Knightwise, Where are all your Boxes ?

A few days ago we had a friend over who made quite a astute observation. " Yo Knightwise, where are all your boxes ? " With "Boxes" he of course referred to "where are all your computers". The last time we had this friend over was at our old house in Hasselt, quite a long time ago. As I gave him the "tour" of the house, with the "lab/office" as piece-de-resistance offering up a nice line of monitors, keyboards, cpu-towers and humming servers. When I think back of moving INTO our old house, I remember packing up about 8 screens and 12 computers (laptops included) and dragging the lot into the new casa (and generously donating a slipped disk to the persons who had to haul it all upstairs). Today it is of course a whole different story and that surprises even me. Our entire "visible" computer infrastructure consists of a 24 inch Imac on the kitchen table ( our main interface to the digital highway ). If you are ever so fortunate to get the whole tour of the house you’ll only notice one little desk in our room upstairs (which doubles as a dresser and a study) with a microphone boom, a laptop stand, keyboard and mouse and a large Tft screen. The rest of our infrastructure is .. Invisible. Is it not there ? Has it gone away ? Have I "toned down" ? Not, not by an inch, if ever I have "more" computing power at my fingertips today then I had back in our old house. But it’s just organized a little differently.  How ? .. and .. Why ?

A question of estethics.

If I wanted to I could setup a nice office with large screens and multiple machines if I wanted to, but I haven’t. As I explained in the podcast episode "A geeks Palace" there are several approaches to "The geek Palace" . There is the "nuclear" approach, where you office is one mess of cables and screens that look like the collision between a spaceship and a blender. But for reasons of estethics I am not going to to there. On the other hand you can go for the multi-monitor super productive (and quite massive) setup I displayed in one of the KWTV episodes where my 24 inch Imac made the heart of the system, flanked by two 19 inch monitors AND a 15.7 Macbook Pro jammed on one big table. Or I could go for the current setup. A stark table with the ‘facilities’ to house a system but not a "permanent setup" of a system. I choose the latter.. Why ?  First of al : Less is more. Going for a quite "stark" setup (keyboard, mouse, display) and all the rest hidden away, makes for a workspace where you can realy focus on what you "came" to do. It offers a low-impact, versitile workspace to facilitate whatever system you land on it. Second : As i said "what you CAME to do". With the 24 Imac on our Kitchen Table there is no longer a real "computer room" in the house. So instead of "going up" to the computer-room and working on the computer .. you "bring" your computer to hook it up to a more "productive enviroment" ( Larger keyboard / mouse / extra pheripherals like printer / mixer etc ). But the key of the matter here is that you "bring" your computer.

The power of the laptop.

With 2 Macbook pro’s in the house each powerful enough to do 99 percent of our "productive work" the "desktop computer" becomes obsolete. Our laptops have become our "portable cpu’s" giving us the computer power we need when and where we need it. Sitting downstairs in the couch, Hanging out of the porch or blogging from the bedroom. Not only is the Wifi network coverage ubiquitous, we also have constant access to all our data on the server and in the cloud. With " hardware Independence" achieved, it no longer matters WHAT machine we work on (we pickup eachothers laptops whenever they are around) for the concept of "local data" does not exist anymore. Only when we need to "enlarge" the interface with a full keyboard or an extra screen do we "hook up" the laptops to the setup in our office. There the little "portable solutions" become the equivalent of a full desktop PC. Only then does the "interface table" turn the room into a "computer room".

The hidden server.

"Discretion is the better part of Valor" So our server remains a discrete although prominent part of our daily digital life. being the central hub for data storage, incoming SSH connection, running scripts and applications, AND doubling as a media center one would think to spot a massive 19 inch server rack in the corner of our living room. However aesthetics is not the main motivation not to do this. First of all the average "home" does not need the same equipment as a corporate environment needs. And although shoving 19 inch switches and NAS drives into your home might seem c
ool at first, the resulting power bill will quite quickly change your mind. The server in our house is a small Intell ATOM desktop. (an Intel motherboard WITH the processor on board, 2 gigs of ram and a terabyte harddrive. Packed in a small form factor casing it looks like a vcr and is mounted underneath our TV (doubling up as a media center). Relatively quiet and online most of the day its the central hub of our indoor and outdoor computing lifestyle.

The ones we don’t pay for.

But the question remains.. Where DID all the boxes go ? Well , to be honest I still have a few, but these are running as virtual machines on remote systems (read : different computers I’ve setup elsewhere). Having the ability to hook up to them using logmein, ssh or the VM-ware web-interface , it does not realy matter if these systems are IN our house or not. It does not even matter if they are Physical machines. As long as we can connect to them, fire them up and shut them down whenever we feel like it .. There is no need .. for all the "boxes" in our house.

Links :

KWTV : The Multimonitor Imac Setup.

Knightcast Podcast : A geeks Palace.

Knightcast Podcast : Laptop Luxury.

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