Monthly Archives: June 2003

The News

Ok. My typing is improving. It’s still slow and requires lots of concentration, but I know where all of the letters are located and I’m accelerating. So, here’s my news, in brief.

I have accepted a faculty position at Virginia Tech. Since then, Becky and I have bought a house. So, it has been a busy couple of weeks. Details later…

Hacker’s Diet

A friend yesterday told me that he had gone on The Hacker’s Diet. It’s a very no-nonsense diet (and exercise program) designed by an engineer, with sound engineering principles in evidence throughout. I wish him luck.

Dvorak: Friend or Foe?

I have much news to report. Unfortunately for you, I switched to the Dvorak keyboard yesterday. There will be no lengthy posts until my typing speed improves. At that point, I can also tell you what I think of Dvorak…

Still Fascinated

I’m still fascinated by the story of the conservative Alabama governor who is trying to raise taxes in order to remedy perhaps the most regressive tax system in the 50 states. The story appears again in a column in this morning’s New York Times. Apparently the governor is using Christian ethics to sell his tax plan, arguing (correctly, I think) that the current Alabama tax system is sinful in its repression of the poor. If the “Christian Right” would use their ethical stick in this manner — to defend the poor and oppressed — rather than using it to beat down those who don’t share all of their moral positions, then they might find themselves a bit more palatable to progressive Christians such as myself. (Of course, in the State of Alabama you can bet that it was the right wing that got the state into this mess in the first place, but let’s leave that in the past.)

Interesting Security Paper

Here’s an interesting project on an innovative denial of service attack which relies on the fact that underlying data structures in many common programs are often poorly implemented. This poor implementation can give rise to worst-case performance which is much worse than average-case performance. The attacker can use this fact to construct “worst-case” input, allowing him or her to crash the victim’s machine with only a low-bandwidth connection. [via IP]

New Computer

Big news coming soon for mackenab.com. By the end of next week, I will most likely have officially accepted a job. And then I can tell you where I’m going to be next year. Exciting stuff!

One of the first things I’ll be buying in my new job is a new computer. I haven’t decided yet what I want. I think I’ve got it down to three basic options — almost two. Of course, my new employer will probably have a contract with some computer maker that ties my hands and forces me to buy something that I don’t want. We’ll see.

I know that I want a laptop, and I want to get docking stations for home and work. When I’m at one of those two places, I’ll pop the laptop into the dock and try to delay the onset of carpel tunnel with an ergonomic work setup. Plus, by carrying the laptop back and forth I’ll always be looking at the same desktop. (The one-person-one-computer concept is pretty important to me, not counting servers of course. (I have about three computers in some server capacity at the moment…)) Then, when I go on the road, which will probably be relatively often, I’m still looking at the same machine, albeit in a less ergonomic form.

After that, it gets a bit complicated.

Option 1. Get a Mac. Specifically, I’d probably get the 12″ PowerBook. My current laptop must be one of the largest models currently manufactured. It barely fits in my laptop bag — which is not small — and it weighs about 15 pounds. (Ok, maybe not quite, but it’s darn heavy.) I’m ready for something a little more svelte. For a while I used Linux. I love the Unix core, but I hate not having nifty desktop productivity apps. Like when someone sends me an Excel file and I can’t open it. Plus, there are no good presentation apps. Ugh. OS X overcomes that complaint nicely. Unix core, but a pretty good collection of available software, including Microsoft Office.

The primary drawback here, which I discovered this week, is that Apple doesn’t make docking solutions for Powerbooks. Apparently, they don’t even have a dedicated docking connector. There is a third party solution, which basically plugs into every connector on the side of the laptop and routes it to a similar connector on the outside of the dock. This is ugly. It also seems very fragile to me, and I’m guessing it’s somewhat challenging to connect. I also have a suspicion that it wouldn’t hold up to long-term use and abuse. I’ll have to look at some more reviews, but I’m a bit skeptical.

Come on, Apple. I just read today that the percentage of Macs sold which are laptops is much higher than the percentage of PCs (44% vs 25%, I think). I dare say that anyone who has ever used a decent docking solution knows how much better it is than the alternative (which involves lots of plugging and unplugging and crawling under desks).

This is still a serious contender, though.

Option 2. Get a new PC laptop. My choice would almost certainly be an IBM Thinkpad. I haven’t chosen a model yet, but it really doesn’t matter. My last two laptops have been HPs. The first one was great, the current one is the worst computer that I have ever owned. It is the first machine that I have ever wanted to run over with my car, and I’m generally a nonviolent sort of guy. It’s just that bad. (For the record it’s an HP Omnibook xe4500. If you own one, we should start a therapy group.) Anyway, I worked at IBM one summer; I know that their business computers are meticulously engineered. I have a friend who is in an IT department that supports hundreds of deployed Thinkpads and not once has he ever spoken an ill word about them. There may be some other nice laptops out there, but I really want to own an IBM.

No huge drawbacks here, but it doesn’t have the sex appeal of option 1 or the novelty of option 3. Still a serious contender.

Option 3. Get a Tablet PC. I’ve demoed one of these in the airport, with a Microsoft rep talking me through some things. They are very cool. They also solve an important problem. 95% of the work I do eventually ends up in electronic form. Yet most of it starts with me scribbling notes or sketches in a notebook or on a pad of paper. If I could digitize my notepad, then I would be a happy man indeed.

The downside here, is that this is a version 1.0 product, and that’s never good. I’m sure that it contains plenty of bugs, and that it is probably missing many of the features that I desire. Adding evidence to my concern that this technology is not ready for prime time: (1) IBM has announced that they do not have plans to manufacture a Tablet PC. Despite their stated business reasons, this is not a good sign. (2) I heard that Bill Gates is still carrying a legal pad into meetings at Microsoft. This could be strictly a rumor. But I haven’t heard the opposite rumor — that Bill Gates has abandoned all paper and is now carrying a Tablet PC with him everywhere. I also haven’t seen anyone else carrying one of these. I’m an early adopter, but I’m not that early.

So, I’ve almost eliminated this option from the running. If it isn’t good enough for the richest man in the world, then it isn’t good enough for me. 🙂