Oh no, I have to write it
We just got back from a nine-day trip and I am tired. But one of the goals of this newsletter is forcing me to write even when I don't want to, so here we go.
I keep having this problem, doing research on the early internet era, where I can list out a bunch of events but don't have a great sense of their relationship to each other or to broader context. Often, I don't even totally have the facts straight, because it's all on, you know, the internet, which is a hellscape archive in which to work. (At least I get to work from home?). Wikipedia sometimes fills in the gaps, as it's surprisingly good for scientific and technical detail. There are also good number of historically-minded engineers who like to write blog posts, often about things they lived through or contributed to directly. And for a handful of topics, there's great historical research to lean on, often through the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.
But for a lot of things, it's pretty sparse. My pinned tweet complained about this nearly two years ago:
me: ugh why can't I find one source that puts all of these events in context— Jillian Foley 🗝️ (@jillianefoley) January 13, 2021
me, a historian: oh no i have to write it don't I
This week I've been getting a sense of the landscape of the history of the Secure Socket Layers (SSL) protocol -- essentially, the predecessor to what underpins HTTPS and keeps your browsing safe. I haven't found much. I know the broad outline of how it came about: it was initially developed at Netscape, submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force, underwent several major version upgrades as the biggest issues were worked out, and eventually came into wider use as SSL v3. SSL was largely replaced in the internet protocol stack by TLS (Transport Layer Security) v1, though the two specifications are technically very similar. All of this happened in the span of a few years in the mid- to late- 90s.
Computing historians, notably Janet Abbate, have done important work digging into the nitty-gritty of internet standards and infrastructure development, and Quinn Dupont and Bradley Fidler looked at how encryption fit into early design decisions. Like with other parts of my project, there's a lot of research from legal studies and public policy, some of which is historical. But there doesn't seem to be a good history of secure browsing?
As a *mumble*-year grad student, I always panic a bit when I can't find much, since I assume it must mean that I'm just not looking hard enough. Surely there are at least three books and seven articles and if I miss them then Reviewer 2 or perhaps an important historical figure himself will skewer me. Sometimes, though, there truly isn't much! And sometimes I really do have to be the person to write it! Damn.
The tweet of the week and my reading highlight this week (like I said: tired) is this thread of AI-generated writing tarot cards. I am not a tarot person, but this is enough to make me want to learn?
I used Midjourney to make a writer's tarot deck.— Aidan Doyle (@aidan_doyle) September 7, 2022
Writer's Block and The Word Count pic.twitter.com/BqW7WgauMg
Secret Labyrinth and Plot Twist are my favorites.
One of the highlights of my trip last week was trying a paddleboard for the first time! I even got to paddle with my toddler perched in front of me. The whole thing was delightful enough to distract me from how deep that lake is. Now that we're back, I'm wondering whether it would be nearly as fun to try to paddleboard here in Chicago, but the wind on the lake and the general grossness of the Chicago River dampen much of my enthusiasm.