Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture (book review)

Masters of Doom is a 2003 book by David Kushner about John Carmack and John Romero cofounded id Software and produced video-games, including Doom and Quake.  
The book was read by Will Wheaton. I  retrospectively recognized his voice from the "Ready Player One" book. He has a very enjoyable and engaging reading style, very close to voice acting.
This was an OK book. It is engaging and worth a read if you don't know much about Carmack and Romero and early days of PC video gaming scene. Unfortunately the book lacks depth, and remains superficial in its analysis and observations. The characters covered, although interesting, come across always as one dimensional.  
One thing that stands out in the book is John Carmack's legendary focusing capability. Carmack is a learning machine. He can take off a couple weeks to master a new sub-area. In the book, he was quoted as saying that he likes the process [of learning and developing games], not just the end result. He took pride …

Misc links edition July 3rd

Enlightenment Now (2019) by Steven Pinker

The full title of the book is Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. It came out in 2019, and Bill Gates called this book his "new favorite book of all time." For me, it is an OK book, I give it a 3.5 stars out of 5. 
The book makes an important point about the importance of science and reason, and how much we accomplished thanks to them. As Yuval Harari nicely summarized, the book "extols the amazing achievements of modernity, and demonstrates that humankind has never been so peaceful, healthy, and prosperous."
Ok, so it is a feel-good book, nothing wrong with that, right? Well, it is a very long-winded book, and it is hard not to get bored after some time. I really liked the first 50 pages: "Ok, this is going good, we have a good rapport as writer and reader". After page 100, I was like "OK dude I really get it, let's move on to something new now", and after page 150, I was pleading "Stop, stop, this is…

The FuzzyLog: A partially ordered shared log (OSDI'18)

This paper appeared in OSDI 18, and is authored by Joshua Lockerman, Jose M. Faleiro, Juno Kim, Soham Sankaran, Daniel J. Abadi, James Aspnes, Siddhartha Sen, Mahesh Balakrishnan.
The paper does not suggest many novel ideas or algorithms, but rather shows a nice amalgamation of existing ideas and algorithms for providing a more scalable version of a shared log across multiple datacenters.
Having a shared log, and funneling all updates through a globally shared log  provides simplicity for building fault-tolerant consistent distributed systems. Tango paper from SOSP'13, upon which they build here, argued for the simplicity benefits of such a system. Recently Jay Kreps wrote a nice and accessible explanation of the benefits of using globally shared logs for building distributed systems.
Despite the simplicity it provides, maintaining a shared log with a system-wide total order is impractical, because it is expensive: At large scale, the single sequencer will be a bottleneck for the thro…

State-Machine Replication for Planet-Scale Systems (Eurosys 2020)

This paper appeared at Eurosys 2020, and is authored by Vitor Enes, Carlos Baquero, Tuanir França Rezende, Alexey Gotsman, Matthieu  Perrin, and Pierre Sutra.
The paper introduces Atlas, a consensus protocol similar to EPaxos, that builds on the Fast Paxos idea. Most people call these protocols leaderless, but I think that is a misnomer. I call these protocols as opportunistic/any-leader protocols. In these protocols, any node can propose a command by becoming an opportunistic leader and using a fast path. If there is no other simultaneously proposed command by another opportunistic leader or if this command commutes with all simultaneously proposed commands, the fast path is enough for achieving consensus. In the presence of concurrent non-commuting commands, the protocol will have to take a slow path, the purpose of which is to establish (teach to the other nodes) the dependencies learned for this command in the fast path attempt.
This opportunistic/any-leader family of protocols do n…

Paxos unpacked

I am looking for PhD students to work with me on my project "Paxos Unpacked". I am attaching a short abstract below. The work done here is very useful for distributed databases and cloud computing systems.
So if you are interested in a distributed systems PhD, or you know someone interested in a distributed systems PhD, please let me know by emailing me with a short CV and qualifications. 
I will have research assistantship funding available for qualifying applicants after they get accepted to the PhD program at University at Buffalo, SUNY.

Paxos Unpacked
Due to their excellent fault-tolerance properties, Paxos protocols have been employed by many cloud computing systems for consistent coordination of clusters of computers. This project aims to show that when properly customized, Paxos family of protocols can also deliver top-notch performance and scalability, which they currently lack. To this end, the project will design high-performance, scalable, practical, and usable Paxos …

Misc dist-links edition June 17th

Making Databases Work: the Pragmatic Wisdom of Michael Stonebraker, December 2018. This is available as a free download at In addition to databases, the book talks about Stonebraker's approach to advising and finding research problems. Datacenter RPCs Can Be General and Fast
CockroachDB: The Resilient Geo-Distributed SQL Database (Sigmod 2020)
eXtreme Modelling in Practice (VLDB 2020)
Beyond Analytics: the Evolution of Stream Processing Systems (Sigmod 2020)
Follow on Twitter: Jonathan EllisNeil GuntherSteven Strogatz
ICYMI: Research, writing, and career advice and Learning about distributed systems: where to start?
Podcast suggestion: Weird name aside, this is a nice podcast. This one was particularly a very good listen. I put the Stephen Cope's book on my reading queue. As for true calling, I have this weird fixation with distributed systems. The first time I took an undergraduate class that introduced distributed systems and algorit…

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