All posts by tytso

“How Google Works” giveaway

The authors of “How Google Works” have given electronic versions of “How Google Works” to all Google employees. Since I had already purchased a copy via pre-order, to make life interesting, I’ve decided to give my Google Play coupon code to someone via an electronic lottery.  (Edit: the coupon code will only work for people with Google accounts in the US; if you live outside of the US, my apologies, but the coupon code will not work for you.)

I will be using the procedure documented by RFC-3797 to select someone from the list of people who have sent-email to, snapshotted at Noon US/Eastern on Friday, September 26th, 2014, using as inputs into the RFC-3797 algorithm: (1) the daily volume of GOOG on September 26th, 2014 as reported by, (2) the daily volume of GOOGL on September 26th, 2014 as reported by, and (3) the Massachusetts Powerball Lottery Numbers for September 27th, 2014. If any of these values are not available for any reason, the values for the next trading day or lottery draw will be used.

Have fun!

Is Nokia Doomed?

There’s been a lot of discussion regarding whether or not Nokia is Doomed or not.   The people who say Nokia are doomed basically point out that Nokia doesn’t have any attractive products at the high end, and at the low end the margins are extremely thin.  The high end products suffer from the Symbian being essentially dead (even Nokia is recommending that developers not develop native applications for Symbian, but to use Qt instead), and Nokia doesn’t have much of a development community following it, and it certainly does have much in the way of 3rd party applications, either targetting Symbian or Qt at the moment.
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Android will be using ext4 starting with Gingerbread

I received a trackback from Tim Bray’s Saving Data Safely post on the Android Developer’s blog to my Don’t fear the fsync! blog entry, so I guess the cat’s out of the bag.  Starting with Gingerbread, newer Android phones (starting with the Nexus S) will be using the ext4 file system.  Very cool!  So just as IBM used to promote Linux by saying that it was scalable enough to run on everything between watches and mainframes, I can now talk about ext4 as running in production on cell phones to Google data centers.
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Working on Technology at Startups

Richard Tibbetts has called me out for conflating Web 2.0 startups with all startups in my recent blog posting, “Google has a problem retaining great engineers? Bullcrap”. His complaint was that I was over generalizing from Web 2.0 startups to all startups.

He’s right, of course. The traditional “technology startup” by definition does have a large amount technology work that needs to be done, in addition to the business development work. However, things have changed a lot even for technology startups. Consider a company like Sequent Computer Systems, which started in 1983. At the time the founders had a key idea, which was to use multiple commodity intel CPU’s to create first SMP, and then later, NUMA minicomputers. But in order to do that, they had to design, build and manufacture a huge mount of hardware, as well as develop a whole new Unix-derived operating system, just to bring that core idea to market.
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Close the Washington Monument

Bruce Schneier has written an absolutely powerful essay in his blog, with the modest proposal that in response to the security worries at the Washington Monument, we should close it.

If you haven’t read it yet, run, don’t walk, to his blog and read it.  Then if you live in the States, write to your congresscritters, and ask them to reinsert the backbone which they have placed in a blind trust when they got elected, and tell the TSA that they have a new mandate; to provide as much security as possible without compromising our freedom, privacy, and American Ideals.   Right now, they have an impossible job, because they have been asked to provide an absolute degree of security.  And in trying to provide the impossible, the terrorists have already won…

Google has a problem retaining great engineers? Bullcrap.

Once again, there’s been another story about how Google is having trouble retaining talent.   Despite all Eric Schmidt’s attempts to tell folks that Google’s regretted attrition rate has not changed in seven years, this story just doesn’t want to seem to die.   (And those stories about Google paying $3.5 million and $7 million to keep an engineer from defecting to Facebook?   As far as I know, total bull.  I bet it’s something made up by some Facebook recruiter who needed to explain how she let a live prospect get away.  🙂

At least for me, the complete opposite is true.   There are very few companies where I can do the work that I want to do, and Google is one of them.   A startup is totally the wrong place for me.   Why?  Because if you talk to any venture capitalist, a startup has one and only one reason to exist: to prove that it has a scalable, viable business model.   Take for example.   As Business Week described, while they were proving that they had a business model that worked, they purchased their diapers at the local BJ’s and shipped them via Fedex.   Another startup, Chegg, proved its business model by using to drop ship text books to their first customers.  (The venture capitalist Mark Maples talked about this in a brilliant talk at the Founders Showcase; the Chegg example starts around 20:50 minutes in, but I’d recommend listening to the whole thing, since it’s such a great talk.)   You don’t negotiate volume discounts with textbook publishers, or build huge warehouses to hold all of the diapers that you’re going to buy until you prove that you have a business model that works.
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I have the money shot for my LCA presentation

Thanks to Eric Whitney’s benchmarking results, I have my money shot for my upcoming 2011 LCA talk in Brisbane, which will be about how to improve scalability in the Linux kernel, using the case study of the work that I did to improve scalability via a series of scalability patches that were developed during 2.6.34, 2.6.35, and 2.6.36 (and went into the kernel during subsequent merge window).

These benchmarks were done on a 48-core AMD system (8 sockets, 6 cores/socket) using a 24 SAS-disk hardware RAID array.  Which is the sort of system which XFS has traditionally shined on, and for which ext3 has traditionally not scaled very well at.  We’re now within striking distance of XFS, and there’s more improvements to ext4 which I have planned that should help its performance even further.   This is the kind of performance improvement that I’m totally psyched to see!

Moderate Muslims need a better PR Agency

There has been much made of recent reports that roughly half of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam.  And as usual, there are those who will try to claim that Muslims really aren’t all that bad, and that Sharia is just set of nice, abstract principles which are all about the protection of life, family, education, religion, property, and human dignity.   And on the other side, we have people pointing out that using Sharias as justification, there are countries which are stoning women and chopping off poor people’s hands and then forbidding Muslims from arguing about whether such things are just.

Worst yet, some of the more public “moderate Muslims”, such as Iman Rauf, refuse to criticize organizations such as Hamas, on the ground that he is a “bridge builder”, and it wouldn’t help to criticize Hamas’s terrorist activities as being anti-Isalmic.  OK, so let’s grant for the sake of argument the claims that Shariah really is far more than just criminal sanctions, but mainly about exhorting people to live a moral life, and that of the 1,081 pages of the two-volume Arabic text which Sherman A. Jackson (the Arthur F. Thurnau Prfessor of Arabic and Isalamic Studies at the University of Michigan) used to study Shariah, only 60 pages were devoted to criminal sanctions (i.e., the stoning and the cutting off of hands), and only 19 were devoted to Jihad.   Let’s even further grant the claims made by Humaira Awais Shahid that most Muslims reject “Political Islam” and are not even arabs.   OK.   But that case, wouldn’t there be more Imans publically disavowing the people who advocate terrorism and suicide bombs as not being Islamic?   Not all of them are bridge-builders, are they?   And if so, some of them might be better deployed towards saying what Islam is not, and saying that perhaps people who espouse those beliefs are being profoundly unIslamic — and saying this loudly outside of their Mosques.

Oh, I understand that many Muslims feel that they shouldn’t be asked to repudiate the sins of “a few crazy terrorists”; just as all Christians shouldn’t be held accountable for disturbed crazy rants of a small-time “pastor” from Gainsville, Florida.   But at the same time, it seems to me that Islamic leaders should be eager to say, loudly, that what is being done in the name of their religion in Iran and Nigeria is wrong, and to denounce it.   Maybe, some would say, that they are doing that and the media isn’t paying attention to them.   Well, the Media is surely paying attention to people like Iman Rauf, and he refuses to denounce Hamas!   I would gently suggest to those Islamic leaders who feel that they and their faith haven’t been given a fair shake, to hire a better PR agency; and make sure that active denunciations of that which they claim does not represent true Islam is shouted from the rooftops; published in press releases; made in press conferences.   And actively denounce your fellow Muslims that you feel are shaming your religion, instead of complaining about American Islamophobia.   Trying to pretend that there is absolutely no truth in why Americans might be afraid of terrorists who have been hiding under the mantle of your religion is not going to help your cause.

There may be truth in the fact that many Americans don’t know as much as they should about Islam and Shariah.  And there may be truth that American unswerving support of Israel, despite the fact that they acted in profound and unjust ways against the Palestinians, is not only morally and ethically wrong, but has hurt American interests.  I certainly believe that to be to true; I am no friend to fundamentalists of any stripe, whether they are Christian, Jewish, or Islamic; and I think the Jewish fundamentalists have almost completely taken over the Israeli political discourse.  But all of that is irrelevant if the goal is reduce people’e negative views towards Islam.   And in any case, if you really believe that attacking innocents, and coercing religion by threatening Muslims who have fallen away from their faith with the death penalty is wrong, then it’s wrong regardless of whether those innocents happened to vote for politicians who have been influenced by way too much money from AIPAC.   So instead of trying to lecture Americans about their uncritical support of Israel, why not just stand witness to the fact that killing innocents is wrong, and that people who do that are not Islamic, no matter what they claim or how impressive their turban might happen to be?   And maybe it might be a good idea to speak out against those who would lend support, whether moral, or financial or logistical, to people who do these unIslamic things in the name of Islam?    And it may not be enough to say it once; it needs to be said again and again.  Which is why it’s important to hire a good PR agency.

The history of General Tso’s Chicken

I just came across this story ( today, and given my name, and given that I fancy myself a bit of a foodie, who could resist?  (Not that I considered the deep-fried, dunked-in-sugar-syrup mess that passes for General Tso’s chicken in most fast food Chinese restaurants to be gourmet food, mind you!)

Here’s the first thing you should know: The general had nothing to do with his chicken. You can banish any stories of him stir-frying over the flames of the cities he burned, or heartbreaking tales of a last supper, prepared with blind courage, under attack from overwhelming hordes. Unlike the amoeba-like mythologies that follow so many traditional dishes, the story of General Tso’s chicken is compellingly simple. One man, Peng Chang-kuei — very old but still alive — invented it.

But what’s “it”? Because while chef Peng is universally credited with inventing a dish called General Tso’s chicken, he probably wouldn’t recognize the crisp, sweet, red nuggets you get with pork fried rice for $4.95 with a choice of soda or soup. All that happened under his nose. It all got away from him…