Paper round: And then some

I may have finally written up the papers I read some time ago, but I still have a number of papers from that pile, plus a couple more recently-added ones. Time to discuss them:

  • Mosh: An Interactive Remote Shell for Mobile Clients This paper reminds me how I don't tend to take an innovative approach. I thought of ssh as good enough, and am generally suspicious of reinventing the TCP wheel. Then, this paper shows how you can make remoting over flakey wireless connections much better if you try. D'oh. ("mosh" itself is rather nice, but I'd really rather like good scrollback.)
  • Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance One of the classic papers on distributed systems. The bit on committing operations is very plausible, but I look at the section on changing views and... its correctness is not intuitive to me. Tricky.
  • Data Compression Using Long Common Strings Data compression is often rather tricky, but as you might expect from Bentley and McIlroy, this is both simple and effective. Fun.
  • Large-scale cluster management at Google with Borg And this one suddenly looks very relevant to my work! The first section or two seemed a bit vague and naff, but the details fill in over the later sections to give a reasonable impression of what they had and now have. The future work section (especially Kubernetes) looks very interesting, and the references should give me plenty to chew on.
  • Breakthrough silicon scanning discovers backdoor in miliary chip A somewhat melodramatic title sits at the top of a fundamentally unremarkable paper. Unremarkable, perhaps, but still fun. The "backdoor" is in an FPGA used in, among other things, military technology, allowing the bitstream to be read out. Looks like an undocumented debug feature. The interesting things are a) how the advertising material lies so strongly about the security b) the technology used to identify the undocumented feature.
  • Trafficking Fraudulent Accounts: The Role of the Underground Market in Twitter Spam and Abuse Yet another fun little paper investigating the online criminal economy. (If you like this, go read all the Silk Road reporting - not directly related, but also interesting.)
  • TCP ex Machina: Computer-Generated Congestion Control Another paper by the guy who did Mosh, although I came across this one first. In short, by applying a simulate-and-optimise approach to TCP congestion control, something can be produced which appears to work rather better than standard (human-designed) congestion control algorithms. There's lots of interesting stuff here. Is the evaluation biased by the fact that it's using models not entirely dissimilar to the ones used to do the optimisation, leading to over-fitting? Can we know it's not going to have horrible corner cases because it's not human-designed? When setting up an optimisation problem, how the problem is framed will feed into the result, and that's rather interesting. For example, packet loss is not used. Instead, RTT variation is used to detect queuing, which is rather nice given the problem of buffer bloat. All rather cool.

Posted 2015-05-31.