18 august 2018

I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

I'm actually only twenty-seven years old, but I have that bit stuck in my head right now.

Yesterday's conference experience was kind of a mixed bag; some of the presenters did very well at connecting to an audience from a wide range of backgrounds within computing, and some… didn't. Some presenters launched right into their material without explaining the meaning of the jargon of their particular technical niches, or even explaining key acronyms that appeared in the first few slides. My favorite presentation of the day was a presentation on Linux-based unikernels, presented by PhD student Ali Raza. (A unikernel is a special take on the kernel — the core of a computer's operating system that handles hardware functions, filesystem access, and basic networking on behalf of applications — where the kernel is stripped down to support only one application, and can then be combined with that application into one thing that can run directly on a computer or virtual machine without an operating system. Unikernals are of interest because they boot much faster and are much more efficient for running a single application than running an entire operating system.) The more common approach to unikernel development is to code them from scratch, or using code from other unikernel projects, because the way a unikernel is used is very different from the way one uses a traditional monolithic operating system kernel. But Ali Raza investigated a different approach; he decided that, because the Linux kernel already has so much software written for it, and so much community support, a more immediately practical unikernel could be created by tailoring the Linux kernel to this purpose.

Ali Raza's working proof of concept required adding just one line of code to the Linux kernel, and making a bunch of modifications to the GCC compilation and linking process. The important thing is that it already works! In the long run, he hopes to improve the compile-time linker so that it includes only the parts of the kernel that the application will need, to replace GCC with a compiler frontend that will perform all the extra stuff he's doing to bundle the application and unikernel together, and to get his minor Linux kernel modifications accepted by the folks who maintain the Linux kernel code, so the whole community will be able to use the latest version as a unikernel.

I'm glad I attended the conference but I hardly interacted with anyone other than a co-worker who was also attending. I briefly chatted with someone staffing a table with a bunch of merchandise for the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation but then they adopted a facial expression that I couldn't confidently interpret, but that I suspected meant that they really didn't want me to keep talking.

I got to the conference way too early and my phone battery drained at an unusually quick rate throughout the day, despite my effort to keep its screen and networking turned off, and a bunch of options enabled in the developer settings menue to limit the activity of its software, and I'd only brought a tiny bag without a phone charger or room to hold any of the stuff I was handed at the conference, and I managed to lose my CharlieCard during the conference. I bolted out of the building as soon as the last session I'd attended let out and navigated the trolly/subway and a thunderstorm to get to the commuter rail.

On the way back out of the city, I realized the train was about to pass near my middle school. I'd forgotten all about the school. I might have even had trouble recalling its name. And then I realized we were approaching it, and I saw its soccer fields right beside the tracks, and memories came flooding back. Not uniformly pleasant ones. But it was surprising, somehow, and almost foreign, as we were passing a place I had seen before only in dreams.

Didn't attend the second day of the conference today because I told my family I wouldn't sacrifice an entire weekend with them for it. But I'm going back for a few more workshops on the last day of the conference tomorrow.

I miss being artisitically productive. I think I want to get back to the poetry project I'd just barely started working on, the one that kinda derives inspiration from the cultural milieux surrounding the Human Individual Metamorphosis / Heaven's Gate movement throughout its twenty-year history. I've got to be careful to write it in such a way that its fictional nature is obvious enough, but it still engages with the social/spiritual questions around this that I find so important. Might share it semi-privately on town as I begin to work on it, then share links publicly later on. I like the idea of sharing it primarily as HTML.

I have a lot of doubt around that project, though. It feels like a subject I'm ill-equipped to approach. But it's kinda haunting me.