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Monday, July 18th, 2011, 2:52 pm

Network Uncertainty Problem


What happens when the network does not function or functions very poorly? What happens when the Internet is altogether down or goes on and off almost indefinitely/infinitely? The problem need not apply to the Internet connection as a whole; it might for example be a DNS server, a particular Web site which is necessary to access, a server at work, or even a message/call which is anticipated. When there is no estimated time for service restoration one can just assume that normality will resume shortly. Only in retrospect can one decide that it would have been better to just walk away and do something else (even offline) until the problems are resolved for good.

Before going any further, it is worth naming the motivation for this post. Yes, it’s BT again. All morning so far their service has been awful; sometimes the connection goes down altogether, requiring reconnection to SSH servers (which takes a lot of time). It also leads to gaps in IRC logging, makes Web surfing a real nightmare, and so on. Connection persistence is crucial here. The rest of the time there seems to be a capacity issue, so any bandwidth-heavy process is out of the question. To be fair to BT, for the past couple of months their service has been perfect, after a rather rocky first month (weekly unscheduled hangups) and many problems with setup (explained in length in this blog).

In any event, the point worth making is that in many circumstances in life there arises a dilemma where one must decide whether to walk away from the temporary problems early on (when they first occur) or wait patiently for a while and if so, how long for. The correct thing to do — if there is at all such a thing as “correct” in this context — very much depends on the knowns and unknowns; it may also rely on communication with people who are more familiar with the problems encountered (e.g. those in the back rooms). The network of people can better assess whether to plan for a contingency offline or just carry on waiting. This is why it’s a sort of network uncertainty problem. There is never a solid solution to it and the hours lost due to downtime can only ever be minimised by becoming better informed and also preparing alternative activities to pass time (I escaped the bad connection to write this post from the City Centre).

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