Of USB hubs and 4K screens

I have never had any luck with USB hubs. There is always a letdown of one kind or another, where connecting that one last perhipheral suddenly seems to break everything, either all the time or - almost worse and far more commonly - at irregular and frustrating times.

Despite this, I am giving a USB hub another go right now. Motivated in no small part by the fact that it comes with an attached 4K monitor.

Behold the vastness of space and the jungle of dangling cables.

4K monitor on arm, connected to Mac mini 4K monitor on arm, connected to Mac mini

Not very obvious from this rather messy photo is the fact that a single cable is all that is connecting the monitor and all my peripherals to my computer. And moving that one cable is all I need to connect all the same devices to my work laptop. And that cable also charges the laptop.

(Which is also why the Magic trackpad is wired. I have never had any luck whatsoever trying to efficiently move it between machines when it's not connected with a wire.)

I have only used this solution for a couple of days, but I have already had one occasion where I needed to unplug and re-plug in a different port to get the keyboard to work. Time will tell how many such situations will occur during a standard work week, and it will probably make the difference between a glorious one-cable lifestyle and one full of boring old hubs and extra cables.

What about the actual monitor then?

Oh, I like it. This is the first time I have had a desktop monitor capable of retina display modes (despite thinking about getting one ever since getting my retina Macbook in 2015). Being the same brand (Dell) and size as my previous monitor, getting it in place was completely uneventful, and the setting my Mac picked made everything roughly the same size as before, only that much sharper and smoother.

All nice, no surprises. Happy ever after.

The big surprise this far has been discovering that I can, in fact, work quite comfortably in actual 4K resolution. I expected a case of "Wow, look at all this space where text is way too small, not let us go back and get actual work done", but with some care paid to desk setup I find it completely useful.

I knew from the start that podcast editing would probably work very nicely. When I edit, I benefit from every single horizontal pixel I can get, I do not need to read very much text, and it is great to be able to fit show notes and a browser below the editing window at the same time. Being able to do this with minimal to no overlap between the various windows feels a lot nicer and smoother than tabbing and clicking around and having various things constantly jump to the front covering everything else.

Having the monitor on a flexible arm has been key, because I really need the right height and distance from my eyes to work comfortably in 4K. Once I found the sweet spot, I set the work laptop to screen mirroring mode optimized for the monitor, turned off the builtin screen, and spent the whole day working this way. (I do not understand people who work with a docked laptop with the lid closed. Not the way the fans run in this one even when the lid is open.)

My standard work setup before has been to have a browser window on the left half of the screen and the developer tools on the right side. Now, that just looks too large, I have space for another column if you will, and I am not even sure I want or need them to cover the full height of the screen either.

Perhaps this is how I get into tiling window managers? It does feel like this addition of space makes a lot of my previous window placement and management go out the window.

(I switched down to 1440p-equivalent resolution just now. Wow, was everything always this large and chunky? Where did my oceans of space go?)