All About Some Pixels

When I first built my current desktop back in 2013, it was a fast little bastard. An Intel i5-4570, 16 gigs of memory, an SSD main drive, and a Radeon 7850. I was already well into my photography hobby and this machine made short work of the RAW files coming from my Nikon D7000. Included with this setup was an Asus PB238Q monitor.

Fast forward to 2020 and some things have changed. Instead of Windows 7, we’re now using Windows 10. Adobe Lightroom is now cloud only. My D7000 is now the backup to the Nikon D850 and my everyday carry Leica Q2. As a result, instead of 16.9 megapixels, my cameras now each output 47 megapixel pictures, and the volume of pictures I shoot has gone up considerably. In addition, I now also shoot film and the negatives I scan are at least 20 megapixels each as well. But even after Spectre and Meltdown, my trusty little i5 soldiers on and processes these much larger images with aplomb. Soon I’ll have to switch things out to maybe a Ryzen, but that time is not yet here. Instead, to my surprise, I upgraded monitors first.

The Need for Space

Work has involved more and more documents so I decided I needed more screen real estate. At work, two 24 inch Samsung monitors are sufficient screen real estate but that made my home setup of a single 23 inch monitor seem cramped. In retrospect, my first monitor, a Sony 15 inch Trinitron, seems like it would have been impossible to use. But what monitor would I end up choosing?

Enter the Dell U3818DW. Yes, 38 inches of screen real estate. Quite an upgrade from the 23 inches provided by the Asus.

Why did I pick this monitor? In addition to a recommendation from a coworker, some of the nice features in this monitor include the built in KVM and USB-C charging. In addition to charging up my work laptop (Lenovo X1) via USB-C, I could use my keyboard and mouse with my work laptop immediately when I switch to the USB-C input. This is the year 2020 – things should be this slick!

The monitor isn’t one of the newer ones with a higher refresh rate (Freesync, G-Sync). This is not the concern it used to be for me. Although I do play some games still, the Nintendo Switch is my console of choice these days. And the PC games I do play don’t need the higher refresh rates. In other words, I don’t play many shooters anymore. But to be sure, I do sometimes wish the monitor had a higher refresh rate. It is rather easy to notice ghosting artifacts when I scroll through a document quickly. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is noticeable.

This monitor also has another drawback – there are apparently problems with the Dell U3818DW’s USB-C implementation (another link, reddit link). The result is that laptops may not operate entirely correctly with the monitor, including Macbooks, Thinkpads, and even relatively new Dell laptops! Hopefully this can be resolved with a firmware update in the near future. USB-C is becoming more and more popular and I expect that any personal laptop I buy in the future to replace my trust Macbook Air from 2012 will use this connector. For now, this problem manifests itself in random input switching and/or glitching when my Thinkpad is powered up. Annoying, but I’m past the return period for the monitor, and it isn’t an entire deal-breaker for me yet. But it is something to be aware of for any prospective future purchasers.

Now, with all this screen real estate, of course I’d have to do some tweaks for my photography hobby.

Open Source Color Calibration and Windows 10

A couple of years ago, when I started getting more serious about photography, I purchased a Spyder4Pro color calibrator. Why? I had noticed how photos could look entirely different based on the calibration of the monitor being used. And how these would typically be different than what an iPad would show. This was a result of people adjusting their color settings for their own personal preferences, among other reasons. Because I would post process photos through Lightroom, I felt it was important for me to get the monitor I was using properly calibrated before post processing the pictures. So I went and splurged for a color calibrator several years ago.

At the time, I was using the Asus PB238Q monitor in Windows 7 and everything was peachy. Spyder’s included software worked well enough in Windows 7 and I got the results I wanted – nicely calibrated colors and consistent display of these colors. Was the software all that impressive? Not really, but it did the job so I didn’t really mind. And even though Datacolor considers the device to be a legacy product now, the software does seem to work in Windows 10, with a few glitches here and there.

With the new monitor, I decided it was time to investigate my options. It turns out that DisplayCAL is an open source option that can use the Spyder4Pro color calibrator hardware to generate the needed color profile. It builds on top of runs a little slower than the included software, but the results so far have been good. And with this software being open-source, I’m more comfortable using this software than the software that came with my apparently legacy Spyder4Pro.

Downsides? None so far. Another win for open source and keeping perfectly functional hardware useful years after its original manufacturer has ended support for it.

Microsoft is the … good guy?

Once upon a time, Microsoft was the bad guy. Steve Ballmer once called the Linux kernel “communism” and Linux a “cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” (Wikipedia citation) This is from the guy who once trounced across a stage yelling “Developers developers developers” In this era, Microsoft would do whatever was needed to maintain market share and keep open source software licensed under the GNU Public License or similar licenses from making the inroads at companies and municipalities.

My how times have changed. Ballmer has left and now regrets his statements on Linux. Satya Nadella has changed Microsoft’s stance and now embraces Linux. For example, Windows 10 now includes OpenSSH. There’s a Windows Subsystem for Linux on Windows 10 that is a compatibility layer for running Linux binary executables natively. In other words, you can install Ubuntu (or Debian) in Windows 10. Talk about a crazy change in posture.

The new Microsoft even tries to help individual developers. Visual Studio now has a Community version licensed and free for individuals and small teams. Although the Enterprise version is still superior in some ways, the Community version is more than enough for small projects.

If you had predicted this in the early 2000s, you’d have been laughed out of the room. But here we are. Amazing.

Pandemic Life

It has been a few weeks now since the coronavirus arrived in the United States and spread across the nation. Although I was apparently in the proximity of someone that tested positive for the virus in mid-March, I didn’t have any of the requisite symptoms. Not sure if I was just one of those with mild or few symptoms, or if I was just lucky enough to not contract the virus.

I wish I could say I could go get tested to confirm whether or not I contracted the disease. But alas, even though our Fearless Leader said that millions of tests would be available. Fortunately, local leaders including Mayor Bowser have stepped into the gap and led competently and compassionately.

Life is now full of working from home, stockpiling of groceries, and gathering of masks and sanitizing wipes. All while watching Fearless Leader transform what should be daily informational sessions into hubs of hubris and misinformation. We chose this and we are getting what we deserve. Even though he claims he isn’t responsible for this, it is us who will pay the price for what we as a country chose as our leader. Instead of competence, we chose someone whose main skill is ridiculing others. That was entertaining once upon a time, but now we need leadership, not bluster.

In the meantime, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and millions more will in the near future. This may make the 2008-2009 recession seem small in comparison. Hopefully this won’t be the case, but to be fair, we were overdue for a recession. This time, the cost to small businesses may be extreme. Only time will tell.

Welcome to the Pandemic

Unlike the swine flu pandemic, coronavirus seems to be much more serious. Schools, stores, companies, all shutting down. The Democratic debate: audience free. March Madness and the NBA season: canceled. MLB Opening Day: canceled. This is going to be a wild ride.

Keyboard Bliss?

As part of the standard deployment of equipment at work, they gave me a traditional purely flat keyboard. It probably came with the docking station for the admittedly quite nice Lenovo X1 I have to work with. But the standard keyboard is nothing special.

The firm issued input device set

So I went out and spent some of my own money to at least improve the keyboard. The mouse might need swapping soon too because the mouse wheel is acting a little wonky, but that’s a later problem. But where to turn for the new keyboard?

Given the amount of typing I do at work, I decided that I wanted an ergonomic keyboard of some type instead of the straight keyboard I use at home and at work. I tried out Logitech’s new K860 Ergo keyboard at Best Buy but I didn’t like the amount of travel the keys had. Not that I’m some mechanical keyboard connoisseur, but I do want a little bit more travel than that if I’m typing for extended periods. Although I’m lucky enough to live near several Microcenter stores, I did not go and try out any other ergonomic keyboards because right next to the Logitech was a cheap and pretty acceptable solution: Microsoft’s Surface Ergonomic Keyboard.

It allegedly has a slightly different curve and annoyingly moves the Menu button over to the left to make room for an Office and emoji button. Which are useless in my work configuration because I cannot install any special software to enable these buttons. I knew that going in and it has been an annoying change. But after three weeks with the keyboard, I think this periodic annoyance is worth the improved typing comfort. And the angle is appropriate for both sitting and standing typing positions. I’ve found myself standing to work more often as a result.

Not bad for about $45.

Aliens and Getting Old

Earlier this week, [email protected] announced that they would no longer distribute further work (forum link). It has been a long time since I ran any distributed computing client – from early ones attempting to crack a 56-bit key (completed 1997) to [email protected] for various groups. I think I stopped running these programs around the time I had to pay my own power bills. Coincidence I’m sure.

I certainly wasn’t as passionate as some who would overclock their main systems, run their systems 24/7 to grind out new blocks, or cobble together multiple junked systems to create a working one, but they were still fun projects to run for a period, particularly when my Pentium Pro was the fastest system on campus. Thanks Dad for encouraging the nerdiness and/or for fixing my nerd cred after coming to school with just a 486DX2 (circa 1996). Harking back to a simpler time when you had to run a wire down the hall to establish a network. And had to remember the SLI’s patrol schedule so that you could pull the cable back into the room before they noticed!