Full Cirlce on Monitors...

Lots of full circle stuff these days. Like most people my age I started off on beige box monsters running a single monitor and some form of early Windows or Linux. As I worked my way deeper down the rabbit hole I experimented with multiple CRT monitors back in the day and found it unsatisfactory since they were not only hard to configure, they were actually less efficient to use just due to the huge space between them.

As the years passed and flat screen monitors became the norm, it soon became almost a badge of rank or at least an indicator that you Knew What You Were Doing if you had two or three monitors on your desk. In the last few years, turning one of them sideways to throw your documentation, editor, or IDE on became The Way. I’ve used dual monitors pretty much exclusively for going on 15 years and never really questioned it.

When they were first available, the dual monitor setup was still a reasonable size and didn’t leave you looking all over your desk for a window or dragging things for feet at a time. Now with the (comparatively) amazing resolution of laptop screens and external displays we have so much real estate to work with that we have convinced ourselves that A) we can successfully multitask, and B) we really do need to have six different applications visible at once to feel productive.

As I’ve transitioned into a more management oriented role and have to be more structured with my time both writing code and doing Boss Stuff I’ve found that having a ton of monitors is counterproductive. I end up spending too much time deciding on perfect layouts and where to put stuff that I waste valuable work time and at the same time I end up with all kinds of stuff open and clamoring for my attention. I took some time this evening to rearrange my desk and took my second external monitor away (the vertical one that was supposedly good for documentation or a view of a ton of code at once.) Now my layout is my macbook to the right connected to a 27” Dell running scaled at 3008x1692 right in front of me. My personal laptop is a 13” air and serves as a great place to dump Inkdrop or a PDF on and my 16” MBP from work has plenty of space to keep Outlook and Teams open (those old attention-stealers) so I can have a peripheral view of stuff coming in or people trying to get in touch with me while either running full-screen on the external monitor or working with a couple of documents/programs side by side.

In my Linux/BSD desktop days I was a fervent believer in virtual desktops and really loved FVWM2 and XFCE for how easy they were to use. I even have a perverse love of CDE just because the default setup on Solaris that I used so much had the 4 virtual desktops by default to help overcome the limited display size. Getting used to Stage Manager on Mac is taking a little bit of doing, but I find myself slowly coming back to my “old” workflows where I had to concentrate on one thing at a time and if I was switching contexts I was most likely switching desktops. As with everything old being new again it’s almost like treating my desktop like a terminal running tmux or screen. Constant focus on one app/task is the ideal but you still maintain the flexibility to display multiple things at once.

We’ll see how long this experiment lasts. It is running in parallel with trying out Inkdrop for note taking. I gave VimWIKI a fair shake and really like how it works, it’s just a little too fiddly for what I need. Same with Obsidian. It is a genius app but the bend towards interconnected idea and knowledge management, almost like the zettelkasten method, is just not how I work. I was happy for years with a directory full of text files that I eventually upgraded to Markdown in a VSCode workspace, but so far Inkdrop seems to be just enough of a step up that it’s gonna be a winner. With some really great plugins, vim support, and a Dracula theme (dunno, I just like that combination of grays and purples)