[TUHS] Whither Usenix [was How To Kill A Technical Conference]

Norman Wilson norman at oclsc.org
Tue Apr 6 02:20:50 AEST 2021


  But for several years now I have been increasingly dissatisfied with the
  research nature of most of the articles. Very few of them are actually
  useful (or even interesting) to me in a day-to-day sense.


I guess it depends on your interests, and also on what you look at.

I've got way behind in reading ;login:, but have been regularly
attending conferences: the Annual Technical Conference (ATC) and
some workshops (HotStorage, HotCloud) that are usually co-located;
LISA.  I still find plenty to interest me, both in talks and in
the hallway tracks, though LISA has been drying up over the years
(and it's clear that USENIX know that too and are working on
whether it should just be subsumed into the already-burgeoning

As I say, interests differ, but I've learned plenty of new things
about OS and networking design and implementation tradeoffs,
security at many levels, file systems, and storage devices.

Thanks to COVID, USENIX-sponsored conferences have all been
online for the past year and are expected to stay so through
the end of 2021.  For obvious reasons that greatly reduces
the expenses of the conferences, so the registration fees are
about 10% of normal.  Thanks to that, I've been able to sample
conferences I've never had time or money to travel to, like Security
and FAST (file systems and storage).  It's been well worth my
time and money even though the money comes out of my own pocket.

UNIX history is not part of the mainstream USENIX world these
days, alas--I was disappointed that there was no official 50th-
birthday party two years ago in Seattle (though the not-officially-
sponsored one at LCM organized by Clem and others was a fine time,
and USENIX had no objection to hosting announcements of it).
I should point out that the only time I've met Our Esteemed
Leader and Listrunner in person was at a USENIX conference, where
he held a session to show off his reconstructed very-early PDP-11
UNIX from the tape Dennis found under the floor of the UNIX Room.

I too would like to see the organization harbour some less-formal
meetings or publications.  The way to make that happen would
be to run for the Board and to actively sponsor such stuff (with
care about who is selected for the real work to avoid the problems
Ted describes).  Maybe that's a good idea, or maybe it's better
to let the Linux and BSD worlds do their own thing.  Either way
I think what USENIX does is worth while.  I've been a member for
40 years this year, and although it's not the same organization
as it was in the early 1980s, neither is it the same world it
lives in.  I still think they do worth while work and I am proud
to continue to support them, even though I'm not a published
academic researcher, just an old-style systems hack and sysadmin
from the ancient days when those were inseparable.

Norman Wilson
Toronto ON

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