of ISDN in northern Europe and by the fact
that the chairman of Terena (The Trans-European Research and Education
Networking Association) declared, "next year we will celebrate the
500th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus but our Vikings
in their Drakkar longships had already been there hundreds of years before!".
- The convention
centre was linked by Dial-up over ISDN network and I had studied metropolitan
networks DQDB (IEEE 802.6) and was extremely interested in developments
of ISDN Broadband (ATM-based transport). At the time I didn't know that
one of the world leaders in the sector of switching and production of ISDN
exchanges was ITALTEL, nor that Bellcore the US giant used codecs by Telettra,
another world leader in the sector of radio coding and transmissions. But
that is another story for another day.
were the most important world congresses for NREN - National Research and
Education Networks - and the research into networks had nothing to do with
research networks. Still, Laura, Stefano and I were convinced that something
was changing, that there would be a "convergence" towards global
solutions, scalable and flexible, that could embrace all systems, even
in the most underdeveloped countries. It is important to understand what
the IBM, DIGITAL, TCP/IP networks were at that time.
- The OSI
(Open Systems Interconnection) was defined over decades of meetings of
the ISO, ITU, etc, yet some "garage geeks" including Jon Postel
(with his white ponytail) or Van Jacobson (I remember that Marco Sommani
had immediately understood and appreciated his ideas on TCP congestion
control) thought that the stack system could work as a sort of universal
glue, a key element for global Internetworking, an idea that at the time
was far from obvious. The next year, as announced at Copenhagen, at INET92
the Internet Society was to be founded. At RINAF we were all terribly excited
about DIAL-UP IP.
- I remember
the first TELEBIT (the company was founded by Paul Baran, credited with
the invention of packet switching). I remember the modem with 512 orthogonal
carriers, which we were able to use on extremely low quality lines. The
most viable networking systems for countries with poor quality telecommunications
at the time were FIDONET and UUCP (now known as DTN - Delay Tolerant Networking).
- I have
three distinct memories of the INET92 conference (I recently came across
the canvas bag supplied to attendees to hold the proceedings - all printed
paper of course). The first is of the presentation by Stefano on RINAF
and the fact that perhaps thanks to these new devices we would be able
to connect developing countries to WAIS, GOPHER, etc. using Dial-up IP.
- The second
is of a brief squabble I had with a certain Christian Huitemà (I
had no idea who he was) who said that in the future we would be able to
transmit conferences like that at a global level (which he was already
doing with the Rodeo project at INRIA).
- I was
a big supporter of Broadband ISDN and ATM, yet when some years later in
Pisa Prof. Roveri, director of the Telecommunications project at CNR, asked
me during a lecture if I thought that it was possible to transmit audio
and video over an ordinary Ethernet network using packet switching, I answered
yes, because Christian had convinced me in the end.
at MAN Toscana we carried out the first experiments in Italy transmitting
audio and video using multicast packet switching.
that were extended to the GARR network, in collaboration with Maurizio
Lancia's group at CNR Rome. In Pisa we used workstation lent by Silicon
Graphics (the same were used on Jurassic Park!).
- The third
memory is a presentation by Toshitada Doi (manager of the Sony Japan Data
Center - grandson of a real Samurai!) - 11:00-12:00 Keynote address: Toward
Multimedia Networking by Toshitada Doi (Sony, Japan).
- I'll never
forget it! He came on stage wearing trousers at half-mast like Charlie
Chaplin's, but he was the grandson of a Samurai and no-one dared crack
a smile. His presentation was about the amazing technological progress
achieved in Japan and by SONY and then concluded with a masterclass in
communications: a giant screen showed a written text, then a voice reading
the text, then a still image of a person with a voice in the background
reading the same text, then a slow-motion video and finally a full motion
version with good quality audio and video. In each case he carefully stated
the exact quantity of data required for transmission.
have just seen that emotion is proportional to the quantity of information".
- The audience
of 600 people in the classroom were speechless. At that point the organizers
asked if anyone had any questions. I was sitting near the back (the large
auditorium sloped downwards). A guy wearing short trousers stood up in
front of me. He was wearing a T-shirt that said "Columbia" and
when I saw his shorts I thought "you're not going to take on a Samurai?!".
- He approached
one of the microphones placed at different points around the hall and said
"You say that information is proportional to emotion". "Yes",
said the Samurai. "Have you ever read Dickens?" said the guy
in shorts, "I've felt more emotion reading Dickens than in all the
Columbia Pictures films I've ever seen".
- The audience
erupted in applause. He made his point. It was a lesson and an emotion
I still feel today when I think that it is not just a question of bits,
bytes, frames and packets… but of men and their unstoppable passion for