Biography: Brad Knowles
Abridged Bio for Brad Knowles
My wife and I moved to Austin (Texas) in March of 2006, and we've
been slowly putting our lives back together, after having lived in
Brussels (Belgium) for almost eight years. This has been a pretty
big adjustment, and so far we've taken some time to get our health
into better shape, being able to spend time with our families,
getting our financial situation clearly defined, etc....
I was most recently employed as a Senior Consultant for Snow BV, a leading Internet/Unix
consulting company in the Netherlands. Prior to that,
I was employed as the Systems Architect for
Belgacom Skynet SA/NV,
the largest residential ISP in Belgium. Previous employers have included Collective Technologies (as a
Unix Consultant and Senior Process Consultant for sendmail, DNS, and
BIND) and America Online
as their Senior Internet Mail Systems Administrator.
Ideally, I would find employment with a consulting company (like
what Collective Technologies used to be), which would allow me to
do a wide variety of different types of work at different customer
sites, while continuing to have a standard salary with typical
employment benefits (like insurance). However, I am starting to
wonder if I will be forced to start my own consulting company, in
order to do the kind of work I like doing, and keeping myself
adequately interested and entertained. I fear that if I want that,
then I'm going to have to do it for myself.
Meanwhile, I am currently volunteering time and effort in helping the
Network Time Protocol (NTP) Project,
as their Mail Systems & Mailing List Administrator, and PGP Keymaster,
as well as similar work for Python.org
and the Mailman mailing list
Internet Postmaster: Duties & Responsibilities for
SAGE has recently been published,
and I also have a book idea that I've been working on for a couple
of years. Slides from the invited talks that I've given at various
conferences over the years can be found on my
Papers page. My full
is also publicly available. So are my
online videos (via
My first bio spoke of almost nothing else but my current and
previous jobs. Being an obvious workaholic, I won't bore you with
the details here. I will tell you I have a BSCS (1990)
from the College of
Engineering at the University
of Oklahoma, and I didn't really appreciate the quality of my
education until I left school and went out into the "real world."
I find it truly amazing (and very disheartening) to see people
reinvent the wheel so many times, and do such a poor job when they
Anyway, taking a page from other bios I've seen, here's a list of some of my favourite things:
- Most favourite thing in the world: My wife (gee, big surprise there ;-).
- Second most favourite thing in the world: Our cats (no surprise, either ;-).
- Spelling: British, in most cases. You know, "Proper Oxford
English" and all that.
- Colour(s): Green and Purple. But Black and Gold or Black
and Red or Black, Red, and Gold all make a pretty cool
combinations as well.
- Music: Ecclectic. So far as I know, there is no category
of what I consider "music" of which I cannot find some
examples that I like (I am more selective in certain
categories than I am in others). However, I do not consider
"rap" or "hip-hop" to be music. One group in particular
that I like is
Yello, the group
that did the song "Oh, Yeah" from the movie
Bueller's Day Off. But I knew them long before then.
More recently, I've started to appreciate the
Dixie Chicks a lot
more, as well as Neil
Young. Yes, their most recent albums have had a lot
to do with that, for certain obvious political reasons.
See also my Music page.
- Clothes: "Dockers" style jeans or slacks & polo/tennis shirts.
It's been a very long time since I wore anything else. I can
hardly remember those days.
- Pets: Cats. I've gotten a lot of complaints about this,
but I prefer cats. See my Cats page for
interesting and useful links, as well as my Online Cat
- Soft Drink: Coke Zero -- Diet Coke Done Right.
Of course, I should avoid caffeine because it's an appetite
In fact, soft drinks as a whole should be avoided, since
all those extra chemicals in your body are very hard on
your kidneys. I also discovered many wonderful teas that
they served in Europe, and I've been trying to use coffee
to get away from drinking quite so many sodas. I've been
learning a lot about coffee from the
website, and I've bought a burr grinder, as well as a
Capresso automatic drip coffee machine. I know that ADC
is not the best, but I figure it's good enough to start
with, and the Capresso and the burr grinder are likely to
be better than I am capable of distinguishing, taste-wise.
Of course, you want to make sure you do Organic, Free-trade,
shade-grown coffee. That's easier to find than you might
think (at least, here in Austin), but it's not cheap.
Finally, I've still got to kick the "sweet" habit. Okay,
I don't use sugar anymore (or honey), because I'm diabetic.
But I do use a hell of a lot of Splenda (a.k.a., Sucralose),
and all those chemicals can't be good for you.
- Pizza: I don't really eat pizza much anymore. Between
the ultra-high amount of carbs (which are bad for diabetics),
and the fact that I have yet to find a single place here
in Austin that serves decent pizza, I've just completely
lost my taste for it.
- Food: Sushi (when I'm in the mood), Thai (Pad Thai, not the spicy
stuff), Chicken Salad (salad with other vegetables and cubes of
chicken breast, especially with a little BBQ sauce), and a
few other things that I can't really think of at the moment.
- Car: In Europe, we had a BMW 520i (at the time, my wife's
company car). I became a devout BMW fan. At the time,
they were most definitely the premier auto manufacturer,
making the world's best cars. I finally realized the
positive comparison between them and the Macintosh.
Of course, they then went and completely screwed everything
up by saddling all their vehicles with "iDrive". I guess I'm
never driving another BMW ever again.
These days, we drive a Nissan Altima 2.5S and a Lexus RX330.
I never thought I'd own an SUV, and never understood the
attraction. I thought that anyone who owned or drove an
SUV was automatically Evil-with-a-capital-E, and was
personally responsible for helping to destroy the planet.
As far as I was concerned, these kinds of people were a
perfect example of what was wrong with
But Austin has some real Hills -- that's
Hills-with-a-capital-H. This is why Lance Armstrong has
trained here for all the years he was doing the Tour de
France. That also means that there are more than a few
places where the roads tend to flood out. So, a vehicle
with some road clearance is a Really Good Thing. You also
want something with decent entry and exit angles -- hell,
even some of the driveways around here can be pretty
challenging, if you're in the wrong vehicle. You don't
need 4WD unless you're actually going off-road, but AWD and
electronic traction control are virtual necessities, so
that you make sure you've got at least a Snowball's Chance
of staying on the road during those freak
ice storms that shut down the entire region for a week
(like, the one that happened in January of 2007). Not to
mention the fact that the roads get pretty slick when it
rains, and if you try to take one of those Hills in the
rain, you can have some real problems. Of course, you also
want something that is comfortable to drive long distances,
because Texas is damn bloody big -- something like nineteen
hours to drive end-to-end, whereas we got used to driving
two hours any direction and we'd be completely out of the
Country. And you want reliability, and fuel economy. Oh,
and it would be nice if it held it's value reasonably well,
so that if we decided to sell it after a few years of
ownership, we'd still be able to make back a decent amount
on our investment.
Even with just half of these constraints, you'd be lead
straight to the Lexus RX -- check Consumer Reports.
We did. We were amazed.
And it turns out that you can buy a still-relatively-new
certified pre-owned Lexus RX330 for about the same price
as a brand-new Toyota Avalon (the top-end sedan for the
Toyota brand, which shares a platform with the Lexus LS),
but with better features and won't lose significant value
just from driving it off the lot. Fortunately, there have
been a lot of RX330 owners that have been trading them in
for the RX400h Hybrid, which means that prices on the RX330
are much lower now than they were even a year ago, even
though they generally hold their value better than any other
brand on the planet.
- Hobbies: Blacksmithing
And a few preferences on computer-related topics:
- Newsreader: This term no longer means what it used to,
at least not to most people. I don't really read USENET news
anymore, and I'm still working on finding a good RSS reader.
I want something that understands the concept of "sort |
uniq" at a semantic level, and so far I haven't found
anything yet that fits this mold -- not
Yahoo! Pipes, nor
Google Reader seems
to be able to achieve that. Of course, there are still a
lot more RSS tools at
and otavo that
I have not yet gone through -- maybe one of them will do
what I want, or at least be something I can combine with
Yahoo! Pipes to create something closer to what I want.
- Mail User Agent: mutt.
This is the premier PGP/MIME MUA, originally written
by the guy who wrote the PGP/MIME spec (Mike Elkins).
I keep saying that I'm going to be switching from Eudora 6.0 to mutt
as soon as I can figure out how to convert multiple
gigabytes of e-mail archives going back to 1995 (and
earlier), but it hasn't happened yet. I have recently
heard that Qualcomm will be killing Eudora as a separate
project, and the next major release will instead be a
re-badged version of Mozilla
Thunderbird, so I am going to have to decide pretty
soon just exactly what I'm going to do and when.
I mean, if I wanted to use Thunderbird, then I'd already
be using Thunderbird.
- Web Browser: Safari.
I'll also use
I still have my copy of
iCab, but I haven't
used it in well over a year.
Under no circumstances do I use any browser created
by Microsoft, especially since they discontinued
support of Internet Explorer for MacOS X. Wanna
talk about a feeling of immense vindication?
- Joke: A tie -- ActiveX
(nee' "Visual Basic for Applications").
The reason is very simple. It's something called "Security".
These two products are inherently insecure,
by design. If Microsoft were to try and "correct" these
security holes, that would remove the very functionality
that Bill Gates wants to ensure that everyone in
the world has. In other words, he literally believes in
a statement he made that "What's mine is mine and what's
yours is mine, too", and he's out to guarantee that he owns
the whole world by ensuring that he can do with your machine
whatever he pleases, whenever he pleases.
holes on the Internet. What really kills me is that there
there is no real valid reason for doing so, other than the
fact that they're stupid bloody idiots with AJAX-on-the-brain,
and aren't competent to design a proper web page that only
depends on server-side components, and is therefore mostly
immune to Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks.
- Remote Access: xDSL, although cablemodems are acceptable
in places where your xDSL service sucks.
have promise, but so far as I've seen, they have yet to
actually deliver here in the US, at least beyond a trivially
small community of testers.
- Server OS: Unix, specifically Berkeley (derived).
For example, FreeBSD,
NetBSD, or OpenBSD.
As much as I despise System V, I have to admit that HP-UX 9.04 was
the most stable production Unix OS I've ever seen in
Sadly, Digital Unix/Tru64
has really fallen by the wayside, and I am now forced to
admit that Solaris is probably the most practical commercial
Unix implementation, although still not my favourite.
If/when MacOS X Server ever starts actually delivering
on the potential it has, it could quickly become my favourite
- Desktop OS: MacOS X.
Nothing else in the mass market is as easy to use or
empowers the user better. Period.
Apple has finally
delivered all the power of Unix, with all the ease of use
of the Macintosh, perhaps finally atoning for previous
forays into this area (e.g., A/UX, MachTen, and MkLinux).
- SMTP MTA: Tie -- version 8 sendmail
In my experience, sendmail it is the most scalable Internet
mail server around, especially when you start adding
features like scanning incoming e-mail for viruses or spam
-- nothing else compares. However, it is based on older
code, uses a monolithic security model, takes more
work to get initially configured for large-scale use, and
takes more care-and-feeding to keep running (as compared
to postfix), if you're at a small or medium size site.
But when you need the most scalable MTA on the planet, you
can't beat sendmail with a stick.
Of course, postfix
has a lot to commend it -- it is incredibly fast, by default
works in a way that is nearly ideal for handling mailing
lists, default secure out-of-the-box, has a configuration
file syntax that is easily understood and managed by normal
human beings (and can be truly useful with a two-line
configuration file), and is designed to be as much of a
100% drop-in replacement for sendmail as possible. If
you're running a small or medium-size site, odds are good
that postfix may be your best choice.
However, if you want to do something for which the capability
was not thought of by the programmers and built into the
configuration file syntax, you have a hard road ahead of
you. When it comes to using external filters to process
incoming e-mail (e.g., for spam or viruses), it is
considerably slower and less scalable than sendmail, even
though Wietse has finally added support for the milter
technology -- especially if you want to do that filtering
before the message is accepted, so that you can decide
whether or not to reject it, and not have to deal with
trying to handle a potential bounce.
More recent versions of sendmail have added new features
that seriously erode some of the classic reasons why you
might have wanted to consider something else, and when you
add their best-in-class mail filtering technology (milter),
there is no contest.
Another one that is looking good is
Exim. I don't have much
personal experience with it yet, but everything I've heard
about it is good, the author seems to be very approachable
and amenable to suggestions, and the overall design seems
Don't even think of trying to use anything but a decent
Unix or workalike OS (the more it looks and feels like
real BSD, the better). They may get you 80% of the way
there, but the 80-20 rule teaches us that the first 80%
is easy, and it's the other 20% that ends up taking 80%
of your effort. It's also that last 20% that frequently
means the difference between beating your competitor or
them beating you; having a job or not having one.
If you want to get in touch with me, the best way is probably by
email. Except for when I go on vacation or business trip, I'll
probably read my email several times a day and would be most likely
to get you back a reasonable response that way.