Oh, yeah. It’s Thursday, isn’t it? Sorry about that. Got distracted by the Internet.
Actually, what distracted me was trying to figure out how to rearrange my computers. I’m trying to change my setup to make it easier to switch between working at home and working elsewhere. There were a number of reasons why I didn’t get much writing done in Sedalia–starting with the music, of course–and one of them was just the simple disruption of not being at my usual computer with all my usual tools.
The answer seems simple: set up my portable machine as my main writing machine.
But wait. This is computers. It’s against the law for anything computer related to be simple.
Or, in the words of Tom Lehrer, “It’s so simple / So very simple / That only a child can do it.” Anyone got a child I can borrow?
If I’m working at home, I don’t want to use the comparatively small laptop screen. I want the big screens on my desk. Yes, plural. (A hint for the budget-minded: at any given price point, two medium-sized monitors give you more screen real estate than one big monitor.)
I like to have the document I’m working on directly in front of me on one screen. Then I put my research web browser on the same screen, but off to the side where it’s handy for looking things up at a moment’s notice*. And then I shove my email onto the second screen, where it’s out of my peripheral vision; that way it doesn’t constantly distract me, but it’s running, so it can use audio alerts to get my attention for important messages.
* Most recent mid-paragraph search: how much space would twenty pounds of gold take up? Hey, it’s an important plot point. I couldn’t leave it to fill in later, right?
Sure, there will be compromises in doing all that on the road. But I work at home more than anywhere else, so the goal is to tune the home experience for maximum efficiency, then scale it down for traveling.
The big gotcha, though, is that laptops aren’t really designed to connect to multiple external monitors. “Hey,” the manufacturers say, “it’s got a built-in screen and an HDMI port. That’s plenty.”
Not in my universe.
My laptop doesn’t even have an HDMI port. What it does have is a USB-C port and there are zillions of USB-C docking stations. Many of them even have multiple video outputs.
And that’s where I got distracted.
The most common combinations of ports are two HDMI or two DisplayPort. Next most common are one of each. VGA? Not so common. DVI? Hen’s teeth.
You know what’s coming, right?
My monitors are so amazingly outdated that they don’t have either HDMI or DisplayPort inputs. VGA and DVI all the way.
Which has never been a problem before. Every desktop computer I’ve owned for the past decade or more has had DVI outputs. HDMI-to-VGA and HDMI-to-DVI adapters are cheap and effective.
Every single docking station I’ve looked at has had warnings against using adapters. “They may not work” is the usual phrasing. That’s tech-speak for “It probably won’t work, but we want you to buy the product, so we’ll cover our posteriors with a maybe.”
I found one line of docking stations that have one DP, one HDMI, and one VGA output. I figured I could go VGA-to-VGA on one monitor and take my chances with an adapter for the other.
Then I saw the small print: if you use the VGA output, the DP and HDMI are disabled. Seriously!
I refuse to buy new monitors for this project. The ones I’ve got work perfectly well.
So, if you don’t hear from me or that kid you loaned me for a while, assume that we’re buried beneath an enormous pile of docking stations and video adapters, fruits of the search for the one magic combination does something mindbogglingly easy.