What I meant to say...

Yesterday morning I was interviewed on Floss Weekly about my Tarsnap backup service and my work bringing FreeBSD to Amazon EC2. This was the first non-print news interview I've done since high school and the first live interview I've ever done, and it was a very interesting experience. I have considerable experience speaking at conferences, including two talks about FreeBSD on EC2, but I was surprised at how different being interviewed was: Rather than covering topics methodically, we jumped around a lot, making it hard for me to keep track of what I had said and what still needed saying.

Watching the video this morning I was struck by the number of times that I forgot to mention something or started to say something but lost track of where the sentence was headed before I got to the end of it; so without further ado, here's the "what I meant to say" errata for the interview:

What I said: I wanted to have the ability to run FreeBSD [in EC2], particularly for my Tarsnap project [...] and eventually I managed to get it working.
What I should have said: Even though I've gotten FreeBSD running in EC2, I don't have the Tarsnap server code running on FreeBSD yet, since FreeBSD/EC2 is still quite new. I'd be happy using FreeBSD/EC2 for many things, but for a backup service there needs to be a very high bar for "make sure it works" before using something, and I don't think FreeBSD/EC2 has had enough testing for me to be confident that it's at that point yet.

What I said: The way EC2 works is, it's rent by the hour virtual machines; you can go in there, say "I want five machines, ten machines, a hundred machines for the next hour"; or rather you say "I want to start a hundred machines right now" and then you can stop them at some later point and then you only get charged for the number of hours that you're actually using them.
What I should have said: There's also "spot" instances, where you say how much you're willing to pay per hour of instance time, and at any moment whoever is willing to pay the most for an instance gets it — these are usually cheaper than the "on-demand" rate, but they carry the risk that your instance will be killed off if someone places a higher bid. A lot of people use these for batch jobs; I've personally found that these are useful for testing FreeBSD images, since I could cheaply spin up 100 instances at a time to see how frequently certain panics occurred.

What I said: [Tarsnap] runs on basically everything POSIXy; so FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, a whole bunch of Linuxes, OpenSolaris [...] cygwin as well, it works fine there; there's a few other more obscure UNIXes that people have tried it on that it works fine on, I can't remember all of them.
What I should have said: OS X is one of the "obscure UNIXes" where people run Tarsnap.

What I said: The version of [bsdtar and libarchive] which Tarsnap is currently using doesn't have very good Windows support; but newer versions of those have good Windows support, so when I get around to it I will be updating to a newer libarchive, at which point it should be fairly straightforward to support Windows [...]
What I should have said: Also, I'm a FreeBSD developer, not a Windows developer, so when I started work on Tarsnap I decided it was better to start with what I knew — I'd rather have a thousand happy UNIX users than a million Windows users who are unhappy beecause I did things wrong when trying to write code for an unfamiliar environment.

What I said: The Tarsnap server code is not public [...]
What I should have said: ... but parts of it are. In particular, I wrote my Kivaloo data store because I wanted a better key-value store for the Tarsnap server to use, and I released that under the BSD license at the end of March. With the Tarsnap server code, just like the client code, I'll open source whatever pieces I think can be independently useful.

What I said: As far as EC2 goes, I've been working on my own [...]
What I should have said: ... but there have been several great developers working on the underlying FreeBSD/Xen codebase, and without all the work they've done over the years there's no way I would ever have been able to do the final few bugfixes and packaging gunk needed to get FreeBSD into EC2. [This was a classic case of forgetting where a sentence was going — I started the sentence thinking "I'll talk about EC2 specifically and then contrast it with FreeBSD/Xen generally" but got lost midway.]

Like most people, I've always frowned on the use of "talking points" by politicians; it seems that they discourage deep discussions of issues in favour of repeating set phrases ad nauseam, and when the talking points are prepared by political parties rather than by the speaker they can stifle any attempt to uncover the speaker's personal views. Today I've learned the other side: In a live interview, it's very easy to lose track of things and forget to mention important points. I don't know when I'm going to get an opportunity to do another interview like this, but when the time comes, I'm going to be prepared with a list of topics and important facts about them, so that I don't fail to mention vital work done by other developers, struggle to remember the name of a TV show, or forget that OS X is a flavour of UNIX.

Posted at 2011-08-04 14:20 | Permanent link | Comments
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