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The Prince of Pain
The Prize

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Fall 1997
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A month or so after the new group began meeting regularly (they called themselves the Network Working Group), it became clear to Crocker and others that they had better start accumulating notes on the discussions. If the meetings themselves were less than conclusive, perhaps the act of writing something down would help bring order to their collective thoughts. Crocker volunteered to write the first minutes. "I remember having great fear," he says, "that we would offend whoever the ‘official' protocol designers were."

Of course, there were no other protocol designers, official or otherwise. But Crocker didn't know that. He was living with friends at the time and worked all night on the first notes, writing in the bathroom so as not to wake anyone in the house. He was concerned less about what he wanted to say than with striking just the right provisional tone. He modestly labeled the document "Request for Comments" and sent it out by mail.

RFC No. 1 described in technical terms the basic "handshake" between two computers -- how the most elemental connections would be made. "Request for Comments," it turned out, was a perfect choice of titles. It sounded at once solicitous and serious. And it stuck.

The way Crocker crafted RFC No. 1 proved important in establishing the tenor for future dialogue. For decades to come, RFCs would remain a principal means of open expression in the computer networking community, the accepted unofficial method of recommending, reviewing and adopting new technical standards. (Today, the number of "published" RFCs reaches into the thousands, and continues to grow.)

UCLA's Interface Message Processor, designed and built by a Cambridge, MA firm named Bolt Beranek and Newman, was set to arrive for installation in Boelter Hall on the first of September. Now Kleinrock's most pressing task was to build the interface between the Sigma-7 and the IMP that would allow the two computers to interact with one another. Unfortunately, the designer of the IMP wasn't very helpful in this regard. The only promise anyone in Cambridge was willing to make was that two or more IMPs would be able to communicate with each other to move packets of data back and forth in a kind of "subnetwork." It was entirely up to the host computers -- or more likely the graduate students responsible for running them -- to figure out what to do with the data once their IMP received it.

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