Active Coder

My thoughts about staying active as a husband, parent, and generalist while keeping skills current and creating great software

52 Tools: AIDA64 Extreme

When I get into coding or consulting or gaming, all my screen real estate is being used, and sometimes I just want to quickly know how my system is being utilized (often wondering why it's running slow). I could monkey around with an on-screen display or, obviously, open the task manager or resource monitor. But I've decided to hook up a small (4x40 character) external LCD display which I have had around for years and push some PC vitals to it.

This tool review is for AIDA64 Extreme, a trialware system information program that costs $40 and integrates well with external LCD displays like mine.

What this tool does is much like Speccy and CPU-Z. What drew me to it, however, was its extensive set of external LCD display options.

AIDA Display Options

The model that I have is an Pertelian x2040. I think the company went out of business, and although the LCD Smartie open source project looked promising to be able to interact with it, the driver doesn't render the text properly. Apparently there is also a fix for this but I don't have the kind of development chops to make the fix happen.

Anyhoo, AIDA64 writes nicely to it. Now at a glance if I'm in a game or full screen in a Virtual Machine, I can see how the host computer is doing.

The middle percentage is the GPU fan percentage, but either my fan is never on, or that value doesn't work.

You can download the config file I'm using here.

Don't have an old school external LCD screen? you can run the monitor on any external tablet or phone using the RemoteSensor option, which basically starts a web server and hosts an streaming HTML page with graphs and whatnot (awesome!)

RemoteSensor sample settings

One UI gotcha on the desktop app is in order to hide the main UI (and deselect the icon in the task bar), you have to right click on the tray icon and choose "Hide Window". It also needs to run as administrator (I believe this is needed to get some of the temperatures).

Update: You can configure both minimize and close to just shut down the main window and stay open in the tray. You can also configure the splash screen to not show up and the app to start with Windows. All that basically makes it run like a Windows Service. Which makes the Windows developer in me think, why couldn't this be a Windows Service?

52 Tools: DebugView

It's definitely nice to have some power tools available in Windows. I don't use the SysInternals tools that much to be honest, but I've found myself consistently downloading and pinning DebugView to my task bar.

It's a simple utility that captures debug output from running applications. In practice, it is a utility that lets us dig into the innards of a running application without changing any trace log settings, providing the developer is exposing data via console writes or debug text. It runs quickly and provides a live scrolling log of the output events.

52 Tools: RDCMan 2.7

This week's 52 Tools post is about RCDMan, a tool created in 2010 by Microsoft and recently updated in November 2014 (H/T Dan Usher).

I use Remote Desktop a lot. In fact, I'm usually on 3-5 servers most days all day, comparing and checking configuration, updating installer packages and writing code. My main development environment is in a VM, although I use the updated Virtual Machine Connection application for that so I don't have to mess with network settings.

Update: It looks like 2.7 can do VM connections too, although I didn't have any luck getting it to actually work.

Anyway, I had been using version 2.2 (published in 2010) up until I posted this review, so I haven't had much time to tinker with the updated version. But based on the longevity of the 2010 version, I expect it to be great.

Remote Desktop Connection Manager 2.7

It lets you connect to many different remote desktop sessions, and inherit permissions from a server group. That's nice for connecting to multiple servers on the same domain -- if the password changes you just change it on the server group.

52 Tools: Pixels

This post is about monitor technolgy as it relates to developer and consultant productivity. It's part of a blog series called 52 Tools where I post weekly about a tool that makes my life easier.

At Hubstream, I straddle the line between being a coder and being a consultant. I typically have 10-20 windows open doing various things like email, my development environment, remote desktop sessions, debug views, OneNote, event viewers, our company's SharePoint site, StackOverflow, and the like.

Having enough screen real estate gives me quicker access to tools and remote sessions that help me be more responsive, and I think that makes be a better consultant.

A good window into my computing world can make a huge difference in my ability to manage different work streams. I can follow many different sets of problems at the same time.

For the other half of my work life, I'm not really sure my ability to open massive amounts of software on my computer helps me be a better developer. But on a single screen, being able to see more code certainly does.

I've been passionate about monitors since my first home brewed computer after I left the Army in 2003. It was a ViewSonic P220f.

Its native resolution was 1600x1200, and this was ideal. I also had another ViewSonic monitor at 1280x1024, and I kept this resolution as I transitioned into dual monitor LCDs around 2006.

For some reason (movies I suppose), mainstream computing trasitioned to widescreen monitors, so I ended up as a victim of this trend, working on Full HD (1920x1080) and smaller (1600x900, 1366x7680, 1280x720). The pixel density has been fine, but the screen ratio left something lacking.

Another trend has been to use TN panels, which are actually pretty bad. I was inspired to check out IPS panels by Jeff Atwood's rant and pride in his 3-IPS panel setup, and now I can't possibly use anything else. Especially with a large screen, I notice discoloration around the edges and dislike that it's not the same consistent color when I come in the room versus when I sit down at the computer.

The other day I purchased a Asus ProArt PA248Q, which puts me back in my sweet spot of resolutions. At 1200 vertical pixels (it has a resolution of 1920x1200), I gain room at the bottom for the taskbar and the output window in Visual Studio, and effectively can see another 10-15 lines of code on my screen.

More isn't always better. I also have a Dell XPS 15 that has a crazy 3200x1800 resolution so the text is immensely clear. However, Remote Desktop and Hyper-V Virtual Machine connections don't know how to scale appropriately to this size. So I end up running it at 2048x1152 (2560x1440 is strangely missing as someone else noticed).

I also have an older FHD IPS screen, which is pretty nice as well Asus VS239. I had previously been using a dual monitor arm (a generic brand from Micro Center), but the stand on the PA248Q is really nice so I am now using the arm for the widescreen monitor and letting the new one use the stand.

My latest setup

There's also a balance to be had between refresh rates and fill rates, but that doesn't control much of the discussion with regards to consultant or developer productivity (unless your work involves 3D modeling or something like that).

One final note, about lighting. I've added bias lighting (thanks again Jeff Atwood) and nighttime color temperature adjustment (using F.lux, hat tip to Scott Hanselman). Unscientifically, I think it makes me more alert and reduces eystrain. I use "bright white" bulbs (3000K) in three lamps in the office, and 18" Commercial Electric under cabinet lights behind the top of each monitor.

In the end, pixels matter and a developer's needs (like many other choices in hardware) are different that what's cheap and readily available. So I chose a high end monitor to get more vertical space, and a cheaper second monitor for overflow.

The Year of Tools

In 2015, I will discover, create or relearn one tool every week to help make life easier. Coupled with this, I'll share a quick review of the tool on this blog.