Friday, October 26, 2007

One of my favorite sites on the net is KernelTrap. Though KernelTrap describes itself as, "... a web community devoted to sharing the latest in kernel development news.", all of the heavy lifting is done by one person, Jeremy Andrews. So I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to Jeremy for his tireless efforts at making KernelTrap a great site and one of my favorite destinations on the net.

The feature I use the most is on the home page and it's basically Jeremy summarizing and distilling the [essence of the] conversations that happen on many of the kernel development mailing lists. Anyone who is or has ever been a member of an extremely voluminous mailing list, know how noisy it can be. Where the worst case scenario is an abysmally low signal-to-noise ratio. Plus it's no fun exploring the list after the fact because it becomes very tedious very fast, pointing and clicking your way through messages, trying to find something interesting. KernelTrap eliminates the noise and makes pointing and clicking fun again [or at least more productive]. It does this by organizing the different conversations from the different kernel development mailing lists into atoms.

An atom is simply a title and a summary of what the original thread/conversation was about, which includes quotes from the source. If the subject matter peaks your interest and you are not satisfied by the summary, you can click on the title or the "read more" link to, (wait for it ...) read more! Reading more takes you to a single page that contains the individual messages that make up the original conversation, no pointing or clicking required, all you have to do is scroll and enjoy. There is even a comments section at the bottom of each entry. The comments don't actually link back to the original mailing list so you can't really use it as a mechanism for joining the conversation. The purpose it does serve [to me] is comic relief. Probably 99% of the comments posted are from people who have never written a lick of kernel code in their life and probably wouldn't know a pointer if jumped up and poked them in the eye. Yet it doesn't stop them from complaining and passing judgment on the people who are actually involved in the conversation. I can't help but laugh.

Jokes aside, the reason I love KernelTrap is because it focuses on kernel development. And though I'm not a kernel developer, nor aspire to be one, the information provided is useful none-the-less. You see, the kernel is the most important piece of software that runs on your computer, because it is responsible for managing the resources that is the computer (CPU, memory, disk, etc). So whether your computer is running 1 or 1,000 processes, or your network application is handling 1 or 1,000 thousands connections, it's the kernel that is responsible for keeping things running smoothly or at least running. The consequence of being responsible for the computer is the kernel ends up being the most scalable piece of software on the computer. It is this feature of kernels that interest me. Because the lessons of scalable design and implementation, inherent in [good] kernels, aren't limited to kernel software. A lot of the lessons can be applied to user land software (my domain). So though the conversations may not tell you how things are implemented (the exception is the Linux Kernel Mailing List because patches [code] are included directly in the messages themselves) it can tell you why and who is doing it.

The newest KernelTrap feature is quotes. A quote is another type of atom that is simply a quote lifted from a larger conversation that is either insightful, funny, or both. My favorite for this week comes from Theo de Raadt of OpenBSD fame:

"You are absolutely deluded, if not stupid, if you think that a worldwide collection of software engineers who can't write operating systems or applications without security holes, can then turn around and suddenly write virtualization layers without security holes."
— Theo de Raadt in an October 24th, 2007 message on the OpenBSD -misc mailing list.

So if you have never visited KernelTrap I highly recommend you take a look and if you are looking for a more Linux centric world view, LWN can't be beat.

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