looking at my home office setup

There’s probably oodles of articles like this by now, but this is mine.

So, since roughly march last year, I’ve worked exclusively from home. At the start, I simply plonked down the company laptop on the dinner table, but then gradually reworked and upgraded the setup.

This is how it looks today:

Let’s break things down bit by bit, and explain the history and purpose of the individual parts.

The monitor is an ASUS 34″ gaming monitor that I bought when I finally retired my old All-in-One deskop PC and got a plain midi-tower unit instead. That PC is fit for gaming, and used to sit on top of the desk, behind the monitor. Alas, the company laptop wants to be used daily, so I needed a permanent space for it. That means that now the PC is strapped to the side of the desk.

The desk itself is a motorized standing desk. As you can see, it is pretty deep, but only 80cm wide. It is that deep because by now it is old enough to buy alcohol in the States. And back in 2000, desks had to fit ginormous CRT monitors. The small width is due to the fact that it originally was part of a combination next to a much larger desk. When I was still working in Hamburg, it accompanied me through several offices (all part of the same company group), and when I moved to Berlin in 2015, they let me take it to my new home. Having it in the living room is ok, as it doesn’t take up too much space, and the cats appreciate its placement close to the window.

Hop Sing appreciates the warm sitting place

When I sit, I sit on an IKEA stool. It is one of these ergonomic things that keeps wobbling a bit, thus allegedly strengthening my back.

Eventually I attached the monitor to a heavy duty arm. The main purpose of that arm is to free up desk real estate. The rather bulky original monitor stand, plus PC, plus Notebook, plus peripherals made the desk too cramped.

As the PC is strapped to the side of the table, I also managed to route all the cables more or less prettily.

All I/O peripherals like mouse, webcam, keyboard, etc. are attached to the monitor and a switching USB hub. So when I switch devices, I press one button on the USB-switch and also select a different input on the monitor. That is pretty painless and saves me from constant re-plugging of devices.

For the longest time, I used a Logitech BRIO webcam. It is nice enough, and especially the built-in microphones are pretty decent. But as I do not live alone in this place, I most of the time use a set of Bose QuietControl 30 Bluetooth earplugs. The battery lasts for about two days of calls and the active noise cancelling lets me be undisturbed.

the camera I am not actually using anymore

When I am not sitting or standing, I walk. Right under the desk sits a desk treadmill. To use it, I just push the desk back about 1 meter (it is on wheels) and start the thing up. That takes about 30 seconds of effort, and then I’m off. By now I can actually walk and work at the same time, this blogpost is being written as I am walking!

Overall, I spend about only a quarter of my desk time sitting, the rest of the time mostly standing or walking.

In order to keep my hands and wrists healthy, I have switched to an ergonomic keyboard and a wireless vertical mouse. The keyboard has a detachable numblock, and I am quite happy without that thing — I need it only rarely, and it does save that sweet desk real estate!

The monitor has built-in speakers, but frankly, they aren’t the best. Instead I plugged in a pair of Creative monitor speakers. They are small enough but have decent enough sound for YouTube videos and the occasional game.

As my job has me do lots of videocalls with various degrees of expectations regarding my „professional look“, I eventually attached a simple dark gray roll-up shade to the top of my bookshelf. In day-to-day use, it is rolled up and hidden, but whenever I do not want to show off my collection of roleplaying books, I can pull it down to get a nice clean background.

Behind the gray roll-up is a greenscreen roll-up. Using Open Broadcast Studio I can key out the background and do other video shenanigans to make my life easier and looking more professional.

Pro-tip if you want to use a green screen: Do not skimp on light. The better your lighting, the easier it is to key out the green. I added two inexpensive Neewer brand light sticks to my setup — one lives inobtrusively in the corner and the other moonlights as a workbench light and gets carried over whenever I need to do „proper“ videoconferencing.

The desk has a simple LED light stick on a gooseneck stand attached to it. It has some brightness and light temperature settings, which helps a lot with eyestrain in the evenings. As the desk has no drawers or similar, I attached an IKEA pegboard to the side, to hold cables, adapters, headphones, and so on.

The latest addition to my setup has been a Sony A7S digital camera, sitting atop a cheap camera arm. It is attached to the USB-hub via an Elgato Camlink 4K stick and thus provides quite an excellent alternative to the Logitech webcam. People I videoconference with keep noticing the vast quality difference. Having the background blurred by actual optics instead of some algorithm is really an upgrade. (which I wouldn’t have afforded myself if I hadn’t gotten a good deal for the camera from someone who realized that they didn’t use it all that often.

If you want to use your DSLR as a webcam: Check if it either has a firmware update that lets you use it directly through USB, or that it at least can deliver a „clean“ HDMI output. The latter means that there are no on-screen menus visible on the HDMI signal. The Sony A7S does both, but I learned that the USB-webcam functionality is pretty bad. It requires a certain sequence of switches each time you turn the camera on, and doesn’t work with all programs on a Mac either.

The Elgato Camlink solves that rather elegantly. The other thing I did was to get a so-called „dummy battery“, which you put into the camera instead of a battery and that then draws power directly from a USB charger. I set the focus to automatic, the camera to „video mode“ and now I just need to power the USB cable and everything works.

(if you use Windows 10 and the stick keeps disconnecting — download the Camlink capture software, click on the preferences icon while holding down CTRL and then select „Isochronous“ as USB Transfer Mode. That certainly helped me)

Thinking about permissions

During the development of our second prototype “Shepherd”, we realised that permissions for truly distributed social media are a thorny thing. Within the decentralised design of Solid, we have to define how spaces are controlled in interactions between users. We also have to be mindful of preserving the context of the interaction, while also respecting the privacy of individuals who might belong to different networks, technical or otherwise.

this is why we can’t have nice things

As you may know, I am involved in https://darcy.is, an attempt to build a better social network atop of Solid. The developers are chugging along at a slow but steady pace, expect a new version to come out soon.

Solid itself is a really intriguing and awesome idea: Everything you want to share or publish, regardless of public or for a limited audience gets stored on your Solid Pod, completely uncoupling data from application and publisher.

So your theoretical Facebook posts and likes and comments would not be stored and owned by Facebook. They would just handle the presentation and feed and recommendations and so on. And if you want to change the network, you get to keep all your content and contacts.

Now, the way Solid is designed has one big constraint: You cannot change the URL that points at your pod, ever. If you do, all the links between your content and that of others would get lost otherwise. So, if a pod provider would got belly up, that would be a bad thing.

One of the earliest pod providers is solid​.community. Or rather. Was. The service is shut down. Which is fine, it was advertised as experimental anyway, it was free and purposely only had a very small storage space. It was meant for those earliest of adopters and for developers to see how all this works.

Alas, someone thought it would be helpful to keep it alive and managed to migrate everything to solidcommunity​.net.

Which is also fine and helpful, except two things:

  1. I, as a user on solid​.community learned about this whole thing from someone completely uninvolved in this process, basically by accident. The move included my login data, whatever private data I may or may not have stored on that Pod, everything. I have never agreed to this, nor do I have any idea who the new person is. That is a major GDPR violation, and erodes a LOT of trust.
  2. The move is useless. As I pointed out above, now that the URL is changed, none of the linked data is properly linked anymore. It completely broke everything. And considering the amount of data (I think there was 2 MB of available space), it is not even a thing of „hey, people probably want to keep this!“.
useless people links on my Solid Pod

Seriously, my Fellow Nerds, especially if you work on something that promises privacy: These things matter! No one will adopt your project, if you fuck this up, and here, you fucked up quite a bit.

Before you rant at me: Yes, I am quite aware that what I was using was basically a test system. And I bet that 99,9% of all other users of that system knew this too and acted accordingly. I highly doubt that any actual private data was compromised. And I don’t think there is any foul play involved. People did what they thought would be best. But, well, guess what: They thought wrong!

Kickstarter Retrospective

Back in december 2017 I summed up a bit of my crowdfunding experience. Since then, the number of campaigns I contributed to has about doubled, and of course, the delayed, failed or otherwise troubled projects have added up…

Let’s start with the really bad ones, the ones I’d label actual scams in hindsight:

  • Spinward Traveller: What I wrote back in 2017 is still true. There was a brief flicker of life since then, but that doesn’t change anything.
  • Zen Blanket: Yeah, this was me being stupid. ‚Nuff said.

Then there are the outright failures, where I assume people put an effort in but went about in a naive or incompetent way:

  • The Pulse Dice: First timer dealing with overseas manufacturers and failing. That stuff just happens.
  • Webcam privacy cover: I’m still not convinced this wasn’t a scam. Could’ve been, could’ve been someone being way in over their head and then cutting their losses. They probably were facing the decision to either fulfill and make losses or not fulfill and keep some profit, and then taking the profitable way out..
  • Rite Press: There are a lot of comparable french presses available, but this one promised the gimmick of having a removable bottom to easily get the grounds out. I think the creator really planned to deliver, then faced quality control issues and now has a stupid mess on their hand.

Of course, there are a bunch of projects that got delayed, but where I am still mostly hopeful that things will work out eventually. They come down into two categories, those with good communication about things, and those with, well, bad to nonexisting communication. Let’s start with those that have really good communication:

  • Iron Harvest: Creating computer games is hard, and prone to a lot of failures. These people put in the work, keep everyone updated with excellent and in-depth information and also provided a pretty good beta version of the game too!
  • Reigns

Of course, there are a lot of projects that have too infrequent or outright bad communication:

  • Cartel, a game of mexican narcofiction: This is a heartbreaker game, and the playtest material already looks gorgeous. But it being a heartbreaker means lots of delays, as the writing takes ages, and the author isn’t the best communicator either. Still, I’m hopeful.
  • Flying Circus: Another heartbreaker RPG, and it suffers from the same thing: The creator has high standards and little time, nor the planning capacity (in time and effort, not intellect) to have a proper timeline… 
  • Velvet Generation RPG: A rewrite of an existing RPG, which seemed straightforward enough, but then got stuck in development hell. Add only sporadic updates, and you get a project that will probably deliver… eventually. Who knows when though.
  • Record of Dragon War RPG: This is a tricky one: I know most of the people involved personally and trust them not to cheat or scam anyone. But this project had to weather a company going bankrupt, a buy-out by a company owned by a japanese-owned corporation, which then merged with a large US one. All of which has lots of behind-the-scenes things that are way above the paygrade of this crowdfunding campaign and thus doesn’t get communicated in updates. I still have hopes, but boy, I have no idea when this will deliver at all. 
  • Grey Cells RPG: A lot of this has delivered in forms of pre-release PDFs, but there is still a lot missing and only sporadic communication about things. Which is a pity, really.. 
  • Satanic Panic RPG: Here you can see what happens to an RPG project when the main author has to pay their bills by.. taking on more RPG projects. And then disappears into them. The lesson here kids? Don’t take on crowdfunding as your main source of income, you’ll end up juggling a lot of plates… 
  • Seance and Sensibility: This is sort of good, but could have been better. Still, I got the PDFs at least already.

And then there are those projects, where I completely lost faith in them delivering anything, even though it might still happen, the creatores are still occasionally clamining some sort of progress:

  • The Obsidian 3D Printer: When I backed this, I had done all the due diligence work: There were good reviews of the demo machine by 3rd parties, they already successfully delivered another 3D printer through crowdfunding, the reviews for that one were favourable, and they stated that they were good to go. Then they fell out with their main engineer, lost the rights to the machine as it were and spiralled downwards from there on, with only the barest and most superficial of updates. I don’t think anyone wanted to scam the backers here, but this is a case of marketing people failing at hardware. Hard. 
  • Making Waves — teaching refugees to build a boat. To be honest, I am happy with what has been done with this so far: A bunch of refugees got to learn how to built a small sports yacht from scratch. Having a launch party at some point would have been a nice extra, but really, I wasn’t backing it for the party here.

Some campaigns have actually delivered, but in a way where I don’t think that they kept their promises:

  • MagNeo Adapter: I mentioned this in the comments to the last article, nothing more to add here.
  • Lima, the brain of your devices: It worked. Sort of. By the time it arrived, it was too slow, too underpowered and relied way too much on central cloud services to actually be useful. I gave it away for small change on ebay in the end.
  • Snore Circle — anti snoring eye mask: The good thing about this? It was cheap, and is a decent enough sleep mask. The anti-snoring gizmo and the app that was supposed to control it? Well, it got delivered, but it didn’t do anything even remotely effective or noticeable. 
  • Enclave ANC headphones: They work. But not perfectly so, and weren’t the most comfortable ones. Again, I gave them away for peanutes on ebay. 

There are a bunch of projects that actually delivered since I started writing this post. All of these have sent me things that are about as good as promised.

  • Fiasco, the game of things going wrong: This is a reprint, where they adapted the core game mechanics to use playing cards. An eminently good idea for this game, and the package is great. They’ve delivered the digital versions of everything ahread, but logistics and other things delayed delivery. Great game, great update, good communications!
  • the Dun travel pack: Ah, another bag, because I don’t have enough. (Seriously, I may have a problem. I am STILL looking for the perfect backpack / daily commute bag). This one was supposed to arrive by christmas, but they apparently had quality issues with a component, and when they figured it out, their supplier dropped out in favour of a bigger contract. That happens, and they communicated things well. The backpack is neat, although who knows when I’ll travel again…
  • A workshop game book: Just so slightly delayed, but the reasons are communicated nicely. Good job!
  • Spyra, the fancy water gun: They had a truly overambitious delivery date and rightly moved that to „spring“ this year. They overcommunicated these things in a good way, and already have the first 160 production samples in their office. This is how you do this! (Also, the water gun is truly overengineered and cool)
  • Inhuman Condition - a game of cops and robots: This is apparently already fulfilling in the US, and should start soon in the EU. As this is a board game with a bunch of slightly fancy components, delays were kinda unavoidable, but they were still nicely communicated. And they told their backers about tariffs, printing woes, conventions and so on, all useful and interesting information! The box is beautiful and I love it.
  • The Ultraviolet Grasslands: A high concept RPG, mostly developed through a Patreon. The people behind this shared every step of the way, telling the backers when art got submitted, what was missing, why work halted at some point, showed progress pictures and sent out PDFs with intermediate material. At no point were I left in any doubt whether things will be fulfilled, even with the delays that happened. This is an excellent game book, you should buy it!
  • X-Bows mechanical ergonomic keyboard: Before I had a luggage/bag habit, I had a keyboard habit. This project is an excellent example how people underestimated hardware development, especially when it comes to magnetic connectors. And at times, the updates were not as information-dense as I’d liked to have them, but they were there and let us know what happened. The keyboards are mechanically gorgeous, but the software is sorely lacking.
  • The Rainsaber: Nifty concept, and I truly believe that Ben wants to deliver, but boy does the man have bad communication skills and at this point, I don’t know if he’ll ever deliver. I am very close to formally requesting a refund here.. I got the saber by now, and it is as promised! And to be fair, Ben did throw in a lot of extra parts into the package because I told him of eventually putting together a „Darth Poppins“ cosplay.
  • Turbo-Killer short movie: The trailer and concept art were so gorgeous, I had to back this. The backer communication was mostly very good, although there was a stretch of silence in the middle. Still, at no point did this feel like a scam, but always more like „ok, they have shit to do that is outside of this, so give them a break!“. Sadly though they kinda dropped the ball towards the end of the campaign, mostly because the movie rights got bought up by Shudder and that apparently made everything harder? Still, I got the Blu-Ray and all.

Final tally:

  • 5 out of 160 projects are complete failures or scams
  • 4 got delivered, but in a quality that should probably still qualify as failures.
  • 7 open with bad comms
  • 1 open with good comms