My Viewsonic Portable Monitor

Gamechanger is a word thrown around a little too readily for my liking, however sometimes you do find something where you sit back and think: wow this really has made a massive difference in how I live/work/play…

In this instance the scenario is work. Not always the most fun topic to write about, however in this current world of hybrid work, I feel some sort of duty to pass on a good news story when I come across it.

Images courtesy of Viewsonic

Background

I hadn’t really considered a portable monitor as a “need” until recently, when it became apparent I would be working remotely for a few days every month or so, but not from my home setup. Most days I’m working at a 27 inch Dell Ultrasharp monitor in the office, and a day or two per week at home in front of my LG 35 inch Ultrawide display. Both are connected via USB C. Clearly I’m used to the 13.5 inch laptop on the company issued Windows Surface 3 in combination with something a fair bit larger. I can (and sometimes do) work from the laptop alone, however the thought of regularly spending successive days doing that concerned me a little from a productivity perspective, so I began to consider some options.

I tend to be one of those individuals who prefers to be completely independent with whatever tech setup I use, and the gear I carry to the office each day reflects that. Its a mobile lifestyle they say, and yes it is, however to me, packing up and carrying your entire work existence in a bag or two need not involve compromise in how you like to work. A benefit of this mobile lifestyle is the very fact that when an alternative location becomes part of the rotation, what’s in those bag(s) has already taken care of 90% of the work in preparing for somewhere new. For most of us who like to be in control of these situations, as you’ve guessed already — 90% is a full 10% short of where we need to be. So I say to you new location… is there anything else I need to close that gap?

As it turns out the answer was yes, however I hadn’t quite appreciated how much of a benefit the anything else would turn out to be. I also confess having stumbled across a review or mention of a portable monitor somewhere was the trigger to look into this a little more. It’s certainly obvious to me in hindsight, however for someone who plugs into a second screen every day — apparently the idea of a portable one for the road wasn’t coming without a little nudge.

The Monitor

Although I’m no tech reviewer, onto the product itself. Once I began investigating things a little, one review I found pretty helpful was on PC Mag, appropriately titled The Best Portable Monitors for 2022. In the end, it’s perhaps not surprising I ended up with the Best for Road Warriors/At Home Workers pick, and I couldn’t be happier. A far better job on describing the tech details and providing you product pictures can be found on PC Mag’s review of the monitor itself, however I’ll provide this for immediate context:

ViewSonic’s VG1655 is a cleverly designed portable monitor with some uncommon features. It offers a fold-out stand with a wide tilt range. A five-way mini-joystick controller takes the place of the fidgety buttons found on most mobile monitors, and the onscreen display (OSD) menu system lets you access a wealth of settings instead of the handful offered by many rival panels. And it has two USB-C ports—one for power and one for data/video transfer—plus a mini HDMI port. Its poor sRGB color-gamut coverage makes it best for working with text and spreadsheets (versus photos and video), but it shines brighter than most mobile panels. Its surprising wealth of features, including built-in speakers, makes it our latest portable-monitor Editors’ Choice, despite its par-for-the-course panel.

PC Mag

The images accompanying this post are from the Viewsonic website, and paint the monitor in a far better way than a few amateur shots from me. There is one outlier however, and no doubt you’ll pick the Pete Denison original of my precarious looking but rock solid portable workspace.

I’ve come to realise in most cases when forking out of my own pocket for work related peripheral devices (which I’m happy to do by choice) that par for the course (in this case the panel/colour display) is generally more than sufficient for what I need, and my key requirements here were pretty much the following:

  • display quality that was good enough: yep, it’s work as you’d expect, all text, web, email and spreadsheets… (it’s an IPS 1920×1080 panel)
  • USB C connectivity
  • a little larger than my laptop screen (here 13.5 vs the 16 inch Viewsonic)
  • light weight (it’s a little over 800 grams without the cover or 1kg with it)
  • multiple viewing angles with a stable base (it has unlimited kickstand adjustable angles and also stands vertically in portrait if that’s your thing)
  • reasonable value for money in providing the points above

Overall, this thing is fantastic for what I need. It is seriously light, slides into the tote I use to carry my tech peripherals, has a screen I’ve never thought of as sub-par and simply plugs into one USB C cable for the laptop to power the display and transfer data. I haven’t noticed a massive impact on the laptop’s battery life, however it is often plugged in to power when the portable display is in use. It’s a simple set up, plug in and get to work.

Somehow the simplicity of powering and using this thing is what elevates the magnitude of my satisfaction. It’s one of those prime examples of minimal effort for maximum gain.

Rock solid and fully functional on my desktop sit-stand raiser

If we are talking effort vs gain, then I guess we also need to assess the bang for buck equation as well, which I think came in at a fairly reasonable level as well. The monitor in question was purchased online from Umart, and at $AU378.50, the benefit has been worth that many times over. Incidentally, working in a location 5 minutes down the road from a UMart collection point with 2 hour pickup available, is a very dangerous proposition when scrolling a tech catalogue…

Overall for what I’ve gained from this device, I’d consider it pretty good value for money.

Wrapping Up

As I’ve noted above, I don’t consider myself a tech gadget reviewer, and I’ve simply set out here to tell what I consider a success in purchasing a second, and extremely portable monitor for my mobile lifestyle. While that lifestyle mostly utilises two much larger screens in “toggling” my existence between home and the office, every few weeks the Viewsonic portable gets a run, and on more than one occasion I’ve found myself thinking ”wow — how good is this thing, I never would have thought I’d find it so useful”. That to me says it all.

If you are considering something to enhance your setup on the road, a lightweight portable monitor might just do the trick. This Viewsonic portable model might be worth a look, or failing that, a quick scroll through a “best portable monitor” post. It certainly worked (and continues to work really, really well) for me.

Back in Ulysses

Originally this post was to be about Setapp, which I’ve now been subscribing to over the past three months or so. Perhaps I’ll get to that at some point, however I probably haven’t poked around or utilised enough of the apps to really write anything of worth. One of the big draw cards though for hitting the signup button on Setapp was full access to Ulysses, and on that point I do have a little bit to say — not so much about the app itself, more so that it actually has me writing again.

Go figure.

Back in Ulysses… and actually writing

What is it about Ulysses then?

Before we get to that, just briefly, Ulysses being one of the plethora of text editors out there for Mac and iOS competing to be the heart of many a writing workflow. Running on a subscription model either direct from the developer or through Setapp as I’ve mentioned, it may just be the ”ultimate writing app” as the developer suggests:

Powerful features and a pleasant, focused writing experience combined in one tool, made for people who love to write and write a lot — this is Ulysses.

Sounds about right.

Image courtesy of Ulysses

While this post is about the app itself, it also isn’t at the same time. Of course no-one uses an app or system which is difficult to use or not to their liking. We all have our criteria here, and we could go down the path of the various UX and UI aspects of the app, and all manner of technical capabilities and limitations. Well, lets be honest — we could do that if I were in any way capable of such a thing, however in reality I’d be wading in waters I had no business being in. Add the debates around subscription pricing, data storage, true markdown and proprietary file databases and you have a lot more to discuss. That isn’t the purpose of this post.

No, the purpose of this post is explicit in the section heading above. Getting back into writing again despite a couple of very, very lean years here on the blog, during which time I was in and out of quite a few text editors. I hear you (and a smattering of YouTube thumbnails) telling me: It’s not about the tools it’s about doing the work…I certainly don’t entirely disagree with that sentiment, however I’m increasingly inclined to believe it’s even less true than I once thought.

Ulysses can’t do the writing for you though, surely?

No it cannot, and arguably there are just as many capable apps out there that will do the job (believe me, I’ve tried a few…). It’s just that for many years, Ulysses was where I wrote. Plain and simple. Back in the heyday of this blog, posting regularly, committing to a weekly link post, heck — even giving NanoWrimo a crack and getting 55k words done in that crazy month. All done in Ulysses.

So no, Ulysses didn’t put words on a page for me, but certainly helped me find my way and regularly do something I inherently enjoy — writing. Sure, most of what I write never sees the light of day, but cliche’s exist for a reason: it’s about the process (journey) not the result (destination). Somehow, somewhere along the way, that process for me became “writing in Ulysses” rather than simply “writing”.

Well if it’s so great why did you stop in the first place?

A very fair question given the high praise above. Part of me probably believes the blog would have gone from strength to strength had I stuck with Ulysses, although that would be a fairly unrealistic and flawed argument. There is no discounting the million and one other things going on in our lives, and truth be told, my writing consistency and rate of posting was on a downward — let’s call it a slope rather than the somewhat harsher spiral — long before I pulled up stumps with Ulysses the first time around (somewhere around 2017 I believe). In fact I do recall thinking that if I wasn’t writing all that much then there wasn’t much point in paying the ongoing subscription. In many ways a periodic “what am I paying for and what am I actually using” review of my subscriptions at the time. For the record, I have no issue with subscription pricing models, as a consumer, the power is entirely with me, and decisions simply need to be made from time to time.

So yes, that first time it was a casualty of competing priorities, commitments, general life challenges (nothing major mind you, just the day to day getting in the way a little), and perhaps a waning of will. The funny thing is, those very life challenges seem best countered by doing just this — writing, with my good pal Ulysses helping me along, and that’s exactly what I’m seeing and thriving on now. I for one certainly hope it continues.

Incidentally, I’d planned to link to a couple of previous posts relevant to what I’m discussing here, however going back through the earlier years of the blog really puts the recent me to shame as far as output is concerned, and indeed gave me pause. Here they are anyway:

NaNoWriMo – My Digital Tools

NaNoWriMo – Two Months On

Writing With Ulysses

Ulysses 2.6 – An update to my favourite text editor

In Conclusion

So there you have it. Me and Ulysses. Butch and Sundance. It’s not the tool it’s the mems!! It’s an ode to the golden years of my writing. The Once Upon a Time in Hollywood of markdown! Wow, I’m not sure how we ended up here, so it’s perhaps time to wrap this one up.

Whether or not this is some fleeting zen moment and things won’t actually change all that much will perhaps be seen in the fullness of time — or at least next January when thoughts again come to the year past and the one ahead. For now, the butterfly is in the sky and seems to be flying along pretty well.

I remain optimistic, with a trusted companion at my side(bar).

Never an Unusable Pen

Perhaps that’s not entirely true, however I’ve been a pen and stationery enthusiast long enough to not only have a fair idea of what suits my writing style and taste best, but to also know exactly where to deploy pens which may not quite fit that ideal window on my usability spectrum.

While there are a couple of ballpoints in the mix here, the slimline black Montblanc and to a lesser degree the Montblanc Noblesse (top) are at the centre of the discussion. Pencil for a little scale.

The slimline fountain pen of the 70’s and 80’s being one example, however there are quite a few others which sit squarely outside my typical usability criteria mentioned below. I remarked recently to a good (pen)friend that much of the “pen discussion” which occurs in our correspondence would make great blog posts, so here I am putting that theory into practice. You see, accompanying a recent letter, I also returned a few pens generously passed on to me by said friend, in the knowledge they would be forwarded on and re-homed to a user perhaps more suited to them.

On a brief side note, I have written about this gentleman before, and truth be told he is one of the most helpful, generous, knowledgeable, and selfless people I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know as a result of writing this blog.

Back to matters at hand, and as it turns out, most of those pens were slimline (read, very slim and narrow) fountain pens which were in their heyday in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Whilst they may not be what I’d reach for to write a thousand words, they were certainly far from unusable, and a few have certainly remained in my collection, to be enjoyed and put to good use. As I wrote in my correspondence, I’ve found there are not too many pens I cannot use in some form or another.

A Usability Window

Don’t get me wrong. We are not talking “unusable” pens with faults or defects that render them, well… non-functional and unable to be used at all. No, here I’m simply referring to those pens which at first glance, hold, or use, give us the: ”well… ah… yeah… not sure how this is going to go for any significant writing…” type of feeling. I suppose it’s the fine line between less-suitable and unsuitable. One of the joys in talking about this stuff is when writing those previous two sentences, I know with 100% certainty that anyone reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about with no further explanation necessary.

I’m sure we all have pens that if we were to sit down and write a few thousand words in longhand, would be the first pulled from the pen pot or case and we’d be eagerly scribing away. Others not so much, where even the thought of making it to the bottom of an A5 page begin those muscle fibre fasciculations which precede writers cramp. It may be size, weight, balance, or many other factors alone or in combination telling us that even beginning with a full cartridge of optimism simply won’t cut it.

For me? Well its usually related to:

  • length: too long or too short (I’m generally not a cap poster, so aside from your pocket pens designed to be the appropriate size upon posting – a la the Kaweco Sport which I love – posting generally makes them feel too long to me). Your smaller pens such as the Pilot Prera and Pelikan 205 I can get away with, however prefer something a little larger if the writing task is looking similarly sizeable.
  • body thickness or diameter: no doubt we all have a sweet spot here. Slimline fountain pens of the 70’s being a little outside mine. That being said, personally I find this to be a wide, wide spectrum
  • taper: I find this an interesting one. Thin and straight – not so great. The same thin diameter at the grip which has come down in a taper – much better. My usual preferred thickness but in a gun-barrel straight body? Sometimes not as good. As I said, I find this an interesting one…
  • finish: I typically find metal barrels a little on the slippery and hard to manage side. That said, the humidity of a Brisbane summer generally affords a bit of tackiness in that regard.
  • weight: often not a deal breaker on its own, given you are of course also thinking this is inextricably linked to balance (as is posting the cap more often than not). A mid to lower centre of gravity if you don’t mind. Combined with the above point — a weighty metal pen can present a challenge.
  • appearance: yeah, I said it… looks. Not in the way you might think though. I’m talking about the output on the page. Those times when the pen doesn’t feel right but your writing just looks fantastic. I’ve typically had most of these experiences with pens I’d have considered a little on the thin side. To be honest it’s often quite a “wow – this goes well” type of moment. Yet, and perfectly illustrative of the point to this post, “wow” is soon replaced with “oh, starting to struggle here — that’s getting a bit messy…” if any sustained writing needs doing beyond maybe a few minutes.

I’ve kept the above list devoid of the even more finicky aspects of nib type/size/grind or liquid ink vs ballpoint, with these really beyond what the post is about. And granted, the above are exceedingly obvious and far from groundbreaking to anyone reading this. In its simplest form we are merely talking about those ”oh this is too big/small/thick/thin/long/short/heavy/unbalanced/slippery/knurled/smooth moments that first flood your mind upon picking up and using whatever writing instrument it may be.

Tale of the tape out of interest: 8mm at the grip section, running to 10mm on the barrel

But of course, all is not lost…

Strategic Deployment

It is here the crux of the argument lies. I’m sure none of us will put up with something we genuinely don’t like using, and with various online marketplaces or simply exchanging with others, there are plenty of ways to offload something of that nature. I guess what I’m referring to though is the genuine joy that exists in having a certain amount of variety available in our day to day tools. Also, it’s not hard to see most of us in this pen caper have some sort of “rotation” in use at any given time. The variety may therefore come weeks to months later, depending on just how many pen soldiers are in storage before they are called to active duty.

I wax and wane as far as numbers in the rotation are concerned (largely depending on when I decide to clean and refill), however I’ve also noticed a trend in having a secondary group — a “special teams” if you will. It’s in this group where the slimline fountain pen sits. Or the outrageously heavy pen. Or the pen that is too short. I think you get the idea.

A short A6 journal page entry? No problem.

This secondary group exists in parallel with the main group for two main reasons. One, they perform what I’d call “writing support” functions (more on this below) and two, they get a run in the main group when the urge to clean isn’t strong enough to reinforce the dwindling ranks of the “in-rotation” group. The funny thing is, it’s the latter of these two scenarios which frequently reminds me that many of the pens assigned a support role deserve a spot in the main rotation, and that is often a change I make moving forward.

So what of these writing support functions? We all have them I’m sure, and I present a second exceedingly obvious list for your reading pleasure:

  • markup: perhaps the most common of them all. Editing your 2014 NaNoWriMo novel for example — a task that remains unfinished (errr… I mean tasks like that anyway, surely no-one is that slow… right?). Those office ”can I get your thoughts on this” type of queries — often printed, hand-written feedback applied and returned (or at the very least hand written for my own thoughts before applying tracked changes and returning a digital document)
  • lists: not much to be said here. If I cannot use a certain type/style of pen for a few pages, I can generally use it for a dozen one or two word bullet points
  • index: essentially the point immediately above
  • headings: where you might prefer the analogue equivalent of H1, H2… etc
  • contrasting text: colours, underline, highlight. Some of this blends into markup, yes, however I also often use different colours in the primary text of a notebook for ease of emphasis or finding something upon scanning through pages
  • injection of joy: not the artistic type by any stretch, however at times I’ll add a little flourish such as the one in the image below if I’m so inclined (“flourish” considerably overstates what you see below, however that’s about as good as it gets — notwithstanding the numerous Bujo YouTube videos I watch at times…)
Merry Christmas one & all…

You’ll have your own lists with far more in them than mine, and I’ve likely forgotten a couple I use as well, however I just want to emphasise one thing: “strategic deployment” is by no means a synonym for “begrudging use”. If I really don’t like a writing instrument, then yes, it will see no use and will leave the collection. It’s just that with all the possible uses, this very rarely occurs, and that is something which gives me considerable satisfaction.

What has always worked for me is loading them up with atypical colours (if you write with all the colours of the rainbow then it won’t matter anyway) to utilise the benefits for markup and contrasting text; having them located at their assigned task (ie coupled with the notecards or notebook in which the list is made); ensuring horses for courses (no free flowing nibs with feather heavy inks in a pocket notebook or on cheap paper if I have too use it — long live the ballpoint!!! — that’s genuine praise, don’t get me started, I love them).

Signing Off

In wrapping things up after taking far too long to say that I rarely can’t find a good use for a pen, there really is nothing more satisfying than having an arsenal of pens, with a reasonable amount of variety, which all see their fair share of use. Use them and love them I say.

And a final word to the generous soul now back in possession of those pens — I’m sure they’ll bring as much joy to the next new home as they did to mine, and as always I am forever grateful to you. And that folks, is an expansion of my letter, as a blog post — unsurprisingly it works pretty well.

An Untimely Christmas Visitor

Well there we have it. After making it almost three years covid-free through this pandemic, I’ve been hobbled at the final hurdle – the 2022 Christmas family visit. As late as the morning of Christmas Eve, packing was being finalised and lists checked off. Cars were fuelled and tyre pressures correct. Departure was imminent, save for the pre-trip Covid check, which as you can now guess, in my case turned out to be disappointingly positive.

Sure, there are ways to manage these things and still make the trip, however suffice to say, our particular circumstances dictated the trip be cancelled. A somewhat quieter Christmas at either end of the two hour drive which separates us would now follow. Time for a little quiet reflection perhaps? Right you are, and of course that’s exactly what happened.

Amongst the kind (and certainly welcome) messages acknowledging the sad situation we found ourselves in, also came a certain clarity of thought around the reason for the trip. To see loved ones — as is the case with most of us this time of year. With many solutions offered in the well-wishing messages, summarised as: take a separate car/sit outside/wear a mask/just drop by at a distance, all consideration was given, however the decision to cancel was never in doubt.

You see, a little clarity of thought around what was being missed here is the key — at least in my mind. Yes, we are a family that celebrates Christmas in all the typical ways. All things going well, that is what has always occurred, and will continue every year into the future. The key however being it’s not the date that matters. The disappointment I feel in not being able to make a three day visit to see my family is no worse on December 25th than it might be on say, the 10th of June — or any other date.

Sure, it’s very disappointing. Seeing them on a particular “day” is not really what’s important to me — simply seeing them is. It’s about the visit not the date. And yes, plans are already in place to visit in about 10 days if things go our way.

So in the spirit of making the most of a bad situation, it’s a fine summer day here in Brisbane, and I’ll continue my recovery in front of the television, alternating between the Boxing Day cricket test match and the Sydney to Hobart yacht race. A return to full health is best achieved with leftover ham and judicious amounts of pavlova — both of which are in plentiful supply. Add to that the real saviours and joy in this situation, my wife and kids, with whom I’ve just spent Christmas — albeit at a short distance through a mask. It wasn’t “as planned”, and despite feeling a little unwell, I can certainly not complain about these past few days.

In the midst of the chaos surrounding extreme weather, flight cancellations, health concerns, and many other challenges, I hope your plans went along as proposed. Mine certainly will — just a little later than expected.

Pen collection thoughts – niche or narrow?

When it comes to a pen hobby, some may consider it niche, others not so much. Sure, there are plenty of folk who love their stationery, however the more “nerdy” pen types likely fit the niche descriptor one way or another. From there, well I guess it is just a matter of how far you go down the rabbit hole, which in many ways brings me to my point.

Depending on your approach, going deep into any hobby or interest carries with it the inherent risk of limiting the breadth you may experience across that same endeavour. Specialising, or carving out your own… ok — niche, indeed has many benefits, however again, there are sacrifices in this approach if we begin to take a broader view. There is of course no right or wrong to any of this, simply the path(s) you choose. Further, that old adage you don’t know what you don’t know springs to mind as well.

Why am I writing about this? Well as with anything reflective in nature, the trigger is often some occurrence which makes us ponder things a little. Where you ultimately arrive with those thoughts may be a side tangent you hadn’t necessarily seen coming. I guess that’s the thing about serendipity.

It’s around nine years or so since I started this blog, and it was only a little before that I found myself revelling in the discovery that many likeminded people shared their love of pens online. What was one to do? Dive right in of course.

You begin poking around online, one blog links to another, and progressively a nice cache of RSS feeds mounts within the “Pen” folder in your reader. The associated social media and podcast(s) inevitably follow. You immerse yourself further. These are your people! There may be a local group or two where online becomes face to face, and as good as that may be, for the introverted amongst us that aspect may just as quickly fall away. Again, nothing wrong with that — we are each to our own. Online though, it’s all there. All around.

Fast forward a few years, and as your interactions broaden a little, you begin to see that despite all you’ve opened your eyes to across the entire (or so it seems) internet, your view may be a little narrower than first thought. I guess all that’s left to do is chuckle as you are reminded large parts of your hobby are actually unknown to you. You’ve completely missed them.

Why?

Well I’ve probably answered my own question earlier in the post: …one blog links to another… All well and good, however there is the tendency for things to work their way around in a nice circle as a result. Podcasts at times can be similar. Opinions somehow become fact and we all end up hearing or writing similar things. We buy the same things from the same companies. Is it FOMO? Maybe, or perhaps so we can contribute to the conversation?

Whatever the reason it can certainly stifle any natural growth which may occur in directions other than everyone else’s well worn path. Maybe there is a fine line between community and echo chamber. Perhaps it’s one and the same. Mind you, I say that with the utmost respect, for I think there is simply a natural tendency for things to develop in such a way.

So what is this serendipitous event I speak of? Well the mere existence of a large swathe of pen models by a certain large pen manufacturer which existed through the 70’s and 80’s which I knew absolutely nothing about, yet are certainly out there if you care to look. I’m talking of the Montblanc Generation, Noblesse, and Carrera. Throw in another slim line two-colour twist mechanism ballpoint for good measure. Bringing these types of pens into a collection certainly results in a little background research, and it is only then you begin to realise the extent of the gaps in your knowledge.

img_0519

The exact pens themselves aren’t the point here (they certainly may be in a future post of course…). The narrow-ish field of view I’ve somehow developed to this point is.

I understand many of us live in the “now” or “next release” of the pen world, and do not necessarily seek “vintage”, or have any interest in it, which is absolutely fair enough. I hadn’t really ever planned on doing it either, however found the main benefit to be a richer and broader overall view as a result. That being said, the point of this post is not even to sing the praises of vintage pens, but to simply explain the catalyst of putting pen to paper which ended up being what you are reading now.

The moral here? If I could speak from experience and with brevity: No matter what you think you know, or who you choose to read, watch or listen to, there is far, far more out there which may indeed be of interest — perhaps surprisingly so.

If everyone else has/wants/suggests a certain pen, might it be worth casting the net a little wider and  considering something different instead? You never know what you might find.