Monday, December 30, 2013

Home office cord control

Are you like 99% of all Americans in that you struggle with managing all of the electrical and data cords associated with your home office and/or home-based business computer systems?!
Oh my sweet God.  This photo wasn't staged - that's actually what the space behind my computers looked like yesterday before I got started on this rehab project. 
Let's expand my shame to encompass more than one photo, shall we?  Here's a more horizontal shot, illustrating the abject failure of an organizational device I'd placed on the wall behind my system. 
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might wonder what mental madness beset me such that I let my space degenerate into that hot mess, given that I pay so much attention to organization and detail in other areas of my home.

My answer is simple:  If I had a static home office system, maintaining order might be easy to achieve.  But I run a microbusiness in which I work as an embedded contractor.  I'm constantly running back and forth to different client sites, taking much of my computer equipment with me each time.  So my typical machine management modis operandi looks like this:
  1. Take with.
  2. Return and toss everything back onto desk.
  3. Take with.
  4. Return and toss everything back onto desk.
  5. Repeat sequence about 98 more times each year.
So yes, my desk turns into an absolute nightmare on a regular basis because of this, as the photos above attest.  As I was going through my periodic attempt at clean-up yesterday, I thought I'd capture a few step-wise recommendations for you as you try valiantly to grapple with your own chronic mess.

Step #1:  Set aside a realistic period of time to complete this task, probably 1 to 2 unbroken hours.  Prepare yourself mentally for significant aggravation and boredom.  Put on some music, get a glass of wine, or whatever else you need to take your mind off the fact that you're engaged in an unfulfilling, low-quality chore which probably won't result in that much improvement in your status quo. 
Time either flies or drags, whichever you don't want it to do.  And during this task, it will surely drag. 

Low-resolution screengrab of Salvador Dali's famous melted clock artwork.  From Wikipedia, which isn't sure who should use this image. 
Step #2:  Assemble the right tools and equipment for the job. 
I'm partial to Velcro.  I don't like zip ties because they can't be readjusted. 
I decided to try some common cord conduit on this organizational go-round.  It's available for a very low price (this particular stuff is from IKEA). 
I think I was on the right track in including wall-based organization, but I didn't maximize its effectiveness.  If you go to the Container Store website and search for 'silver mesh', you'll see several of these products, but other products could also be used effectively. 

Step #3:  Gut your space.  Don't attempt to work around your existing mess because you'll just get bogged down and flummoxed.  Remove everything so that you can start afresh.  First label cables and cords if you're unsure of how to put it all back together.
Pull everything out of sockets, off the wall, etc. 
Step 4:  Examine critically what you're trying to accomplish and how, in order to determine whether there's a better way to structure your stuff.
My peripherals are partially supported on ELFA shelves above my main desk.  I noticed right away that I had run power cords for two printers and two spotlight lamps all the way down to the main UPS on the desk.  This is not efficient when those four devices could instead be fed by their own surge protector situated on the shelf above.  Therefore, I exchanged these four cords for one power strip that runs to the UPS. 
Furthermore I enclosed that power strip cord inside the conduit that also held the printer cables. 

These cord conduits are useful because you can split off individual cords at different points of emergence...
...and also because you can bundle excess cord lengths inside of them.  Why do computer sound system components have cords that stretch from here to eternity??  I don't know, but thank goodness that they are thin enough to wind up and stuff inside of conduit. 
What did I say about frustration??  Get ready for it.  I accidentally chopped a 12 volt DC line during this tedious process. 
Step 5:  Celebrate the light at the end of your tedious tunnel!!  Here's my finished product (minus the severed DC cord which I had to replace):
After almost two hours of effort, it looks only marginally improved relative to the starting condition.  How unsatisfying.

But looks can be deceiving.  It actually functions much better now. 
There are probably a few of you out there scratching your heads wondering why on earth I'd maintain such a Noah's Ark of connectivity on my desktop:  Two power cords, two VGA cables, two cable locks, two printer USBs, two Ethernet lines.  The obvious question is, why don't I instead buy [wireless this] and [docking that]...  I'm not going to get into the details of my business model, but suffice it to say that I need all this crap.  As ridiculous as it looks, my little business model runs smoothly via this approach. 

Anyway, here's the proverbial before and after photo.  Good luck with you own organizational efforts.  And for goodness sake, don't forget your glass of wine!!
The grey plastic conduit is not used so much for making things look prettier as it is for keeping the cords from getting tangled on a desktop where items are constantly being removed and replaced.  I tried to conduit components by function: 
-- The two Ethernet lines are in their own conduit. 
-- The two printer lines are bundled with the sound system cord into their own conduit.

Similarly, I tried to separate each wall component by function. 
-- The scoop-shaped hanging device on the far left holds two computer power adapters (and only those, because they move in and out of the office on almost a daily basis). 
-- The central rack holds smaller peripherals grouped in baskets by function (USB cords and other peripherals).
-- The right rack holds an external HD. 

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