Formal Qualifications:

Other skills:

Well, the ones suitable for mentioning on a public site, anyway :-P


Can I fix your computer?:

Short answer: Maybe. If it isn't something too difficult or obscure.

Long answer: My IT training is in electronics, industrial control, and network. I don't use domestic commercial OSes (Windows, MacOS) at home at all and at work the IT department (which isn't me) takes care of that sort of thing. I know my way around the basics of these sorts of systems, but will generally have to fall back to web-searching a solution and then wading through trying all the useless/obsolete/downright-bad advice the internet is full of until I find or extropolate something that actually works!

It is much like asking a transplant surgeon to remove a brain tumor - they will be quite compentent at opening and closing your skull but won't have a particularly good grasp of the difference between tumourous and healthy brain tissue or where the vital blood-vessels run in relation to where they are trying to cut in the brain itself! This would certainly be better than nothing in an emergency, but they would be spending more time in a reference book/website than in your head as they did the procedure.

Students (meaning ones where I work), certainly feel free to ask if I can help, though. Sometimes it turns out to be something quick and simple, or is an issue I have dealt with before for other students (or myself) so have already done the research. At worst, I can direct you somewhere better for assistance (usually the university IT services on level 1 of the Library, or what I hope to be a reputable source of online information).

Hardware I Use

The BAT is a Chordable Keyboard.

I have a long-standing interest in alternative input devices, having started building my own (for my Commodor64) around age 14. The 7-key keypad on my desk is able to input (with varying degrees of convenience) any key that a matrix-keyboard can do (and then some). It works by assigning a letter or symbol to a combination of key-presses rather than one symbol per key. It is like playing chords on a piano which is why it is called a chord keyboard, and is a lot easier to learn than it looks. This particular keyboard is the Bat™ by Infogrip. Chord keyboard proponents will often claim that it is vastly quicker than touch typing on a matrix keyboard. Unbiased studies show this isn’t really true: it is about the same. The real advantage is having a hand free to operate the mouse or a 3D controller for a CAD system or Virtual Reality environment.

You can get a BAT from: http://www.infogrip.com/ for about $200 (tax deductible since it is obviously work/study related).

If that is too scary, I have also played around with one of these: http://www.trulyergonomic.com/ (sometimes a matrix-keyboard is just better for the job [eg, when programming I need access to too many symbolic keys that the InfoGrip chord-map has on multi-chord combos] but I hate those wrist-twisting old raked-key layouts! - the slanted angle of the columns is only there because typewriters used to have lots of metal levers that couldn't be on top of each other; numeric keypads post-date mechanical typewriters which is why they are lined up vertically).

I considered this one too: http://www.typematrix.com/ . Very nice looking, but not quite finger-length-optimised. Would likely make an excellent travel keyboard (except I rarely travel, and don't use a computer when I do).

A note on Layout.

As far as matrix-keyboards go, I am not a great fan of the QWERTY layout. While a certain amount of the tales told about the layout are flagrantly false, it is true that the top row contains the word TYPEWRITER re-arranged (so salesmen could dash off an easy demo without learning to type). And while the key layout wasn't chosen to deliberately slow typists down (to stop mechanical jams) it was laid out to keep commonly-used-together letters mechanically separated from each other under-the-hood (to stop mechanical jams).

The Dvorak layout is the best-known alternative. Most of the stuff about Dvorak being amazingly faster is rubbish: the speed differences are marginal at best. The real advantage with this layout is the lower-finger-movement is less likely to cause RSI problems over the long term.

Another alternative is the Colemak layout which represents a compromise on QWERTY, staying closer to the familiar layout while moving the common problem keys to more sensible locations. It also preserves the location of the common shortcut keys for undo-cut-copy-paste (Z-X-C-V).

In the end the QWERTY layout is not optimal, but is good enough that the benefits of replacing it en masse don't quite outweigh the costs.... At least historically: today, with the technology so cheap, going out and spending a few dollars on keycap stickers and changing the layout in the keyboard control-panel is trivial so each user can work to their own preference, at least on their regular machine. Spending a few tens of dollars on a USB keyboard of one's preferred configuration to cart about isn't even a huge deal today (the TypeMatrix ones mentioned above are conveniently small and portable, and available in QWERTY, Dvorak or blank-keyed).


Logitech Trackman USB

This is a Thumb-operated trackball. I love my Trackman and find it quite precise for controlling the pointer. Sadly, Logitech doesn't make the wired USB one anymore (I dislike changing batteries far more than I dislike cables!), so I have the newer wireless one at work, but at home I have a wired one on my desk and a second-hand spare I pulled from an eWaste bin in storage. My in-use one is getting a bit worn in the rubber wrist-pads and I have replaced two of the micro-switches so far, but with periodic dis-assembly and cleaning (mainly of the wheel, to get accumulated gunk out) it is still going strong! I also found the finger-operated version in eWaste, but left that in the assorted-gear box in my office (for students to borrow to use in their projects) after trying it for a bit. My thumb is far more precise for rolling that ball.


Potentially Useful Production Software

Much of which I use myself.

Here is some useful software, particularly for media-artists (such as the students where I work). I'm sticking to the open-source stuff since it is highly available and my area of specialisation. Being open source, versions generally exist for all mainstream platforms (GNU/Linux, MacOS, MS-Windows):

Blender is a powerful production-ready 3D animation environment used by amateur and professional content producers alike. It is fully capable of cinematic-quality production. Has a game engine too, though I haven't looked into that. From what I heard, the game engine is good for concept prototyping but not really suitable for commercial production/distribution.

Handbrake is a free video format converter. It supports most file types and codecs. You may hear me curse and swear about the MacOS and Windows versions' UIs. They are frustratingly dumbed-down from what I am used to on the Linux version.

AVIdemux is a free video editor designed for simple cutting, filtering and encoding tasks. It supports many file types, including AVI, DVD compatible MPEG files, MP4 and ASF, using a variety of codecs. I don't really do any fancy video stuff, so this is enough for me.

GIMP is a powerful free image editor. Probably about equivalent functionality to Photoshop LE. I use this one a lot - all the images on this site were created and/or processed in GIMP, for example. If you are doing heavy-duty graphic design, you might out-grow it, but for 99% of people, it is probably all you would need.

Krita. For generating art from scratch (rather than editing existing art or photos), also check out Krita, which is more draw-oriented free software.

Inkscape is a good SVG (line graphics) editor. I use it a lot for technical diagrams, though it can do much more.

Celestia is a space-simulator based on detailed real astronomical data. If you ever want to do shots of space, this is a good place to get them (you'd be surprised who uses it in their movies/serials!). While the mainline version is based on the real known universe, sci-fi fans have also produced replacement data sets for popular sci-fi universes. Note that this is not a game - you don't fly around in some sort of space-ship shooting stuff or trying to achieve a goal. It is a simulator where you basically move the camera around the known (and scientifically extrapolated) universe as an "invisible eye" and can set up flight paths, lock orbits on objects, etc. You can, for example, set the camera above the surface of the moon to get a realistic idea of what an Earth-rise would look like. Because of the basis in reality, the further you get from Earth, the less detail is available - for example, the surface of some outer-solar-system objects are blurry because they are rendered from the best available actual images we have of them, which are themselves quite low-resolution.

MakeHuman is a human figure modeler for exporting to environments such as Blender, 3DMax, etc. Uses a mesh that has been highly optimised for efficiency and subdivisioning and has modular tools for quickly creating a variety of human forms.

LibreOffice is an free-and-open-source office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.). It does everything any normal person is likely to need. I use the spreadsheet mostly. Word processing/presentation are things I tend to do in HTML, for which there are far more suitable editors (like the BlueFish editor, which is also part of the LibreOffice family, though not a poster-app).