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Old 2020-07-15, 00:06   #1
chalsall
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"Chris Halsall"
Sep 2002
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Default Big Glass!

So, I've started an experiment wherein I mentor a few young people in ICT skills. I'm trying to do it entirely "virtually". Bits vs. atoms...

I'm writing this essay to discuss the importance of having lots of screen real-estate when one is working on anything (and everything) from System Admin chores to Software Development. I will be sharing this with my students for consideration when they "fit-out" their workspaces.

I use the phrase "Big Glass" to describe having lots of screen real state, referring back to when our monitors were the last vacuum tubes involved with our computing work. "Gotta have Big Glass to do my job, Gov!

What this actually means nowadays is having at least two, and preferably three, monitors attached to a workstation. Ideally at the highest resolution economically reasonable, while at the same time being a size where the Dots Per Inch (DPI) is at around 75 to 100.

Having big monitor(s) displaying low resolutions, or small monitors displaying at a resolution higher than is really useful ("Retina Displays", for example; who needs 300 dpi when they're coding???) is pointless.

Laptops, for example, are great for road warriors, but I argue someone can't really be productive using only a single 1920 x 1080 resolution 12.5-inch screen. When meeting with a client, fine. But when you're actually working, you need lots more to look at and manipulate.

Personally, my preferred setup is having three 1920 x 1080 21 inch HDMI driven monitors side-by-side, all in Landscape positioning. And if you watch any NASA or SpaceX et al launches, it seems many others like this configuration as well.

In one of my students' case, he is constrained in that he is working with a laptop, and thus only has a single mini-HDMI port to work with. So, we're exploring the idea of his getting himself a 43- or 49-inch "Ultra HD" TV, to use as his display when working. His laptop will only be able to drive 3840 x 2160 at 30 Hz, but I don't think for the (mostly) textual work this will be a problem. Also, he is constrained in the amount of space his workspace can contain, so 49 will probably be the maximum possible.

Another subject to perhaps discuss at another time is the importance of a *really* good set of glasses when working in front of a workstation for eight to twelve hours a day (sometimes much longer).

Personally, I have my Work Station glasses which are optimized for exactly 60 cm. Carefully defined "diopter" (or something like that), so the field of view is optimally focused at that range. Couldn't drive with them, of course; I have another pair for that.

Any feedback from forumites on this subject? Anyone actually tried running a single UHD as the primary display (for programming work, not gaming)? In a few months I hope to try this myself; initially only one, but then maybe two (and/or, keep the current HD monitors for log tailing, etc).
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Old 2020-07-15, 00:29   #2
chalsall
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"Chris Halsall"
Sep 2002
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Default An example screenshot of my work environment...

A "visual aid" to my above post...

This is a screen-shot of my workstation's desktop (well, one of 36 virtual desktops) showing my three monitor layout, scaled by 33%.

The left monitor has a VNC client, connected to a Rasberry Pi (and in another tap, a laptop running in a closet).

The middle monitor has a full-screen display of a Virtual Box CentOS environment.

The right monitor is the "command and control" area, where I have a few Bash shells and the Virtual Box control window.

I truly don't know how people work with only one monitor. Seriously!
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Old 2020-07-15, 00:43   #3
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I know some road warriors that carry a USB plug in second screen. Someone that I know that does Customer Support/Sales normally has 3 monitors at home (I think attached to the laptop, along with external keyboard and mouse). Then on the road has the secondary display that they use. At work I tried to convince a clerk/timekeeper that a second screen was good and worked to get them 1 (we got a used one out of company inventory.) They loved it.

When I see Big Glass I think of Dobsonians and MMT's.
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Old 2020-07-15, 01:31   #4
Chuck
 
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I added a second 27' monitor some months ago and it was the best system improvement I have ever made. I especially like the way broswer tabs can be quickly dragged from one screen to the other.

I also wear my "computer" glasses when working at the system and switch to my regular glasses when leaving. I always put the computer glasses down on the right side of the desk and the regular glasses on the left side so as to keep straight which is which (they visually look the same). I ordered both pair from Zenni optical which is an economical mail order service.
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Old 2020-07-15, 05:02   #5
a1call
 
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Here is my setup on my laptop (right) with a monitor attached on left. The laptop screen serves as a Windows-Magnifying-Glass so I can lean back in comfort and see details on high resolution monitor attached.

I use multiple Virtual-Desktops some of which are dedicated to different remotely accessed computers which have Virtual desktops themselves dedicated to different Virtual-Boxes.

Of course given my advanced age even that is too much of a strain so I sit back on a sofa and use my iPad or Phone to remotely access my laptop across the room, which is how I got the screenshot.
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Old 2020-07-15, 09:16   #6
fivemack
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I think this is an issue with window managers rather than with pixels, because it's fairly clear that people got quite a lot of software development work done in the days when you could tell a company was serious about its techies because they had 17" 1024x768 monitors.

This is a 1920x1080 laptop, but I'm currently typing in a text box inside a 'Message:' box inside a decorative box inside a 'reply to thread' box inside a window, with large borders on all the boxes; if this were a Usenet forum in 1995 I'd be typing much the same message in a text editor which is using 80x23 of the 80x25 screen to display the actual message.

The highest-end productive coders (whether writing bare-metal C for Xen or python-with-all-the-frameworks for Canonical) that I know often are using a laptop with a 1920x1080 screen, and the main issue is whether it has a 2x2 or a 3x1 array of terminal windows.
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Old 2020-07-15, 11:45   #7
xilman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fivemack View Post
I think this is an issue with window managers rather than with pixels, because it's fairly clear that people got quite a lot of software development work done in the days when you could tell a company was serious about its techies because they had 17" 1024x768 monitors.
1024x768? Luxury! That's SVGA that is. I had to make do with VGA.

(I still do when the video device driver doesn't work properly, such as with several attempts to get CUDA working under Ubuntu 19.10/. 640x480 is a extremely silly way to run XFCE on a 28" monitor.)

Before that it was honest-to-$DEITY VT100 terminals all the way. I wrote tens of thousands of lines of code on them.

The youngsters of today don't know how lucky they are.

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Old 2020-07-15, 14:50   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fivemack View Post
I think this is an issue with window managers rather than with pixels, because it's fairly clear that people got quite a lot of software development work done in the days when you could tell a company was serious about its techies because they had 17" 1024x768 monitors.
...
i3 is almost my ideal WM, a simple tiled layout with minimal dressing and tabs to compartmentalise tasks into their own context. It's replaced tmux as my goto layout organiser on anything that has a graphical output. It naturally works with multiple screens as you just split up the tabs between monitors, but it works just as well with a single screen setup as long as everything you need for a particular context can fit onto one screen. I'd argue that fast context switching with keyboard shortcuts or scrolling the mouse wheel on the bottom bar makes it easier to work with one monitor in this case, your eyes are already focused and mouse position is known so all you're waiting for is your brain to deal with the context switch.

For example you may have a context for a coding project, another for researching about that project, one for a separate project or module, one for general browsing, a few for managing some VMs, one for managing whatever you've ssh'd into and more for any other discrete tasks you may have. I can comfortably do all that on a single screen as long as I have a good mouse with a scroll wheel. It would be hard to go back to a single context alt-tab nightmare, or even a single context sprawl using multiple monitors.
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Old 2020-07-15, 15:46   #9
kriesel
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by xilman View Post
1024x768? Luxury! That's SVGA that is. I had to make do with VGA.

(I still do when the video device driver doesn't work properly, such as with several attempts to get CUDA working under Ubuntu 19.10/. 640x480 is a extremely silly way to run XFCE on a 28" monitor.)

Before that it was honest-to-$DEITY VT100 terminals all the way. I wrote tens of thousands of lines of code on them.

The youngsters of today don't know how lucky they are.
Punch cards. Paper tape that was literal cut and splice to assemble CNC mill programs from copies of library tapes. 300-baud acoustic coupler modems. As an undergrad student employee, I knew grad students who toggled in boot loaders on front panel switches, to read paper tape, to get the next level of loader into the machine. Guys who hacked serial #1 CNC mill controls with a soldering iron. My first microcomputer has a 1Mhz 6502, an audio cassette interface, a hex keypad, and 4K of ram.
My first employer after college had no in-house computing, so I'd shuffle off to the local university's engineering computing lab to make FEA runs on punch cards. My second employer after college provided a VT52 or better at every desk.
To now have multiple home machines, with multiple n-Ghz cores at 64 bits or better, is previously unimaginable luxury.
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Old 2020-07-15, 16:19   #10
a1call
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kriesel View Post
Punch cards. Paper tape that was literal cut and splice to assemble CNC mill programs from copies of library tapes. 300-baud acoustic coupler modems. As an undergrad student employee, I knew grad students who toggled in boot loaders on front panel switches, to read paper tape, to get the next level of loader into the machine. Guys who hacked serial #1 CNC mill controls with a soldering iron. My first microcomputer has a 1Mhz 6502, an audio cassette interface, a hex keypad, and 4K of ram.
My first employer after college had no in-house computing, so I'd shuffle off to the local university's engineering computing lab to make FEA runs on punch cards. My second employer after college provided a VT52 or better at every desk.
To now have multiple home machines, with multiple n-Ghz cores at 64 bits or better, is previously unimaginable luxury.
That tells me you are probably a tad older than I am. I too recall 2k+ punch cards with Cobol one liners held together with elastics that inevitably would break shuffling the code. But I think the slowest modem I ever had was a 2400 baud rate. I think all that thousands of lines of Cobol code would only tell you if a triangle was acute, right-angle ...,
a year or two before that we were using an assembler (I don't think it was called assembly at that time) compiler on a computer which had 16 registers.
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Old 2020-07-15, 16:28   #11
chalsall
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Quote:
Originally Posted by a1call View Post
...a year or two before that we were using an assembler (I don't think it was called assembly at that time) compiler on a computer which had 16 registers.
LOL...

In my first year of university, I did IBM 360 assembly by way of 300 baud modem on a C-64 (nominally 40 character width, but I was using a terminal which simulated 80).
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