why microkernels don't work

You can almost just see it from this diagram of connected boxes.  I want to think of the whole system as a series of connected state machines.  The arrows show how information is moved around the system with the green arrows identifying paths that carry data to and from the memory. When you fill in the details, you start to see that the proposed sheering off of the “fileserver” from the remaining “kernel” does not actually split state as much as it reproduces it. So much of the state of the rump Kernel needs to be available to the FileServer that the proposed modularity disintegrates.”’

The counter argument, in its best form, can be found at QNX.


Social Network and Lessig

Two lawsuits provide the frame for The Social Network. One was brought by Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, twins at Harvard who thought they had hired Zuckerberg to build for them what Facebook would become. The other was brought by Eduardo Saverin, Zuckerberg’s “one friend” and partner, and Facebook’s initial CFO, who was eventually pushed out of the company by Silicon Valley venture capitalists. These cases function as a kind of Greek chorus, setting the standards of right, throughout the film. It is against the high ideals they represent that everything else gets judged. And indeed, the lawyers are the only truly respectable or honorable characters in the film. When they’re ridiculed or insulted by Zuckerberg, their responses are more mature, and better, than Zuckerberg’s. (If you remember the scene in “The Wire” where Omar uses his wit to cut the lawyer to bits, that’s not this film.) The lawyers here rise above the pokes, regardless of the brilliance in Zuckerberg’s charge. This is kindergarten. They are the teachers. We’re all meant to share a knowing wink, or smirk, as we watch the silliness of children at play.

In Sorkin’s world—which is to say Hollywood, where lawyers attempt to control every last scrap of culture—this framing makes sense. But as I watched this film, as a law professor, and someone who has tried as best I can to understand the new world now living in Silicon Valley, the only people that I felt embarrassed for were the lawyers. The total and absolute absurdity of the world where the engines of a federal lawsuit get cranked up to adjudicate the hurt feelings (because “our idea was stolen!”) of entitled Harvard undergraduates is completely missed by Sorkin. We can’t know enough from the film to know whether there was actually any substantial legal claim here. Sorkin has been upfront about the fact that there are fabrications aplenty lacing the story. But from the story as told, we certainly know enough to know that any legal system that would allow these kids to extort $65 million from the most successful business this century should be ashamed of itself. Did Zuckerberg breach his contract? Maybe, for which the damages are more like $650, not $65 million. Did he steal a trade secret? Absolutely not. Did he steal any other “property”? Absolutely not—the code for Facebook was his, and the “idea” of a social network is not a patent. It wasn’t justice that gave the twins $65 million; it was the fear of a random and inefficient system of law. That system is a tax on innovation and creativity. That tax is the real villain here, not the innovator it burdened.

Lessig in TNR

What struck me about the movie was how it showed the misogynistic shallow world of Silicon Valley as even more shallow and misogynistic than it really is. Must be what Hollywood is like. As for Lessig’s argument, I wonder how many people sympathized with those Greenwich/Harvardians who, by the way, look like they’ve gone back to Federal Court to get more money.  And does Lessig really think those lawyers came off looking wise and mature?

For me, the funniest thing about the movie was the dreary Harvard OS class that Zuckerberg walks out on. Oy,did that seem tedious.

Mobile phone faking in China

The other crazy thing about the mobile phone market is that it’s not the only one. Windell said he found another market just as big but with a greater focus on finished phones, and then just today I walked into what looked like the New York Stock Exchange of mobile phones. This last find was really fascinating; there is a spot in the heart of the market where you have chain smoking traders sitting in booths piled high with finished mobile phones in plastic sleeves ready for sale on the gray market. It’s so packed and frenzied that from across the building when I looked over in that area I thought maybe a small disaster had occurred and people were gathering around to watch it. Each trading booth had a price list sitting in front; it’s the only place in China where I’ve seen a written price for a phone (but presumably you haggled over prices anyways). People were scampering around the the exchange, carrying sleeves of five, ten, twenty mobile phones. I probably saw at least a few hundred phones move through the exchange in the few minutes that it took me to walk a corner of it; I imagine thousands, if not tens of thousands, of phones move through that exchange in one day. Near that area are dozens of booths selling batteries for these phones … and the best part about these battery booths is that there is a girl sitting in each with raw lithium ion batteries and a pile of Nokia stickers, and she is literally building the fake batteries right before your eyes. She even has the holographic Nokia authenticity stamp; the finished batteries look exactly like the real thing. I asked one of them to sell me a sheet of the holo-stamps, but she wanted 1 USD per stamp because “they were of a high grade” or “the real thing” (I couldn’t quite understand the chinese words she used). I was trying to argue her down on price and apparently if I didn’t want to pay her price I could find a lower grade of stamp in other booths for less but she would not carry such shoddy merchandise in her booth. Ironic.


Ask me if I’m sympathetic to Nokia. No. Why? Because a guy at a big mobile phone company which will remain unnamed once said to me something like this: we know about your work, we like it, it’s useful, but your patent makes it awkward for us.  Well, I said, pay a license fee and it’s yours to use. We don’t do that.