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Work Desktop Setup

December 1st, 2016
tech  [html]
I spend most of my day standing in front of my work desktop, doing some combination of programming, code review, documentation, and email. Over the years I've figured out a relatively productive setup:

  • browser on one monitor
  • tile the rest of the space with tall terminals
  • put some extra terminals for starting jobs etc off on the side

This looks like:

(This is divided over two monitors, with the browser and the first vertical terminal on the left-hand monitor.)

I spent an embarassingly long time having to hand-configure this each time I had to restart my computer, and avoiding restarting as much as possible to keep from having to do this, so I eventually learned how to use -geometry arguments to set this up:

# Make the background black.  Not that
# the background should ever be visible
# or anything.
fbsetroot -solid black

# Start and place terminals.  81 columns
# because code here is limited to 80
# columns and emacs reserves a column for
# the wrapping indicator.
uxterm -geometry 81x90+1428+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x90+1920+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x90+2412+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x90+2904+0 &
uxterm -geometry 73x22+3396+0 &
uxterm -geometry 73x22+3396+310 &
uxterm -geometry 73x22+3396+620 &
uxterm -geometry 73x19+3396+930 &

google-chrome &

# Start the window manager last, and
# don't run it in the background.

Update 2018-02-08: I just got new monitors, both 2560x1440, so I now have 5120x1440 of space to work with. I'm not sure exactly how I want to set it up, but for now I have:

uxterm -geometry 81x109+2560+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x109+3052+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x109+3544+0 &
uxterm -geometry 81x109+4036+0 &
uxterm -geometry 79x8+4528+0 &
xclock -geometry 108x108+5010+0 &
uxterm -geometry 97x25+4528+128 &
uxterm -geometry 97x25+4528+476 &
uxterm -geometry 97x25+4528+824 &
uxterm -geometry 97x19+4528+1172 &

I also used to manually adjust the settings on xterms each time I started them up, but then I learned how to use xrdb. I put xrdb -l ~/.Xdefaults in my .xsession, which contains:

xterm*metaSendsEscape: true
xterm*reverseVideo: on
xterm*visualBell: False

I also have pretty strong preferences about how fonts should look. Specifically, unless I'm in a hidpi environment, I don't want the modern thing where you use a vector-graphics based (true type) font and then through some combination of hinting and antialiasing you fit it to the screen. Instead I want precisely pixel-aligned bitmap fonts, which happens to be exactly what xterm uses by default.

What am I talking about? Here's a zoomed-in view comparing xterm with its default font to gnome-terminal with its default one:

The gnome-terminal rendering isn't terrible, especially when you're at a normal zoom level, but it's much less crisp than the xterm rendering.

(This is one of the things that makes ssh-from-a-browsers annoying: I don't believe there's any way to get text to render device-pixel-perfect, so until hidpi displays are everywhere you can't get away from the blurry fonts there. This is much less of an issue for ordinary web text than terminal text, because I run my terminals at a much smaller font size to get as much as possible on the screen at once.)

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