Re: Status of RFC 20 (was: Re: Gen-ART and OPS-Dir review of draft-ietf-json-text-sequence-09)

John C Klensin <john-ietf@jck.com> Sat, 06 December 2014 22:15 UTC

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Date: Sat, 06 Dec 2014 17:15:27 -0500
From: John C Klensin <john-ietf@jck.com>
To: l.wood@surrey.ac.uk
Subject: Re: Status of RFC 20 (was: Re: Gen-ART and OPS-Dir review of draft-ietf-json-text-sequence-09)
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--On Saturday, December 06, 2014 21:13 +0000 l.wood@surrey.ac.uk
wrote:

> If RFC20 is made a full standard, then references to it must
> be to a particular paper copy (not necessarily the
> 'original'), since there's a chicken-and-egg problem in
> needing to have a working implementation of RFC20 just to
> decode and read electronic transcriptions of RFC20.

Lloyd, if you want to turn this into an exercise in how pedantic
it is possible to get, I'm pretty sure we will all lose.

However, and perhaps ironically, the very early RFCs were
published and circulated on paper and the normative copies were
paper copies.  You could derive strong hints about this from
reading RFC 10 which (with RFC 16) specifies the distribution
list around the time RFC 20 was written and, notable, gives
postal mail addresses and not network ones.  That is
unsurprising since FTP, much less FTP with anonymous/guest and
mail accounts, didn't come along until over a year later.

If you were to look at the early RFCs, you would find notes on
many of them indicating that they were typed back in or
otherwise reconstructed into machine-readable ASCII page image
form some years later.   Some even contain warnings that the
renditions might not be completely accurate.  In particular, if
you look at the current online version of RFC 20, you will find
a note that reads:

	"[ This RFC was put into machine readable form for 
	entry]
	[ into the online RFC archives by Robbie Bennet 9/99]"

As has already been noted, Robbie made an error in constructing
the document footers (I'd have to dig out my copy of the
original (see below) to even figure out of it had footers --
many of the early documents did not) leaving the author as
someone named "Cert".

In addition, I don't know about RFC 20 (and don't know if Vint
would remember), but many of those early documents were produced
in either NLS or the approximately-proprietary word processing
systems of one environment or another, formats that no one (at
least no one I know of or have talked with about this)
considered appropriate for interchange, much less archival, use.
Some were even produced using an ancient technology that I
believe was called "typewriters".

I've had my hands on a photocopy of the original distribution
version of RFC 20 and not only was it on paper but it was
pretty-printed or at least proportionally spaced, not the
page-format ASCII we consider the norm today (or have until
recently).  Don't know where it is at the moment but I could
find it if sufficiently motivated.

> Better to have a dependency outside the RFC series.
> 
> (The silliness of calling anything labelled 'request for
> comments' a standard is now, alas, traditional.)

I am not an engineer and try to avoid getting sucked into
playing one on television (or elsewhere), but I went to school
with engineers and was taught by engineers.  I had always been
taught that good engineering requires pragmatism and attention
to issues that constrained the problem or solution spaces.  From
that point of view, calling an organization in which it is
necessary to have this type of discussion about the details of
reference stability and availability of 45-year-old documents
the "Internet _Engineering_ Task Force" can equally be justified
more by tradition than anything else.  On the other hand, I
really don't think such discussions are needed or helpful, even
(or especially) in the IETF.

    john