October 22, 2003: Notebook

Hamid Karzai comes to town
Afghanistan president praises student effort

Talking about integrity

The future of the Internet
Making it faster and better

PANYC returns to New York City

IN Brief

Hamid Karzai comes to town
Afghanistan president praises student effort

Photo: Hamid Karzai (right) speaks to Ana Barfield ’04 and other students involved in Sparks, including Ashirul Amin ’04, next to Karzai. (Denise Applewhite)

On September 26, Afghan president Hamid Karzai spoke under stringent security at Richardson Auditorium about terrorism, reconstruction in Afghanistan, and democracy in the Islamic world. One of the four flags next to Karzai on the stage — an unassuming white banner with two clasped hands, displayed alongside the standards of the U.S., New Jersey, and Afghanistan — symbolized the prime mover behind the visit, the student group known as Sparks International.

Begun in 1994 by siblings Karim Thomas ’04 and Rishma Thomas ’05 when they were elementary school students in Vancouver, Sparks — an acronym for Students Providing Aid, Relief, and Kind Services — strives to promote youth involvement in community service worldwide.

In a decade, the Thomases have seen their organization grow from a grade school service club to an incorporated nonprofit. In addition to the 25-member Princeton group, a new chapter of Sparks is in the works at Tufts University. Last summer, Sparks began efforts to found a school in war-torn Kabul, and the Thomases met Karzai in the course of organizing the school and an internship program in Afghanistan.

Next month, the Sparks Academy Kabul, known in Dari as Omid-e-Afghanistan (“the hope of Afghanistan”), will offer full scholarships to its first class of 40 kindergartners. The academy will educate students through high school, emphasizing high levels of achievement for both boys and girls — a notable shift from education under the Taliban. Within six years, the project leaders expect the facility to reach its full capacity of 1,500 children. Karzai’s Princeton visit marked the launch of a $170,000 fundraising effort for the project.

“We hope to foster pluralism and interethnic understanding, and contribute in some small way to Afghanistan’s reconstruction,” said Ashirul Amin ’04, who, along with Ana Barfield ’04, is the cochair of the local chapter of Sparks. “We can look forward to the day when the first student [from this new school] receives a ‘Yes!’ letter from Princeton.”

Karzai, who described his arrival in Princeton as “an instant fall-in-love situation,” praised both the U.S. and the students of Sparks for their assistance in rebuilding his nation. “The role of universities is to bring people, values, and cultures together, because the young are the future leaders of society,” he said. “There is already an excellent example of this in Sparks.”

In his speech, Karzai cited the drive to overthrow the Taliban in 2001 as “a cooperation of civilizations” and drew parallels between the plight of Afghanis and Americans in the war on terror. “The terrorists are the common enemies of mankind. They destroyed our country, just like they destroyed your twin towers. It has nothing to do with religion.”

Responding to a question about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Karzai pointed out the Koranic justification for representative rule, and that the original Muslim caliphs were all elected. “We may differ in the value systems, but it does not contradict the basics of mankind — to be able to determine his or her own future,” he said.

For Karim Thomas, the future of Afghan education is a top priority for building peace in the region. Although he acknowledges that educating 1,500 of the nearly 4.2 million children in Afghanistan is a small start, Karim hopes that Sparks will lead by positive example. “If other people see what we do, and decide to do the same, that can have a very major effect. It shows that students can play a huge role in solving some of the world’s most challenging problems.”

By Jordan Paul Amadio ’05

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Talking about integrity

Two weeks into the semester, students gathered one Sunday evening on Cannon Green to hear President Tilghman, senior Elizabeth Biney-Amissah, English professor John Fleming *63, and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley ’65, the keynote speaker, talk about integrity. The assembly, organized by several student groups, was held to stress the importance of integrity within “a community of scholars,” and to illustrate “how such values translate to our professional futures and adulthood,” said Eli Goldsmith ’04, chairman of the Undergraduate Honor Committee.

Tilghman and Biney-Amissah spoke about integrity on campus — in crediting acadmic sources, treating others with respect, and pursuing truth. Fleming discussed the “mutual trust” that must exist between students and faculty for the academic community to thrive.

Bradley talked about times when issues of integrity had come up in his career. He recalled turning down an invitation to serve on Princeton’s Board of Trustees when he was in the Senate for fear it might create a conflict of interest. A year later, Bradley was able to “vote with a clear conscience” on issues in which Princeton’s interests were at stake. His Princeton-instilled sense of integrity helped him make choices that allowed him to “sleep well every night,” he said.

By Jen Albinson ’05

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The future of the Internet
Making it faster and better

By Argelio R. Dumenigo

Photo: Larry Peterson, chairman of the computer science department, is a founder of PlanetLab. (Denise Applewhite)

Although computer scientists and researchers have many ideas about how to improve the Internet, its growth and commercial success during the past decade has made experimentation difficult. Researchers cannot mimic the vast, worldwide network in labs, and technology companies are unwilling to disrupt the Internet to test theories.

But a solution may have been born this past summer. Princeton has joined several major technology companies, including Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and Google, and more than 60 other universities, to create a groundbreaking global testing ground named PlanetLab. The worldwide network will allow researchers to test prototype Internet applications and services under real-world conditions and on a large scale. Among other things, the research could lead to a faster Internet that can store and distribute information more efficiently – an Internet that is less susceptible to attacks from hackers’ viruses and can keep things like spam e-mail from clogging networks.

“We are trying to re-create the opportunities to innovate that were there in the early days of the Internet 20 to 25 years ago,” said Larry Peterson, chairman of Princeton’s computer science department and one of PlanetLab’s founders.

“Back then, the early versions of the Internet were just the experiments of researchers. People had no idea how ultimately it was going to be used. It was created so that you could have remote access to other people’s very expensive computers; e-mail was a secondary thought, and the Web was not even imagined,” said Peterson, who has been at Princeton since 1998. “So we have no idea exactly what will come of [PlanetLab]. On the short-term horizon, we should have a better, faster, more robust version of what we have today.”

PlanetLab already consists of 170 Internet-linked computers distributed at 60 locations around the world. Project leaders hope to have more than 1,000 computers, or nodes, within the next few years. It is built onto the Internet as an overlay network, similar to the way the current Internet is built on top of the telephone network. PlanetLab gives researchers a complex test bed on the scale of the Internet that would be impossible for any single institution or company to create, Peterson explained.

“The way that the Internet’s bandwidth is interconnected is by proprietary hardware that you buy from companies like Cisco and Juniper, and they’re not going to open their boxes up and let us try new algorithms and new ideas in there. Now we have PCs around the world that we can program to our hearts’ content,” said Peterson, a PlanetLab architect.

PlanetLab researchers believe their project is a first step toward an Internet that has processing power built into the infrastructure of the network and can lead to new capabilities, such as giving the Internet a “memory” in which a piece of information could be found even after the computer on which it was posted no longer exists.

Nearly 100 research projects currently are being run on the network, including CoDeeN (short for “content distribution network”), a project led by Princeton associate professor of computer science Vivek Pai. The project is designed to improve and speed up content delivery by distributing that content across several sources on the Internet rather than a single source, which could prevent Web sites from being overloaded or slowed. Another Princeton-based project, Sophia, seeks to refine searching over many computers simultaneously.

The PlanetLab project began in March 2002, when computer science and networking researchers from several institutions met to discuss their ideas about improving the Internet. Intel provided seed grants of equipment to set up an initial network of 100 computers. Princeton committed to hosting a formal consortium of PlanetLab users and developers. The University will provide administrative and technical support as the system grows. Peterson said project leaders are predicting an annual budget of $3 million for the next few years, the majority of which will come through government and industrial funding.

“PlanetLab is plainly an idea whose time has come,” said Vinton Cerf, one of the creators of the Internet and now senior vice president for architecture and technology at M.C.I., formerly WorldCom, Inc. “While it is too early to tell what is likely to be discovered, it seems inescapable that this platform will furnish opportunities for innovative experiments.”

PlanetLab is separate from Internet2, another consortium of corporations and universities trying to improve the Internet. The major difference, according to Peterson, is that Internet2 deals with creating a network with greater bandwidth, or ‘fat pipes’ between different points that would make the Internet faster. However, PlanetLab and Internet2 complement each other, and PlanetLab computers will be placed into the routing centers of the Internet2 system, he said.

Courses at several universities have been built around the project, and Peterson is teaching one at Princeton this fall. Peterson said PlanetLab already has become a valuable teaching tool for graduate and undergraduate students who study computer and Internet networks. About 14 Princeton graduate and undergraduate students are involved with research or are using PlanetLab.

“It’s almost as though you can look down and see what’s happening around the whole world,” said Peterson. “If you’re just sitting at the end of your little cable, you can only see what happens to get to you and you can’t see the larger pattern. It’s the difference between being up in a traffic helicopter and sitting in your car near an accident at a particular intersection.”

Argelio R. Dumenigo is a former PAW associate editor.

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PANYC returns to New York City

New York City boasts more alumni than anywhere else in the world. Yet for almost a decade, there has been no single Princeton organization to unite this group of ten thousand. But late last month, more than 600 alumni celebrated the rebirth of the Princeton Association of New York City with wine, jazz, and a cascade of orange and black balloons in Manhattan’s Bryant Park.

Stan Rubin ’55 and his Jazz All Stars set the mood for the members of classes from 1946 to 2003 who clustered near the New York Public Library. Striped Princeton ties and sport coats were interspersed with black leather jackets and jeans as the crowd mingled around an avant-garde art show display.

“We want you to have one place you can go when you are thinking about Princeton and want to get involved,” said Tania Shinkawa ’97, president and cofounder of the association, in a kickoff speech. Part of the mission of PANYC (pronounced “panic”) is to reach alumni through a Web site and special events.

Until now, nine Princeton-related alumni groups in the New York City region have operated more or less independently, including the Alumni Schools Committee, the Princeton Women’s Network, the Association of Black Princeton Alumni, and groups that coordinate annual giving, community service, and career-networking activities. Members of the Princeton Club of New York have access to social events and the clubhouse on West 43rd Street, but must pay annual fees ranging from $100 dollars for young alums to more than $1,000.

“It’s absolutely necessary that there be something other than the Princeton Club,” said Gregoire Landel ’98, a graduate student in environmental engineering at Columbia University. “For me, it’s not possible to join, and I know I’m not alone.”

Skip Rankin ’72, a board member at the club and chair of the Alumni Council, agrees. “The two are complementary,” he said of the relationship he foresees between the club and PANYC. “Not exclusive of each other or competitive.”

Association founders hope the Bryant Park event will attract a wide range of alumni who will help keep the association running far into the future. Although the Alumni Council funded the kickoff, the group expects to charge nominal dues to finance future gatherings.

“We’re on our own after this event,” said Shinkawa. “We hope people will want to see it happen again.”

By Kristen Fountain ’96

Kristen Fountain ’96 is a freelance writer in New York City.

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In Brief

Photo: Thomas Wright ’62 (office of communications)

Thomas Wright ’62, University vice president and secretary, will retire at the end of December. Wright joined the administration in July 1972 as general counsel; two years later he was named secretary. In 1990 he gave up the responsibilities of general counsel and became vice president and secretary. In this capacity he serves as a senior adviser to the president and provides administrative support for the Board of Trustees. Robert Durkee ’69, currently vice president for public affairs, will succeed Wright as vice president and secretary. He will retain his current oversight of public affairs activities, which includes the offices of the Alumni Council, communications, community and state affairs, and government affairs.

Rabbi James Diamond, director of the Center for Jewish Life, is stepping down at the end of the academic year. Diamond, who currently teaches Masterworks of Hebrew Literature in Translation, plans to continue teaching part-time and to pursue other projects.

The University has established the Princeton Prize in Race Relations to recognize high school students who have done outstanding work in their schools or communities to advance the cause of race relations. Created by alumni and sponsored by the Alumni Council, the Princeton Prize will begin as a pilot program in Boston and Washington, D.C. Project entries will be eligible for various prizes, including cash awards; first-place honors in each city are $1,000 awards. Applications are at www.princeton.edu/PrincetonPrize and must be postmarked by January 31. Winners will be announced in spring 2004.

Demetrius McDowell, a graduate student in the English department, died August 17 after a long illness; he was 38. At the time of his death, he was in the final weeks of completing his doctoral dissertation in the field of 19th-century American literature.

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