Clowes.org


Tech setup

An overview of my digital life

Table of Contents...

I’m a big fan of The Setup. It’s “a collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.” So in the spirit of it, I’ve decided to do my own. You can can see previous editions: 2013, 2014 and 2016. My initial plan was to do a new one each year, but s you can see I have failed in my duty. So from now I think I’ll just update this page as and when changes occur.

Hardware

My main computer is a MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2019) with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. I pair it with a Logitech M570 trackball. I really like trackballs because they play nicely with my RSI and they can be used on any surface, unlike a mouse.

When working at my desk my laptop is connected to a Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional 2, another Logitech M570 trackball and some ancient Bose computer speakers. The desk I use is a IKEA Skarsta sit/stand one. Though I now never use the standing functionality of the desk. I purchased it when I was suffering from sciatica. But now thankfully my sciatica is minor and doesn’t bother me too much, and I now prefer to sit than stand as standing can tire my back. Also, to lower/raise the desk you have to manually crank it, which is a massive annoyance. My advice if you want a sit/stand desk is to get a fancy electric one. They’re expensive, but worth it. The only reason to get a non-electric one is if you plan on almost never changing it from sit to stand mode.

I also have an iPad Pro (12.9 inch). I purchased it refurbished from Apple. And the fact that I forgot about that fact until I wrote this article speaks volumes for how reliable it has been. Don’t be shy about buying refurbished!

Which is mostly a glorified Instapaper toilet reading device.

I’m not a huge gamer The only games I really play are online first person shooters. Mainly the Battlefield franchise. However the past two releases in the series (Battlefield V and Battlefield 2042) have been pretty rough. So I’m still playing 2016’s Battlefield 1, which is one my favourite games ever.

but do I have a a PlayStation 5 and PlayStation 4 slim.

Servers

I have a self-built home server (named Zola I name all my servers after old players of Chelsea Football Club.

) which was mainly built to run Plex. Its OS is unRAID, and it has a AMD Ryzen 7 1700 CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 500GB SSD, 44TB of useable storage, and is housed in a Fractal Design Define R5 Blackout Edition case.

Another server I have is a Synology DS1815+ NAS, with 24TB of storage. This was my main server until Zola came along, so its function now is as a backup server. It’s about half the size of Zola so only key files are backed up here and it also serves as a Time Machine backup to my MacBook via two 1TB drives in RAID 1.

There’s also an old Mac mini server (late 2014, 2.6GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 500GB SSD) I have running which is another piece of hardware that’s been superseded by Zola and that I should probably sell. Its only real job these days is backing up files I have on an external hard drive to Backblaze.

I also rent a server in the cloud from Scaleway. It has a Intel Xeon E3-1230 v2, 16GB of RAM and 2x1TB HDD’s. I mainly use it as a VPN (via openvpn-install), a backup server (via SyncThing) and also as a place to indulge in my video transcoding habit (via Handbrake).

Network

My broadband is a 500 Mbps connection provided by Virgin Media. It’s been a pretty solid line and I’ve received several free speed upgrades down the years as they’ve upgraded their network. They provide a router but it’s not great though, And of course ugly, black and large, as all ISP routers are required to be.

so it’s just in dumb modem mode, with a ASUS RT-N66U doing all the actual router-y stuff. There’s then a TP-Link 24-Port switch which then provides the connection to various wired devices. I still much prefer wired to wireless - despite all the advances in wireless technology down the years. If it can be wired, I want it wired. Unless a nibbling rat somehow gets involved, an ethernet cable will almost never let you down or experience the drop-outs or speed drops you will get with WiFi.

I have a Raspberry Pi 2 too. It mostly just runs Pi-Hole, which is a software that blocks ads and dodgy URLs for me. I like it because its network-wide. Ad blocking browser extensions are great, but they have to be installed on each individual device and not all devices even support them. Pi-Hole bypasses all that by being the DNS server on my home network and blocking stuff at source.

Wireless networking in my house has been a huge thorn in my sides for years. There’s sadly something in the walls that seriously hinders any sort of WiFi signal from getting through.

And instead WiFi is handled by a Ubiquiti UniFi AP AC Long Range, which despite being ‘long range’ doesn’t provide coverage to a room about 10 meters away. So to extend the coverage there’s also another UniFi AP AC, The Lite version this time though.

with a powerline ethernet adapter Arthur C. Clarke said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. And to me, powerline ethernet adapters are very much magic. Here’s a video on how they do actually work though if you’re interested.

providing its ethernet connection.

Smart home

Talking of the Raspberry Pi, I also experimented with running Home Assistant on the Pi as well. But right now I don’t have enough home automation products in use to warrant the use of the software and it felt like overkill. These days I just use Alexa to control the lights around my house.

Home Entertainment

My TV is an LG 55" 4K OLED. I like it. It’s my first OLED and 4K TV. I’m very much sold on 4K. The increased resolution over HD is great, and I do sit close enough to my TV and have sharp enough eyes to notice it. Peruse this chart to see what seating distance you need to be to notice various resolutions.

But the real killer feature is not the 4K, but the HDR colours. They’re great. It’s great fun rewatching some of my favourite movies of old when they come out on 4K Blu-Ray. Well, usually it is. Some 4K Blu-Ray releases of older movies aren’t always perfect. Often colours are changed fairly significantly to showcase HDR in a gimmicky way. So much so that it does concern me that it has wandered too far from the director and colourists original vision.

My streamer of choice is an NVIDIA Shield TV Pro. It’s a remarkably powerful thing, but sadly the Plex app for it is atrociously buggy (and always has been) and now (after an unrejectable update) the home screen features huge ads. So overall, I would recommend a Roku instead. I have Roku’s for all the other televisions in my house and they are small, reliable and simple. And whilst not as powerful as the Shield they run great and never crash. And the remote is great. Insanely long battery life, simple and they don’t seem to acquire grime or lose their shine. All my heavily-used remotes look as good as they day I bought them. The only things I don’t like about the Roku is its slow YouTube app and the its lack of ethernet.

My Desk Down The Years

I’ve cobbled these images together from various random photos I’ve taken of my desk down the years. I probably should have implemented some sort of system where I took one each year with a proper camera and after tidying my desk. But alas, I didn’t. So these will have to do.

2021

2020 (When it was a work in progress)

2014 (University Dorm)

2013

2012

2009

2008