Working with All the Pixels!

For the past two years, the computer setup in my home office has consisted of a Dell Precision T3500 with an old graphics card and two mismatched Dell monitors with roughly 720p resolution.  While this was plenty capable for running 3D printer software using pre-made files found on Thingiverse, I found the setup lacking when I started designing my own prints in OpenSCAD.  When it came to gaming, I couldn’t even run the original Portal, which came out in 2007.  My other option, my ThinkPad X220, seemed cramped in comparison to my dual 1080p monitor setup at work, and so a few months ago I started looking into upgrading my setup.

In an attempt to futureproof (and because I enjoy being on the bleeding edge), I decided to look at 4K monitors, given that the larger screen resolution would allow me to multitask or be able to keep open reference material (e.g. OpenSCAD cheatsheet) while working in an application.  I originally checked out a dual 4K 24″-27″ monitor setup as suggested in this blog post, but I quickly decided that I would need a larger screen in order to make full use of 4K.  After combining the calculations from isthisretina.com and OSHA’s recommended screen distance, I settled on getting a medium sized TV and using it as a monitor.

After much deliberation and browsing, I purchased a 39″ Seiki UHD TV when it was on sale for $280 and a GeForce GTX 960 to drive all of those pixels. The GTX 960 is a pretty capable graphics card and would be able to provide a decent gaming experience and even drive an additional 4K display if I ever decide to buy another one.  After working with this new setup for several weeks, I found a few pros and cons as outlined below:

Pros:

Activities

  • So many lines of code!  Eclipse was barely usable on my previous monitors.  I had to work with all of the Views closed to get a usable amount of space for editing code.  With my new one I can put Eclipse at half-screen, open a ton of Views, and still see over 100 lines of code.

OpenSCAD

  • Multitasking!  I love never having to switch windows.  This monitor makes it so I almost never have to do that.
  • It’s big enough to fully take advantage of the 4K  with a “Retina” distance at 30″.  I sit a little over two feet away from my monitor, so I can barely distinguish between individual pixels if I’m looking closely.
  • It’s the equivalent of four 1080p displays but cheaper than two 1080p displays.  I did have to upgrade my graphics card to account for the higher resolution, but even with that it was worth it.

Eagle

Cons:

  • There’s a slight backlight dimming on the edge of the screen due to the large contrast between viewing angles.  This isn’t too much of a problem and is easily solved by moving my head or rolling my chair side to side.
  • There’s no inactive monitor mode so I have to manually turn off the display.  Again, not a big problem, just another thing to remember.
  • My wife can steal the remote and turn off the TV when I ignore her for too long.

While I haven’t been working with the new setup long enough to tell for sure, I’m overall happy with my decision and would highly recommend it!

Advertisements

Home Maker Server

Being a generally disorganized person who works as a professional engineer, I’ve noticed that the tools I use at work have really helped me stay organized and focused.  After noticing this, I’ve decided to utilize some similar tools for my personal projects to keep me organized and motivated, and also to apply a professional touch to my hobbies.  The most useful tools I’ve used at work are part databases, a version control system, and an issue tracker.  Since the specific tools I use at work are targeted towards large companies and therefore have expensive licenses, I’ll be using open source or free alternatives.  In addition to the tools I mentioned, I’m also going to install a 3D printing server so my Printrbot is no longer tethered to my main PC and prints can be uploaded and controlled from anywhere.  I’ve bought a Raspberry Pi 2 Model B specifically to handle this software and become my official home maker server.  The software that I’ll be installing as well as links to installation instructions are as follows:

PartKeepr

PartKeepr – A part database.  I’m constantly losing, buying multiples, and rediscovering parts so this will help give me a clear snapshot of all of my components, allowing me to better plan out projects and determine part requirements.  I used this blog post for installation instructions, but here are a few quirks I noticed when installing:

  • I had to copy the partkeepr folder to /var/www/html rather than /var/www since that was the default root directory for my apache server
  • I had to be logged in as the super user (sudo su) for the pear part of the installation or it wouldn’t work

GitHub

Github – I don’t anticipate developing closed source code in the foreseeable future so I’ll just be using Github for version control.

Trello

Trello – A simple issue tracker with a convenient web interface.  There’s not a lot of advanced functionality but it should be sufficient for what I want to do.  Originally I was going to use a more sophisticated issue tracker called Trac because it has integration with version control and a built-in wiki, but decided against it.  It would be another service to install and host on my Raspberry Pi and the additional complexity might deter my productivity.  In addition, not having a private wiki could serve as encouragement to keep my projects better documented on this blog.

Octoprint

Octoprint – A 3D printing management server.  It provides network access and a web GUI for uploading prints and viewing printer status.  The installation instructions I used are from their GitHub page.