Choosing a new monitor for non-gamers

A year ago I bought a new monitor, Iiyama Prolite XU22HS. This is a 22″ 1080p (1920 x 1080) monitor. I’d been pretty happy with it but a few weeks ago I noticed that the power LED wasn’t working.  As it was still under warranty I reported this to Amazon and although I’d had the monitor for a year they accepted it for a refund, which I appreciate. Whatever one’s feelings about Amazon, this willingness to replace things without quibbling is a big reason for dealing with them.

I needed to choose a replacement and this wasn’t easy. Most of the reviews I found on Amazon were concerned with gaming, which I don’t do.  I mostly need the computer for text (writing articles and books), with some viewing of TV on BBC iPlayer and occasional YouTube. The most helpful advice site I found was How to Pick a Good Monitor for Software Development  by Nick Janetakis, which I recommend to anyone whose needs are similar to mine..

By now I’d realised that there are few 22″ monitors around now and 24″ or 27″ is the norm. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d managed to confuse myself to the point where I was making the same mistake as Janetakis’s mum, thinking a bigger monitor would be useful to me as a writer by giving me more text on the screen.

Physical size doesn’t constitute how much you can fit on a monitor. For example my mom thinks that a 25” 1080p monitor is going to let her fit more things on her screen than a 22” 1080p monitor. Don’t be my mom!

The only thing that matters for “fitting more stuff on the screen” is the resolution of the monitor.

This became obvious to me as soon as I read it. I would have been happy to buy another 22″ monitor, but as few of these are now available.I eventually settled on the 24″ HP 24W Full HD monitor, which a number of reviewers had found good for office work and text generally. I needed to adjust my on-screen text sizes to suit the new ppi of the larger monitor but other than that it’s fine for text and iPlayer is better than it was with the Iiyama.


Update on Kindle

I posted my reasons for buying a Kindle reader about 18 months ago (see A Reluctant Conversion to Kindle). I haven’t changed my mind since then but I have upgraded to the Oasis. This is expensive but I’d say worth it, for two main reasons: the larger screen and the buttons for moving forward and back.  There are other minor adantages as well, such as the option to turn off the touch screen.

My Spectrwm Configuration File (with comments)

Actually, the default spectrwm.conf works pretty well, apart perhaps from changing the Mod key. It’s easy to try out changes on the fly; just edit the file with the help of the man page and test it with Mod+q. If you make a mistake spectrwm will tell you by printing an error message in the bar.

Just one caution: some mistakes may prevent spectrwm (and therefore X)  from starting, so be careful about using Mod+Shift+q. If that happens you will have to edit .spectrwm.conf without using X. This doesn’t apply to Mod+q.

Note: to improve readability I mostly don’t show unused (commented out) options. See the man page for these.


# Important
# Mod key, (Windows key is Mod4) (Apple key on OSX is Mod2)
modkey = Mod4

# Workspaces and Layout
workspace_limit = 5 # I don’t need more than this.

# Changes to Defaults
# The next two entries replace the default Mod+Space. Why? By default, this command cycles between the different layouts (vertical, horizontal, full screen). I seldom need to do this whereas I very frequently need to alternate the focus between main and stack. So I set Mod+Space to toggle focus_main and use Mod+c to cycle the layout.
bind[focus_main] = Mod+space
bind[cycle_layout] = Mod+c

# Other (minor) changes to defaults
bind[] = Mod+Shift+Delete # I don’t need to lock the screen and I want to avoid doing so accidentally, so disable the default.

# Window Decoration
border_width = 2
color_focus = red
color_unfocus = blue
tile_gap = 2

# Bar Settings
bar_enabled = 1
bar_border_width = 2
bar_border[1] = yellow
bar_border_unfocus[1] = yellow
bar_font_color[1] = white
bar_font = -*-courier-*-r-*-*-*-160-*-*-*-*-*-*
bar_format = %a %b %d %R +S +F +L +V
bar_at_bottom = 1

# Miscellaneous
iconic_enabled = 1 # occasionally useful

# Programs
program[term] = xterm

# Quirks
quirk[Xsane:xsane] = FLOAT + ANYWHERE
quirk[Gimp:gimp] = FLOAT + ANYWHERE

Four Tiling Window Managers Compared


I’m an enthusiast for tiling window managers. I’ve tried out quite a few over the years, and here I offer my assessment of the four I’ve liked best: spectrwm,  i3, xmonad and dwm.


Summary for the impatient

My outright favourite is Spectrwm because I find that it offers all the features I want without making things over-complicated. Configuration via the text file is easy and the commands quickly become intuitive and automatic. Dwm is almost as good as Spectrwm but lacks some features that I want. i3 seems to be a popular WM and is better known than Spectrwm, I like it quite a lot but I find Spectrwm more intuitive to use. Xmonad is an attractive WM but is irretrievably let down by requiring Haskell to configure it.

The window managers in more detail

Note: For further details about WMs other than spectrwm, please follow the links below each entry.


1. Spectrwm
This is currently my favourite. Configuration by a plain text file is simple.   I should say that it is the most flexible and intuitive WM that I’ve tried.

Here are some screenshots.

Firefox in master position; two other windows open
Screenshot 2

Enlarge master window (Mod + L)
Screenshot 3

Change to horizontal split (Mod + Space)

Screenshot 4

Make a window fullscreen.(Mod + E)

Screenshot 5

Switch to Workspace 2 containing xsane (Mod +2 or Mod + R. arrow)
Screenshot 6

Note: xsane was started from xterm; the xsane windows  are floating (set via Quirk in ~/.spectrwm.conf)

More information

My Spectrwm configuration file

Get spectrwm here

Detailed comparison of Spectrwm and i3 .


2. i3
I liked i3 quite a lot and used it for a time. Configuration is simple since it is done in a plain text file. In many ways it is similar to spectrwm but  the windows are arranged i differently. i3 seems to be better known than Spectrwm with a larger following However, it has some slighly irritating idosyncracies, and  having tried out both of them fairly extensively I find I prefer Spectrw.. For my reasons see the detailed comparison of Spectrwm and i3 .

More information

My i3 configuration file

3. Xmonad
This has a large user base and a helpful mailing list. It has many of the features I want and is quite similar to Spectrwm but is let down by its being configured in Haskell, which makes any configuration beyond the most basic a major undertaking requiring hours of research on the internet. There is also a large disk space overhead required to house the libraries needed for said configuration. For these reasons Xmonad loses out to its competitors, at least for me.

More information

Setting up xmonad

4. Dwm
Dwm is the forerunner from which many other tiling WMs forked. There is still a lot going for it: it’s simple and functional and easy to learn. Configuration is via C, but don’t be put off; it’s easier than it looks even if you don’t know C (I don’t). If you are not willing to embark on learning Haskell, dwm would be an attractive alternative. If Spectrwn were not available I’d use Dwm.

More information

Setting up dwm

Continue reading “Four Tiling Window Managers Compared”

“Dirty Old Town” from “Informer” on BBC1

I found the rendition of ‘Dirty Old Town’ on BBC1’s ‘Informer’ particularly attractive but I couldn’t see anything in the credits to show where they got it. I spent much of a day learning how to extract and edit the sound track from the programme (an interesting and probably useful exercise) but eventually I located what seems to be the source on Youtube, sung by Esther Ofarim. If you’ve looked for it yourself you can find it on Youtube.


There are other versions of the song by the same singer, Esther Ofarim, on Youtube but I preferred this one.

Book review: Believers, by Melvin Konner

Melvin Konner is a medically qualified anthropologist who had a conventional Jewish upbringing and was a convinced believer in God until, at the age of seventeen, he lost his faith and became an atheist. But in this book he takes issue with four prominent atheists, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens—”the Quartet”.

According to these authors, religion is an irrational and potentially dangerous superstition which is fated to disappear, and the sooner this happens the better. But Konner doesn’t think that religious belief is necessarily a bad thing, nor does he believe it will disappear in the foreseeable future. Continue reading.