In my last article (An Explanation of the Pros and Cons of Using RAID on Your Computer), we discussed the problem of heat build-up during the very hot Auckland summer months and how a RAID 5 configuration with 4 disks can sustain the failure of a single disk. RAID protections provide one part of what should be an overall strategy to protect your data and your computer from heat.
In this piece we divert a bit from our standard hardware/software fare and look at the computing environment as a whole. We will postulate that a tidy workspace is, in fact, a happy workspace and suggest a few tricks to make your work-space more productive and more comfortable.
The three biggest factors driving the design of my workspace are heat, noise and clutter. If I can minimise these three and maximize my computing power and productivity (all within family budget constraints, of course), I will have archived the objective.
The three primary physical components available for modification are the room, the cabinet and the PC (also referred to as the Box or Tower).
The ideal design would be a copy of a corporate computer room with climate control, raised floor and glass interior walls. Your computers would be rack-mounted and networked throughout your house with a patch panel to distribute computer services to every room.
If you’ve got the resources, and your wife will let you do it – please do.
The rest of us are probably stuck with a home office which is usually a converted bedroom, and we don’t have a lot of latitude for change.
My office has several problems that affect my productivity.
- It gets messy
- It gets hot
- and It gets noisy
As I get older I find it more and more important to keep my resources organised. So much stuff had accumulated in my office that I was spending more time looking for a resource than I was actually using it. Problem area #1 was first on my hit list. It is also made up of several components:
- Tools and parts and papers lying about
- Wires connecting the various bits of equipment
- Three out of five times the part or tool I needed was elsewhere
Number 1 has been the easiest to tackle with a quick fix. I’ve instituted a “no shop work” policy and banned all of my “project” tools back to the workshop in the garage. Additionally, I’ve developed an exit strategy that requires me to tidy up the office each night so I can hit the ground running in the morning.
To reduce the clutter and improve the look of the room a good part of the project was dedicated to removing or hiding all the visible wires.
Ok, I confess, this picture is a bit staged and I wish I’d taken more pictures of the mess before blasting through with a clean-up, but you get the idea and probably have a scene like this of your own very much like it.
Capping is a square pipe tacked against the floorboard with a snap-on cover. Just tack the 3-sided part against the wall where you need it, run the wire inside, and then snap on the cover. Not quite as tidy as running the wire through the wall, but you need special tools and know-how to accomplish that. Capping is sold in a variety of sizes.
A big advantage to capping is that the cover can be removed and the wiring reconfigured to meet changing conditions.
Under the Carpet:
Depending on the size of your wire and size of the gap between the carpet and the molding, a thin wire can often be hidden in that space. Speaker wire is a good candidate for this, coaxial wire less so.
The wire can be pushed into the gap with almost anything that isn’t sharp (don’t use a fork for example). A chopstick is my tool of choice, there are more dangerous options …
Whenever you need to go under the carpet, always stay as close to the wall as possible – even the thinnest speaker wire will produce a lump.
Over the Roof:
In some circumstances a wire on the roof might be the best plan. The wire obviously needs to be of a grade that can withstand outdoor conditions, and any joins require extra weather- and water-proofing. Just be sure to tack it down securly. The tacks (below) are a good option as is hot glue or silicon. Don’t want the wire making any noise on a windy night.
Exterior wiring will eventually need to extend back into a room, a terminating plate (like the one shown above) is easy to install and gives the work a professional look.
Mounting a power board on the back of a unit or on a nearby wall can give the appearance of order and the excess cable can be gathered and secured above the floor with cable ties, rubber bands, whatever, but a word of caution here, don’t wind up a big length of mains extension wire and leave it on the floor – it becomes a magnetic coil, heats up and bursts into flames.
Power leads emit radiation that can interfere with voice, data and video communication. As a general rule it’s best to keep the two types of cable separate. If you must run the two together and you get interference on the com lines, investigate shielded com lines as an alternative.
Many power boards have mounting holes on the back side of the board. In my experience these holes are very hard to line up correctly. Instead I’ll drill through those holes as they seem to be located in positions that avoid any internal wires and mount the board with screws drilled in from the front. Be sure to counter-sink the holes so that the top of the screw is flush with the board face and doesn’t interfere with any plugs.
Basically it’s a large sheet of material that acts to cover the ugly stuff behind it
If you’ve run wiring through your desk some wires may hang down and look at bit messy, you can tidy these wires behind a panel to hide them from view. If you put this panel on hinges or make it easily removable you will still have plenty of flexibility should an equipment change be required.
You can do the same thing with walls
an inexpensive noticeboard did the trick here. I re-wired the power lead on my “Cent-o-Meter” to feed directly into the box eliminating the plug, and pinned the USB lead on my Weather Centre behind the board so it doesn’t show up quite so much.
Capping on Steroids:
In my particular situation a large number of cables must be run from the desk where my keyboard mouse and monitors are to the computer cabinet where my 2 PCs live crossing a space of clear carpet about a metre wide.
The solution shown below is a section of white square box down pipe attached to the wall with 2 screws. The shot above gives some indication of the wiring that would otherwise be exposed. A curtain rod is used to thread the cables from one end to the other.
In this picture you can also see another important tool in cable management – the white tags indicating what is at the far end. They are a bit pricey – $4.00 (US) for a pack of 24 but they can save you time and frustration when you are tracking down a fault in your system.
There is a variety of gizmos available to help you in this effort. Number one is a pieces of 2 – 4 meters plastic tube split down the middle, into which a special installation tool can placed that will enable you to cover and contain a collection of wires. One big wire is easier work with (and looks better) than a bunch of smaller wires.
Number 2 is simple and free, although perhaps best suited to storing unused cables.
Number 3 – This “handcuff” looking device works like one too to clamp a number of loose cables in a single large thread.
Number 4 – These holders are fixed to the desk or the wall and hold a group of wires in place.
Number 5 – Velcro. Fairly expensive, but very re-usable
And lastly, Number 6 comes from the garden store. It’s a simple spool of light wire with a built-in cutter at the base. Intended for flowers, the wire does a good job on quick, temporary jobs.
Having a clean and tidy workspace may not be for everyone – it requires a little more work and a bit of discipline and may not, in the end, enhance your productivity. I’ve worked under my new regime for about a month now and I think I’m a bit more productive, but I know it keeps my wife happy and I find thinking about going in to my office to work a more pleasant experience.
But I won’t claim a final victory now. As with the currently accepted scientific theory: it’s only true until it’s not. In our next episode we’ll look at heat and noise.
In our next chapter we’ll take a look the storage cabinet and modifications to the PCs – both designed to improve system cooling.