The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

February 25, 2012

On a Clear Day You Can See Forever

Filed under: Technology — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 am

Over the years, I’ve found occasion at least a couple of different times now to discuss and/or complain about the uncanny tendency of common electronic items like TVs and PC components to mysteriously get cheaper and/or come out with shiny new versions roughly three minutes after you finally stop waiting around and make a purchase.  If I recall correctly,  the first time I did this, I was prompted by seeing just how much LCD televisions had come down in price in the few years since I had purchased my first 32″ set, and then again after I replaced my $800 LCD TV with a much larger and much nicer model for $200 less than I paid the first time around.  I’m pretty sure I’m not going to need another TV anytime soon, but with a tax return and a new job starting shortly, I have decided to use this opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while:  Move to a dual monitor setup on my desktop PC.

As has been the case with televisions over the past few years, the prices of larger and larger computer monitors have continued to drop.  Back when my parents got my family our first PC back in the ancient days of the early Nineties, the package deal 386sx based machine they purchased came with a 14-inch Super VGA CRT monitor, which was capable of displaying interlaced 1024×768 resolution.  In theory, that isn’t too far off from what you can get these days (and even now, thanks to some arcane restrictions on Netbook hardware imposed by Microsoft’s Windows licensing, a lot of netbooks can only manage a paltry 1024×600 screen resolution) with the video card churning out a then-impressive 256 colors, but at the higher resolutions and less-than-stellar refresh rates, those older monitors could be more than a little headache-inducing to stare at for any length of time at these higher resolutions.  Reliability was never all that great either, as I can recall a couple of occasions where this particular monitor broke down and had to be sent off to get repaired.  If I recall correctly, on one of these occasions I went looking through Computer Shopper Magazine (this was back in the pre-Internet days when each issue would be about half the size of a phonebook) to determine what a similar replacement would cost, and it came out to somewhere in the neighborhood of $450 for another 14″ monitor, with a similarly sized brand-name monitor like an NEC or a ViewSonic being quite a bit more than that.  And by the time you start getting into the then humungous 17 and 19-inch monitors, you were getting into some big-bucks territory.

Ultimately we kept that particular monitor going for a couple more years, and as technology marched on we replaced it with a 15″ monitor, which itself eventually gave way to a couple of different 17″ monitors, which lasted up until I got my first LCD, the 20-inch Dell 2001FP you see above.  Back when I bought that monitor, LCDs had pretty much taken their place in the market, but the 20″ screens were still up at the high end of the market (up until the first 24″ LCDs started showing up a few months later,) and as a result were quite expensive.  I don’t recall exactly what I paid for it, but I caught one of Dell’s famous coupon deals and got it somewhere in the neighborhood of $7-800.  And compared to the various CRTs I’ve used over the years, this thing was huge, clocking in at a whopping 1600×1200 pixels, which was just about as high as you could get at the time.  It also proved surprisingly reliable, with the only issue I encountered during the many years I’ve used it for being flaky front panel control buttons.  Sure, there are plenty of newer and bigger monitors that have appeared for a lot less money over the years, but with something that worked well, I never really saw the need to replace this with anything.  Then again, after seeing the advantages of a multi-monitor setup, I’ve wanted one for a while, but it’s been one of those “might be nice to have someday” items up until recently.

There are plenty of articles out there discussing the productivity gains that can be made by going from a single monitor to two or more monitors, and during the time I spent at Motricity, I had the opportunity to experience the benefits of a dual monitor setup firsthand.  It’s one of those things that’s hard to understand until you actually use it for yourself, but when you’re working on complex tasks that may involve having to deal with a number of different sources of data all at once, or if you have a task that you need to keep an eye on in the background while you’re working on other things (which is a frequent scenario I encounter while testing software)  you start to see where the benefits of having two or more monitors come into play.  Support for multiple monitors has actually been a feature in Windows since OEM Service Release 2 of Windows 95 (basically equivalent to what would now be a service pack,) but the cost of two monitors (and the extra video card you would need to run the second one, and whatever other hardware upgrades would be needed to make the whole thing not run like crud) made this more of a curiosity than a useful tool for most people.  Eventually, as monitors continued getting bigger and cheaper and as video cards became a lot better at supporting more than one screen, it became a lot more common to see multi-monitor setups, to the point where it has gone from being something that the boss’ boss’ boss might have to what has now become standard equipment in a lot of offices.

I once had a better picture for this, but then I took a cliché in the knee.

So with that in mind, and with first-hand knowledge of the productivity gains from multiple monitors, a portion of my tax return has gone into a pair of widescreen 23″ 1080p monitors, as you can see above.  With a video card that came with dual DVI ports as standard equipment the setup was a no-brainer (aside from needing to find HDMI-to-DVI cables to plug these in with,) and what was considered to be a ridiculously large monitor back when I got it has been dwarfed  by a pair of what would now be considered fairly middle-of-the road monitors (19-20 inches seems to be at the lower end of the spectrum these days, with 27 and 30 inch ultra-high-resolution monitors up at the top of the proverbial heap.)  To be honest, it’s taking a bit of getting used to, especially since these screens seem to be a lot brighter than my old one.  Almost immediately after setting these up I had to turn down the brightness on both of these to slightly less eye-searing levels than the maxed-out setting they come out of the box with.  Even so, I don’t think these screens are quite as high quality as the one they’re replacing, but finding a pair of 24-inch IPS panel screens would probably cost quite a bit more than these did, and I suspect the difference probably wouldn’t be significant enough to justify spending another $200+ on.

So by finally making the plunge into the land of multiple monitors I’ve found a great way to boost productivity, but I also managed to stumble on a great way to completely kill it.  But that’s a completely different post, which you’ll be seeing once I finally manage to sort my way through the whole mess I’ve had with my cable TV over the past couple of weeks.  More on that later.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to blankly stare at my desktop wallpaper for another hour or so…

February 13, 2012

Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup 2012: If You Love Them, Leave it on the Shelf

Filed under: Holidays — Brian Lutz @ 9:26 pm

Curses, foiled again.

For nearly as long as I’ve been writing this Blog now, I’ve been doing these Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup posts.  They’re actually one of my favorite posts to write each year, owing mostly to the fact that far more than any other holiday, Valentine’s Day seems to inspire an endless stream of ill-advised merchandise that no sane person would give to any potential mate who they would wish to remain so after February 15th.  I’ve done a number of these posts for the other big overmerchandised holidays, but after a year or two of making fun of  Easter merchandise, you begin to realize that there just isn’t much change from year to year in that department.  In fact, aside from possibly Christmas and Halloween, Valentine’s Day seems to be the holiday with the largest quantity of merchandise created and sold specifically for it in any given year.  And a staggeringly large portion of that merchandise seems to be surprisingly ill-advised when you start getting into it…

This year, Valentine’s Day does seem to come with some minor complications for me, mostly in terms of the fact that I no longer have the luxury of just snarking at it for a few thousand words and then ignoring the rest like I usually do.  Somehow, through a set of circumstances that I have yet to fully comprehend, I find myself in the position of needing to not merely acknowledge the existence of Valentine’s Day this year, but to actively participate in the holiday, most likely in the presence of an actual lady (long story, I’m sure I’ll tell it at some point, but I’m saving that one for later.)  I suppose that relationships are one of those things that you have to mostly figure out as you go along, with plenty of opportunities to mess up along the way.  It seems to be best not to do too much messing up, since from what I’ve seen flowers tend to get a tad expensive after a while, and you start needing more and more of them as you go along.  I’ve also found that there’s an awful lot of advice on dating and relationships to be found out there, and most of it is completely and totally useless.  As I’ve noted before, I don’t think I’ve really had much reason to pay any attention to Valentine’s Day since, oh, somewhere around fourth or fifth grade, so what this means is that I’ve got a lot to learn here, and I’ve got to learn it in a hurry if I don’t want to find myself sleeping on the couch (which, given the fact I’m the only one who lives here, would mean that I messed something up pretty seriously.) 

Given the risk/reward factors involved here I’ll be happy if I can make it through the holiday without making any potentially life-ruining mistakes, but if nothing else, at least I’ve got a decent amount of experience in the “what not to do” category.  Not that it isn’t the type of thing that any reasonably sane person can figure out with minimal brainpower, but I guess we all have to start somewhere, right?  Anyway, without further ado, the 2012 Sledgehammer Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup, found after the jump.

Previous  Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundups:

(more…)

February 8, 2012

Just Watching the World Float By

Filed under: travel, Wanderings — Brian Lutz @ 7:49 am

We got about two days of these calm seas. The rest, not so much.

For the last couple of days I have been so jet-lagged that for some reason, I’ve actually been waking up at what sane people might actually consider to be a somewhat reasonable time in the morning.  And while it’s true that being four time zones away from home isn’t exactly being what you’d call halfway around the world, it’s certainly enough to throw you off a bit.  I suspect the fact that I came home with a bit of the galloping (or floating, as the case may be) crud that hit the ship pretty hard for the last couple of days of the trip probably isn’t exactly helping out matters here either.  In spite of that, I’d have to say I made it through the trip in reasonably decent shape, having managed to make it through a week in the Caribbean without incurring any major sunburns, losing my will to ever return back home or getting devoured by some particularly loathsome jungle creature.  Not that there’s a lot of those on the islands that were visited on this trip, but still…

Can’t say the trip was exactly what you would call a perfect Winter getaway though.  A good portion of the trip through the open waters of the Caribbean Sea on the way to and from Curacao and Aruba was spent in some pretty rough seas with 35-40 knot winds and 10 foot waves, which made for a bit of a bumpy ride.  Well OK, a lot of a bumpy ride, to the point that on one of the cruise boards I read someone who has been on 35 cruises says that this one might have been the roughest seas they’ve encountered.  Oh yeah, and there’s also the fact that on the last day or so a bunch of people on the ship started getting sick, a situation which has ultimately forced the premature termination of the cruise after ours, and has presumably caused major headaches for the cruise line.  I managed to avoid getting sick on the ship, but started developing some mild symptoms the day after returning, and suspect that I didn’t quite manage to dodge that one.  Not that any of this is going to put me off cruising anytime soon.  The weather is, obviously, an uncontrollable factor, and the galloping and/or floating crud seems to be going around just about everywhere right now.

That said, given the typical Winter weather that we have around here (well usually, at least) I don’t think that being able to spend a week in the Caribbean in the middle of January provides a whole lot to complain about.  This particular trip was a Southern Caribbean itinerary, with visits to several islands which I have not ever had a chance to visit before.  In particular, the visit to Curacao proved especially interesting, for reasons that will be discussed in a future Blog post.  Watch for more on this and other stuff related to this trip over the next few days.  It looks like I’m just about due for the annual Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup too, so that should be coming soon as well.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: