Computer component organization for a neat freak

October 23, 2010

I’m a bit of a neat freak and don’t like clutter around my house and especially in my home office. I can’t control what my kids, dog, and wife do with most of the rooms in our house, but my home office space is my personal kingdom. As such, I don’t like all the wires, cables, power outlets, etc. that come along with all the various computer components and gadgets that I have currently in my office. I was able to reduce much of this by switching to a fully integrated iMac Desktop system, but I still have the following components to deal with:

  1. External backup hard drive (for use with Apple Time Machine Software)
  2. Comcast digital set top box
  3. EyeTV HD video recording device
  4. Touchstone charger with USB cable
  5. Work Laptop charger

Considering that my office has basically a single desk (floating in the center of the room) and a small side-board cabinet just off to my left side, I don’t have a lot of space for electronic accessories. Of course, I could put theΒ  mentioned components inside my side cabinet, however, I didn’t want to purchase extension cables and have them run from the side cabinet over to my iMac system sitting on my main desk. Thus, I designed a method to store all of my components under my main desk.

What I did, was buy a pegboard (normally used for hanging up tools in a garage) and cut it down to a 2-ft by 4-ft piece. Using three small hinges, I attached one end of the pegboard to the bottom front side of my desk so that it could swing up and under my desk. This way, I could easily attach the three previous mentioned computer components to the pegboard using plastic zip ties and swing it up and out of the way under my main desk surface. What is nice, is that I could also neatly wrap and tie all the associated power adapters, cables, and wires to the pegboard so that everything is out of sight. I also included a powerstrip so that all these accessories could be conveniently plugged in under my desk as well.

Now if you walked into my home office you wouldn’t notice any of these extra components connected to my iMac (sans the few USB cables coming from the back of my iMac disappearing around the underside of my desk). If I ever need to check any of these components or add something else, I just swing it down and viola I have instant and easy access.

The under-the-desk trick should work for anyone who has a desk with a reasonably hiding area beneath it. I highly recommend using pegboard as it has pre-drilled holes which the plastic zip ties can conveniently wrap around. And if you’re a super-neat freak you could also strap in a small light which you can turn on to actually see what you have under your desk! πŸ™‚


On the road and staying connected

September 22, 2010

I’m currently on a business trip to Phoenix, and with the great tools available on the Internet I’m able to stay connected and operate efficiently. For example, I’ve got my Palm Pixi WebOS smartphone which has an app called Flight Predictor that helps me monitor any delays on return flight to Seattle this evening. I also can check my emails from different accounts and read up on news, weather reports, and Engadget tidbits (my favorite) all from my Palm phone.

I also have been using the LogMeIn Ignition application on my laptop which allows me to connect to my iMac at my home via the Internet. It seems to work very well, all though the screen updates are a little bit slow due to the slow hotel Internet connection. But, it is certainly usable for running applications and checking emails on my home iMac system remotely.

I also use the DropBox service which allows me to sync files between the cloud and all my computer systems. So certain important files on my home systems are automatically synced and made available on my Netbook system.

Whenever I have some downtime between meetings, I can duck into a local Starbucks and use my laptop or netbook to check my email or do a bit of work using their free WiFi connection. As a backup, I can always use my Verizon USB Wireless Adapter to connect my laptop/netbook to the Internet if WiFi is not available.

Of course, with all these electronic gadgets I need to bring along various charging adapters and cables to stay up and running. It can be challenging to find power outlets while on the go, so I keep my phone and laptop charging whenever I get a chance.

I definitely rely on my Palm Pixi smartphone as my main traveling tool. I use it to find places to eat, nearby Starbucks, gas stations, etc. which is very handy. The Sprint Navigation app is also a valuable asset, as I don’t need to bring along my dedicated GPS navigation device. After using these connected tools for a while, it sure would be hard to not have them!


Great site for travelers

September 11, 2010

Most of my traveling is for business, where I might take a trip 8 times a year. Not a lot, but frequent enough to plan ahead for my travels. For example, I want to make sure I pick out a good, clean, safe hotel when going to a new town and also one that has good restaurants nearby. I happened upon a really good web site called TripAdvisor.com which has reviews made by different travelers who were willing to post their comments.

Reviews on hotels, restaurants, vacation spots, etc. are all on this site. Of course, you need to weed through the anal people who complain about every little thing about a hotel and/or restaurant, but there’s lots of good information to be found. I, personally have posted some of my reviews of hotels and restaurants (good and bad) to help support the community. These postings also offer good advice when appropriate on lots of other travel details with regards to hotels or city activities.

One nice thing for me, is that there’s a Palm WebOS app specifically designed to work with TripAdvisor. So on-the-fly while I’m traveling I can quickly check reviews on nearby hotels and eateries to get the latest information.


Making use of my Christmas Present… dual Monitors!

January 4, 2010

When my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I really couldn’t come up with an answer. I have all the gadgets that I want, and my computer/laptop are less than 1-year old, so I really couldn’t think of anything that would really excite me on Christmas day. So, I told her that I could use a 2nd monitor for my Desktop PC which would give me double the screen space. I didn’t really need it, but I thought it might be nice to have dual monitors (it seems a lot of people are doing it). As such, guess what I found under the Christmas tree on Christmas day?

After discovering that my wife indeed ordered a 2nd LCD monitor for me, I went to Newegg.com and ordered a new video card that could drive two LCD displays. My requirements, were that the video card have a PCI-express slot, have dual DVI ports, and was fanless. My old video card was a fanless Gigabyte card and I didn’t want to add more noise in my office by getting a card with a fan. Those requirements really limited my selection, but I decided to order a Zotac GeForce 9500 GT card.

Today the video card finally arrives via UPS delivery, so I unboxed it for my initial inspection. I knew from the reviews on Newegg.com that this video card had a huge heat sink, and I might have some difficulty getting it installed in my existing Desktop PC. Below are a few images of this new video card:

As you can see, it does indeed have a giant heat sink to dissipate the heat from video card chips. Luckily, this card did fit inside my Desktop PC case without intruding very much with the other inserted cards. Below is a quick snapshot of the inside of my Desktop PC. Can you spot the new video card? πŸ™‚

Kind of a tight fit, but the heat sink missed all the surrounding cards (whew!). I then buttoned up my PC and reconnected all the various cables and wires, along with the two DVI video cables which were tethered to my two LCD monitors. After a little configuring with the Windows 7 display settings, I got both monitors working flawlessly… no muss or fuss! The Zotac video card seemed to be of high quality construction, and it seems to do the job just fine with not too much heat build-up inside my computer case.

The only thing that surprised me, was that the new LCD monitor (a Sceptre 20.1 “) had a brighter and whiter screen than my old monitor. Both monitors were from the same manufacturer and had the same model number, but one was about 2 years older than the other. Either my old LCD monitor was wearing out, or the new one was using a different LCD screen or newer electronic hardware. In any case, I’ve got both up and running and they look good to me.

So I’ve got my MS-Outlook email up and running in one monitor, while the other has the Firefox web browser and my software development IDE app running. It’s really nice to have the extra screen space, but I sort of feel like I have two computers staring down at me! Would it have been better to get one giant monitor? I don’t know. It seems to take me a while to accept such a big environment change, so I’ll report back in a few weeks on how I’m doing with these two 20” displays.


So what Firefox plugins do I use?

October 14, 2009

I created a posting on my DellMini blog yesterday that discusses how I configured my FireFox web browser to maximize the viewable page area. I basically used a series of FireFox addons to hide the main window caption title bar, hide the menu bar, and so forth. The most effective tip was to use the F11 function key to completely hide all interface controls temporarily and completely fill the screen with the viewable page (I just found this tip recently). These are great tips for Netbook owners, since the vertical resolution of their miniature laptops is usually 600 pixels.

Just in case you’re curious what I’ve got loaded with my FireFox installation, here’s my list of addons:

firefox_addons

Not too many plugins to slow down the opening of FireFox, but just enough to keep me browsing effectively.

Now, I’ve also looked at using Google’s Chrome web browser, because it is suppose to be lightweight and will startup faster than FireFox.It does indeed seem to startup and run faster than FireFox and has a very minimalistic appearance which I like. However, Chrome doesn’t seem to have the extensive number of addon plugins as does FireFox. A lot of the plugins that I have loaded currently in FireFox do not exist in Chrome. So, being a creature of habit I’ll probably stick with using FireFox since it has been working well for me over the last several years.


64-Bit or 32-Bit Operating System?

August 30, 2009

32bit_64bitIn the past, it seemed that the 32-bit operating system was the dominate OS among most personal computers. Microsoft Windows, Apple Macs, and most flavors of Linux/Unix ran on 32-bit systems. With the modern CPUs now having 64-bit capability, I’m seeing more and more use of the 64-bit OS. Recently, Apple released their Snow Leopard OS which is apparently completely 64-bit (for the Intel processors). Microsoft offers 64-bit for both their Windows XP and Windows Vista OSes, with the same for the upcoming Windows 7 OS.

I started using Windows XP 64-bit for the first time on my company’s work laptop, and it does seem to run fine. The biggest benefit, is that I’m no longer restricted to 2 GB of memory per application (the 64-bit OS can use all the installed memory). The only issue I have, is that some applications and device drivers won’t work properly. For example, I have a 32-bit version of a PDF creator software that simply crashes when I try to run it. My only recourse, is to find an equivalent 64-bit version or try a different application. It can be a pain, since you don’t know if the application is crashing because it is incompatible or if you’re missing something from the OS installation.

Recently I ordered a new Dell laptop for my son, and I noticed that Dell is installing Windows Vista 64-bit OS on their machines that have more than 2 GB of memory. This seems to be a new standard policy for Dell, since all of their Intel CPU machines are 64-bit compatible. Thus, it appears that the 64-bit OS is now considered a mainstream commodity.

With Windows 7 about to be officially released in 2 months, I’m contemplating whether to install the 32-bit or 64-bit version. I have 4 GB of memory on my Desktop PC (running a Intel Quad 2 Core processor), so my hardware could certainly make use of the 64-bit OS. My only concern is that my existing software won’t run on the machine. Critical software includes my Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 compilers, recorded TV video processing tools (e.g., DVRMSToolbox), TV Tuner card and IR Blaster devices, and Palm WebOS SDK. That’s why I’m leaning a bit toward the Windows 7 Home Professional version, since it has a “Windows XP Compatibilty Mode” which should run applications designed for the WinXP under Windows 7. Whether this will also take care of older 32-bit applications, I’m not sure.

In any case, the distribution CD for Windows 7 comes with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, so if the 64-bit OS doesn’t seem to work out for me I can always drop back down to the 32-bit version.


Are Computers Disposable?

May 6, 2009

trash_canIt seems that computer hardware advances so quickly that within a few years your computer is just obsolete. New printers, scanners, and other perpherials are incompatible with older PCs, and the latest technology just doesn’t work on aged systems. When I upgrade my Desktop PC’s motherboard, it seems I always need to get all new internal components to keep up with the current technology.

Normally, my wife and I upgrade our computers and laptops and pass down our older systems to relatives, nieces, etc. A few years ago, my wife upgraded her laptop and left the old one on the kitchen table for my 5 year-old son to use for watching YouTube.com videos (Thomas the Tank Engine and Scooby Doo). Everything worked great, until yesterday when the laptop wouldn’t boot up. It gave an error message stating that the hard drive couldn’t be found. So, I removed the tiny hard drive, placed it inside a 2.5″ enclosure, and plugged it into my Desktop PC’s USB port. As such, I discovered that the hard drive was definitely bad since I couldn’t get my PC to access its files. As such, this old Dell laptop is now rendered useless.

Having decided that replacing the hard drive in a 6 year-old laptop is cheaper than buying a new one, I searched the Internet for a suitable replacement. To my surprise, I found the exact same Toshiba hard drive model available for sale at a few different sites. Most were on eBay, with both used and allegedly new models. So, my wife decided to buy a “new” hard drive off eBay for $40 so we can get my son’s laptop back up and running.

After spending several days getting my Desktop PC upgraded and the OS reloaded, I sure don’t want to spend another few days doing the same with this laptop! But, if I don’t then my son will be using my laptop for his Internet video needs…. 😦