with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Lorelle’s Three Monitors and Desk Setup

I’ve been asked to explain my three monitor setup working with Windows 8.1 (or whatever is the latest version) and my desk, the almost ideal workspace for the writer, web developer, and web publisher.

Three monitors, one vertical, two horizontal, adore the desk of Lorelle VanFossen.

My desk was designed and custom built by my husband, Brent, to fit into our trailer. It was designed for life on the road with many features to keep it light-weight and versatile. It is made of mahogany and red oak. It is designed literally “around” me with a keyboard that moves under the desk when we were traveling, and a fold away keyboard table within perfect reach of my right hand. Any time I travel and work away from it, I miss it, it is that much a perfect fit.

The three monitors are set with two horizontal to the left and right, with the center monitor turned vertical. The two horizontal monitors are 24 inches wide and the center monitor is 27 inches “wide,” which is actually 27 inches high. The three sit on a fairly fixed three monitor single pole support with the two 24″ monitors glued to mounts I made as they weren’t designed to be supported off base. I simply removed the bases once mounted.

Windows 8’s operating system allows for easy shifting from horizontal to vertical, so no drivers or fussing was actually necessary. Just a visit to the desktop, right click, choose Screen Resolution and mess around with the screen you want to change.

Why a vertical screen? Why not? Seriously.

The web is a vertical world. Web pages are designed vertical and scroll vertically if well-made. Documents are vertical. The only things we use a computer for that require the horizontal are watching television shows and movies and working on spreadsheets. Really, if it isn’t your job, when was the last time you worked on a spreadsheet? If you don’t watch videos and such, then you have even less reason for a horizontal monitor, right?

The world I work in is dedicated to vertical, so vertical makes sense. I spend less time scrolling and more time focusing on the overall view of a web page and document as I write and edit. Designing and developing for a responsive web includes designing for smart phones. When was the last time you used your smartphone horizontally except when watching video?

I keep one to two windows open for Firefox spread across the two horizontal screens, and one window of Chrome for testing and a few other odds and ends. This also allows me to be logged into different Google accounts when working on various projects and client sites.

Firefox is my web browser of choice. A few years ago when Firefox was borking on a regular basis with any website featuring Flash, I switched to Chrome and my productivity dropped dramatically. I did a comparative analysis of the same tasks and found that the same task of publishing a post took 45 minutes in Chrome and 15 minutes in Firefox with less keystrokes and futzing with stuff. Repeated comparison tests found similar times just to be sure. While Google claims that Chrome is faster, it is if you have one to four tabs open. I typically have 90-150 tabs open at a time, and Chrome bogs down my computer’s RAM, while Firefox seems to keep trucking with little speed or functionality loss.

In addition to my web browsers, I also have my graphics program open in one of the horizontals when doing light work, but move it into the center when designing something that requires my full attention.

The middle vertical monitor holds my content. I work with NoteTab Pro for all of my content development, editing, and web coding and programming. I’ve customized it to my needs and adore it. It’s simple and maybe not as powerful as some text editors, but this one has powerful features that make my web writing and content development a breeze.

A few years ago I added Scrivener by Literature and Latte to my tools and it has revolutionized my writing. If you are serious about writing from a technical, fiction, or non-fiction perspective, don’t ask why, just buy Scrivener. You will never regret it. I write books, blog posts, even put my class curriculum and notes into it to help me keep track of the class material, and started using it for my family history research recently, making life, and my family tree, much easier to manage.

Both of these are not word processing replacements, though they work hand in hand with word processors. I so rarely use my word processing programs now that I have those two programs, and email has replaced letter writing and memos, but when I do, I use Corel’s WordPerfect still, the best word processing program on this planet, even though Corel has done their best to mess it up over the last 4 versions or so. Even with crashes and glitches, I keep upgrading. I’ve now switched most of my work over to Google Docs and Google Drive, unless my client is not tech savvy, which limits me to Microsoft Word documents (or I read and review them in WordPerfect). Google Docs and the rest of the Google Apps in Google Drive are a freelancers’ dream-come-true for each documentation collaboration and file sharing. When I working with these, they usually go in the center screen in Firefox.

The computer is an Intel Core i7 2.67 GHz HP Pavilion, though not much of that is left other than the motherboard. The brilliant folks at Tekology in Beaverton, Oregon, did an emergency repair on it when the hard drives and other parts and pieces went south a year ago. It now hosts a Solid State Drive with several other hard drives linked in, along with some other nice bells and whistles including 24 gigs of RAM, essential for the stress and strain I put on my computer.

Taking Care of My Web-Worn Body and Health

Along with the major computer repair and rebuild, I decided to finally grow up and treat my computer-addicted body better. I did a little personal investing in myself and gave up my Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard, a joy that I worked developing when Microsoft first launched their hardware program many years ago, and invested in a Kinesis Freestyle Keyboard from one of the smartest companies in Bothell, Washington. The keyboard is three pieces, left and right with a separate keypad, which usually hangs under my mouse pad until I need it, giving me more room to split and spread the keyboard apart. I use it titled up at 15 degrees, and I play with the idea of getting the support to tilt it all the way vertical like a Dvorak keyboard. Someday. The keyboard opens up my back and helps reinforce a better and healthier sitting position.

A friend of mine has terrible arthritis and had her hands swell with agony while working on her doctorate. She discovered the Kinesis Freestyle Keyboard and pain went away. Like me now, she carries it with her when she travels. She let me use it and the learning curve took a bit of work as I relearned the delete and backspace key positions, but within a few minutes I was typing even faster than my rocket typing speed and my own hand pain went away after a couple weeks. Using a normal keyboard is now frustrating and uncomfortable. I will not go back to the old way, and I’m writing healthier now.

After many years lusting, I invested a little in my ass with the purchase of a brilliant Swooper from Relax the Back in Beaverton, Oregon, on sale of course. The Swooper is a German-engineered stool that bounces and swivels much like you would experience on an exercise ball. I have the happiest ass on the planet now. A few clients say they love it when working with me in my office because I start bouncing when I get excited about the code or content going right. It takes up little space compared to an exercise ball or traditional chair, swivels so I don’t have to roll back and forth, is amazingly comfortable, and allows bouncing time at work.

My long-time best tool, the rechargeable Logitech MX Revolution Mouse, is beside me every day I’m in my office and on the road with me. It’s beautiful ergonomic grip makes it a joy to hold. I go into hateful spits of frustration when using other mice that lack the convenience and efficiency of thumb buttons for back and forward on web pages and in File Explorer. I adore the brilliant hyper-scroll wheel, now only found on the old original versions as the driver software changed. I’d love to have that come back, but it is still amazing and makes my life move faster on the web. I have two backups of this mouse that I purchased on sale to ensure that I have a replacement ready. I’ve dropped them over the years on cement one too many times and learned to watch for sales and pick up a couple extras when the price is right.

With the hot mouse, I decided to take a tip from gamers and pick up a Razer Vespula Dual-Sided Gaming Mouse Mat. I never thought about the surface my mouse was traveling over. It makes a difference, a huge difference. I now have more precision control over the mouse, it moves easier, and I don’t have to clean it as often. I’m not sure why, but the gummy skin gunk that sticks to the underside of the mouse doesn’t gum up any more. The mouse pad offers me a larger surface, and hangs off the edges of my mouse table a bit, but it relieves the constant lifting and repositioning I have to do as I move around on web pages and create images and graphics. Trust me, a well-designed mouse pad makes a huge difference.

What you see in the photograph to the left is my laptop, now gone the way of many a laptop with the rough traveling lifestyle I lead. I’ve replaced it with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 10.1″ 2014 Edition, an excellent tablet, shown in dark on the right side of the photograph. I bought a large car tablet mount to sit on my desk to hold the tablet, turning the whole desk into a huge operations control panel. Behind it is a small charger for my smartphone, replacing a landline office phone.

You Got to Be Rich to Have All This

Of all the things I’ve done to take care of the my health in my work life, the keyboard and stool are the most expensive, appropriately so. I spend most of my life glued to that chair and keyboard, and I’ve paid the price with back pain, headaches, carpal tunnel, and arthritis from sucky keyboards and chairs. I wish I’d invested in my health earlier, and been a little smarter about this.

The monitors were cheap but decent LG and ASUS brands on sale at Frye’s Electronics. I don’t do much video watching, just photography, so the need to have the hottest and bestest resolution out there isn’t necessary. If I could change anything about the monitors, I would have two verticals and one horizontal, and make the verticals be “taller.” The one I have is a nice height on its side, but I wish I had a few more inches width.

The mouse is now under USD $60 with frequent sales and older models going for much less. The mouse pad is also often on sale through Amazon, costing about $30. The keyboard is about $100, and is corded. There is now a Bluetooth wireless model for a little bit more. Yes, I spent too much on my computer, especially the repair and rebuild, but it will last me another 3 years or more, and hard drives, including portables, are now extremely cheap per gigabyte.

The software I use is all free or inexpensive. As time goes on, I may drop Microsoft Word and WordPerfect to go totally with Google Drive/Docs, dropping my expenses even more and improving the convenience. At last count, upgrades cost me about $200-300 every two to three years, averaging $8 a month if I break it down to the typical lifespan of my paid software based upon upgrades not new purchases.

The monitors will last me another few years, then will probably fail or costs will come down enough for me to replace them with ones more useful to me.

The Swooper is forever, with maybe some upholstery replacement in 5 years or more. They have a new version called the “Air” with a sweet seat, the only part that looks different, so I might replace the seat with a new one when the time arises.

Unless it fails for some reason, the keyboard will last me for years, though I’ve worn off many of the most frequently used letters on the keys, something I’m well known for on any keyboard with my hard pounding and long nails. Until they start designing keyboards with the letters embedded as Microsoft once did under my assistance many years ago (then stopped for reasons of cost), I will keep wearing the letters out.

Measured across time, this is a very inexpensive setup that you can easily have yourself. I recommend you consider it, if only for your health. Go on, flip your monitor sideways and watch your world improve on the web.

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