Friday, December 26, 2003

We likes our TrackPoint caps, yesss

The IBM TrackPoint is by far the best integrated pointing device available for notebook computers. It completely blows away trackballs and touchpads (or, at least, the paltry miniaturized incarnations of the latter that are integrated into notebook computers). The absence of TrackPoints from Apple's notebook line may be the single most compelling reason not to get a PowerBook or iBook.

However, TrackPoints do have one minor deficiency: the caps wear out. After a little over two years of heavy use, my index finger had finally worn down the bristly coating on the last spare cap that came with my notebook. A little Googling led me to IBM's TrackPoint replacement page, which reveals that the traditional "Classic Dome" style --- shaped like a pencil eraser and coated with a bristly "cat's-tongue" texture --- is no longer the only option. (If you've drooled with envy over a colleague or friend's shiny new ThinkPad lately, then you've probably seen the "Soft Dome" variety, which I believe now ships standard on all ThinkPads.)

Anyway, the alleged "mechanical advantage" of the "Soft Rim" cap sounded cool to me, so I ordered a batch from IBM's suggested supplier. My report: Soft Rim TrackPoint caps rule. The cap really does feel more responsive because of the shape. Furthermore, the absence of textured coating has two benefits. First, there are no prickly bristles to irritate the pad of your finger. Second, Soft Rim caps don't have the Classic Dome's problem of wearing out their coating in less than a year of heavy use. This wear problem was the reason I had to replace the caps in the first place. Since the Soft Rim style uses shape instead of texture to provide finger traction, it seems likely that this cap will last significantly longer than the Classic Dome caps.

Now, if they only came in more colors... Apple, are you listening?

P.S. IBM's USER lab has been exploring some interesting variations on the TrackPoint theme.

Microsoft Word is a terrible program

L. Menand "speaks the truth to power":

Microsoft Word is a terrible program. Its terribleness is of a piece with the terribleness of Windows generally, a system so overloaded with icons, menus, buttons, and incomprehensible Help windows that performing almost any function means entering a treacherous wilderness of pop-ups posing alternatives of terrifying starkness: Accept/Decline/Cancel; Logoff/Shut Down/Restart; and the mysterious Do Not Show This Warning Again. You often feel that you’re not ready to make a decision so unalterable; but when you try to make the window go away your machine emits an angry beep. You double-click. You triple-click. Beep beep beep beep beep. You are being held for a fool by a chip.

Like all humanities geeks, Louis should really learn to use LaTeX and Xemacs. I learned to use Xemacs as a CS undergrad, and I learned LaTeX during my first year of grad school. At first it was kind of odd but now I actually find it astounding that any human being can stand to edit large quantities of text using Word. Blech. And LaTeX has excellent citation support.