All posts by kalx


One thing I never understood about laptops, or products in general, is why there are so many different but similar models of them. It’s confusing, but apparently people find value in things they think are tailored exactly to what (they think at the time) their needs are.

Obviously the most important consideration is your budget. The second most important is what operating system you are comfortable with: OSX, Windows, or Linux, listed in decreasing order of usability of and increasing order of maintenance. The third criterion is what you want to accomplish. Are you an artists or in sales? Mac is what you need. If you need to produce documents and spreadsheets then either OSX or Windows will work for you. If you are a developer who is hooking up to the latest in web technology you must have a Linux machine.

I always get my wife Apple products. They command a premium but they look beautiful and just work. After Steve Jobs’ earthly departure their products seem to be declining in awesomeness and increasing in price, but the MacBook Air seem to be the most popular choice among the students I teach.

I have a softspot in my heart for HP because I bought my first laptop from David and Bill. They went downhill for a while but their Spectre line is looking really good these days. (Unfortunate name choice given the latest Intel debacle.)

My current laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 4. I tried the first version of the Surface Book and had to return it to Satya. They are two (or maybe three, checking just now) generations past that now. The touch screen is a little too touchy sometimes, but other than that it is a very solid laptop. I made the mistake of getting in the Windows 10 Insider Program. Don’t do that unless you like a wild ride.

After HP I bought IBM Thinkpad series laptops, aside from a Sony Vaio that died on the last day of their warranty. (Didn’t those guys get hacked?) Lenovo bought out the IBM business and continues to produce high quality products. Their T series are a good value and I’ve never met anyone who bought a X1 Carbon who was disappointed.

I spent many hours getting linux (Slackware) to run on my laptop and desktop machines starting with an Intel 386 desktop that cost me $3000 back in the early 90’s. There are much better options now.

OSX is Unix based, ever since OS9 was abandoned, but it is BSD Unix. Windows 10 has their WSL: Windows Subsystem for Linux. It is a work in progress but you can install the latest version of Ubuntu and are a shell prompt away from using apt get to install gcc-9, llvm, clang, and all the latest linux based technology.

There are new options available now if you believe you can rely on an internet connection: buy the the cheapest, crappiest Chromebook available and use it to log into a virtual machine of your choice. You can pick any operating system you want, how fast and how many cores you want for a CPU, how much RAM and disk space you need.

Your only problem is figuring out what you want to achieve with all the power at your fingertips now.

WordPress Ads

Ads make the world go around these days. I think Google still makes almost all of their income from ads. I was completely creeped out by how many ads WordPress had crawling across this website. Like cockroaches. They should be gone now. Let me know if you see any still popping up.

Paste function macros

When you type a function into a cell then press Ctrl-Shift-A you will see a list of argument names for the function appear. I wrote two macros that do something more useful.
If you enter just the name of the function (with no arguments) in a cell you will see a number appear. It is the register id of the function.
If you select the cell with this number and hit Ctrl-Shift-B then the cell contents will be replace by the function called with its default arguments.
If you press Ctrl-Shift-C then the default arguments will be placed in the cells below the function and the function will now refer to these cells.
Let me know if you think I should write a Ctrl-Shift-D that creates two columns. The first column would be the name of each argument and the second column would be their default value. It would also define names for the arguments and use those in the function call instead of cell references.

Bug Report PSA

For the love of our shiny new github gods, please have the common human decency of mentioning the SHA when reporting what you think is a bug in the open source software you are using for free. If you don’t know what that means, please don’t bother the person who’s work you are freeloading off of.
Sorry if that sounds harsh, but you really should spend a few minutes learning the tools before imposing on people who spent many hours creating software you find useful. Be considerate.



Gather ’round kids for tales of yore. It used to be possible to write software that simply did its job and that was it. There was no need to keep changing it.

It was a simpler, but still complicated, time back in the day when Dennis, Brian, Rob and less-sung heroes were ardently trying to convince AT&T management that Unix could be a streamlined version of Multics. They got shot down (“Are you guys nuts? That was huge a failure.”) and had to cook up a scheme their management could swallow.

I wonder if they were influenced by SGML and Charles Goldfarb from IBM. Their pitch was to write a system that marked up documents using semantic content that made them amenable to computer processing. They used  nroff as cover to write Unix.

One of their most brilliant accomplishments was the notion of a hierarchical filesystem where files were just a stream of characters, and the hardware was fast enough at the time to make this practical. There were people then who didn’t trust giving up their data to this abstraction. How do you know where your data is if you didn’t spin up a disk and seek to the sector you wrote it to?

How often do standard Unix commands need to be rewritten? They are simple, orthogonal programs acting on a stream of bytes.

Eliding a lot of history so I can get to my point, and mad props to Linus for his brilliant work, but git was something he wrote for himself to deal with the influx of Linux kernel patches he had to deal with. He didn’t want to pay money for proprietary software that did a better job.

People not as smart as Linus started to put, as they say, porcelain around his plumbing infrastructure.

And there seems to be no end is sight. Tonight I had to deal with the latest “improvements” on github. Hence my post instead of working on my open source software. I have to spend time figuring out their latest tweaks to do that.

“The new native
Extend your GitHub workflow beyond your browser with GitHub Desktop, completely redesigned with Electron. Get a unified cross-platform experience that’s completely open source and ready to customize.”

No, thanks. Electron? What happened to Atom or even VS Code?

Could you kids please get on my lawn. I’ll even buy you a lemonade. Just stop pretending change is better.

Monte Carlo

Some years ago I attempted to market a product that did Monte Carlo simulation in Excel. One of my best customers at the time asked me to resurrect an old version recently. Give a spin if you are curious.

I Auto Know Better

Getting ready for teaching this fall and noticed the library is failing to compile for 64-bit builds with the latest version of Visual Studio 2017:

Severity Code Description Project File Line Suppression State
Warning C26451 Arithmetic overflow: Using operator '-' on a 4 byte value and then casting the result to a 8 byte value. Cast the value to the wider type before calling operator '-' to avoid overflow (io.2). xll12 c:\users\kalx\source\repos\xll12\xll\args.h 192 Active

I was baffled. Every integer is an INT32 but the compiler was still complaining. The offending line was

args[ARG::ArgumentHelp + i - 1] = argumentHelp;

When I changed this to…

auto n = ARG::ArgumentHelp + i - 1;
args[n] = argumentHelp;

…the compiler warning disappeared.

I auto know better, but I have no idea why.