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Ask HN: What lesser-known equipment do you utilize together with your laptop?

Ask HN: What lesser-known equipment do you utilize together with your laptop?

2023-04-03 14:21:34

I was going to joke and say a cup holder (one company actually made a legitimate cup holder that fit in a 5.25″ bay back in the ’90s or so), but when researching for this comment, I discovered there are actual modern cup holder products that either clamp or magnetically attach to desks or other surfaces now.

Keyboard with a left handed number pad and a thumb trackball to the right. The keyboard is a bloody light strike optical gaming keyboard. The trackball has macros set to open a new tab, close a tab, and to use the ball to scroll when you hold down the right mouse button.

After working for almost 3 years with a barebones work-from-home setup (standup desk + laptop), I finally invested recently in some equipment to improve upon my crappy laptop camera and a room with little natural light. The difference in my video call quality is night and day. This is what I got:

  - A key light (Godox ES45) to throw a bunch of bright, natural white light at my face. Attached to the desk and positioned tilted above my head so that it doesn't blind me. I don't notice it when it's on.

  - A mic (Razer Seiren Mini) on a boom arm attached to the desk, positioned above my face, just out of the camera's sight. Nice, clean sound. Would sound even better if I were speaking directly into it, but I don't like having the mic visible.

  - Repurposed an old mirrorless camera (Sony RX100 III) into a webcam for that sweet HD quality. Way better than any of the webcams out there. Needed to buy a cam link 4K card and connect it via a MicroHDMI <-> HDMI cable. Required a dummy battery kit to connect to AC and some setting tweaking, but it works beautifully. Connected the camera to the key light stand with a clamp mount.

I wouldn’t call it lesser-known, but I tend to use a full-size standard 104-key keyboard with my laptop. It’s nice to be able to reach all the keys by feel and to have all those extra keys like Page Up and Page Down, etc. available without having to use a modifier.

I wouldn’t have thought they were lesser-known, but I’ve been surprised how many people don’t know about today’s cheap portable external monitors. They’re essentially laptop panels with a USB-C+HDMI board. $100-$150-ish and easily found in 15.6″ and 13-14″, 1080p or 2K. All the ones I’ve tried have 2 USB-C ports, mini-HDMI, and speakers. This all depends on what USB-C ports your machine actually has and the right USB-C cables, but a single cable can do power and display from the laptop. Or plug the monitor into USB-C PD source and the same cable will charge the laptop and run the monitor. Mine even has a third USB-C “OTG” port for USB 2.0 speed devices. Good for a second screen on the go or debugging single board computers.

What is the contrast/brightness like with these? I’ve always wanted one for working with two screens on the go but the ones I’ve seen in public never seemed to get bright enough.

In a cafe or other bright environment they seem to reflect everything around them similar to the way my MacBook screen does which makes it hard to see anything.

I’m speaking only from limited time seeing them from afar though–I’ve not actually sat in front of one to use or test out in person.

It’s bad. I have a ASUS MB16AHP (claiming a brightness of 220cd/㎡, contrast ratio 700:1) and yeah, in a brightly lit room viewing can be difficult. It’s ok under normal office lighting but you’ll be out of luck if you have sunlight flooding in. I’ve been searching for a brighter option but most (all?) the current offerings seem to be based on the same or similar internals.

Still, it’s a useful device while traveling – nice to be able to plop a decent multi-monitor setup out of a backpack. My model also has a micro HDMI port (and an internal battery) which can be handy if you need a temporary screen for a Raspberry Pi or a machine that usually runs headless.

You might be interested in a “field monitor” over in the photography department, though they are often small.

I have a 2200 nit (not a typo) piece of kit: Feelworld P7, very sturdy aluminum body, either camcorder batteries (multiple sleds) or 7-24V, 1920×1200 7″ screen, HDMI in & out. Works well. I’ve seen larger displays.

Do you have a specific model you can recommend? I searched a brighter one out especially (300 nits), read reviews, etc. Paid 200€. What I got absolutely sucks, definitely not 300 nits, glitches half the time I try to use it, doesn’t remember my settings. When I finally got around to return it, I discovered the company no longer exists lol.

Audio Interface which I plug XLR mics into. I use a shotgun mic (Deity S-MIC 2S) so dont have a stupid boom in your face like most podcasters.

I use a 60% keyboard that doesn’t even have dedicated arrow keys. My caps-lock is configured as the Fn key and, when it’s held down, the JKLI letters are the arrow keys. This (and other macros) are actually really convenient when you get used to them. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to type on “normal” keyboards because when I end up tiYping thinks like that. My keyboard is a Mistel MD600 split.

My favorite unusual accessory is a little 9 key mechanical auxiliary keyboard. I programmed it to be my debug keyboard with all of key combos for my IDEs debugger – run, stop, pause, next, step over/into, set breakpoints, etc. it saves a lot of time (or seems like it does).

I use a small USB switcher box to let me control my personal machine and my work machine at the same desk. I also use a keyboard that lets me flip a switch to change between Mac/Windows layouts. It has been very helpful to let me cleanly separate work from leisure, without having to give up the ergonomics of my desk setup. The friction to switch is low enough that I don’t feel tempted to keep work related stuff on my personal machine.

I used to have dual monitors, but now I use a super ultrawide 32:9 monitor. It required learning to use window managers since most OS’s don’t support multitasking setups like that, but I can use layouts now that I couldn’t before. I also use PaperWM[1] with it and it feels particularly effective on ultrawides.


> I use a small USB switcher box

Came to the thread to post this in case it wasn’t posted. Quite a ton of actual utility from a small noname box from Amazon for my same-displays-but-different-sources setup (Mac mini for work, PC for gaming).

Any advice on the USB switcher? I’ve had a hard time finding one that was of high enough quality to be a daily driver. I need USB3 for my webcam as well

Monitor arms freed up a ton of desk space.

Wireless noise cancelling headphones helped with concentration.

UPS saved me a couple times from losing work during power outages.

Left handed trackball (Elecom). Sits to the left of my Moonlander while my vertical mouse sits to the right. Not only is it convenient, as an old school Diablo player I get to tell people I duel wield.

I also have a cheap X-Pen graphics tablet that I use for ‘white boarding’ on zoom calls.

Almost forgot I also have a usb wireless numpad that I pair with a usb hid remapped on a pi zero to make hot keys for frequent actions.

+1 on the trackball.

When I travel I wind up working in all sorts of odd setups. No need to find a flat place to move a mouse. It works in tight places and uneven surfaces such as a couch.

Lesser-known keyboards: I use a small 40% (45-key keyboard) or an ortholinear keyboard for my daily work.

On both I have layers for a built-in Numpad, mouse keys (for controlling the mouse cursor without taking my hand off the keyboard), shortcuts for working with text (selecting an entire line, copying and pasting, etc) and various other finger- and wrist-saving shortcuts that help me ward off the likelihood of RSI.

I had a wrist injury in the past and it had a big impact on my productivity as a tech worker so using these small compact keyboards is a real godsend.

Everything I need is literally just one key away from another–no more stretching or contorting my hands and fingers to do CTRL+ALT+DELETE or CTRL+SHIFT+F5 for example.

The 40% keyboard can be used as a daily driver but the ortholinear keyboard is my go-to since it’s perfect for both work and play.

Lighted USB volume knob – they’re inexpensive, the large aluminum knob is on a sturdy base, can be pressed down for mute.

ReMarkable2 e-ink tablet — okay, it’s a standalone device, but interfaces to the computer in cool ways (like screen sharing), and it’s changed my life as far as note-taking goes

The ReMarkable is so tempting but so expensive. It’s just hard to stomach spending $500 at a minumum for the tablet + folio + stylus when I could have an iPad (a gimped base model one, but still) for the same price

Just wondering, do you have good handwriting? I love the idea of hand written notes, but while my writing is legible, it’s unpleasant on the eye.

My handwriting is crap, always has been, but I take handwritten notes at times because it is convenient and fast (sometimes), I don’t take them to look easy on the eye, I take them for the utility of having taken them. Usually I’ll OCR anything that needs keeping long-term and keep it digitally.

See Also

Things like BuJo don’t appeal to me, because it strips the practical nature of handwritten notes away in favour of making something more akin to art, and thus people become precious about their aesthetics rather than quality of note taking and ability to use their notes. Sorry, bit of rant, been trying to nail notes for a long time, but my conclusion is different tools for different tasks. Trying to compile it all in one place is a nice idea, but perhaps unrealistic for a lot of fields.

I don’t really use it – yet – but I have been quite interested in the concept of pedals. Some people use them to mute/unmute calls, turn caps lock on and off and even to switch between Vim modes, which is quite nice.

For me, I hope it would also help me quiet my legs a little bit and keep me in an upright posture, avoiding me crossing my legs for instance.

I use a trackball rather than a mouse. That improves my experience a great deal more than people expect.

I also use a homebrew macro keyboard. It’s a 16 key keyboard with nice, clicky keys and two analog knobs. It’s very convenient.

Cool idea.

> time $* && fin || die

I don’t know zsh, but this doesn’t look escaped properly to me? Bash has so many footguns.

What does the bloom filter do? Is it sort of like a hash to try to make each process show up on a different LED on the display?

Laptop arm — basically a clamped monitor arm with a laptop tray instead of VESA mount.

That combined with a USB-C dock and another monitor on an arm. I can quickly dock laptop and keep all my desk space.

I use my monitors in portrait mode. Some tools aren’t great with it, but when I’m editing a doc it’s amazing to be able to see two whole sheets of paper-worth of text.

I have been doing that for years as a nomad of sorts, but it kills your back. I recently bought a small keyboard so I can get a better posture and I recommend you so the same.

I use a drawing tablet as a third monitor, and I use a USB numpad so that I can shove it out of the way when I don’t need it (I basically only use it for blender).

Guessing you have two cursors as well?

I moved the opposite way and got rid of my mouse for my desktop computer, so everything (except 3D work that is done with a drawing tablet) is done with the keyboard. Web browsing was the hardest to start doing without a mouse…

if you can run 2 drivers you will have 2.

this wont work with win, you have one cursor two controls.

im sure this has to do with mouse_msg being the same thing[handle] across the two meese.

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