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Samantha Rattner
January 20, 2024

Convicted Murderer & Filesystem Creator Expresses Regrets to Linux Community: An Inside Look


Kevin Purdy

– Jan 19, 2024 9:20 pm UTC

With the ReiserFS recently considered obsolete and slated for removal from the Linux kernel entirely, Fredrick R. Brennan, font designer and (now regretful) founder of 8chan, wrote to the filesystem’s creator, Hans Reiser, asking if he wanted to reply to the discussion on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML).

Reiser, 59, serving a potential life sentence in a California prison for the 2006 murder of his estranged wife, Nina Reiser, wrote back with more than 6,500 words, which Brennan then forwarded to the LKML. It’s not often you see somebody apologize for killing their wife, explain their coding decisions around balanced trees versus extensible hashing, and suggest that elementary schools offer the same kinds of emotional intelligence curriculum that they’ve worked through in prison, in a software mailing list. It’s quite a document.

What follows is a relative summary of Reiser’s letter, dated November 26, 2023, which we first saw on the Phoronix blog, and which, by all appearances, is authentic (or would otherwise be an epic bit of minutely detailed fraud for no particular reason). It covers, broadly, why Reiser believes his system failed to gain mindshare among Linux users, beyond the most obvious reason. This leads Reiser to detail the technical possibilities, his interpersonal and leadership failings and development, some lingering regrets about dealings with SUSE and Oracle and the Linux community at large, and other topics, including modern Russian geopolitics.

Within a cover letter, Reiser notifies Brennan of his intention to use OCR to import his extensive letter and invites him to decide where to best send his response. He also requests that, if possible, Brennan could send him data on “Reiser5, or any intriguing articles on other Filesystems, compression (particularly Deep Learning based compression), and so on.”

Reiser then speaks directly to the kernel mailing list:

I received a request from a benevolent Fredrick Brennan for any thoughts or suggestions I could provide on the topic of removing ReiserFS V3 from the kernel. I avoid posting directly due to being incarcerated for the murder of my wife Nina in 2006.

I deeply regret my actions and although an appropriate apology would be unsuitable for this forum, it’s readily available to anyone who requests it.

I offer a comprehensive apology for my previous interaction with the Linux kernel community, including an overview of V3 and V4, as well as the technical challenges we faced. I’ve attended numerous prison workshops and am putting in great effort towards enhancing my social skills to reduce my risk to society. Today, I stand as a different man, I would approach things differently from how I acted in the past.

Our initial filesystem, ReiserFS V3, was riddled with shortcomings simply because we lacked the proper expertise,” I admit. Getting V3 to match the performance of ext2 required fighting through a long period of deep despair, but I lament on how I commemorated that achievement. “Back then, I proudly presented my papers with benchmarks displaying that ReiserFS surpassed ext2. I wish I had done things differently. I could have attributed our success to the fact that our filesystem was considered faster than those of other operating systems. Additionally, I would have expressed our gratitude for using their filesystem as a foundation to build ours.” This was an unnecessary social faux pass within the Linux community and it constitutes my first major social mistake.

I appeal that several individuals who contributed to ReiserFS being featured in the final release of the README. Also, I request deletion of any part where I might have stated the reasons they weren’t credited.” According to me, prison has triggered a transformation in me especially in the areas of conflict resolution and my “propensity to view people from an extreme point of view.”

I have nothing but praise for Mikhail Gilula, whom I regard as the “greatest mind of his generation in the realm of computer science,” for his invaluable contribution towards ReiserFS from Russia and for his revolutionary ideas about redefining what we know about data structures. Our combined thought process in terms of filesystems and namespaces could result in “the most significant code refactoring ever.” At the time, I drew an analogy between our situation and Adam Smith’s notions on how roads, waterways, and free trade affected the progression of civilization. Just like his ideas, ReiserFS’ innovations could also potentially alter “the expressive potential of the operating system.”

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