Blog entries from January, 2022

My desk

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022 at 9:53 pm

While I was recently required to stay at home I spent some of the time giving each room/area of my house a deep clean, for my study I took an updated panorama photo. This prompted a couple of questions about my setup so I decided to dust off a draft I started over a year ago, so where is an overly long post…

Most of the room can be seen in the panorama photos, but this is the main desk area:

Refined setup

Desk

The desk itself is an 1800x1800mm corner desk, importantly the sides are only 600mm deep (compared the 750mm you normally have for office furniture) which means that there is more usable space on the sides and less dead space in the corner. The corner depth might have been needed back in the day of deep CRT monitors, but not these days for LCD panels.

Back in 2012 I was looking in secondhand office furniture stores for another filing cabinet or similar when I came across a small 1200x600mm desk in the same light grey. It worked out quite nicely that it could be cut up to form additional side extensions.

I was able to find a secondhand desk that I could cut and use as side extensions, I originally only planned to extend one side, but both sides fit (along with some filing cabinets and shelves) perfectly in my study.

It was also at these secondhand furniture stores that I found two more drawer pedestals, but I will get to them shortly.

Left

I try to keep the left hand side clear so it can be used for things like mounting a photo, assembling electronics or putting together LEGO.

This set of drawers has typical office/study type items, while the other boxes contain a variety of electronics and home automation components. The clear+orange ones are the Tactix storage containers from Bunnings.

On the far right I have my printer and scanner. These sit under Billy height extensions (the one over the printer modified to be narrower) that serve as hutches. The printer and scanner are sitting on drawers so they can be slid forward when needed to be used.

Working area

The corner area of the desk is where I have my main and secondary displays, keyboard, mouse, speakers, lamp and a powerboard. All of these items are powered from another powerboard mounted under the desk as is a USB adapter for my phone, the Macbook power adapter and a bluetooth audio receiver.

It is not immediately obvious but attached to the stand for the secondary display is the switch for a (now discontinued) Eco Switch. This is a nice simple physical switch that lets me kill the power to everything in this section, it is so much quicker and easier than having to turn each item on or off.

  • Main display is a Dell UP2716D that I am still quite happy with.
  • My secondary display has been a variety of small used monitors, starting at a 15″, then a 19″ that was being disposed of when we moved offices, with the current being a new 20″ that I got at the start of lockdowns. I know Dell isn’t the best company, but their displays work for me.
  • Of course the mouse is a Microsoft IntelliMouse Optical 1.1A. Because of where the join is on the desk I need to use a mouse pad, it was surprisingly hard to find one that was small, thin and didn’t have a fabric surface, this is a Razer Sphex V2 Mini.
  • The keyboard is a Ducky One TKL side-printed mechanical keyboard with Cherry Brown keyswitches. For a long time I had stuck with a set of old HP keyboards but back in 2018 I looked around and worked out that I liked the feel of the Cherry Browns, the idea of TKL aka tenkeyless aka no number pad on the right also appealed. I had no interest in RGB lighting or excessive amounts of macros so this keyboard suits nicely.
  • With the mouse being the oldest item in this section, the second oldest are the Logitech Z4 speakers which would date from somewhere around 2009. These are still going strong and I mostly like how the sub tucks away in the corner underneath and the speakers on the desk are quite small. I also like how there are two inputs, on the second one I have a bluetooth audio adapter, so I can play podcasts directly from my phone instead of through the computer.
  • A currently hidden item is a webcam, this is mostly used for work meetings and for that it sits on top of the secondary display, but when I am not needing to use it I put behind the display on top of the stand.
  • The final item in this section isn’t that visible, it is the two white USB-C adapters coming up to the right of my secondary display. These are for my work laptop which I will describe more below.

Computers and network

The next area of the desk are the items that are on all the time. A not a clock, modem and router, then two computers one my Windows desktop and the Linux box that acts as my file/media server, used for automating various things, and is also where I run Home Assistant. These are all running from a small Eaton UPS which gives me backup for a short power outage, but also stats on how much power these things are using.

The two computer cases are on top of what looks like another drawer pedestal, except it is only one draw high. This started out as a normal set of secondhand drawers, but I was able to cut it down to be just the single drawer. I didn’t want to put the cases up on the desk and they should not go directly on the floor, this was a nice alternative to the old Macintosh that I had previously used, plus gives storage for the bits and pieces directly related to these two computers.

Mounted to the back of this section of desk is an eight port USB hub connected directly to my Windows desktop. Two ports are for the printer and scanner, but another five are for the black cables that are sitting on the desk in front of Tux. These are for short term connection of things like hard drives or Arduninos for programming. I don’t have five because I expect to plug in five devices at once, but they are five different connections: B, mini-B, micro-B, micro-B 3.0 and a USB-C.

If you look closely there is a laptop sleeve and laptop sitting on top of the two computer cases. When the laptop is down there I am not in work mode.

Printer and scanner

Only part of the printer can be seen in the above photo, but the panorama shows that the remaining items of technology are my printer and scanner. Well, except for the shredder on the floor under the UPS.

There is nothing that special about the printer (an Epson R2800 that I got secondhand and is still giving good prints) or the scanner (an Epson V700 that can also do slides and negatives) themselves, but where I have them placed is unique. For a long time they were sitting on the desk and I was finding that things would accumulate on top, needing to be moved when I wanted to use the device.

To make best use of the space the the printer I picked up a Billy height extension unit, cut it down to be slightly wider than the printer and then build a sliding shelf for the printer. So I get the space to display Lego sets, but when I want to use the printer I slide it forward. It is a similar situation for the scanner, except I didn’t need to modify the narrower height extension and I mounted the sliding shelf to the top of the filing cabinet.

KVM and the work laptop

When I first switched to the current Dell 27″ display I was still using a dedicated KVM switch for the rare occasion when I needed to directly access the Linux box. By this point the KVM was quite old and despite being digital it was designed for VGA and PS/2. When I realised that the monitor has a built in KVM switch (switching USB instead of just keyboard and mouse) I removed a bunch of cable clutter by using that instead.

The Dell display also has an audio line-out port for audio that is coming over HDMI. Initially I thought I was just saving a bit of clutter by connecting the speakers to the display instead of over to the computer, but the real benefit came when I started working from home as the KVM was now also switching audio.

Going back to the white adapters I mentioned earlier, one is the typical USB-C to HDMI/USB/Power and the other is a USB-C to displayport. The end result is that I can grab my work laptop (a macbook) from under the desk, plug in the two adapters, keeping the lid closed, and then switch the inputs on my two monitors. This is what I consider “work mode” as the keyboard, mouse, displays, webcam and speakers are now all on the work laptop. At the end of the day I switch the display inputs back, unplug the two adapters and put the laptop away, I am now back in my personal environment :)

Tagged with: , ,

What is the algorithm doing to us?

Monday, January 24th, 2022 at 6:03 pm

Every six months or so I try to go through the list of YouTube channels that I follow (via RSS feeds as notifications are broken) and trim out the ones I no longer watch. Sometimes I stop watching because I am no longer interested in the subject matter, but most of the time it has been because the style of the channel has changed.

What I have come to realise is that I am interested in how things are done, I want to see incremental progress and things behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter if I will never be directly involved in that thing. The first example that comes to mind is Project Binky which has been going for eight years and is still not done. Another example I used to give was the television show The Block, when I last watched it I only watched the one episode each week there they showed actual work being done, I would skip over the challenges, judging and other drama. Although not as good as it once was, I still keep up with This Old House as you get to see the renovation. Another YouTube example is Linus Tech Tips where I skip over the product reviews and gaming performance testing, but the recent linux challenge (including the reactions from other linux youtubers) and new house videos I do watch.

When the videos become too produced and showy, not showing the real work involved in making the thing (often ignoring that the thing needed help from lots of other people), that is what makes me stop watching. I often don’t care about the final product, I want to see the progress. There is one channel that I used to follow that now just seems to be about the stunt of the project, it involves glitter so you should be able to figure out which one I mean…

I am even interested in the videos that are talking about YouTube and there have been a couple recently that have stuck with me so I am going to embed them here:

First is this video from Veritasium about clickbait, titles and thumbnails:

I try to avoid following the YouTube suggestions, but I think that is how I got from one video about youtube thumbnails to another:

It turns out that Jazza is a fellow Victorian and this is a case where the subject (art) isn’t something I would be drawn towards, but the way he shows the process is what has kept me interested. It doesn’t hurt that they recently moved to a new studio and showed the progress. There is another particular pair of videos, but I will get back to that.

Another channel I have followed for a long time is SmarterEveryDay who keeps putting out great videos, there have been a couple of things I haven’t been that comfortable with, but being able to see that much of a nuclear submarine was worth it. A specific video that ties into my current thinking is about finding your voice and how much do you let external factors change what you do:

A topic that I don’t think I would have predicted I would be watching is excavating. I doubt I will ever be involved in building a dam with an excavator and bulldozer, but I will gladly watch video of someone showing how it is done. Once such channel is Dirt Perfect where the videos are a mix of the excavating projects as well as working on the equipment. (I hope Lieutenant Dan doesn’t take as long as Binky.) How this is relevant is that Mike (aka Dirt Perfect) has a number of times talked about how he is running an excavating business first, with YouTube being a hobby. Ending up with a successful channel has given opportunities that he wouldn’t otherwise have had, but he is showing who he is and what he does, he will not change to do what YouTube wants him to do.

On a recent episode of his (irregular) podcast he covers this, even mentioning another channel that I also stopped watching for largely the same reasons in that I want to watch someone build a retaining wall or put down pavers, I’m not interested in product reviews.

There are a couple of other videos or posts that touch on this theme, but I haven’t kept good enough track of them in order to also link them here, so let’s get back to what I mentioned earlier with Jazza and why I am making this post today.

Three months ago Jazza put up a video about an art Youtuber called ZHC:

I had never heard of ZHC and if I had come across any of their recent videos I would have dismissed them as stunts with no substance. However it was fascinating watching Jazza put in the effort to watch all of ZHC’s videos and then give a measured analysis. It looked like a clear case of someone that had started out with a skill, but then started chasing the clicks and the money.

Today is when Jazza posted part 2:

It is fascinating to watch and no matter what you think of ZHC as an individual, the trend is that the systems of our society are not just enabling this behaviour but rewarding it. Of course this is not new with YouTube, this is just one of its recent forms.

So what to do? I don’t know… There are good YouTube channels, there are good people on Twitter and there are even good groups to join on Facebook, but how long until the few good things are completely overwhelmed by the bad?

(and I know that a youtuber shifting to follow the algorithm is quite mild compared to the things being produced by content farms…)

Tagged with: ,

LEGO MOCs

Friday, January 21st, 2022 at 6:58 pm

I have a number of LEGO sets on display in my house, in the lounge room are my various Technic sets, while in my study are almost all Creator or Ideas:

Study in Panorama (December 2021)

Over the years there has been variation as sets are added, sets are removed or sets are just rearranged. One decision I made early on was that I would stick with the low Billy shelves. While the tall shelves would give a lot more space for sets I felt it would be too much and I wanted to still keep a sense of space. Plus keeping the shelves low means there is still wall space for my photos.

A while ago I noticed that some of the sets I were keeping on display were vehicles from iconic movies such as Luke’s speeder, the Ecto-1, the Delorean and the light cycles from Tron. These are all official sets and a few times I have been disappointed when sets I would have wanted have been put up for LEGO Ideas, but then not made it through.

But the world of LEGO fans is huge (known as AFOL or adult fan of LEGO) and many of them share instructions for their creations, known as MOCs or My Own Creation. There are those proposed through LEGO Ideas, but there are also many others available through sites such as Rebrickable and BrickLink. There were even bookmarks to a could of MOCs that I had been holding on to for a while…

These sets looked fantastic, good enough that at the start of the year I was happy to pay the small amount for the instructions. I loaded the parts lists into Bricklink (previously used to get missing pieces for the 8860 car chassis and the pieces for the Curiosity Rover and the (earlier) Lunar Lander), pulled pieces from the loose brick that I have and then started shopping. In the end I had a few different orders under way, some in Australia but others international.

The third of these orders arrived today which meant that I had enough pieces to put together the first vehicle. From this collection of parts:

I used these Rebrickable instructions: LEGO MOC Jurassic Park Staff Jeep by Miro

To put together this vehicle:

Jurassic Park Staff Jeep in LEGO

I’m awating a couple more orders which should arrive in the coming weeks, giving the final pieces to assemble four more vehicles.

This also inspired me to do something else that I had been thinking about in the background, to create my own MOC of something significant from my past. I couldn’t find an existing MOC for this thing, but there are MOCs of similar things that I am gettings ideas from. Last year I had started to design it digitally, but as I currently have LEGO pieces out I decided to commence making it a reality:

I’m quite happy where this is going, but I’m not going to reveal any more until I have made more progress. Although I have used white pieces so far, the final version will be using light bluish gray to represent platinum not snow white.

Tagged with: