Blade Edge

Computer software | Video production | My life in general

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About Drew Sikora – The Home Office

In The Beginning

Like all stories, this one has to start somewhere. If you’re not already familiar with how I got involved in software development and then video production, head back over to the About main page to check out those histories – but the short and skinny is that I decided I wanted to develop games when I graduated high school. To do so, I needed a computer. Now, I had never owned my own computer before, I had always used my father’s work PC in the very early days, and then when PC’s became more common we had a family PC I shared amongst 2 sisters. This sharing thing just wasn’t going to work out if I wanted to do serious development work – but I had to put up with it for about a year after graduating high school until I was finally able to afford my own computer. I got a laptop, since it would travel with me to my first Game Developers Conference out in San Jose – this was 2002 (I graduated in 2001). It was also cheaper at the time than building the desktop PC that I really wanted. The laptop was a Sony Vaio ultra-portable computer, with a 10″ screen and P!!!m processor.

The desk was purchased soon after the laptop was acquired. I had to dismantle a second twin bed that occupied my room (great for sleepovers when I was younger) and shuffle furniture around to accommodate the big corner desk and hutch I picked up from Walmart for a measly $125 (if that, I don’t have the exact price – might have been closer to just $100). The arrangement of my room has largely remained the same since then. Anyways, this laptop looked rather dinky all alone on this huge desk, so I started filling up the shelves and space around it with items – a habit I would continue to this day. Unfortunately I have no early pictures of the desk because I had only bought a digital camera in 2004. So, that’s where we’ll officially begin our tale.

However before we fully dive in I would be remiss not to mention one of the people who has inspired me to properly build out and document my setup, and that of course would be Stefan Didak. I bow before you, good sir.

Also note that all photos lead to my flickr set that contain additional image notes about other aspects to the photos (like the significance of that Batman thermos on my shelf in the photo below).

The Year Is: 2004

The first thing you might notice about this image is that I have an LCD monitor hooked up to my laptop. You might also think this is so that I don’t have to stare at a 10″ screen. However the real reason is that the laptop screen got busted (although it did partially recover on its own somehow later on) while carrying it in my backpack, hunched over riding on my motorcycle. With the laptop virtually unusable, I was forced to seek out an alternative display and ended up choosing the Samsung SyncMaster 172X 17″ LCD monitor. While it was upwards of $500 at the time, it was also the best 17″ monitor for gaming with its then-leading 12ms response time. After getting the monitor, I grew tired of typing on the laptop keyboard when the screen wasn’t even working, so I purchased the Logitech DiNovo Bluetooth Media Desktop. This was a great investment (I call it an investment given that it was a whopping $180 for the whole keyboard/mouse/media pad set) since I’ve used the Bluetooth many times to connect devices like my cell phones and wireless headsets to my desktop for file transfer and voice chat. My own review of the DiNovo upon receiving it was largely positive, with the exception of being unable to properly hack the media pad’s LCD display (still unable to do so to this day 🙁 ). Along with the DiNovo I also decided to adorn my desk with the ThinkGeek binary clock for additional geekyness. Finally, I rounded out the whole setup with some quality speakers, the top-of-the-line 2.1 speakers at the time, the Logitech Z2200 – pumping out 200 watts of awesome audio.

The Year Is: 2005

As 2005 rolled around I realized that I had a problem, and that problem was the fact that I no longer had a computer to bring with me when I traveled to conferences. The obvious solution was to buy another laptop – so I did! With the Sony Vaio S, I was able to strike a balance between performance and portability – I needed the computer to handle 3D graphics well for developing games, but I also would be toting it around as I walked around conferences so it couldn’t be a huge beast. What I got was a 13.3″ screen, Pentium M Processor 735, 512 MB DDR333 RAM, 40 GB HDD, Radeon Mobility 9700 and internal wireless and CD-RW/DVD drive. Because the screen on this laptop was perfectly fine, I was able to continue using my LCD display as a second monitor. After setting everything up in regards to the old laptop and my Aunt’s old desktop tower she gave me (I never did get around to making that into a media server as planned) my next goal was storage of CDs. You’ll notice the black CD books on the left of my desk – a lot of them were game discs. My solution was to purchase a KDS 75-CD storage tower. Even back then it was already discontinued, so I found one off eBay for $25 (originally priced at around $60) – although it can connect to the PC via USB to control the storage trays, the drivers were no longer supported either. This was easily solved with a simple Excel spreadsheet telling me what CDs were in what drive trays. I also splurged a bit and bought a Griffin Powermate – which at the time I had no real usefor (it looked cool and had a blue light, haha) but later on discovered it aided me greatly in video editing.

Also this year I decided I wanted to be able to watch TV and play games without having to go downstairs and see if the TV wasn’t being used by another family member. I didn’t have the money to actually buy a TV (at least not one I wouldn’t want to replace very quickly – my goal with everything is longevity) so I researched into using my computer monitor instead. What I came up with was the ViewSonic N5. After getting it all set up, I was finally able to play console games on my computer monitor, as well as watch TV.

In a slightly off-topic but still geeky note, I also finally got around to picking up a Motorola Razr flip phone to replace my rather generic, fat and pathetic Motorola clamshell. Of course, it wasn’t long after that everyone had some type of Razr phone so it was a bit of fail but I still loved it, and it served me well for many years.

The Year Is: 2006

2006 opened with some hard drive troubles on my laptop – the system would crash often and sometimes I would have to reset my BIOS in order to even boot into my OS. Leaning down close to the drive I could hear it whirrrrr-clicking as it spun and knew its days were numbered. While I tried working with Sony to get the laptop shipped in for repairs, I bought a 3.5″ external enclosure and 120GB internal hard drive to use for backing up my data daily in case my drive went totally teats up before I could get it fixed/replaced. I also bought a cooling pad for my laptop as it was overheating often, and took off my keyboard tray to transform it into a shelf to house the CD books I still had left after filling up my KDS storage tower. After failing to find a service area for my laptop after over a week of calling around, I finally nerded up and bought a new 2.5″ internal hard drive and swapped it out myself. This also let me clear dust out of the casing and solved my overheating problem. Later on in the year I finally spec’d out and then assembled my first desktop computer rig, also adding my second LCD monitor. I toyed around with MaxiVista to employ my laptop as a third middle monitor, but ultimately ditched it and kept the laptop as a separate entity, though networked for file transfer so I could be synced up for travel.

Because my desktop had a Hauppage video tuner, I disassembled my N5 setup – however I learned quickly that I could not play games through my capture card – the DVR program used to decode the stream introduced a lag of 2-3 seconds. My solution, instead of bypassing one of my desktop monitors, was to re-purpose an old CRT my grandfather had given me to sell. For sound I simply went with a set of cheap 2.1 speakers.

The Year Is: 2007

2007 is when I really began to pine for more than a dual-monitor system after stumbling across Stefan Didak’s setup via Gizmodo. Later on in the year I finally looked into my monitor options to see what I could do about going for a triple-monitor system and also considering upgrading from Windows XP to Windows Vista and my graphics card to DirectX 10. I’m really glad I decided in the end to skip Vista! Eventually I finally got around to purchasing and installing my second graphics card and then hooking up my third monitor. Additionally, I installed a second internal hard drive I took from an older PC in the house and started using it to store files from years past in order to keep my main drive clear of files I did not access often. I also started to back up my data off-site in case of a fire or other disaster that rendered both my PC and local backup hard drive inoperable – I’ve already lost enough data simply due to time and negligence. With the external back up drive, I was able to easily transfer files I needed to take with me on the road to my laptop whenever I needed to, saving me from having to keep it synced constantly with my desktop and all that extra housekeeping hassle. Also the laptop is pictured here for the sake of recording – it usually spent its time stashed away until I traveled.

On the gaming side of things I purchased both a Saitek X52 Flight Control System and Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals in order to get back into Flight Simulator.

Also, if you want to know where I got the little business card filing cabinet (total awesomeness), click on over to ThinkGeek.

The Year Is: 2008

2008 was a rather slow year for office progress as I diverted my attention (read: money) to other pursuits, like kite flying, my car and my bike. Oh, and a girlfriend – those can be expensive too you know. I did end up having to buy a new internal drive to replace the old one I was using for legacy file storage, and I also beefed up my graphics capability further by installing a Radeon HD 3870 as my primary video card. Aesthetics-wise, I stuck an old computer book underneath each 17″ monitor to raise them up to the level of my main 20″ monitor. That is, unfortunately, the extent of my computer/office tinkering in 2008. I did pick up an iPod Touch – which I would find extremely awesome over the course of the year, even if it wasn’t the conference laptop-killer I had hoped it would be.

I will take a moment to mention all the random “junk” that covers every square inch of my shelves and the top of my hutch. You may have noticed it all slowly build up over the years. Believe it or not, nothing up there is there simply to take up space – every single item I place up on my desk has some special meaning to me. Some remind me of certain events, others remind me of certain people, still more are collectibles from companies/franchises/etc. I can imagine people looking at my desk and going “wow look at all that clutter” but for me it’s a great way to reflect – I can lean back in my chair and pass my gaze over the collection and remember a ton of stuff I wouldn’t ever want to forget. I believe the proper term is “mementos” – every single object on my desk is one. (the same applies to a lot of what I hang on my room’s walls as well)

The Year Is: 2009

I had a lot to make up for after the lame 2008 year and so I kicked off 2009 with some minor tower upgrades I had been meaning to get to for a while. The extra 2GB of RAM (for 4 GB total) wasn’t fully addressable until I upgraded to Windows 7 64-bit later in the year. The floppy disk drive was for recovering some very old files (like BASIC programs from when I first started coding) and simple legacy support. The multi-card reader was mainly to save me the hassle of plugging in my Canon Digital Rebel XT via USB every time I wanted to download photos to my computer – transfer was also faster working straight from the card rather than through the camera. I also had Sony memory sticks I could use for transfer between my Vaio laptops. The PS3 hard drive upgrade never really happened, so I ended up using the external 2.5″ drive as my portable backup device to tote along with me on business trips and access any files I needed without having to pre-load them all to my laptop prior to leaving or (again) have to worry about keeping the laptop synced with my desktop. I also had to replace my WD Raptor main hard drive when it was spiraling down towards inevitable failure. After purchasing an iPhone, my iTouch from last year became largely redundant, but I started seeing pictures of them on people’s desks as a clock so I found a simple, free clock app (Alarm Night Clock Lite) and that’s its main function now – although when I go on trips it acts as a second mobile video/audio device so I don’t have to drain my iPhone/laptop battery. For Xmas I got a Lilliput 7″ USB monitor, and after hooking it up and loving the extra extended display, I had to get a second one to even out the symmetry. I also (finally) integrated my laptop with my desktop via Input Director to control it with my main mouse and keyboard. Because I was planning to get an HDTV this year, I upgraded my main graphics card yet again to a Radeon HD 5870 (which barely fit in my case!), which had an HDMI port, and moved the HD 3870 to the second graphics card slot. Due to a large increase in hardware installed in the tower this year, I also upgraded my power supply to an 850w Corsair PSU and upgraded my UPS to an APC 1300RS. Finally, since I had always wanted one, I bought a Wacom Bamboo Pen + Touch tablet and even built a ghetto yet very usable stand for it.

The media center took the biggest technological leap this year, with the purchase of a Samsung 46″ LCD HDTV. I will let those posts speak for themselves, as they adequately delve deep into the technical nature of the setup you see above. The HDTV purchase was a goal I had been chasing for the past 3 years, so it was great to finally see it come to fruition in such a wonderful fashion. Really, the only one complaint I can make about the entire setup is that there is no PiP support on the Samsung, which would have been nice with all the inputs I have going into it.

The Year is: 2010

That’s this year! What new and exciting things await the office? Well for that you’ll have to stay tuned to me on twitter, or here on the blog, or over on my flickr office set. I’ll be updating at the end of 2010 with a wrap-up of all the new additions – I have plenty planned already 🙂


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