Welcome to Mike Grusin's

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.”
-Mark Twain

Previously on Thinkpad Galactica

Filed under: Uncategorized — mgrusin at 10:02 pm on Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Summary: New Thinkpad comes with a minor factory defect, but getting it fixed escalates into a surprising amount of trouble. All turns out well in the end, though. The whole story after the jump.

Click to continue reading…

Bulletproof

Filed under: Uncategorized — mgrusin at 12:04 pm on Thursday, January 25, 2007

Tanenbaum outlines his vision for a grandma-proof OS (Computerworld Australia)

From the title of this article I thought computer science legend Andrew Tanenbaum would be discussing one of my interests; user interfaces and software design for non-computer literates (see the remarkable design of the OLPC). However, he was actually speaking about another of my interests; the sorry state of what passes for consumer operating systems today.

Tanenbaum, who developed a small teaching OS called Minix which was a precursor to Linux, recently spoke at a Linux conference about a fundamental and escalating problem with modern operating systems: the fact that they’re big and getting bigger automatically means that they’ll be increasingly buggy. He supports a return to the fundamentals: small modules of code which can be kept reasonably bug-free, and isolating these modules from each other so a failure in one doesn’t cascade to others. Hopefully the Linux developers he spoke to take this advice to heart; Linux isn’t immune from this effect.

Time to get serious

Filed under: Engineering — mgrusin at 3:41 pm on Saturday, December 30, 2006

I’ve been more and more inclined to get away from Windows, for reasons I won’t go into here (that’s a post for another time). To this end, and spurred on by the need to replace my trusty but failing Toshiba laptop, I purchased my next laptop with Linux in mind.

I can’t totally chuck Windows; I own too much expensive software that requires it. But I would like to start using Linux for my day-to-day chores and try to migrate my larger tasks as I can. I was also seriously considering an Apple laptop (nice hardware and software), but eventually decided to vote for neither Windows nor OS-X and put my faith in the teeming (hopefully not ‘unwashed’) masses of open-source programmers. I always did like the underdog.

The machine: a Lenovo Thinkpad T60p. The good: almost everything, particularly the workstation-class graphics card, built-in DVD burner, and great screen. I would have liked to have gone with a smaller model, but those have been stripped down in the name of minimum size and power consumption, and I would have had to give up all of the above.

The bad: The keyboard feels great, which is nothing to sneeze at. But the layout is, in my opinion, nonoptimal. In my world, the Toshiba keyboard layout is about as perfect a thing as you’ll find, particularly the “home pgup pgdn end” column on the right side. The Thinkpad sadly doesn’t have that column, but what’s worse is that the delete key has been exiled to a small editing bank at the top right, way out of home-finger range. This is a key which I use nearly as much as the backspace, and Toshiba wisely put it next to the arrow quad where you can hit it in a millisecond. I knew the Thinkpad had this layout going in, and decided to adapt to it because the rest of the machine is so tight, but the lack of ergonomics is a little annoying. (I’ll have to look into remapping some of the keys…)

Also bad: the current state of desktop Linux. Nobody would like Linux to take off more than I, but frankly right now it’s a mess. I chose Ubuntu Linux, based on its reputation as an extremely user-friendly distribution. However I found out firsthand that the current version has many irritating problems such as broken laptop features like suspend/resume (some of which were working properly in older versions). Not to mention that the community documentation is highly fragmented, with lots of people advising lots of different ways to get it all working. I eventually patched things together enough to get most (not all) of the laptop features running, and the desktop with Beryl is flat-out gorgeous.  But I can’t imagine a “normal” person attempting this, nor can I imagine what will happen when they release the next version (do you upgrade on top of your patches and hope the patches don’t break the new software, or erase everything and start over with the new version, followed by another round of broken features and manual patches?)

I do appreciate the work the Ubuntu folks have put into making the desktop environment gorgeous and useful right out of the box – something sorely lacking from some other distributions I’ve used. But I may still chuck it and try loading Gentoo, which I’ve used before for server projects but never for a desktop. I do know that Gentoo has top-notch centralized documentation, and that the package system is extremely robust. I’m just not looking forward to the usual fiddling trying to get it looking and running well.  I’m getting too old for that nonsense.
The structure of Linux and Xorg still seem a bit fragile for mass consumption, but I think that’s a local architecture problem and not a symptom of open-source development. Architecturewise, I think Amiga and BeOS were on the right track (tight kernels and APIs based on the KISS principle); it’s too bad they were steamrolled by Microsoft and their own poor business decisions. But as I said, that’s another post.

I’ll write again as things progress. Happy 2007!

Ho Ho Ho

Filed under: Ephemera — mgrusin at 11:42 am on Friday, December 22, 2006

When I was growing up in suburban southern California, I had to go see Santa at the local mall every year. I remember dreading that event, trying to get out of it, and the mounting horror as you got closer and closer to the front of the line, hearing the shrieks of terror from the children before you…

Which is why I was delighted to find this collection of photos people had sent in of the same situation. It’s fun to laugh at now, but it does make me wonder – do parents really not get how scary this is for a kid? Or worse, do they realize it all too well?

Happy holidays everyone, and best wishes for 2007!

Storm

Filed under: Space — mgrusin at 11:20 am on Friday, December 22, 2006

Big solar flares caused a space weather storm a few days ago. The Kp index got up to 8; if it had gotten to 9, aurora would have been visible from Boulder (40 degrees north latitude). As it was, people saw great displays as far south as Ohio.

Spaceweather.com is a good clearinghouse for such things; they even have a phone service that will call you in the middle of the night if something is worth getting up for. But for the real data, nothing beats the Space Environment Center at NOAA.

The Maker’s Bill of Rights

Filed under: Engineering — mgrusin at 3:43 pm on Sunday, November 26, 2006

From Make magazine (how many of these have you run into?)

  • Meaningful and specific parts lists shall be included.
  • Cases shall be easy to open.
  • Batteries should be replaceable.
  • Special tools are allowed only for darn good reasons.
  • Profiting by selling expensive special tools is wrong and not making special tools available is even worse.
  • Torx is OK; tamperproof is rarely OK.
  • Components, not entire sub-assemblies, shall be replaceable.
  • Consumables, like fuses and filters, shall be easy to access.
  • Circuit boards shall be commented.
  • Power from USB is good; power from proprietary power adapters is bad.
  • Standard connecters shall have pinouts defined.
  • If it snaps shut, it shall snap open.
  • Screws better than glues.
  • Docs and drivers shall have permalinks and shall reside for all perpetuity at archive.org.
  • Ease of repair shall be a design ideal, not an afterthought.
  • Metric or standard, not both.
  • Schematics shall be included.

http://www.makezine.com/04/ownyourown/

Make your own video game console

Filed under: Buy — mgrusin at 12:56 pm on Monday, November 20, 2006

Back in the day, video games (computer or console based) were coded up on slow microcomputers with small amounts of memory. This created a breed of programmers versed in squeezing every last drop of performance out of those systems. Here’s a kit that lets you try your hand at writing such code (with a few modern conveniences, such as an 80MHz Scenix microcontroller).

http://makezine.com/xgamestation/

“A Great Read”

Filed under: Ephemera — mgrusin at 10:59 am on Sunday, October 15, 2006

Back in 1955, generating true random numbers was hard, so the Rand corporation published a book consisting of a million statictically random numbers. A Million Random Digits has been reprinted and is available on Amazon ($20.45).  That’s interesting enough, but the best part is the customer reviews.

Via Bruce Schneier’s Crypto-Gram Newsletter.

HOMER reunion

Filed under: CoSGC,HOMER — mgrusin at 1:07 am on Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Ten years ago, a talented group of students at the Colorado Space Grant Consortium built and flew a sounding rocket payload called HOMER. That payload was the beginning of many distinguished aerospace careers. We recently had a reunion of some of the students who worked on the project.  Linda Cuplin, Sean Dougherty, Jennifer Rocca and Brian Stuebe came to Boulder, and many more sent their regards.  Photo page coming soon.

New site

Filed under: Uncategorized — mgrusin at 11:59 am on Monday, July 3, 2006

Welcome to the new site, still spackle and scaffolding at this point (like my life) but getting there.
Best, -Mike.

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