Monday, 20 October 2014

Pinnacles Tramp #2

During the weekend my children and I, plus some people from church and a friend, went tramping to the Pinnacles hut in Kauaeranga Valley in the Coromandel peninsula (near Thames, about two hours drive from Auckland). The weather was wet but the misty environment had its own delicate beauty. We only got rained on for about 45 minutes of the walk so everyone still had a good time. We played some good games of Bang and Dutch Blitz and, since it was only a single night, we brought real food and ate well!

Photos From North America

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Back In New Zealand

I just finished a three-week stint in North America, mostly a family holiday but some work too. Some highlights:

  • Visited friends in Vancouver. Did the Grouse Grind in just over an hour. Lovely mountain.
  • Work week in Toronto. Felt productive. Ran barefoot from downtown to Humber River and back a couple of times. Lovely.
  • Rendezvoused with my family in New York. Spent a day in White Plains where we used to live, and at Trinity Presbyterian Church where we used to be members. Good sermon on the subject of "do not worry", and very interesting autobiographical talk by a Jewish Christian. Great time.
  • Visited the 9/11 Museum. Very good, though perhaps a shade overstressing the gravity of 3000 lives lost. One wonders what kind of memorial there will be if a nuke kills 100x that many.
  • Our favourite restaurant in Chinatown, Singapore Cafe, is gone :-(.
  • Had some great Persian food :-).
  • The amazingness of New York is still amazing.
  • Train to Boston. Gave a talk about rr at MIT, hosted by my former supervisor. Celebrated 20-year anniversary of me starting as his first (equal) grad student. Had my family watch Dad at work.
  • Spent time with wonderful friends.
  • Flew to Pittsburgh. More wonderful friends. Showed up at our old church with no prior warning to anyone. Enjoyed reactions. God continues to do great things there.
  • La Feria and Fuel-and-Fuddle still great. Still like Pittsburgh a lot.
  • Flew to San Francisco. Late arrival due to flight being rerouted through Dallas, but did not catch Ebola.
  • Saw numerous of seals and dolphins from the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Showed my family a real Mozilla office.
  • Two days in Mountain View for Gecko planning meetings. Hilarious dinner incident. Failed to win at Settlers.
  • Took family to Big Basin Redwoods State Park; saw pelicans, deer, a dead snake, a banana slug, and a bobcat.
  • Ever since we made liquid nitrogen ice cream for my bachelor party, I've thought it would make a great franchise; Smitten delivers.
  • Kiwi friends in town for Salesforce conference; took them to Land's End for a walk. Saw a coyote.
  • Watched Fleet Week Blue Angels display from Twin Peaks. Excellent.
  • Played disc golf; absolutely hopeless.
  • Went to church at Home of Christ #5 with friends. Excellent sermon about the necessity of the cross.
  • Flew home on Air NZ's new 777. Upgraded entertainment system is great; more stuff than you could ever hope to watch.

Movie picoreviews:

    Edge Of Tomorrow: Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. Not as good as Groundhog Day but pretty good.

    X-Men: Days Of Future Past: OK.

    Godzilla: OK if your expectations are set appropriately.

    Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes: watched without sound, which more or less worked. OK.

    Amazing Spider-Man 2: Bad.

    Se7en: Good.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Upcoming rr Talk

Currently I'm in the middle of a 3-week visit to North America. Last week I was at a Mozilla graphics-team work week in Toronto. This week I'm mostly on vacation, but I'm scheduled to give a talk at MIT this Thursday about rr. This is a talk about the design of rr and how it compares to other approaches. I'll make the content of that talk available on the Web in some form as well. Next week I'm also mostly on vacation but will be in Mountain View for a couple of days for a planning meeting. Fun times!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

rr 2.0 Released

Thanks to the hard work of our contributors, rr 2.0 has been released. It has many improvements over our 1.0 release:

  • gdb's checkpoint, restart and delete checkpoint commands are supported.
    These are implemented using new infrastructure in rr 2.0 for fast cloning of replay sessions.
  • You can now run debuggee functions from gdb during replay.
    This is a big feature for rr, since normally a record-and-replay debugger will only replay what happened during recording --- and of course, function calls from gdb did not happen during recording. So under the hood, rr 2.0 introduces "diversion sessions", which run arbitrary code instead of following a replay. When you run a debuggee function from gdb, we clone the current replay session to a diversion session, run your requested function, then destroy the diversion and resume the replay.
  • Issues involving Haswell have been fixed. rr now runs reliably on Intel CPU families from Westmere to Haswell.
  • Support for running rr in a VM has been improved. Due to a VMWare bug, rr is not as reliable in VMWare guests as in other configurations, but in practice it still works well.
  • Trace compression has been implemented, with compression ratios of 5-40x depending on workload, dramatically reducing rr's storage and I/O usage.
  • Many many bugs have been fixed to improve reliability and enable rr to handle more diverse workloads.

All the features normally available from gdb now work with rr, making this an important milestone.

The ability to run debuggee functions makes it much easier to use rr to debug Firefox. For example you can dump DOM, frame and layer trees at any point during replay. You can debug Javascript to some extent by calling JS engine helpers such as DumpJSStack(). Some Mozilla developers have successfully used rr to fix real bugs. I use it for most of my Gecko debugging --- the first of my research projects that I've actually wanted to use :-).

Stephen Kitt has packaged rr for Debian.

Considerable progress has been made towards x86-64 support, but it's not ready yet. We expect x86-64 support to be the next milestone.

I recorded a screencast showing a quick demo of rr on Firefox:

Monday, 8 September 2014

VMWare CPUID Conditional Branch Performance Counter Bug

This post will be uninteresting to almost everyone. I'm putting it out as a matter of record; maybe someone will find it useful.

While getting rr working in VMWare guests, we ran into a tricky little bug. Typical usage of CPUID. e.g. to detect SSE2 support, looks like this pseudocode:

CPUID(0); // get maximum supported CPUID subfunction M
if (S <= M) { 
  CPUID(S); // execute subfunction S
}
Thus, CPUID calls often occur in pairs with a conditional branch between them. The bug is that in a VMWare guest, when we count the number of conditional branches executed, the conditional branch between those two CPUIDs is usually (but not always) omitted from the count. We assume this is a VMWare bug because it does not happen on the same hardware outside of a VM, and it does not happen in a KVM-based VM.

Experiments show that some code sequences trigger the bug and other equivalent sequences don't. Single-stepping and other kinds of interference suppress the bug. My best guess is that VMWare optimizes some forms of the above code, perhaps to reduce the number of VM exits, and in so doing skips execution of the conditional branch, without taking into account that this might perturb performance counter values. Admittedly, it's unusual for software to rely on precise performance counter values the way rr does.

This sucks for rr because rr relies on these counts being accurate. We sometimes find that replay diverges because one of these conditional branches was not counted during recording but is counted during replay. (The other way around is possible too, but less frequently observed.) We have some heuristics and workarounds, but it's difficult to fully work around without adding significant complexity and/or slowdown.

The bug is easily reproduced: just use rr to record and replay anything simple. When replaying, rr automatically detects the presence of the bug and prints a warning on the console:

rr: Warning: You appear to be running in a VMWare guest with a bug
    where a conditional branch instruction between two CPUID instructions
    sometimes fails to be counted by the conditional branch performance
    counter. Partial workarounds have been enabled but replay may diverge.
    Consider running rr not in a VMWare guest.

Steps forward:

  • Find a way to report this bug to VMWare.
  • Linux hosts can run rr in KVM-based VMs or directly on the host. Xen VMs might work too.
  • Parallels apparently supports PMU virtualization now; if Parallels doesn't have this bug, it might be the best way to run rr on a Mac or Windows host.
  • We can add a "careful mode" that would probably almost always replay successfully, albeit with additional overhead.
  • The bug is less likely to show up once rr supports x86-64. At least in Firefox, CPUID instructions are most commonly used to detect the presence of SSE2, which is unnecessary on x86-64.
  • In practice, recording Firefox in VMWare generally works well without hitting this bug, so maybe we don't need to invest a lot in fixing it.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Milestones On The Road To Christianity

Around the age of 20 I found myself struggling with some fairly deep philosophical questions. The most important was this: assuming (as I did) naturalism is true, then what should I do?

It seemed clear to me then (and still does) that if naturalism is true, the is-ought problem is insurmountable. There can be no objective moral truths or goals. The best we can do is identify commonly held moral values and pursue them. Unfortunately --- if honesty is one of those values --- we cannot tell others that their behavior is, in any objective sense, wrong. For example, we observe that Hitler's moral opinions are different from ours, but we could not claim that our moral opinions are intrinsically more valid. All we could do is wage war against him and hope our side prevails. Might makes right.

That doesn't make naturalism incoherent, but it opens a chasm between what naturalists can really believe about moral statements and the way almost everyone uses them in practice. The more die-hard naturalists are prone to say things like "naturalism is true, and therefore everyone should ... (stop believing in God, etc)" without respecting the limitation that the consequent ought-statements are subjective opinions, not objectively rational facts. It's really very difficult to be a proper moral relativist through-and-through!

Making this all much more difficult was my awareness of being able to reshape my own moral opinions. The evolutionary-psychology approach of "these are the values imbued by my primate brain; work them out" seems totally inadequate when the rational part of my brain can give priority to any subset of values (or none) and use that as justification for rewriting the others. Given a real choice between being a hero and a monster, on what grounds can one make that decision? It seemed a bit narrow-minded to reject monstrosity simply because it was less popular.

This all made me very dissatisfied with naturalism as a worldview. If it's true, but is powerless to say how one should live --- indeed, denies that there can be any definitive guidance how to live --- it's inadequate. Like a scientific theory that lacks predictive power, whether it's true or not, one has to keep looking for more.

(OK, I was a weird kid, but everyone thinks about this, right?)