Home Teaching Setup

In the current online teaching world the home teaching setup is a couple of 4K screens, a MacBook Pro or ASUS PN50 mini-PC, a decent Logitech webcam, a headset or mic and a rat's nest of wires and dongles, all sitting on the living room table.

It is a rather expensive way to get pen (sorry, Apple Pencil) input, but an iPad connected wired or wirelessly to this lot is very handy for being able to write freehand using whatever the weapon of choice is: Teams, Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or Zoom. On macOS pretending you are going to record a movie on QuickTime with the iPad as source works well for mirroring the iPad screen on the mac.

A ChromeOS tablet or convertible is also usable in a similar context using Chrome remote desktop to mirror the tablet screen on macOS, Ubuntu, ChromeOS or Windows.

Birthday/Xmas wish: virtual backgrounds in the Linux (or web) versions of Teams and Zoom.

Current Favourite Laptops (& occasionally Tablets & Convertibles)

  • MacBook Air M1 (2020) Now with a sensible keyboard and ARM innards. The M1 chip is fast and the x86 emulation via Rosetta2 "just works" for everything I need. Also, to a good first approximation, the battery life is infinite. An annoyance is that attaching more than one external monitor requires DisplayLink chicanery and is inherently flaky.

  • Huawei MateBook 13 (2020) This would be persona non grata in the USA c/o their recent spat with Huawei. It is not quite up to Apple build standards and has no Thunderbolt, but it's not bad (and about half the price of a Macbook). A 3:2 screen ratio is a useful bonus too.

  • IdeaPad Duet More ChromeOS. A mini ARM-powered convertible, which has yet another stylus standard, USI (Universal Stylus Initiative, one stylus to rule them all).

  • Dell XPS-13 This is from a few iterations back (9370 version). It makes a handy Ubuntu/Windows laptop, albeit with a very unflattering webcam angle from the bottom of the screen.

  • Google Pixelbook Provides ChromeOS in style with both a Debian 10 container via Crostini and Android apps, not to mention a touchscreen with stylus support. The kernel was updated in ChromeOS 89, so it now does nested virtualisation as well. Translation: you can boot another full virtual machine (Win10 - too slow to use sensibly, or another Linux - reasonably fast) out of Crostini using kvm.

  • Google Pixel Slate Now that ChromeOS has caught up with the hardware, this is a very usable big screen tablet/convertible. It is effectively a powerful Linux tablet thanks to Crostini.

  • MacBook Pro (2017) The one with the not so great butterfly keyboard, but thankfully no superfluous touchbar in this (cheaper) version. Something of a design classic, but why are the two Thunderbolt ports positioned microns apart?

  • MacBook (2017) Featherweight, if a bit light on ports.

  • iPad 9.7 (2018) It works, and it doesn't cost a small fortune like iPad Pros.

  • iPad Mini (2019) Old school looks, souped up internals and it works with an Apple Pencil.

  • Galaxy Tab S6 Lite An Android tablet which comes with a(n S-)pen.

  • Acer Chromebook Tab 10 An iPad-like ChromeOS tablet. Early reviews were a bit sniffy, since ChromeOS on tablets started out a bit rough around the edges. It is very usable now and has a built-in stylus.

  • ThinkPads Various ancient ThinkPads are still soldiering on. An X240 is perfectly usable with Ubuntu 20.04 and a T540p is still chugging away with the latest Ubuntu as well. Some even older specimens have been repurposed as Chromebooks with CloudReady , now part of the Google empire.

Current Favourite Desktops (& Boards)

  • ASUS Chromebox 3 Since ASUS have been kind enough to include an i5 CPU, socketed RAM and a removable M2 SSD, this is now a 16Gb RAM, 1Tb SSD desktop machine, which makes it rather zippy. It was a bit costly when new but second-hand off eBay it is much better.

  • ASUS PN50 AMD Zen 2 Ryzen 4000 mobile chips wipe the floor with the corresponding Intel offerings, so why not put one in a mini-PC? It comes with a VESA mount in the box to hang it behind a monitor.

  • ASUS PN50+eGPU Why not splice a GTX1660 graphics card onto the mini-PC with a cable/card from these folk?

  • RPi 400 An ARM chip inside a glorified keyboard connected up to everything else via lots of wires for less than a hundred quid - is this 1980? Odd that the mouse appears to be set up for left-handers.

  • RPi 4B The ARM chip without the keyboard (or anything else). Raspberry Pi OS helpfully contains a free copy of Mathematica.

Current Favourite Phones

  • OnePlus Nord "Pretty much everything you could ask for" according to the advertising blurb, which is pretty much correct. We even have some patchy 5G now in Edinburgh from my carrier (Three) to try out the 5G connectivity.

  • Xiaomi Redmi Note 9T 5G Another long name from Xiaomi. 5G goes budget.