Home Teaching Setup

In the current online teaching world the home teaching setup is a couple of 4K screens, an 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.

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 (unfulfilled to date): virtual backgrounds in the Linux (or web) versions of Teams. The Linux Zoom client now does backgrounds - Yaay.




Current Favourite Laptops


  • 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.

  • 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 (2015) Featherweight, if a bit light on ports. Officially orphaned by macOS 12 Monterey, but OCLP saved the day.

  • Huawei MateBook 13 (2020) The build quality or battery life is not up to Apple standards and it 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.

  • Dell XPS-13 (9370 and 9305 versions) The 9370 is from a few iterations back but it still makes a handy Ubuntu/Windows laptop, albeit with a very unflattering webcam angle from the bottom of the screen. The 9305 is more recent, essentially transplanting newer 9310 innards into the now old-style chassis of the 9370 and similar, though it manages to put the webcam above the screen.

  • 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 ChromeOS Flex, formerly CloudReady .


Current Favourite Tablets & Convertibles

  • iPad Mini (2021) Out with the Lightning port, in with USB-C. In the usual Apple style you have to buy a new Apple Pencil 2 to work with this one.

  • iPad Air (2020) See above.....

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

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

  • 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 a while back, 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 After ChromeOS caught up with the hardware, this became a very usable big screen tablet/convertible. It is effectively a powerful Linux tablet thanks to Crostini.

  • 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).

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

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


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 wiped 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. Raspberry Pi OS 64bit is now available to speed things up a little bit.




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 Poco F3 More like the orginal Poco F1 than the F2 Pro so it offers performance at a very keen price, especially now there are regular clearance sales with the advent of the Poco F4.

  • Xiaomi Poco F2 Pro A bit of a beast. It has a periscopic selfie camera.

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