Apropos Linux in Exile losing his Linux System to a Predatory Windows Install the other day (see Windows killed my laptop, again) I’ve been thinking about and beginning to do something about cleaning house. See below for my latest Windows mini-horror story (not as bad as LIE’s). But first, a word about Cthulhu. Who lives in my blog cave.
I have three computers sitting here in the blog cave, two of which I use on a regular basis. The Windows computer is used at this time only for scanning slides because the software that comes with the scanner for Windows is convenient and nice and the software Epson tossed off for the Linux community sucks. Well, it works fine, but it assumes that you want to do all the work yourself.
Anyway, behind my four monitors, three keyboards, and so on there is a tangle of cables connecting five or six external hard drives, a printer, a scanner, some video equipment, and who knows what else to the two computers and input devices. You can imagine that just the power cords for fifteen or sixteen things that plug in is a tangled mess. The USB cables are myriad. If Cthulhu come over to give me a hard time he would be overwhelmed with this tangle and I would be able to defeat him easily. In fact, I’m pretty sure Cthulhu is already there, easily hiding … well, sleeping … among the wires, undetectable (see illustration).
A while back I got some cable straps and a few other pieces of hardware and resolved to clean this mess up. That came a few days after … and I am not making this up … my external computer speakers, which were turned off, started putting out AM radio signals. Seriously. I figured that if that could happen, anything could happen.
That did not work of course. I think I didn’t have a good enough plan for running cables. The mess didn’t go away. It just got less dusty because messing around with the cables caused some of the dust to fly away, and I blasted some of the larger dust bunnies with canned air. Also, the lengths of the USB cables had only one criterion: Being long enough. Most were too long. I had 6 foot USB cables connecting things that were 8 inches away from each other, for example.
So, I bought some shorter USB cables on line, where USB cables are very cheap. I have a variety of shorter lengths now. And, I’ve dutifully stored them away in the box I keep USB cables in and have not installed them, because I’ve not been quite ready to deal with it yet. I’m afraid to go back there. Cthulhu lives there, you see.
Three weeks ago, on two separate occasions, I ran into deeply discounted wireless Logitech mice, the kind with the USB dongle. One had a large dongle, the other a small one suitable for a laptop. They were so cheap I bought them both, with the intention of using them instead of wired mice. Two cables would then be eliminated. I’ve decided to get rid of the external powered speakers too. They are very old … they probably pre-date all of my hardware, and most of my hardware is old. They started to make funny noises other than the AM radio signals. They consist of too many large parts and too many wires and cables. I’ve discovered that I can wire my computers directly to speakers built into monitors. Of course, I disconnected the external speakers but I’ve not extracted them from the Cthulhu behind my monitors yet because they are too tangled in.
Also, I’m thinking of getting an external speaker that runs off a powered USB port anyway. I’d use it at home but have it handy to give to Amanda for presentations at school, and to take it to my own lectures and talks. There is that moment now and then when you need sound but the presentation hardware you’ve got to work with is not set up for it. A small powered external speaker would rarely be ideal but it would always be better than the laptop speaker.
I haven’t extracted the no-longer-used mice yet either. As a matter of fact, there is an HP wireless mouse that has a charging cradle with a USB wire …. a mouse that gives you no wire on the device itself but adds a wire to your tangle …. that broke a while back and is still integrated into the tangle. Who knows what else is in there. There may or may not be a label printer in there somewhere. I think there might also be a couple of squirrels that got in there the other day when I left the garage door open for a while. Of course, Cthulu may have eaten them by now.
Oh, the Windows story: I wanted to plug in one of the new mice dongles to each of two computers, a Linux and a Windows computer.
I plugged one of them into the Linux computer and it worked fine, no delays, no mess, no fuss, no dialog boxes, no conversations with the system, no dirty looks from the computer. It just worked.
Then I plugged the other mouse dongle into the windows computer. Well, first, I unplugged the old mouse and that caused the computer to beep and start up a process and throw up a dialog box that said something unhelpful. Then, I plugged in the new dongle, and that caused the computer to beep and start up a different process. Some old software installed by the proprietary driver for a scanner that no longer exists then started up and searched for the scanner. Window’s hardware searching software started to run. A dialog box told me that new hardware had been plugged in, as though it was possible that I could not know that. A few more dialog boxes opened but then closed, mercifully, on their own. A warning came up that the scanner could not be found (the one that does not exist and has nothing to do with the mouse). Then the mouse sat there unusable for about another 20 seconds, then it started to work.
Soon, I will do it. I’ll probably remove every single cable and piece of hardware, to the other side of the room, sorting it all into piles of like kind (cpu’s in one pile, keyboards in another, USB cables organized by length, etc). Then I’ll dust and clean everything. I may build a small shelf to hover over my desk … something about a foot high so that things can sit on it as well as below it, to sort things out a bit more. Then I’ll place all the hardware sans cables or wires where I think everything might go …. the monitors and keyboards obviously have to go in certain places, but the CPU’s have somewhat more flexibility, for instance. Then, I’ll figure out a configuration of power strips so that I can flip switches to turn off categories of things. Most of the perhipherals sit there not being used most of the time. A printer/scanner switch and a secondary external disk drive switch would be nice. Then, a switch for each CPU/Monitor combination from which I’d also power the powered USB breakouts and any required external hard drives. I’d route and tie up the power strip and device power cables as needed. Then, the monitor cables would be routed and tied off as appropriate, then finally the USB cables.
That’s sort of what I did last time, but now it would be done with fewer cables. I also may do something smart with the breakout boxes. It turns out that no matter how convenient networking is, switching a USB cable is easier, more efficient, and safer for some applications. For instance, I mentioned that my Windows computer does a better job (and I promise you that I’m choking on these words as I write them) than the Linux computer at interfacing with my scanner. But, sometimes it is easier to use the Linux computer. Rather than having the scanner available on some inter-OS network that would never work right and sit there sucking up resources all the time so I could use it five times a year, I would just unplug the USB from one computer and plug it into another. Same with my printer, and with two or three of the external hard drives. So, I’d have a powered USB breakout box for each computer sitting there within reach (and labeled!) and the CPU-end of the USB cables for five or six devices right there, so I could change connections much like an old fashioned telephone swithboard operator (see illustration).
Eventually, everything will be wireless except for my Avant Stellar keyboard.