by Darius Kazemi, November 12 2019
Data management applications
RFC-316 is titled “ARPA Network Data Management Working Group”. It's authored by Doug B. McKay and one A. P. Mulleray, who I can't find any information on. It's dated February 24, 1972.
The technical content
This RFC is a summary of the Data Management Working Group meeting.
Since the RFC itself is a summary, I'll give a brief summary of the summary.
The meeting took place in two phases. In the first phase people presented how they were using data sharing on networks in the workplace, or developing for data sharing applications. These included:
- teaching and testing physicians using material stored on the network
- the MEDLINE system that provides access to information from medical journals over the network
- the network components of the World Wide Military Command and Control System, which required fast querying of databases, daily synchronization of data across the network, and reporting capability on a weekly/monthly/etc basis—this is one of the first times the need for data security is highlighted in an RFC
- the topography of the network at General Motors Research Laboratory, where designers would create designs (presumably for different car parts) and then upload them to servers that would run physical stress simulations on them
- running meta-experiments to determine whether certain data management functions should be centralized or distributed
Phase 2 was to organize the committee and set up an interest group for data management.
MEDLINE still exists today as the NIH's MedlinePlus.
The World Wide Military Command and Control System (WWMCCS) was an attempt to coordinate United States military forces across the world. The idea was for commanders to be able to issue orders within minutes to soldiers on the other side of the earth, and for the commanders to have access to aggregated intelligence data to help them make decisions from half a world away. It was under new management as of 1971, and put under the auspices of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Telecommunications. I imagine their attendance at this meeting is tied in with that.
Aside: “Command and control”, also known as C2, is a military term that I've seen used as early as the 1950s in relation to the Lincoln-Lab-helmed Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, aka SAGE. This entry from The Oxford Companion to American Military History provides a ton of background on the concept in general, and while the need to coordinate across different branches of the US military is a problem as old as the United States, the author cites the 1947 unification of all the military branches under a single Department as the main impetus for command and control. If we look at the frequency of the phrase in books scanned by google, the phrase starts to take off right around 1948, so that claim seems to hold up.
In the Phase 2 section, one of the attendee names jumped out at me: Elizabeth Fong.
I looked her up and she spent her whole career at the National Institute for Standards and Technology, which at the time of this RFC was still the National Bureau of Standards. She was heavily involved in the effort to standardize SQL in the 1980s. Here's a 2014 interview with her, and here's a brief autobiographical sketch on being awarded for 48 years of service at NIST.
Other women in attendance are Dorothy Hopkin, who I've written about on this blog, and Suzanne Taylor and Erika Perez of MITRE, who I'm unfortunately unable to find more information on.
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I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.