Saturday, November 7, 2020

My Office

So this is just a fun post for a change. Once in a blue moon someone gets curious, so I decided to make a place I could point people to just to introduce the cubbyhole I have and how I work! Alright, alright, alright!

I use a MacBook Pro so hat I can run also both Microsoft Windows and Linux virtual computers. I need all three operating systems because I have many clients who use Mac, and I cannot easily (or legally) put MacOS on a PC.  I run the Mac in "clamshell" mode (closed) in a BookArc on the left edge of the desk (you can see that in a picture below).

That giant 4K 55" screen on the wall which is great for meetings and training. Well, it's giant for this office, it's a third of the length of the wall! You can see everybody in a Zoom meeting at the same time from across the room. Or your favorite American Football or even Association Football team, a.k.a.  "SOCcer" for "association". Yeah, I'm one of those.

On my desk is a 34' Samsung Thunderbolt gaming monitor, which is almost enough real-estate for teaching classes.  With that width I can get the window that I'm sharing and my notes or a browser window next to it. I like it better than dual monitors, I can't stand the split between those.

You do have to juggle things to make it work, Webex is notorious because it shares your whole screen and grays out the part that you aren't sharing, which is everything else when you are trying to share one window. Think about someone sharing a 3440-pixel wide screen with you! But, dealing with that is another story.

Next to that big monitor are a couple of posters from the King Mango Strut. You have to check that out, it's one of the craziest and most irreverent parades on the planet. The last Saturday of December in Miami's Coconut Grove all the "nuts" come out for a satirical view of current events. It was started decades ago because a couple of fellows weren't allowed to participate in the Orange Bowl parade one year and decided to get back at them. Just plug "King Mango Strut" into Wikipedia. I've participated a few times and I can't wait to see what kind of take they have on the events of 2020!

The best thing about this office is the view, cities of Coral Gables and Miami, FL. It's a very, very great and spectacular view. Did I just say that out loud? I gotta watch that, maybe using fat adjectives is a sign of getting old. Or my hair is going to turn another color. Or at best I'm looking for something to fill the air with while I try to think of what to say next.

That thing up high on the wall is a webcam pointing out the window and it works if I don't close the blind. I put it in to watch the last hurricane from wherever I drifted away to in the expected flood at my house. Sometimes it's  a little fuzzy, it's old. If the office lights are on at night you can see my desk in reverse reflected in the window and not much else. Visit Login as "public" without a password.

If you look right out the window it's an open shot directly East to the downtown Miami skyline and the waterfront. You could walk there in an hour. Or drive there in ten minutes. Except in the morning. Then the drive will take you about an hour, you ought to walk. And don't try to come back in the afternoon. We don't have a belt-way, South Florida is just a thin 100 mile strip of city along the Atlantic ocean.

So the office really isn't that big, take a look. A little desk overwhelmed by that giant monitor.  Me stuck in the corner. But I'm a minimalist, I don't keep much on my desk, so I'm good with the space. And looking the other way out the window:

I do have a chromakey for those Zoom meetings. Because of the L on the left side of the desk by the wall I need a curved background. It curves on the other side too, because I have a camera on the mic arm that points at me from the left. And, I don't want it in the way all the time. So the screen was $14 from Amazon (9' x 6') and I put a curtain track on the drop ceiling so that it curves around me when I want to use it! It's a great track, it was $14 dollars too, that's not a lot of money, and a lot of people have told me it's a great track. They said so on Amazon and I know they wrote those reviews just for me :)

It doesn't have to be expensive to go chromakey, and my arms don't disappear in Zoom when I'm waving them around. And, if I want to be a floating head I just have to put on the green sweatshirt hanging behind the office door! Maybe if I say enough nice things they'll give me Zoom for free! Oh wait, it already is. I'll let you in on a secret though: unlike a lot of other companies they actually listened when I made suggestions about the interface! I absolutely love them!

Zoom has absolutely the best chromakey algorithm I have ever seen for real-time streaming, even if there are zero adjustments. It works in any light. I need the screen because if you use the virtual backgrounds against whatever is there, you get flickering. Your arms disappear when you move them, and your drink is just floating there next to you. Worst of all, Zoom gobbles up 300% of your CPU when you only have four cores. So you get a chromakey screen and Zoom uses almost no CPU, Your drink doesn't float, and your arms stay attached. I feel so much better with my arms.

Zoom doesn't even have adjustments for the chromakey and it works great in any light, I think I said that already. To use other meeting services I bought a program called ManyCam to do the virtual background before the meeting software gets the video. It has a two algorithms and a lot of adjustments. No matter what I do it still flickers around the edges, and I have to keep adjusting it every hour or so as the light changes. What can I say, it does work.

At least it's better than WebEx, which can only do a virtual background if your computer has Windows 10, was built after the year of the Dragon, has a particular Intel or AMD chip, and the signs of the Zodiac are all in alignment, and Frito Lay has brought back the Frito Bandito. So inappropriate in the current cultural moment am I!

If you're wondering about that thing parked under the wall screen is it's a real live AS400. Well, at least it's not quite dead Jim. I bet you thought they were extinct! If you even know what it is. With actual modems on top of it.  Kids don't even know what those are, the telephone lines they used don't exist anymore! The really sad part is that I was already twenty years into my software engineering career when that thing was brand new, and it was obsolete at least a decade ago! I have this vague plan to resurrect it just to refresh my memory about what the operating system was like. Masochistic am I.

And I like my toys. The little SUV on the monitor was my older son's. I hang on to it just because I always liked it. And the globe in the cube, that came from the Usenix conference in Atlanta in 1986. It reminds me that many people seem to believe that the world is flat, even if Aristotle used simple but flawed logic to prove it was round over 2000 years ago: "not only that the Earth is circular, but also that it is a circle of no great size". So I named my company "Smallrock", it's the third rock out from our star and it isn't very big. Especially with the Internet bringing everyone closer together. Or is it driving us apart?

Thinking of that door again I get a lot of traffic in the hallway. People seem to think holding meetings right in front of my office is the way to go! Notice the Minions on the door cowering in fear of Scarlett. That's supposed to remind everyone else that when my door is closed they need to cower in fear of me if they even think of holding a meeting in front of it.

Worse, the kitchen is right behind me and when they get loud at lunch... So the door has a gasket all the way around.I added drywall all the way up to the concrete ceiling above, and all the way around. And insulated it. that eliminates the sound traveling through the drop ceiling and cuts down the noise enough that the microphone doesn't pick up anything and it it only bothers me a little. When they bang on the kitchen wall. I think they do that on purpose when I'm teaching :)

So I changed the microphone out for a Yeticaster, a Blue Yeti on a Compass arm. My mic was a Tonor which did really well actually. Quite happy with it, but not at all with the arm. And, my son wants to record his game dialog. So of course I get the Yeticaster, and my son gets the Tonor! I upgraded to a Logitech Brio over the monitor and a Microsoft LifeCam Studio mounted on the arm for a side-view. The Brio is probably the best camera you can get without stepping up to an SLR. There is another camera over the wall monitor too that shows the entire room, just in case visitors and I have to all participate in a meeting:

For serious teaching, mentoring, and recording you need have a good mic and both speakers and headphones. The speakers in my monitor work great most of the time. A headset helps when participant microphones are not so good. Headphones give a cleaner, more focused sound in those situations. And noise cancelling headphones help with the people in the room behind me if they get too loud!

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