Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Office Workspace Setup

As promised, here's a separate post with some snaps of what my new office workspace setup looks like. Unfortunately, these were just quickies snapped using my el-crappo phone, since it's a bit of a burden trying to lug both my camera AND a laptop along (though as you'll see, there are ample reasons to consider doing this sometime).

So, what've we got here?
Main (Tall) Desk:
  1) My big lovely Philips Brilliance monitor (more details about this in a moment), stationed on top of a box to boost it up a little higher. While the monitor with its stand is no shorty when it comes to the height stakes, I decided to go with the box so that I'd have to force myself to sit upright (instead of falling back on some bad slouching habits) to get a comfortable viewing angle.

It can be angled upwards (to facilitate working standing up for short periods - albeit, I still need to find a better place to put the keyboard when doing that, other than simply letting it sit where the folder is, where it's a bit too close to the monitor and a bit too low), but generally, I keep it angled slightly downwards since with the box it is about < 1cm taller than would be ideal. The monitor can also be swung around its vertical axis (i.e. Z-axis in Blender) to pivot to the right, if I need to show off stuff to anyone.

  2a) A nice Logitec K120 keyboard, with the legs extended, centered in front of the monitor, and positioned several inches in from the edge of the desk. After experimenting with the positioning of this several times, I found that particular location to be the most comfortable.

  2b) Microsoft mouse. As mentioned before, this is the closest to the bulk and shape of the Logitec G400s I now use at home. Although the scrollwheel on this is slightly nicer for scrolling through documents, that's the only place where it is better; it's quite a noisy chore moving this across the desk (since the control gain is really icky-slow, and it seems to really grate on the desk - still, I'm not about to start using a mousepad again just because of this!), while the feel of the mouse in hand seems to lack something.    You'll notice that I've got this further out than the keyboard - this is better when lazily mousing without needing to do any typing...

  3) Laptop on the left, with screen off, and lid half-closed. 

After experimenting around with this a bit, I found the best configuration was to set it to only display stuff on the big external monitor and not on the laptop screen. Although I've tried doing dual-monitor setups with my Toshiba before (where both monitors are used), I've found in practice that that sucked, especially when the spatial disorientation you'd get when trying to move stuff from the laptop to the main screen. With my current setup, things were extra sucky:
   - "Duplicating" the screen across both was quite nasty, as the that meant the big monitor got quite a grainy/blocky/pixellated image, while still burning down the laptop screen
   -  "Extending" the screen across both also sucks, as it turns out that Windows creates a new Explorer instance for the main monitor, with the taskbar tweaks turned off (though I haven't checked yet whether 7+ Taskbar Tweaker can be made to function on that second one too, when its already running on the primary). The default Windows Taskbar design in Win 7+ is BRAINDEAD CRAPPY. Damned be the UI/UX folks who thought this was a good idea to ram down user's throats valid idea to even consider; they should hope they don't happen to be in the same room as me when I am forced to deal with it in its raw form... >(
   - The laptop screen in question isn't actually such a nice one to begin with. It's only usable now after having spent ages "taming" it, but still, certain yellow colours are still somewhat off kilter. That said, with a better alternative available, there isn't much reason to keep it on at the same time, since that'd just end up draining the battery needlessly. (Similarly, the keyboard isn't nice enough to be my favourite, while the K120 is quite difficult to unseat as my goto keyboard for lack of anything better, hence why I just keep the whole thing half closed - i.e. keeping it completely closed would put it into standby, which I don't want in this case)

So, in the end, setting it to display on the "second display only"  (i.e. big external monitor) was the best choice, since that meant I could enjoy working on the big screen, without worrying about things opening on the wrong screen all the time (which is one of the biggest annoyances with dual monitor setups, second to often not having them at the right heights).

From the photo above, you may also notice that to get this connection working, I'm using a display adapter. What's happening is this: this particular laptop only outputs HDMI (yep, that's a bit sucky if you need to make presentations anywhere, since 99% of the world's projection equipment only provides VGA plugs). Hence, I've been on the lookout for adapters to get it to play nice with the standard equipment out there. So far, I've only been able to get hold of a "HDMI Male to DVI Female" (i.e. the black thing), while the DVI-to-VGA part is still a work in progress (i.e. the stores so far only seem to have DVI-to-VGA's with the wrong polarity, meaning I'd probably need an additional converter cable to get the right type of VGA, since they don't have any compact VGA polarity swappers). Fortunately, in this case, I got a DVI cable to go along with the monitor so I'm able to just use this single adapter for now. (In fact, if I was to be picky, the monitor actually has HDMI input, but then, I don't have an HDMI cable so that wouldn't work ;)

As for the placement - it ended up on the left, since the right-hand side of the table was already taken, and also since it's hot-air vents (for the CPU and GPU to a lesser extent) are mainly located on the left. I've learned to keep that side of this machine completely clear for miles, as it tends to belt out a lot of hot air from that side.

   4) Stash of blank, ready to use A4 paper on the top right corner. I love always having a stash of blank A4 paper to scribble stuff on, and having it within easy reach in the top right corner is the best way to have it.

When it comes to being able to quickly scribble stuff or take notes, I prefer blank A4 paper (though I've pondered trying A3 sheets sometime, if only they were a bit easier to store and transport) over lined paper or whiteboards. That's because I haven't used lined paper for about 8 years now; ever since I basically started ignoring the lines (since they just got in the way of quickly getting ideas down, and I was still writing in relatively straight lines without them), I haven't looked back. Whiteboards, simply because they're a really icky and fickle medium to use - they're far too temporary, hard to control, and uncomfortable to write on - so personally, I've never actually had much use for them.

  5) Current scribble-pad and notes, on the lower-right corner, out past the mouse. To make it easy and convenient to scribble things quickly, I've got a scribble pad placed to the far/lower right, just beside the mouse. While the order of these is actually reversed at home, that has really been more of a quirk of how I've got things set up there, than what would work best (though for a long time, it was quite good).

Other Stuff:
- Desktop workstation tower. This was the old departmental box I was using before the move out. I'm still not that sure whether I'll ultimately make much use of this, since the Linux distro on that is a slightly-flaky version of Fedora (though it does use the Cinammon DE, which gives it brownie points over the Mate DE that the departmental Linux now uses; however, since the config files for the old config and the new departmental one are incompatible, this is a bit of a blocker when trying to use this, along with the occasional but recurring bouts of file-system-lockup-itis that causes the whole department's Linux-boxes to randomly freeze up for seconds to a few minutes at a time that we first had around this time last year, and which have come back recently), while the Windows 7 environment is the relatively locked down ICTS windows (which just makes things a bit less convenient when actually doing stuff).

Nevertheless, I've placed this alongside where I put my laptop so that, if the need arises, I can still quickly switch all the cables to point to it instead of the laptop. For that reason, I'm keeping everything above-the-table, or else, it's just a pain to reroute everything.

- Office chair: This gray office chair is more comfortable and fancy than the other departmental ones lying around.

As mentioned in the other post, I spotted this just sitting across the hallway, outside an abandoned room. So, obviously, there's no reason for me to not take advantage of it ;)

- Spare chair: I keep a secondary spare chair to keep my jacket on, or perhaps my bag later on, if I start loading up the side table with stuff (e.g. reference material splayed out). It is one of the standard departmental ones... not very nice to sit on for long periods though.

Side table: This sits beside the window, and was meant to be the main/primary desk that we got to use. However, as can be seen, it is simply far too low to comfortable to use (from the photo above, it seems to be about 2-3 inches too low, though it sometimes seems only about 1 inch). Nevertheless, you can see that I've banished it to the side as a convenient dumping ground for stuff. Although I had originally intended to use it for storing stacks of reference material, so far I've been having second thoughts, given that the windows are just behind the table. Since it may be nice to get some fresh air in here at times, I may have to do something to prevent everything accidentally flying out the window (for a 3 storey drop onto an access road + pedestrian traffic). So, for the time being, nothing much will end up on there in the long term.

About the Monitor
So, some more must be said about the monitor. So far, I've worked with this setup for a few sessions, and I have to say, I'm hooked. While some credit for this comes from simply typing on the K120 again (instead of the nasty HP chiclet with stilted tactile feedback), the main star of the show has to be the big Philips Brilliance monitor.

Over the years, I've worked with a single 22 inch LCD, a 22-24 inch primary monitor paired with a smaller "square" 19-inch, and a pair of 22-24 inch monitors in a dual screen setup. All of those were Viewsonic. None of those made me want to get an external monitor at home (vs sticking to simply sticking to my laptop monitor). In fact, some of those gave me eyestrain and even mild headaches. It was either the brightness being too much (that's usually the cause when dealing with a new monitor), the contrast being whack (i.e. light grays being hard to see), the blacks not being too "black", or simply being clunky to try and adjust (notably, in the case of the one paired with the 19-inch screen, it couldn't be adjusted... the controls - for contrast in particular - were just buggered).

Not so with this Philips monitor: over the past few days, I've been thinking seriously about getting hold of a nice + fancy display of the same class or better. Despite using a 17 laptop, the screen on that is now pitifully small in comparison, and the photos above can probably show why... There's simply nothing quite like working with a nice large display. Being able to fit a larger amount of stuff on screen at a time is just really sweet... as is viewing modern web pages blown up to a nice and comfy size.

Since writing my previous post, I've come to find that in fact, I'd gotten it wrong last time regarding the size of this thing. It's not a "22 inch" model as I'd initially guessed, but in fact, a "27 inch" one instead. Now I know what I should be really looking for (provided it fits on my desk :)

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