2022.10 - Storm


In my last update, I said that I was caught in a storm, not knowing what to do. In October, I was really trying to find my way out of the storm and currently, I don’t know if I actually made it out of the storm or I’m just in the eye.

October was quite rough. Just last week, an assignment in my operating systems class had some problems and the instructor had to change the assignment. I was a little disturbed as I spent so much time and effort into it. So, was it all for nothing? No. After hearing what the problem was with the assignment, I immediately changed my mind and I felt like I learned something even more.

The assignemnt was about the producer-consumer problem and for this assignment, we built it using semaphores to control access to the underlying bounded buffer. Quite versatile, but I was able to learn that it was also quite vulnerable if not handled appropriately.

Although I submitted an implementation, I later found out it was just a partial solution. The instructor mentioned the edge cases I missed and I realized that there could be more edge cases that we just don’t know yet. And as if it was some kind of fate, I stumbled upon this post that described a specific bug in the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission where the Pathfinder would sometimes reset itself due to a crash that was later found to be due to mutexes and different priorities between processes. Now I knew that these problems are really difficult.

So, how is this assignment connected to me getting out of the storm? From the start of the semester, I got interested in the field of operating systems. Although we are learning with the XINU operating system in class, I think it is a proper operating system and it helped me understand a lot about the roles and functions of the operating system. While doing the assignments, I got to know more about the system and the more I get to know, it felt like I had total control (like some great power). It was like seeing the magic unveil before my eyes.

So, I’ve decided that I want my career to be in systems programming and the latest assignment really solidified that. Although I’m a bit clear on what to do, systems programming is still quite a large field. So, currently I’m giving a try in embedded systems. In the post that I mentioned about the Pathfinder, after the researchers found the bug, they sent a patch to fix it. It’s insane how they managed to send a patch through space to a computer millions of kilometers away. Also, in order to make sure the patch is applied correctly, they must have a reliable transport and also for the patch to be applied, they must have some policy in applying patches to real time systems. This all sounds very interesting to me and now my desire to learn is in an all time high.

In my current state, I have some experience with Arduino and ESP32, but I’m not confident as they weren’t exactly multi-process. I’m also learning about the basics of systems programming, but I wanted something more. So, I decided to take a course next semester about embedded systems and I also talked to some professors for undergraduate research.

Undergraduate research seems like a great opportunity for me to learn in-depth as an undergraduate, but I also worry that I lack the basic skills to participate in research. Yet, I’m gonna give it a try because you never know if you don’t like it or not without tasting it.

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