Desk Setup, January 2021

There’s a metaphor out there that you should write about it if you say, are asked, or explain something more than three times. Since we’ve started OpenShift.tv, I cannot count how many times folks ask about my setup.

I’ve wanted to write this article since last October. But, things hadn’t stabilized. For example, I’ve broken about half a dozen mic arms since May 2020 (of ALL price ranges). I also knew I would be moving operations from our unfinished basement up two stories to our guest bedroom (now my office). I wanted to make sure the setup was durable. I’ve proven it’s portable as I’ve helped produce remote meetings for my son Max’s school. But now is the time to write this up. Why? Because I tweeted last week.

Note: chrisshort.net may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

I’ll explain the reasoning for each purchase and any accessories that I found necessary as well. I will also mention neat bonuses that I added to make things more functional. A friend of mine at Red Hat and in the Kubernetes community reminded me yesterday, “Don’t bury the lede,” so we’ll start with the number one question I get the most.

Camera

In the mid-00s, I picked up photography as a hobby. I learned a lot about photography from my good friend Jonathan Jackson too. Hence, I’ve always been a fan of external cameras for home/office use. I picked up a Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam in early February. That worked very well until a show I did featured someone with a fantastic DSLR setup. I looked like I had a tinker toy in comparison and I wanted to up my game.

In August, I set off to eBay to pick up a used Sony A6000. With some advice from Jeff Geerling, I picked up the things that made the best use of that A6000 frame. First was the Sigma 30mm lens (if you’re in tight quarters, get the Sigma 16mm lens). This provides an excellent, close shot with all the bokeh you could ever ask for.

Next up the Elgato Cam Link 4K. Trust me on this one, don’t skimp here. I tried a generic version of one of these (because there was a shortage of these in 2020), it was an immediate fail. I lucked into one at Best Buy when I went in to get something else. They’re cheaper now than they were then thankfully. Also, don’t forget the battery replacement and Micro HDMI to HDMI Cable. These all put together to make the camera an absolute live streaming tank of a camera.

Lighting

Lighting is imperative to a quality picture. There is no point in having that superb lens sitting on a camera when the scene isn’t being properly illuminated. The Elgato light panels are super popular but WAY overpriced. There are a lot of options in the lighting space. I grabbed two Neewer lights, some Utebit mounts, and some monopods to raise the light above the monitors. The monopods I bought originally have changed and aren’t great for attaching to a desk anymore. But, some adapters should fix things up. I mention this because I realized the original camera arm I bought isn’t really designed to hold the camera’s weight and starting to droop a little. Get sturdy monopods for your camera.

Audio

After doing an interview with Kelsey Hightower in late 2019, where he was testing out his Shure SM7B Cardioid Dynamic Microphone, I decided to get one a few months later. This is a studio-grade microphone and probably overkill for almost all situations. But, nothing else came close to providing as close to real sound and quality as this mic. If my voice was a key part of my work duties, I wanted the best possible experience to get my voice out to the world. There are many more options for home use and live streaming from Shure these days. You can’t really go wrong with Shure.

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to DevOps'ish!

DevOps, Cloud Native, Open Source, industry news, and the ‘ish between assembled by open source professional, DevOps leader, and Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) Ambassador Chris Short.

We use Sendinblue as our marketing platform. By Clicking below to submit this form, you acknowledge that the information you provided will be transferred to Sendinblue for processing in accordance with their terms of use

But, the Shure SM7B being a studio mic, uses XLR interfaces. This is awesome, but you can’t plug that into your laptop. To tackle this task, I needed a Focusrite Scarlett device. I ended up getting the Focusrite Scarlett Solo, but I’d probably have gotten a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 as it has more capabilities if I had it all to do over again. The need to have backups for everything might mean I do get the 2i2 at some point.

The mic and Focusrite don’t quite push enough power. To amp the signal, it was suggested by numerous folks that I grab a Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator and place it inline between the mic and the Focusrite Scarlett. This makes everything nice and smooth—no crazy high power settings are coming out of the Focusrite. The 48V button becomes a hardware mute button. I plug my Bose NC700 headphones into the Scarlett as a monitor, and I’m off to the races with noise-cancelling so I can hear the slightest audio oddity.

Mic Arms

I have destroyed half a dozen mic arms to find one that works finally. I broke so many it had become a running joke with my coworkers. That fancy looking Rode PSA 1 didn’t even last 48 hours before it fell apart, and I sent it back for a refund. All my trials and tribulations have led me to the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom. This is hands down the best made mic arm out there. Every other mount makes compromises to keep costs down. But, I can safely say after months of regular use the Heil PL-2T is standing firm.

Desk

Fully Jarvis Powdercoated Standing Desk (72”)
Why Fully? They’re a certified B-Corp. The powder coated top that I have isn’t available anymore; I understand why. It’s a brittle finish. If exposed to heat (from a fresh carafe of coffee, for example), the surface bubbles permanently. It scratches easily too. But, that is easily hidden with a Sharpie. I bought a desk pad and silicon pot holders to protect the desk’s surface. The top’s material and width should be something you decide on for yourself based on your needs. I bought the 72” wide version (an enormous desk length) because I have a 78” wingspan. I have room for a ton of gear, as evidenced in the picture in the tweet.

Bonus: I bought wheels and a wire management kit from Fully for the desk to make it easy to move. When I was in the unfinished basement on a concrete floor, I could wheel the desk to any position or spot in the basement to make for a better experience (or make coffee). You never saw this on OpenShift.tv, but you better believe I’ve made coffee during meetings or put myself in front of the windows to soak in some sunlight during internal or community meetings. Couple the wheels with an APC Surge Protector with Extension Cord, and you have a lot of possible configurations if you have a big enough space. One thing to keep in mind is that this means you need to have everything attached to or on the desk itself. I used to have my subwoofer on the floor; I couldn’t wheel the desk around much then.

Also, the Jarvis Magnetic Desk Hooks from Fully are amazing. I have them in a lot of places around my office. When I’m standing at the desk, I use a Topo Anti-Fatigue Mat to keep some joints from fatiguing too quickly. I make a conscious effort not to go from standing to sitting or vice versa during meetings or live streams. I’ve been told this is disorienting and can sometimes place things in the frame that folks may not appreciate (your crotch, for example).

Conclusion

I want to mention, it wasn’t like I sat down one day and bought all this stuff. I acquired it throughout years of working from home. You should not feel compelled to put all these things in your Amazon cart and buy them in one fell swoop. Don’t go broke making your desk setup like mine is all I ask. There are some other nitty-gritty details that I’m not mentioning here, like speakers, mice, keyboard, monitors, etc., as those are all very “fit your needs and budget” type purchases.

I will give a shoutout to my Logitech MX Master 3 mouse. It has given me significant arthritis relief (yes, I’m only 40 and have arthritis in my hands). But, I’ve been trying to write this article since October and now it’s finally done. If you want to bounce questions off of me, feel free to message me on Telegram or Twitter, and I’d be happy to answer your questions about making your setup work better for you.


See also