Splainer

Friday, June 11 2021


Dive In

I think the motive really speaks for itself… India obviously wants to remove Choksi to India… This case is a fundamental test for the legal systems of Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda… and also a political test for the Commonwealth as to whether there is respect for rule of law and individual rights.

That’s Mehul Choksi’s lawyer Michael Polak laying out a fairly persuasive case for his abduction at a press conference. Polak—who represents a UK-based NGO Justice Abroad—explained exactly how four UK nationals kidnapped Choksi to get him out of Antigua, where he is protected against extradition as a citizen. Indian Express has the details.

Big Story

Three important reminders

A big reminder: We’re kicking off our series of birthday events with a fab conversation on Love, Marriage, Sex Etc. with Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, Leeza Mangaldas and Priya Alika-Elias. The time/date: Saturday, June 12 at 6:30 pm. This one is open to all subscribers so be sure to sign up here. Also: ICYMI, we carried more details on these wonderful ladies in our previous edition.

 

Also please remember: to ask your friends & fam to take advantage of our special birthday month discount on our three-month quarterly subscription. We are offering it at the low, low price of Rs 300 until June 30. It’s especially valuable since we don’t offer a monthly subscription any more.

 

Another birthday nudge: Here’s a reminder of our birthday wishlist—because we certainly don’t want you to miss out on that lol!

 

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The story of the great internet outage

The TLDR: On June 8, vast swathes of the internet suddenly became unavailable for nearly an hour. While the disruption was temporary, it revealed just how dependent we are on a handful of invisible companies for our online access. We explain what happened and why it is worrying.

 

Say hello to the CDN

The entire outage was the result of a software bug in a Content Delivery Network called Fastly. And here’s what a CDN does:

 

  • When we browse a website, we assume that we are getting the information directly from there. This is almost entirely untrue. 
  • In most cases, we are accessing a copy of that content from a server closer to our location—served to us by a Content Delivery Network. 
  • Large websites hire a CDN to make and store copies of its content in locations around the world. These locations are called ‘points of presence’ (POPs).
  • So when you click on a story on, say, BBC News, your device does not fetch its content all the way from the UK. Thanks to Fastly, it will bring a copy of that content from a POP closer to you.  
  • The shorter transit period means that the content shows up a lot faster: ““It basically enables really high performance for content, whether that’s streaming video or a site or all the little images that pop up when you go to an ecommerce site… Serving it really close to the user takes away a lot of the load time.”
  • Fastly boasts that it has made loading pages on Buzzfeed 50% faster and allowed The New York Times to simultaneously handle 2 million readers on election night.
  • CDNs like Fastly also act like traffic cops: “It is like orchestrating traffic flow on a massive road system… If some link on the internet fails or gets congested, CDN algorithms quickly find an alternate route to the destination.”

 

Here’s a visualisation of how Fastly’s service works:

 

Point to note: Fastly is a San Francisco-based company that has a $5 billion valuation. It operates POPs in “at least 58 cities around the world, including multiples in densely populated areas like Los Angeles, London, and Singapore. It lists their combined global capacity at a whopping 130 terabits per second.” And it services a number of very large companies including Amazon, Reddit, Spotify, eBay, Twitch, Pinterest—and of course media websites like New York Times, CNN, BBC News etc. 

 

The mighty software bug

In a blog post, Fastly’s senior VP of engineering explained what went wrong. The company issued an update on May 12—which accidentally introduced a bug in its software. But the bug remained in the system—kinda like a sleeper cell—until a single customer activated it on Monday by changing their configuration. This error was pushed out to multiple servers at the same time, creating a cascading effect. Soon, 85% of Fastly’s networks were returning 503 errors—where you click on a web page and it basically tells you that the server hosting the website can’t service your request for content.

 

Point to note: Fastly says it detected the problem within one minute, and restored service to 95% of the network in 49 minutes. Its servers were still a little slow for a couple more hours—as the POP servers had to first go back to the original websites to fetch copies of their content.  

 

A cautionary tale

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In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • Big companies heart the BJP
  • Say hello to Mount Recyclemore
  • Israel makes one kind of history
  • Someone had 10 babies!
  • ‘Dry scooping’ is a thing

 

Weekend Advisory 

  • Kareem Khubchandani talks about ‘Critical Aunty Studies’
  • Why do humans easily believe conspiracy theories?
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