Managing a rat's nest of tech toys
Several simple solutions address the problems created by the many clever gizmos we use in our jobs
I paid a lot of money for my gadgets — of which I have many — so I always store and transport them in orderly, secure cases. This ensures they will be safe from damage and ready to use on a moment’s notice.
Yeah, I’m lying. My stuff often winds up in a tangled rat’s nest of cables, adapters, and chargers — ”wall warts” that don’t match with whatever I’ve brought with me. Yours are likely no different.
Toward organizing my toys better and having them last longer, I’ve added a few items to the travel case inventory. I’ve found these keep things more secure and easy to get to when I need them.
The Grid-It collection is one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” deals. Grid-It panels are rigid backings covered with interweaved rubberized bands. The weaves are irregular, so that the bands will wrap around and hold most anything that will fit onto the panel. Take all your gadgets, arrange them on the Grid-It panel for best use of space, then slip bands around the items to secure them. The panel then goes into a briefcase, backpack, or whatever you use to cart your stuff from here to there. When you acquire new stuff, rearrange the panel.
You’ll never have to buy another overpriced customized case for the latest version of your WhizBang 2000.
Grid-It makes panels sized to fit sun visors, three-ring binders, briefcases, full-size suitcases, and others. They also have a collection of more specialized cases for iPods/iPhones, BlackBerrys, laptops, and other unique collections. Prices range from around $10-$35, depending on size. You can order from Amazon.com or one of my favorite computer gadget merchants, Cyberguys, among others.
Until we have wireless everything, we will need cables to make our gadgets talk to one another, and to keep them juiced. Even though consumers have been asking for some kind of standardization of cables and connectors, it remains elusive. For now, it seems that every cell phone requires a different charger cable, and then there are RJ-11 phone jacks, RJ-45 Ethernet jacks, USB (1.0, 2.0, and 3.0) in standard, mini, and micro versions, FireWire/1394, RCA, several sizes of “phone” plugs, and on and on. The connectors are bad enough, but attach a cable to each one, and you’ve got a big bag o’ wires.
I travel with an assortment of cables from Zip-Linq. These come in just about every connector combination you can think of, but the attached cables are contained within a spring-loaded spool. To use them, grab the connectors and pull in opposite directions. When you’re done, pull the connectors to the max limit and the cables wind back into the spool. Instead of a tangled cable, you have two connectors with a spool in between.
There are copycat brands, but I’ve always been disappointed with them. Pay the extra couple of bucks and get something reliable. Cyberguys has a great collection of Zip-Linqs, as do other vendors.
Most of my gear uses rechargeable, proprietary batteries, but I can’t get away without having some AA and AAA cells around. It’s wonderful and very “green” to have rechargeable batteries, but there is much to be said for having a device you can rejuvenate by visiting any convenience store. The problem was that I had no way to keep the batteries organized and secure. The plastic blister packs take up too much room, and once they’re opened, they won’t reseal. Besides, I usually buy batteries at Costco in packs of 20 or 40.
Recently, I found several low-cost options on Amazon.com. These are small plastic cases that hold four AA or AAA cells securely, and the ones I bought have markers that make it easy to differentiate the used batteries from the fresh ones. They all run about $2.00 each, although some are sold individually and others in packs of five or so.
The good/used markers on the cases serve a valuable purpose — they make it easier to recycle the batteries. You can throw them in the trash, but know that batteries contain some metals that not only contaminate the soil, but are in limited supply. Recycling moves those metals back into the process, where they can be used again. Just about any electronics or hardware store will accept batteries for recycling, and you don’t have to sort them first.
Tim Dees is a retired police officer and the former editor of two major law enforcement websites who writes and consults on technology applications in criminal justice. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.