Bipersonal Computer

I finally got my act together and cleaned up my workspace enough to a take a picture of the current setup:

The Setup

There is nothing extraordinary about it, especially when considering the history of computing. However, it is an atypical configuration.

You’ve probably noticed the two monitors side by side, which is ho hum these days. One does not have to look hard or spend much to find a video card (or video cards) and a software configuration that will output to two or more monitors. Multiple displays are apparently a necessity if you’re into day trading:

A less casual observer would note that one of the monitors is in a portrait orientation. A little on the weird side, but still seen in the wild on occasion, though the only times that I can remember were by photographers taking portrait pictures for a yearbook or church directory. The portrait orientation works quite well on textual content, resembling a piece of paper rather than a movie screen or TV. Perhaps the designers of the Xerox Alto were onto something in the early 70s:

The sharp eyed observer will notice that there are two keyboards and two mice; two people can (and often do) use the computer at the same time. Though this is strange to see today, it was business as usual before the PC revolution happened, when time sharing systems were the norm.

Why go to the trouble of setting this up? A bit of the answer is certainly, “because I can.” There are legitimate reasons, however. Without delving into a full blown argument on why this might be better than a second device: this setup saves a bit on desk real estate by not having another device, the current computer was more or less idle under the current work load (i.e. under utilized), and it results in one less machine to backup and maintain (also any upgrades directly benefit both users).

For the interested: 95% of getting this to work is following this solid guide from the Linux Gazette in which they set up a six seat system. The rest was tinkering until it worked, with the help of sites such as phoronix.com. If you do this, I’d recommend using two NVIDIA cards. (In theory, it should be possible to use a single dual output card, but I wasn’t able to get it to work.) The NVIDIA cards still appear to have the edge on Linux over the ATI (AMD) cards as far as driver support (note that this was a few months ago). Also, avoid mixing NVIDIA cards and ATI cards as that seems particularly problematic.

As you no doubt deduced from above, the machine runs Linux, specifically Ubuntu 9.10 (yes, I know 10.04 LTS has been released). I suspect that a similar configuration is possible on Windows and other OSes, but have no idea how to go about it.

7 Comments

  1. Kevin Larsen
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I think that one of the biggest advantages of the bi computing is getting to hang out with the wife while at the computer. No longer will you have to call her into the room to look at the super cool Lego Printer… you can just nudge her and say… Hey baby, check out the lego printer:

    http://www.neatorama.com/2010/06/02/lego-printer/

  2. jachrispens
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Ha, that is pretty much how it happens. 🙂

    The lego printer is awesome.

  3. Kendall
    Posted June 3, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I still enjoy speculating on the facial hair arrangement of the gentleman in the Hawaiian shirt. Nice post, I haven’t seen such a clean work station in a while.

  4. Karson Chrispens
    Posted December 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    Hey, Jason, I never knew you had a blog! You should have told me! Remember, I’m your eldest nephew, and Kian can read now!

  5. jachrispens
    Posted December 2, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Ha, how’d you find my blog? As you can see, there’s not much to see here… but read and comment away! 🙂

  6. Karson Chrispens
    Posted December 2, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I was trying to go on the gift site but i found this and i thought it might be it and saw your name and checked it out. Kinda big sentence, huh?

  7. jachrispens
    Posted December 2, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    That is a good sized sentence!

    If you have a RSS reader you can find out about updates to this site. (Which are pretty rare.)

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