An Unknown Knight

Opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of MRD.

Depending on your age, you may remember the "Y2K Bug". If too young or you don't remember, that's a good thing. Your world didn't end, and efforts to save it, not in vain. The Y2K bug was the emergent possibility systems world-wide were to crash due to using 2-digits for representing a year. So once 1999 rolled over to 2000, there was real possibility the world could go haywire. The countdown really added delicious drama to the whole thing.

But barely anything happened. Some even called it a dud. Rather, it should be referred to as a global success. Thanks to all the hard work programmers did to defuse it.

Upon arriving in Japan, my first project was to inspect systems encrypting data that would later be sent to transponders on a satellite, identify any Y2K Bugs, and fix them before they could come to be. It was clear once looking - the code was going to break. Yes, I was one of the many programmers who participated in a global effort to thwart the dreaded Y2K Bug and was there at the helm when the millennium rolled over at midnight to resolve any effect from oversight. Yep, I missed the parties. And nope, I'm not the titled Unknown Knight as you may be be thinking at this point. Please do read on.

None the less of having missed the parties, that work introduced me to NTP (network time protocol), which was key to ensuring our systems were synced. Few may have ever even heard of NTP; and those that have, don't know much of it. Well, with the ubiquity of the Internet these days, NTP IS WHAT MAKES THE WORLDS CLOCK/WATCH TICK!!! This is no small feat, and boggles the mind once you realize the distributed nature of the Internet and how latency between computers on the Internet can reek havoc on consensus as to what time it is.

The principal maintainer of the NTP software is Harlan Stenn, who has been involved with NTP since 1992. If you've ever a privilege to listen to Harlan speak, you will walk away and return to a very different world from the one you could have only thought from whence you'd just come. He also exemplifies what's key to open source software being better than the alternative. Passion for the work resulting in better quality for a greater good, rather than just getting it done for a paycheck.

Although most are unaware, we all owe Harlan a great deal for giving us his time, for so long, for us to have time. We should all have extreme respect for time's importance in the interdependence of nodes within a networked system's intended operation. As we need of the Internet. NTP is the most under-appreciated relative to its importance open source project. I'm not so sure it isn't absolutely more important than all other open source projects... combined!

Please consider supporting the Network Time Foundation in any way possible (e.g. monetary donations, volunteer, at least let others know of its existence and importance).