Theo's tech set up

Tech share

In the middle of a pandemic, I have started a new job and brought home a dog. These events are not unconnected. My new part-time post as the Coordinator for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies is a chance to work with some of the nicest and most respected scholars in the field, and is a bit of a perfect fit for my particular skillset, promoting and sharing the best Yoga Studies research that we can find. All this makes me very happy, despite the seemingly endless technical platforms and systems I have to navigate. But it’s also landed at a good time for me, when I am most in need of a little security and more regularity in my working life.

I’ll talk more about the new addition to the household another time. It’s a steep learning curve for all of us, and a lot of negotiation and communication is needed when dealing with a 30kg rescue greyhound in a small house with two humans working mostly from home. Instead, I’ve been meaning to talk about the other steep learning curve we’re all on – now that so many yoga teachers and allied professionals are spending much more of our working lives online.

Like most of you, I’m now familiar not just with Zoom, but also various webinar platforms, online classroom and quiz formats, recording apps and playback etiquette. I’ve already talked about how exhausting that new learning can be, how wearing it is for the nervous system to cope with video systems that have delays, drop outs and narrowed bandwidth. Now I have realised how much it helps to invest a modest amount in carefully upgrading my technology set up. Luckily, Phil had all the skills, time and care to spend helping me figure this out, and he knows me well enough to know all the right questions to ask. To give just one example, he refuses to research a good desk mic for me until I show any evidence of using an actual desk rather than an ad-hoc stack of yoga blocks at different heights depending on my mood.

In this post, I’m sharing that new set up, in case it helps anyone else who is navigating the same issues on a limited budget. Obviously, this is a work in progress and dependent on time-limited offers and local availability. But what might be most useful about this list is that it’s a deliberately flexible system.

This is a tech set up that can be adapted depending on whether I’m sharing asana or delivering a webinar; hosting a SOAS event, or recording a podcast with Alt-ac.uk.

Tolulu HD Webcam

We started with a decent webcam. My office is a small room, and with this webcam, more of me can be seen on screen when I need to move about. It has a wide angle lens, good video, and a built in mic (which is actually not very good). It clips on top of the monitor but comes with a useful little tripod so I can move it around if needed. £25

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B084ZJFNKN

BenQ GW2780 Monitor

We need a movable webcam because I now work with both a large monitor and my laptop screen. I can use both or either depending on what I’m doing. The large monitor means that when I have a screen full of little boxes, one for each student, I can still just about see what they’re doing. This monitor has a good quality display, plenty of video connection options, and is either wall or arm mountable. It has rubbish built in speakers (but by no means the worst ever) but includes an audio output jack so you can just plug in external speakers if you’re using an HDMI cable (which sends audio as well as video from the laptop). As we have various little Bluetooth speakers around the place which also have a jack input, it’s perfect. £145 street price

https://www.box.co.uk/BenQ-GW2780-27-Full-HD-IPS-Monitor_2167691.html

Invision monitor arm

I think the really clever bit is the monitor arm that the monitor attaches to. This means I can move the monitor in all sorts of directions. This wide range of possible movement, with the webcam clipped on top, means I can adjust it to show almost all of me standing up, or tilt and angle it to cover me sitting on the floor. It can also be clamped or fixed permanently to a desk or shelf, the fittings to do both are included. Very good value for £35

https://www.invisiontechnology.co.uk/invisionr-pc-monitor-arm-mx150

Rii K18 wireless keyboard

The problem with this set up so far is that the monitor is on the other side of the room, and I’m moving around it. So I want the option to tuck my laptop and all its associated cables under the monitor and use a nice wireless keyboard. This one is compact, lightweight, and includes a very useable trackpad so you don’t have to figure out where to put your mouse mat. £25

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07PZSKBPF

Beshoop Bluetooth headset

The more difficult bit of the set up is the microphone. Most people set up a desk mic and sit in the same position all the time. That’s not great for a fidgety yoga practitioner. I have a headset that is very light and comfortable, and this is great for active teaching. But the audio is a bit thin and prone to crackles so it’s not great when the audio quality really matters, such as a podcast. It needs a better quality companion to complement it – at the moment we’re experimenting with a little old Samson Go mic which clips on my laptop. As I’m sat down for recordings, that’s a practical solution for the moment. I’m still using the Bluetooth headset to listen because otherwise we’ll get feedback or bleedthrough from speakers. Unfortunately there’s still some audible interference, probably from the Bluetooth. I’m going to experiment with old school wired headphones, and as I’m not worried about the sound quality too much in this case, I’m sure we have something somewhere in the house. £25 for the headset is a good start though

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07ZVJNPWD

Anker USB hub and Ugreen USB extension cable

With all that sorted out, it’s becomes obvious that you have a whole heap of peripherals and not enough USB ports on the laptop to plug them all in. Anker and Ugreen are both good brands if you need accessories or small items. This combo allows one USB cable to be connected to the laptop while the mess of USB devices can be permanently connected to the hub at the other end of the cable. And I do mean a mess. The hub is externally powered so it can also be used to charge things – great for all those Bluetooth headets and speakers. Because it turns out that it’s useful to have a spare Bluetooth speaker synced up to Spotify on the phone, so it can play soothing tunes quietly to the dog when he gets fidgety. This is honestly true. He has his own playlist. £50 for the USB hub and extension, anyway

https://www.anker.com/products/variant/anker-10-port-60w-data-hub/A7515111

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00P0ES0YE

After that, honestly, the most sensible investment for both my nervous system and the quality of video outputs was three reasonable uplighters – one in front of me and two behind me – and a string or two of fairy lights. They were just whatever looked reasonable on sale at Argos. Together the uplighters give a range of light that’s bright enough that my video output isn’t grainy, but the light isn’t so harsh that it gives me a headache after an hour or so.

Obviously, you don’t have to get all this, but by showing our workings out, I’m hoping it helps other people prioritise what might be most helpful for them. This has been an unusual post – more of a public service announcement than a cultural analysis. But it comes from the same place as a lot of my work: it’s driven by the values of sharing freely, adapting and innovating together, because that’s how we’ll all get through this, whether you’re a physio doing one to ones over Zoom, or a yoga teacher struggling to get by, or you just want to see the grandkids properly on your screen.

Stay as safe as you can, and I wish us all luck and love.

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