Farewell for now

As of October 4th, I will be a Linux developer again. After a many months-long search for a Linux job that was better than my Sun job (no small task), I finally accepted an offer from IBM.

I learned a few things over the past few months. Sun is a great working environment; most other companies score much higher on the Dilbert scale. Which explains why I know so many people who left Sun and then came back a few years later (an option I will consider). After deciding I wanted to quit, I stopped doing all the things I didn't want to do - and ended up being more productive. Finally, a little patience (and negotiating skill) will go a long way (unfortunately, these are two qualities I am notoriously short on).

I feel lucky to have had the chance to work on ZFS. It really is a groundbreaking new file system - and so easy to use. Now I just hope that it gets ported to Linux soon, so I can use it.

I may start a new weblog; if so, it will be linked to from my home page:

http://www.nmt.edu/~val

After leafing through the stack of computer science papers on my desk, looking for one last systems paper to talk about, I find I can't pick just one. Here for your reading enjoyment, then, are four of my favorite systems papers.

Checking System Rules Using System-Specific Programmer-Written Compiler Extensions

Aside from the awful title, this is a fantastic paper. The authors managed to automate (in a practical, easy-to-understand manner) checking for common, simple bugs such as forgetting to drop a lock on error exit from a function. They found many bugs in widely-used real world systems with relatively little human effort. I've seen their stuff in action; it's good. And as usual for an Engler paper, it's well-written and a pleasure to read.

Sensing User Intention and Context for Energy Management

Don't you hate it when your laptop's screensaver starts up in the middle of a presentation? Angela Dalton and Carla Ellis explore using low-power sensors to make power-saving smarter. Angela had a great demo at HotOS: a laptop with attached camera that turned off the display when no human face was visible. All day long, I saw people sitting in front of a laptop and then suddenly ducking to the side, again and again, testing her demo. I like that they are taking a creative new approach to power-saving, instead of fiddling with timeouts and mathematical models.

The Utility of File Names

Lots of research has been done with the idea that users will annotate files with performance hints using some obscure system-specific interface (yeah, right!). In this paper, Daniel Ellard shows that programs are already giving the system useful performance hints - by the names they give to files. Even more exciting, filename patterns and usage patterns can be automatically correlated by a modeler program.

The Google File System

I don't really need to describe this paper, do I? I just wanted to explain why I like this paper so much. Many people have tried write a distributed file system that is correct, generic, and performs well in all cases - and are still trying. What I like about GFS is that they picked a very specific problem (large scale distributed processing using a queuing system) and solved it in a specific way.

I hope you enjoyed the Confessions; thanks for reading!

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