February 13, 2001

2.4 kernel: Contributor Aivazian embraces change in life and Linux

Author: JT Smith

- by Julie Bresnick -
Tigran
Aivazian
has been senior Linux-kernel architect for VERITAS Software Ltd., since February 2000. All his work is GPL. He maintains the BFS file
system, the IA32
microcode
update driver
and has written this Linux Kernel
Internals
tutorial, but is most proud of the countless patches (and more patches) he
has so
far contributed.Impressive, considering he didn't start out as a hacker. He went to
Yerevan State
University
in Armenia to study theoretical physics. He became interested in
programming only after he discovered how useful it was in solving
isotonic
equations. The university let him take computer science on as a dual
major
after his professors felt he sufficiently demonstrated his exceptional academic
prowess.

It was in Yerevan
too, the capital of Armenia, a small
country tucked between Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, that
Aivazian
was born to his widowed mother in 1972. It was in Yerevan that he was
raised, in Yerevan that he studied and from Yerevan that, in January of
1994, he fled for his life. He was 22 at the time and had recently
graduated, after five years of study, from Yerevan State with two masters of science degrees, one in theoretical physics (general
relativity) and one in computer simulations. The government in Armenia
had
descended into what Aivazian refers to as a military dictatorship. "They
wanted soldiers, not scientists."

Three issues converged at the end of the 1980s to cripple
contentment in
Armenia: urbanization, a corrupt communist elite persisting as an
unwanted
privileged ruling class, and mounting tensions over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region populated by an Armenian majority but under Azerbaijani
control. In 1991 Armenians voted
to not sign
Gorbachev's new Union Treaty and instead elected their
own
president to lead their newly declared republic. But the economy was
already destroyed and the forces for
chaos
already in motion.

"In the university, as part of the education you have military
training.
So, strictly speaking I am an officer of the army, and an officer at
the
state of war not being at war is considered a criminal. But the war
that
they have is the war between two Mafia groups. So it is the Mafia group
of
this country, of Armenia, against the Mafia group of the neighboring
country
[Azerbaijian]. So it is not like a real war; it is just two Mafia groups
killing each other. And because the Mafia controls the government, the
Mafia
is the government, they send normal innocent people to fight their
cause.
And of course I don't want to fight for some Mafia and so I escaped.

"There is persecution there, more or less like military. Officially
on
the TV they said 'we don't need scientists we need soldiers.' So all
the
scientists escaped.

"The thing is -- the society in Armenia -- at the time; now things are
different because class B -- is now
gone -- was based on two classes:

"A. people without education but with lots of money (e.g. former
communist
party leaders etc.),

"B. people with good education,

"Belonging to class A simply meant having to pay a large bribe to
the
military to escape the 'military service,' But belonging to class B
meant
total extermination, i.e. they would not accept a bribe but would
simply
kill you because you are too dangerous. Their doctrine was 'clever
people
are dangerous because they can tell the truth to the masses.' It was
impossible to survive there. It was like total military and Mafia
regime. I
spent three days in aircraft. There were lots of problems but I am
glad
that I am out of that hell."

He can't remember exactly what prolonged the flight. He said when
the
military took over society simply descended into chaos, everything was
paralyzed by fear, the economy collapsed and everybody was trying to
escape.
Things that would be dramatic on a flight here were par for the course
there, like the hours, during which passengers remained determinedly
seated,
they waited for the hot water necessary to de-ice the wings. He
thinks,
too, that there were some criminals who demanded that the plane make a
detour in order to accommodate their drug trafficking. The details
didn't
matter. It only mattered that by the time the military broke into his
flat
wielding machine guns, he was landing safely in Moscow, where there was
a
British embassy to process his transfer.

He was making his way to London, invited by Kingston University to continue
his
studies there.

Having been born, according to his mother, at midnight on January
1,
new beginnings are auspicious for Aivazian.

He is now 28. His English is dressed in a thick accent. He has a
round
face, and an unassuming expression. His hair is white. His first
language
is Russian, which might be why it sounds like he's holding his breath,
trying not to exhale, when he speaks. His second language is Armenian
and
then English, which he learned reading science publications at
university.

He is earnest, playful. He cites the death of his father before he
was
born as a detail of personal history he shares with that of Sir Isaac Newton.

He is eternally grateful to God for his safe passage, and for his
new
life in London. God is on his mind a lot. He can spend hours studying
the
Bible. Sometimes, like hackers often approach their coding, his
attention
on the Bible can supplant nutrition, he forgets to eat. Though he
mostly
just works on the kernel, if he feels there is something missing in
userspace, something like the Linux Bible quiz that he
really
wants there, he'll go ahead and write it. He is devout, but feels
strongly
that any relationship between God and man is a personal one. He
worships
the Lord "in truth and in spirit" not by going to church every Sunday.

It's his worship that adds weight to his suggestion that he suffered
a
bit of a moral dilemma while working 9 to 5 on the Unix kernel for a
commercial establishment and hacking Linux at night. Not long after
moving
to London, he decided to go into the commercial industry instead of
academia, knowing he would not be educating himself and then returning
to
his homeland. Before Linux had a strong enough market share to support
its
developers, he worked as senior Unix kernel engineer for SCO.

"I am one of those people who considers himself a coward, not enough
courage to work for a Linux company when Linux was a very weak thing.
So was
only working on Linux in my spare time."

He loves Linux for its infinite complexity. His worship dictates
Creationism, but evolution, he feels, thrives strong in Linux
development.

"That's what attracts me to theoretical physics and to Linux. You
can
spend your whole life on it and still no end. You will not behold the
truth
and say 'this is the truth.' The Linux kernel reminds me of the
complexity
of the universe because it is infinitely complex, it is always
changing. As
you learn, you fix.

"Sometimes it's very frustrating but 99.9 % of the time it is
absolutely
wonderful because your work is constantly reviewed. You are forced to
be
excellent, to know exactly what you are talking about and if you don't
someone else will do it better. It's only frustrating when I myself am
ignorant of something. So that frustration is actually a good thing
because
it points out gaps in my knowledge."

The 2.4 release?

"It is very small-- I don't see, for example, very strict boundary
between
2.4.0 test 12 and the actual 2.4.0 kernel. It's just a few more
changes.
But about the 2.4 release in general, I see a lot of changes,
scalability,
it's more fine grained looking, more of the subsystems have dropped the
global kernel lock so they are more scalable on SMP. The support for
multiple IO-APICs was added and that's a good thing too."

There are a lot of good things now, in Aivazian's life. He is a free
man.
He enjoys his work and is married to the woman he loves, who, like any
true
geek, he met on IRC.

Tigran Aivazian's favorites

Book: Bible, King James Version is his favorite English translation

Music: organ works of Bach

Food: authentic Italian

Movies: Any Soviet comedy directed by either M. Zharov
or Eldar
Ryazanov

Pet peeves: Western teenagers, "I think they are mad," and the
British version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

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