Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spastically flailing around..

It's that magical time of year when I actually play video games. I have one rule for christmas (and bday, for that matter) gifts for Tove: she should buy me toys. No practical gifts, no soft packages with sweaters or socks. I didn't enjoy them when I was little, and I don't enjoy them now. I refuse to grow up.

And none of that "toys for men" crap either. I couldn't care less about a new miter saw or something like that. I'll buy manly toys myself if I have some project in the yard that needs them, I don't want them as a present. The week after christmas is when I regress to my teenage years, and play games, build models, or play with RC cars.

In other words, I want presents that I wouldn't really ever buy myself.

But since I usually do it for just about a week each year, I really suck at it. So this year the suckage involved me playing the new Prince of Persia (christmas), and flying around a small electric indoor RC micro-helicopter (birthday).

Talk about spastic.

In PoP, I'm actually pretty good at the acrobatics (I like the platforming part, and I've played all the versions of PoP over the years), but the fights are really frustrating. You're supposed to be able to create those wondrous fight sequences with the right button combinations. I can't do it, so I just flail wildly around, mashing the buttons as best I can, and eventually I wear the opponent down. I'm pretty certain some of the bosses just decided that suicide was better than watching me jump around and hit things at random. Or maybe I just embarrassed them to death. But as long as they die, I don't care.

And Ubisoft must have known that no normal person actually ever gets any of those magic 14-hit combos, and I could finish the game in just over two days. Some people may complain that it's too short a game, but for me, that was just perfect. Last years game was Assassin's Creed, and the thing was just too long - I got pretty good at killing guards, and it was all beautiful, but it just took me too long. So I eventually just left it with the last long assassination sequence not even started.

As to my mad skillz at flying RC helicopters, I have yet to ever succeed in actually landing the damn thing in a designated spot, unless "on the floor, possibly with a crunch that sounds like the helicopter barely avoided becoming scrap" counts as such. And I probably never will.

But hey, it's all good. It's what christmas is all about. Killing people and crashing helicopters? Isn't it? Even if you're not very good at it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

White stuff..

It looks like we may well have a white Christmas in Portland this year. Schools were closed all week long, and while it's easy to laugh at that when you come from Finland ("if it's colder than -20°C, you don't have to go outside for recess, and can do PE inside"), it's rather understandable when most years you only get a day or two of snow.

Here's a plant in our back yard. But don't ask me what it is. I strictly sort plants by "edible" and "not edible", and I think this one falls in the second category.

And I find I like snow when I know it's not going to stay much longer, and it only happens once a year or so.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Two books this week: "Survival of the Sickest" by Sharon Moalem, and "The Hero of Ages", the final part of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.

The first one is a fairly light read on disease and genetics, and was really quite enjoyable. It's the kind of book I tend to read when I decide I want to read something intelligent, and it's a lot more modern about genetics in that it discusses genes as being much more dynamic than you'd find in more traditional ("older") books on the subject.

It's a bit unorthodox in other areas too. I like the aquatic ape hypothesis that the book brings up as much as anybody, but I guess that's not very mainstream. But whether mainstream or not, the book is a very enjoyable read and definitely merits reading.


As to Hero of Ages, I'm happy to finish the trilogy. It was a worthy finish, and I like Sanderson (both in Mistborn and in Elantris).

My only real complaint is that I just hate being forced to buy hard-cover books - they take up too much space in our already cramped bookshelves, but more importantly they're also much harder to read. I like reading lying on my back, and since I don't do any sports my muscles have atrophied to the point where holding up a hard-cover book for hours counts as more exercise than I really consider enjoyable.

(I keed, I keed. I can bench-press a hardcover book all day long. But it's true that they're less convenient)

So if you haven't already been suckered into the Mistborn trilogy, I'd suggest holding off until you can find it as mass-market paperbacks. I didn't have that choice - as usual, I had made the mistake of starting the series too early, and I'm not big on the whole "delayed gratification" thing. Which is why publishers do that whole hard-cover thing, of course.

But maybe you like hardcover books. Some people seem to think that it's a status sign. I'd personally much prefer that publishers just came out with a (more expensive, by all means) paperback initial printing, but I guess I'm odd. I pay for the words, not for the bulk.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Road-rage explained

Nobody will ever claim that I have any real taste in music. I mainly listen while driving, and mostly just to classic rock. Sue me.

But every once in a while I get that "stabby feeling", and yesterday I realized why. It's "Brandi (You're a fine girl)". It's one of those songs that make me change stations really quickly, even to the insipid nasty soft-rock channel that Tove listens to (which does only christmas songs this time of year - a nice improvement over their normal fare).

I'm sure that song explains at least half the road-rage incidents out there. A less stable person would quite reasonably decide that rather than change the channel, they just need to stab somebody in the face.

I realize that there are probably people out there that view that song with nostalgia, but please: before you request that song, think of the consequences.

Think of the children.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Life is good again..

...because it looks like we figured out what the suspend/resume problem was. And as suspected, the actual resource code had nothing what-so-ever to do with it, and was apparently just a trigger for timing.

It's frustrating with bugs like that, but on the other hand it's then a big relief when it gets resolved, and in this case we also ended up going through a lot of code and I think we'll be much better off as a result. It's also a huge relief to find the actual root cause, rather than seeing things that can be used to paper over and hide the problem.

And kudos to the people who actually saw the problem (Rafael and Frans), and who spent a lot of time trying out different things and sending out logs and looking at the resource allocation. The real clue was in a log from a successful suspend/resume cycle that showed some questionable behaviour despite not actually failing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Debugging hell

So I've spent much of the last couple of days remotely debugging this insane suspend failure (or to be exact, resume failure) that happens occasionally for a couple of people.

Now, suspend/resume debugging is some of the nastiest crud around, because when you suspend a machine, you end up (obviously) having to turn all the devices off. And guess what? That also means that you have no way to then inform the user about what is going on when things go wrong, because all those nice devices (like the screen - duh) will not be available. So no screen output, no serial console traces, no network dumps, no nothing.

To make matters worse, we even know how to trigger the problem (on those particular machines, neither of which are mine), but the particular PCI resource layout that is needed seems to have nothing what-so-ever to do with the actual failure itself. It seems to be just a way to trigger it, nothing more.

(And that's also why I've been debugging it personally - the whole resource allocation thing is one of the areas where very few other people know how things work. Most of the time I can try to prod others into looking at the bugs, but in this case it was one of those rare "Linus or nobody" choices).

So I'm frustrated. I'm doubly frustrated because it's a reasonably recent Intel chipset, and some simple debugging facilities is the one thing I've been asking Intel to add to the core chipset for the last several years so that we could do some kind of sane tracing over complete failures where all other devices are unavailable and you have to power off the machine to get it back.


I want to be back under water.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


So I read Brent Weeks' Night Angel trilogy last week mostly while on planes.

Kudos to a new writer for a good debut trilogy, but also extra kudos for releasing a trilogy all at once and having a clean ending and not leaving things hanging just for the future. I guess the two are related (publisher not wanting to publish something from a new author without having the whole series in hand and being able to judge it), but I hate reading an interesting first novel in a series and then having to wait for the rest (hint: "Name of the Wind". Grrr).

Ok, so technically the books were released a month apart, and I also guess that I was lucky that the third one was apparently available a few days early at the Ka'anapali Barnes & Noble, but that's still "together" as far as I'm concerned.


The incredible shrinking wetsuit

So I was in Maui the last week, doing my best to spend as much time under-water as possible, given the constraint that I also had to at least occasionally meet up with my family for dinners etc.

And I got in a solid lucky thirteen tanks, with the added bonus that I don't think I had a single dive where I came up with less than 1200psi. Which means that I'm definitely no longer the person that forces other divers to come up early due to being low on air. Woot!

So I was being good and sporty all week, but despite that, roughly half-way through the trip, I noticed that I had a much easier time fitting in the ML (male large) suit than the MM (male medium) ones.

And it wasn't just one of them that had shrunk - I checked a couple just to be sure. The suits that were a perfectly good fit on Saturday had suddenly shrunk and become tight by Wednesday.

It's magic, I tell you. Magic. The wetsuit-fairy is out to get me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

In Memoriam

It's been about two years now since Randi walked away and never came back.

He was 17+ years old, and his kidneys were failing. He often woke us up (and probably the neighbours too) by being fairly loud about something in the night. But he was a good cat, and I'm surprised at how sad this post made me.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Book of the day: "Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast" by Lewis Wolpert.

Ok, I really wanted to like it, since the subject matter is interesting. But in the end, I think it was too light on the science. The most interesting parts were when Wolpert talks about human mental development or about the various odd belief systems of tribes, but both of those were really not very deep. They were there to explain the arguments, nothing more.

End result: it didn't really grab me. It wasn't bad, but it also wasn't terribly intriguing.

It may be the same thing as with Dawkins - I really found his scientific books more interesting than the one about belief. I'll take his old "Selfish Gene" any day over "The God Delusion".

On another angle entirely, I read 'Warrior' and 'Witch' by Marie Brennan. I find myself looking at literature that I think Patricia might enjoy - so I'm looking at women protagonists. She loved the Twilight series, for example. I just want to read it first myself, because some of the female-oriented stuff really does seem to be sometimes closer to soft-porn rather than anything I'd suggest to a pre-teen girl.

They were fine.

Oh, and the girls are giggling over "Little Big Planet". Maybe trying to find books for them was a waste of time ;)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"Healthy lifestyle.."

I dunno about you guys, but I'm all for giving nature a bit of help. I've had lasik, for example, and am very happy with it.

Not that I actually ever really minded wearing glasses, but I could not recognize my own kids when in a swimming pool and they were more than six feet away. And let's face it. swimming after other peoples kids and tickling them is not socially acceptable. At least in the US.

Which brings me to the other little help I'd like to give nature: I have never found a sport that I find in the least interesting. Sure, I play pool and snooker, and it's technically a sport, I guess. After all, you do move a ball around. And scuba-diving is lovely, but I think that if you see it as an aerobic exercise, you're doing something wrong (the best part of scuba diving is the floating and looking around - very much avoiding exercise).

So let's face it, I sit around like a vegetable 99% of the time. My job is sitting in front of a computer, and when I relax, the last thing I want to do is run around. I used to swim a while, and for half a year or so I actually spent about 45 minutes in the pool almost every day, and it helped, but while I enjoy swimming, at some point it just became counting laps.

So then I lapsed (I kill myself - I'll be here all week), and didn't get back in the habit, and now while there's a pool nearby, parking is inconvenient and I just can't be bothered. I've tried things you can do at home (jump-rope? I actually enjoy it, but not enough to do it. Air pistol? Doesn't really do that whole "body sculpting" thing - you can do it sitting down and eating cheetos. Everything else? Totally horrible).

So I eat fairly healthy instead. It works. I have enough self-control (and genes - I'm convinced it's largely genetic) to keep from looking like "the blob" from the movie, and I happily like most healthy food. But the exercise nuts just irritate me.

So today google news had another cluster about new reports about SRT1720 (short version: it kicks up your metabolism and makes you burn fat without that stupid and boring exercise. At least if you're a mouse. And it probably will work the same way in humans, because the pathways are all the same).

And just about every single damn article about it had that annoying "Eat healthy and exercise" note.

I want to kick the next person who says that in the nuts. And I'll call that my exercise for the day (or, to be honest, for the week).

Sure, some people apparently get a runners high and really enjoy exercise, and they'll say how much people like me are "missing". My dad is apparently one of those freaks, as is my wife. I'm not. I have never in my life felt like exercise has made me feel that way. I spent eleven months in the Finnish army, and I was probably in the best shape of my life, and all I ever felt was sweaty (and cold. And bored).

So bring on the drugs. If I can kick up my metabolism with a pill, I'll do it in a heartbeat. And the next sanctimonious bastard that talks about all I'm missing can damn well walk away holding his nuts and going "Oww, Oww, oww".

Because I'm not missing anything.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Because he's a frosted corn-flsnake. Geddit?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Black and white

So I'm pretty well-known for not exactly being a huge fan of the FSF and Richard Stallman, despite the fact that I obviously love the GPLv2 and use it as the license for all my projects that I care about.

The reason has always been that I don't like single-issue people, nor do I think that people who turn the world into black and white are very nice or ultimately very useful. The fact is, there aren't just two sides to any issue, there's almost always a range or responses, and "it depends" is almost always the right answer in any big question. And not being even willing to see the other side makes for bad decisions.

Don't get me wrong - I love seeing people who are really passionate about what they do, and many people have something they really care about. It's just that when that becomes something exclusionary, it often gets ugly. It's not passion for something, it becomes passion against something else.

This is, just to take an example, one of the reasons I try to avoid talking much about Microsoft - I'm very passionate about Linux (obviously), but quite frankly, I really find the whole notion of Linux as being "against Microsoft" to be silly and wrong-headed. Yeah, I might make an occasional tongue-in-cheek joke or two, but does anybody really seriously think that you can put 17+ years of your life and make good decisions based on hate and fear?

That was also why I didn't (and don't) like GPLv3 - I think many of the changes weren't due to being "pro free software", but more a mindless reaction against things like TiVO, and the whole black-and-white, "good vs evil" mindset.

The reason I bring this up is that while I can't vote, I did want to say publicly anyway that I really really hope that Obama will be the US president elect after Tuesday night. I realize it probably won't come as a big shock to anybody (yes, I'm a socially liberal open source freak from Europe - so what would you expect?), and others will just be angry.

If anybody wants a reason for that, just watch (or listen to) Obama's "Call to Renewal" keynote speech from 2006. It looks like it's split into 5 pieces on youtube - the whole thing is about 40 minutes - but it's worth it, just to hear something rare: mentioning religion in the US without being black-or-white.


It's not a rick-roll, I promise. It's also probably not the best link (the thing must exist somewhere as a single video - it's how I remember seeing it originally), but it's the one I found now.

There are other reasons, but that's the one that originally made me hope Obama would take the democratic nomination. And what he has done since hasn't changed that. He's obviously smart and thoughtful, and he has a very interesting background that makes me believe that he really can see the other side not just when it comes to religion, but when it comes to international issues too.

Of course I'm biased (we all have our quirks), but I think it makes a difference to have actually lived in another culture. I suspect Obama understands the US better because he has seen something else, and has seen it from a wider background. He's not a black and white person - and ironically, that is probably partly exactly because he is a black and white person in a totally different sense.

And this really is about more than just being positive about the issues (as opposed to negative campaigning). It's about having the capability of understanding - and accepting - that others have other motivations than you do, even when you don't share them.

Not that I'm saying that I'm always a great example myself. I get angry and negative, and quite frankly, I have a really hard time understanding and accepting some of the nuts I see out there. But hey - that's why I'm endorsing Barack Obama, not myself, for president.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Penguins on parade

I don't always dress in a T-shirt and jeans. Sometimes people give me awards, and I dress like a penguin instead. Here's a shout-out for the computer history museum.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


So the merge window is over, and the subsequent "oops-that-needs-fixing" period is calming down, and so I get to read again.

Today's book was Dark Banquet by Bill Schutt.

Most of the time I read random fantasy or sci-fi (ie my previous books were re-reading Robin Hobb's Farseer and Tawny man trilogies), but when I read anything else it tends to be about biology or evolution. Sometimes physics, and essentially never about computers.

So this time it was biology, and if you're interested in blood-sucking bats (the real kind, not the mythical ones), I don't think you can go wrong. It's fairly light reading, with a couple of laugh-out-loud moments. Recommended.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


So, I wrote about election season in the US, without getting more than one or two "go back to where you came from" comments.

That clearly means that I need to ratchet up the controversy level, and bring up an issue near and dear to my heart - and given the times, possibly even more relevant than the election.

Yes, Halloween is almost upon us. That most holiest of holidays, when the whole country comes together, and without regards to race, religion or age, people join a common cause. Namely the gluttonous eating of candy.

It's a holiday without the stress of finding presents (or feeling alone if you have nobody to find presents for). And not even the crazies will go on national TV to complain about the "war against Halloween" - they'll be in WalMart, Target, and Costco, buying candy by the metric ton, exactly like the rest of us.

But there is a dark underbelly to even this friendliest of holidays.

No, I'm not talking about the binge eating ("I bought 15 lbs of candy, but I'll sit in the dark the whole evening so that nobody will ring the door bell, so that tomorrow I'll have the excuse to eat it all") and the inevitable diabetic shock and amputated limbs that follow.

Nor even about the pre-teen girls dressing up (or rather, down) as sluts, because it's the one night of the year when it's cute to look like a under-age hooker.

No. I'm talking about the horrible quality of candy in the US.

Because if you eat three times your body weight in candy in one day, shouldn't it be at least good candy?

Oh, I'm not expecting Belgian chocolate truffles (which really are way over-rated anyway, and a sure sign of snobbishness rather than any appreciation of the better side of life). I'm just talking about stuff that has some taste rather than being just colored sugar with corn starch.

In other words, I'm talking about the sad - and almost total - lack of ammonium chloride.

As every dietician worth his (or her) title knows, you need to balance the sugars with some taste. No, it doesn't really have to be ammonium chloride (NH4Cl), but any self-respecting candy should be mostly something that makes your taste-buds go Whee!

Because that's the whole point. Sure, the diabetic shock may a fine way to weed out the weak, and while you could probably see Halloween as some kind of Darwinistic ritual of survival of the fittest (because it really is a holiday that works for all people, regardless of beliefs or lack there-of), I'm sure that in the end we can all agree on the whole taste-buds-go-whee-factor.

But most US candy really does seem to be more about thumbing your nose at diabetics than it is about taste buds. And this needs to change!

I realize that I can drag my sorry ass off to the nearest Finnish store (yeah, there is one in Portland), and I also realize that the Dutch store also is an excellent source of candy that actually tastes like something. And yes, sometimes you can even find Licorice Allsorts (an acceptably tasty treat) even in regular stores. So I can get my fix.

But I'm saddened how the biggest feast of the year seems designed to perpetuate the lack of any real taste in candy.

I've tried to introduce Americans to some real candy. Most of them just spit it out, because they've been indoctrinated in the whole "sugar with some bland taste" religion of candy eating. And I blame Halloween.

We need fun-sized bags of ammonium chloride, or at least licorice!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

On making releases..

So I cut the 2.6.27 release today, and it's always a somewhat anti-climactic thing.

The whole point of a release is that it should be something reasonably stable. Stable enough so that people can take that release and use it as a base for the stable tree, which in turn tends to be a base for most Linux distributions. It doesn't have to be perfect (and obviously no release ever is), but it needs to be in reasonable shape.

Of course, depending on the exact requirements of the distributions (whether it is for specific features they are waiting for or simply due to their timing of releases), any particular kernel release I do will be more or less relevant for most end users. I have little input on that, nor do I actually want to have any. I can only put my mark and say "This is a reasonable base after the craziness that went before".

So in a very real way, a release is just a starting point for further work, but very little of that "further work" is actually things I have anything to do with what-so-ever or much interest in. Yes, I see the patches that are queued up for the stable kernels, but mostly as an observer. And the distributions do their own thing.

So what makes a release anti-climactic is that from a development standpoint - at least as far as I'm concerned - it is inevitably at the end of a gradual slowing down of interest. So to me a release is not so much of a birth of a new kernel version, it's more of a laying-to-rest of an old one. It's also an end to a fairly quiet period.

So I tagged the release five hours ago, and during the few days before that I had barely a score of commits to merge. But now that I have cut the release, my mailbox is starting to come alive with merge requests for the next version - with thousands of commits queuing up for merging in just a few hours, as opposed to the slow trickle in the days that went before.

This is all exactly as it should be, of course, but it still feels bass-ackwards, in that people always talk about the death-march to a release, and how you're supposed to take a well-deserved vacation after the release.

For example, when I worked for Transmeta, the hardware people would basically take a month off after doing a tape-out. That seems somewhat natural just deserts. But when it comes to Linux development the "tape-out" of making a release acts the other way around. The calm was before, now comes the week or two of crazy merging.

Of course, the craziness won't start today. I want to give releases at least one nightly snapshot before I start merging stuff. So tonight, the release is done, and I won't be reading any email at all for a change. I'll need to finish the book I'm reading, since for a couple of weeks I'll not have much time for it.


"Faster than a speeding bullet, dumber than a potted plant".

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Stranger in a strange land

So I'm not the kind of alien that Heinlein wrote about in the book that gives this post its name, but I'm the "resident" kind, still a green card holder.

Yeah, yeah, we should probably have done the citizenship thing a long time ago, since we've been here long enough (and two of the kids are US citizens by virtue of being born here), but anybody who has had dealings with the INS will likely want to avoid any more of them, and maybe things have gotten better with a new name and changes, but nothing has really made me feel like I really need that paperwork headache again.

So I'm a stranger in a strange land, and seldom more so than when voting season is upon us.

Most of the rest of the time I can kind of ignore it. We've been in the US for over a decade, and it's definitely "home", and we like living here. But being an alien means that you can't vote, and seeing all the news being about the presidential election (and all the streets here locally littered with signs about the local school bond) tends to remind you about that issue.

But being reminded about not being able to vote is actually the much smaller thing: much more than that, election season reminds you about what an odd place the US is.

Most of the rest of the time, you can forget that you live in the US of A, and you really tend to live much more locally. We've been in Portland, OR, for the last 4+ years, and before that in the Bay Area, and part of being here - as opposed to other parts of the US - is that it's certainly much more like Finland than many other parts of the US.

But then voting season comes and reminds you that all those Americans that are individually sane and normal tend to be collectively crazy and very odd. And that's when you really notice that you're not in Finland any more.

That's when you also notice that the whole US voting system is apparently expressly designed to be polarizing (winner-take-all electoral system etc). To somebody from Finland, that looks like a rather obvious and fundamental design flaw. In Finland, government is quite commonly a quilt-work of different parties, and the "rainbow coalition" of many many parties working together was the norm for a long time. And it seems to result in much more civilized political behaviour.

Of course, in the US there are also much wider social, educational, religious and economic differences between people, and issues range all over the map. Which then means that it's hard to bring up any nuances in politics, since either people won't care about them (not relevant for that group), or they simply won't understand them (what does "foreign policy" matter to somebody who has likely never been outside the US unless you count things like day-trips to Tijuana?).

So you couple a polarizing voting system with a campaign that has to make simplified black-and-white statements, and what do you get?

Ugly, is what you get.

Most of the time I really like living in the US. But voting season sometimes makes you wonder.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tracking the time kids spend online

I've got several machines downstairs in my basement office, of course, but in our family the others have computers too. Tove has hers in her office, and the kids share one upstairs (and we're getting to the point where I guess I'll set up a second machine for them one of these days: three kids and one computer works fine most of the time, but sometimes they have homework that requires it, and then sharing doesn't always work so well).

And obviously I'm happy with the kids being comfy with a computer, but we've set some basic rules for it. Notably, they can't just play all those flash games all the time. And sometimes, if they don't do their homework, we disallow it entirely, or - happily more commonly - we give extra time for good behaviour or for some homework that needs more googling.

But I'm a geek, and I'm not at all interested in trying to do any of this manually.

So I wrote (and recently re-wrote, since a disk crash destroyed my original) a simple internet usage tracker for them, which allows me to set usage limits per kid, and which tracks how much time they use online, and forcibly logs them off if they go over the limits. It's a stupid program, but it works pretty well (if you run Linux, of course ;), and since I had to rewrite it I asked some of the git people for help with the simple graphical UI that shows the kids how much time they have left.

So for any other Linux user with kids and git, and who wants to do the same, here's a pointer to the git summary page: tracker.git, and you can get it with
git clone git://git.kernel.org/pub/scm/linux/kernel/git/torvalds/tracker
if you want to play around with it. It's not fancy, it has no docs, no installation instructions etc, but if people are actually interested, I'll be happy to help. Why? Because I've always noticed that my own projects get so much better if others are involved, even if it's just as a user...

.. so I got one of the new Intel SSD's

The kernel summit was two weeks ago, and at the end of that I got one of the new 80GB solid state disks from Intel. Since then, I've been wanting to talk to people about it because I'm so impressed with it, but at the same time I don't much like using the kernel mailing list as some kind of odd public publishing place that isn't really kernel-related, so since I'm testing this whole blogging thing, I might as well vent about it here.

That thing absolutely rocks.

I've been impressed by Intel before (Core 2), but they've had their share of total mistakes and idiotic screw-ups too (Itanic), but the things Intel tends to have done well are the things where they do incremental improvements. So it's a nice thing to be able to say that they can do new things very well too. And while I often tend to get early access to technology, seldom have I looked forward to it so much, and seldom have things lived up to my expectations so well.

In fact, I can't recall the last time that a new tech toy I got made such a dramatic difference in performance and just plain usability of a machine of mine.

So what's so special about that Intel SSD, you ask? Sure, it gets up to 250MB/s reads and 70MB/s writes, but fancy disk arrays can certainly do as well or better. Why am I not gushing about soem nice NAS box? I didn't even put the thing into a laptop, after all, it's actually in Tove's Mac Mini (running Linux, in case anybody was confused ;), so a RAID NAS box would certainly have been a lot bigger and probably have more features.

But no, forget about the throughput figures. Others can match - or at last come close - to the throughput, but what that Intel SSD does so well is random reads and writes. You can do small random accesses to it and still get great performance, and quite frankly, that's the whole point of not having some stupid mechanical latencies as far as I'm concerned.

And the sad part is that other SSD's generally absolutely suck when it comes to especially random write performance. And small random writes is what you get when you update various filesystem meta-data on any normal filesystem, so it really does matter. For example, a vendor who shall remain nameless has an SSD disk out there that they were also hawking at the Kernel Summit, and while they get fine throughput (something like 50+MB/s on big contiguous writes), they benchmark a pitiful 10 (yes, that's ten, as in "how many fingers do you have) small random writes per second. That is slower than a rotational disk.

In contrast, the Intel SSD does about 8,500 4kB random writes per second. Yeah, that's over eight thousand IOps on random write accesses with a relevant block size, rather than some silly and unrealistic contiguous write test. That's what I call solid-state media.

The whole thing just rocks. Everything performs well. You can put that disk in a machine, and suddenly you almost don't even need to care whether things were in your page cache or not. Firefox starts up pretty much as snappily in the cold-cache case as it does hot-cache. You can do package installation and big untars, and you don't even notice it, because your desktop doesn't get laggy or anything.

So here's the deal: right now, don't buy any other SSD than the Intel ones, because as far as I can tell, all the other ones are pretty much inferior to the much cheaper traditional disks, unless you never do any writes at all (and turn off 'atime', for that matter).

So people - ignore the manufacturer write throughput numbers. They don't mean squat. The fact that you may be able to push 50MB/s to the SSD is meaningless if that can only happen when you do big, aligned, writes.

If anybody knows of any reasonable SSDs that work as well as Intel's, let me know.

First post

So, having avoided the whole blogging thing so far, yesterday Alan DeClerck sent a pointer to his family blog with pictures of the kids friends, and I decided that maybe it's actually worth having a place for our family too that we can do the same on.

Of course, I'll need to see what Tove wants to do, but in the meantime, here's a trial blog.