Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Exploring my desktop (a.k.a. "Opera everywhere you turn")


When people see my computer/monitor setup, they often ask me "Why do you need so many monitors? What do you use them for?" It's a legitimate question, and one that I'll try to answer here.

Ultimately, I like to have a lot of different things open at once, and to accomodate that, I need a lot of screen real estate. One way to do that would be to buy a huge monitor running at a high resolution. Since I don't have thousands of dollars just waiting to be spent, a cheaper solution was to set up multiple monitors attached to a couple of computers running simultaneously.

My setup

That's right, not all of those monitors are associated with one computer. My primary computer is my IBM Thinkpad laptop, and I have a 19 inch LCD monitor attached to it on the left side as the secondary monitor. My other computer (which is hidden away below) is a Dell desktop I bought back in 1999 or so. Back then, it was top of the line. These days, it serves as a nice secondary unit. The CRT above my laptop serves as the primary monitor for the Dell, and I have another 19 inch LCD to the right of my laptop which serves as the Dell's secondary monitor.

Running 4 displays with the following resolutions gives me a ton of pixels to work with:

Thinkpad display: 1400 x 1048
HP LCD: 1280 x 1024
HP LCD: 1280 x 1024
Envision CRT: 1024 x 768

All added up, that's 4,875,072 pixels, and everything is nicely sized (text is not too big, and not too small). I used to have a third monitor attached to my Dell (for a total of 5 displays), but I decided that 4 total displays is enough for my needs (for now).

How I use it all

With my Thinkpad, I access my primary email and I chat with my college friends via a shell account that is constantly open on my primary monitor. I also use IM on the Thinkpad to do research-related IM. On my secondary monitor, I have Opera open pretty much constantly, which I use to do all my web browsing/research, and believe me when I say that I do a lot of it (thank god for tabbed browsing). Most of my content creation happens on the Thinkpad, as well. When I want to update my website, I just hit ctrl-F3 in Opera to view the source in my text editor of choice, and I start making changes. Image editing for the web, scanning with my CanoScan N1240U, getting images from my Nikon digital camera, uploading music onto my Creative Muvo N200 MP3 player, writing documents, updating this blog, etc. is all done on my Thinkpad. Since my Thinkpad is the more powerful computer, I also use it to watch anime.

I use my Dell for stuff that happens in the background. For example, I use it to play my music: MP3s using Winamp, and CDs using the serial experiments lain CD player (see I also use it to IM my friends. This all happens on the primary monitor--the CRT above the Thinkpad. On my larger LCD screen, I once again have a copy of Opera constantly open. On this copy of Opera, I generally have at least 4 tabs open at any given time:

1. My university webmail account
2. My incoming mail from my Gmail account. For this, I use Gmail's POP functionality and M2--Opera's internal mail reader (which is truly excellent, by the way)
3. My website stats tracker
4. Miscellaneous IRC, whether it's for research or to chat with other Opera users about brower customization, etc.

I also keep my Opera mail panel open because I also use M2 to read my various newsfeeds (I have 13 at the moment). Whenever a feed gets updated, Opera shows which articles I haven't read yet. Opera's RSS reader also displays full articles, which is a really nice feature. For example, I can read slashdot without ever actually going to the slashdot website (unless I want to view comments, of course).

Finally, I use my Dell to watch DVDs (on the CRT).

Other accessories to make my life easier

You'll notice my Altec Lansing ADA880's to the left and right of my Thinkpad. I got these surround speakers when I got the Dell, and although they're old, they still do the job. They were one of the first computer speakers to include a built-in Dolby Digital decoder. They play sound from both my Thinkpad (analog signal) and the Dell (digital signal), and they sound really amazing when playing DVDs that have Dolby Digital encoding. The analog signal from my Dell gets piped to my Pioneer HDJ-1000 headphones, which I use late at night so as not wake up my wife. Audio-in from my old Walkman lets me play cassette tapes and listen to the radio.

For the Thinkpad, I routinely use the Trackpoint button on the keyboard, but I also use a Logitech MX700 wireless optical mouse on a 3M Precise Mousing Surface, which actually does seem to make a difference.

For my Dell, I use a Logitech MX1000 wireless laser mouse on an anime-related mousepad.

The glowing blue knob at the right is my Griffin Powermate. Yes, it's a glorified volume controller, but it's really nice (I like nice metal things).

On top of my CRT, I have a USB-powered Antec external light tube. I can choose between half a dozen colors. I'm not into case-modding or installing glowing lights everywhere, but I often use my computers with the lights off, and having a little extra ambient light can be soothing (especially when it's glowing green or blue to offset the brightness coming from my monitors).

I use a port replicator with my Thinkpad. That allows me to quickly dock and undock the laptop without having to mess around with the cables in the back.

My keyboard mod

As I was writing this, my slashdot feed updated, and I ran across an article about a new blank keyboard that is now being sold. It reminded me to take a picture of my Thinkpad's keyboard. After heavy usage, the letters on many of my keys started to come off, so I decided to go for broke and get rid of all the letters. My solution was simple; I just used sandpaper. The overall visual and tactile effect is nice, and I am a better typist now, as well. Here's the photo:


By the way, if you came to this page looking for info on how to get your Thinkpad trackpoint button working with Opera, visit this Opera forum link for more information.

Monday, May 09, 2005

It's a boy!

Yesterday morning, my wife gave birth to our first child, Rowan Clarke Eng. We are very excited and happy to have him join our family.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Understanding Opera

Opera Software, ASAI'm pretty picky when it comes to technology, and friends of mine know that I'm a fan of the Opera web browser, produced by Opera Software, ASA. The latest version, Opera 8, was released on April 19th, 2005. When I say that Opera is the best, I definitely mean that it is the best for me, based on my particular needs and wants when it comes to internet software.

I believe in software diversity. Since no two people use the internet exactly the same way, there needs to be different solutions for different needs. From my perspective, Opera is underappreciated, underexposed, and an underdog when it comes to alternative software choices, so I routinely feel compelled to tell people that Opera might be a good choice for them. Except for a small minority of friends, I typically find that it is. It's certainly the best choice for me.

I'll save my "Why do I use Opera" discussion for later, but I wanted to point readers to some resources to help them understand Opera (the company) a little better. Opera gets a bad rap sometimes. People don't seem to understand the company, what it's about, and what it has to offer.

I see Opera, the company and the software, as being innovative, exciting, and important for the future of the internet. Yes, it's an underdog (in the desktop market, specifically), but underdogs are important, especially when they exhibit the foresight demonstrated by Opera Software. AppleThey're kind of like Apple that way, underappreciated by the majority of computer shoppers, but well-loved by a cult following who realize how innovative the company is and how it offers a unique experience that goes beyond mainstream expectations of what computing is supposed to be like. [From a technology studies perspective, it's always interesting to follow alternative technologies and to understand why certain technologies get adopted while others are ignored. That's where social science comes in. Purely technical explanations are typically not enough.]

Companies like Opera and Apple push the envelope, going well beyond the ordinary and making sure that the powers that be (e.g. Microsoft) do not become complacent. Without competition from small (but hungry) players, the industry becomes monolithic, which hurts everyone in the long run. Companies like Opera support web standards, which ensure that small third-party players will always have a chance to contribute, resulting in a more robust software ecosystem. When one company or software product "wins" or completely dominates, everyone loses in the end.

Opera CEO The Apple Computer company is really interesting. Even though I don't own a Mac (not yet, anyway), I like reading about the company and watching Steve Jobs present keynote addresses at Mac events. Opera excites me in the same way. These aren't as glitzy as Steve Jobs keynote addresses, but here are some audio and video clips of Opera's CEO, Jon S. von Tetzchner (pictured right), and other members of the Opera team discussing the company and the Opera browser. People who are new to Opera and veteran Opera fans alike will learn a lot about the company from these clips.

  • Opera Software, Financial Year 2005 - First quarter presentation (4/29/05): view webcast

  • Interview with Jon S. von Tetzchner (4/15/05), by David Berlind ("Between the Lines" - article | MP3 download

  • Opera Software, Financial Year 2004 - Fourth quarter presentation (2/16/05): view webcast

Older quarterly reports can be found here. Some of them have associated webcasts (audio only, however).