Organize Your Cables … Or Die?

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,Home Theater & A/V,Q&A | Friday 29 May 2009 2:29 am

This post comes in response to Natalie, who wrote, “Ugh, I hate computer/tv/charger/usb/whatever cables. Do you have any tips on how to keep them organized?”

Photo by "thatgrumguy" from Flickr
Photo by thatgrumguy on Flickr

Anyone who owns more than one electronic device in their home or office has run into this problem at one time or another. You’re just minding your own business, upgrading and optimizing your workspace or home theater when out of nowhere, a giant cable spaghetti monster is staring you right in the face. Do you cower in fear, crying for your mommy, or do you stand up and fight? Whatever your answer, I’m going to provide you with some tools to either aid you in your battle, or protect you from future attacks. I have scoured the internet over the past few years and will now bring you my favorite methods of cable organization.

Velcro1. Velcro Ties – I’ve tried zip ties, but I change things around so often that they didn’t last for more than about a week before I was cutting them off in a frenzied fit. The geniuses at Velcro have me covered with their Velcro One-Wrap cable ties. They give you the security of a zip tie with the pleasant bonus of being able to rip thousands of tiny hooks from their respective loops whenever you feel the urge. Plus, they come in a variety of different colors so you can color code your various components. Just wrap them around the cables with a common path and tuck them neatly to the edges of your workstation and/or entertainment center.

Labels2. Plug Labels – We’ve all been there. We’ve all followed what we thought was the power cord for our external hard drive through the web of tangled cables tucked discretely behind our desk only to pull our computer’s power cord instead, losing the latest draft of our memoirs, aptly titled “Knotted Cables and the Therapy They Induced.” Enter ID Pilot (via Lifehacker), stickers that may save your Great Grandma’s life some day. Put the hard drive label on the hard drive plug and the life support label on the life support plug and you’ll never have to console a room full of Geriatrics ever again. Yeah, you could probably make your own with some simple stickers from Office Depot, but then I wouldn’t be able to justify this ridiculous paragraph.

3. CableDrop Cable Holder – If you ever have trouble keeping your cables within reach, or if your cables are always slipping out of your grasp, this is the hot new product for you. The CableDrop cable holder sticks right on your desk and holds your cables for you so you can rest your lazy little fingers. Now, the ordering page is in Chinese or some such language, but if you can find a translator, or learn Chinese, your cable holding woes will be forever gone. You may be able to fashion some sort of clip in its stead, but that may require a revisit to your favorite episode of MacGuyver, and this site will not be held responsible for any mullets grown or plots of world domination foiled with duct tape as a result of this post.

thomasdolbythegoldenageofwireless4. Go Wireless – Unfortunately, I can’t recommend this one for your home theater, but it should work wonderfully for your office. There are countless types of wireless keyboards, mice, printers, usb hubs, and even monitors you can find in stores these days. Connecting everything wirelessly will cut your cable clutter at least in half. It’s a little on the expensive side, but what’s a little consumer debt matter when your desk is completely clutter-free?

5. Shove it Under the Rug – This is my preferred method for solving most of my life’s problems, so why not use it to solve your cable isssues? Lifehacker’s got a slightly more refined method, but the idea’s all the same. Basically, hide them anyway you can. Just like your inner demons, if your mom can’t see them, they’re not really there.

So there you go. Hopefully that answered your question, Natalie, or at the very least, got the ball rolling. Got a question of your own? Leave it in the comments or email me: luke (at) afrowhitey (dot) com, and I’ll do my best to answer it. Short on time? I also do house calls!

How to Use iTunes With Multiple Users

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,How-to | Thursday 21 May 2009 9:42 pm

Everybody has an iPod these days, but managing multiple iPods under a single roof can become quite a chore. Chances are, little Suzie doesn’t want to listen to Dad’s Led Zeppelin box set and Dad certainly doesn’t want to fill up his iPod with the latest Jonas Brothers albums and videos. Creating playlists and dragging songs over manually can be a real pain, so one of the most common questions I get is, “Is there any way to give everyone separate iTunes libraries using a single computer?” The answer is yes, and I’m going to break it down so you can do it yourself.

Step 1: Make Sure You Have the Latest Version of iTunes – This can be done by either going to the iTunes download page and checking the latest version against your version (found under “About iTunes” in the iTunes menu), or by clicking “Check for Updates” in the iTunes menu. These instructions should work for iTunes 7 and above.

Step 2: Create a New iTunes Library – This part can be a little tricky. Make sure iTunes is closed and then you can either hold down “shift” (“option” on a Mac) while you double-click the iTunes icon, or you can click on the iTunes icon, then hold down “shift” (“option” on a Mac) and press enter. A dialogue box should then pop up (don’t let go of “shift,” or “option,” until you see the dialogue box. If iTunes opens up without the dialogue box, try again), giving you 3 options: “Quit,” “Create Library,” and “Choose Library.”

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Click on “Create Library,” and a new window will pop up asking you to name your library.

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You want to choose a name that’s very specific to your library so it’ll be easy to find later on, like “Suzies Music,” or “Dads Library,” or “Mom’s Shuffle.” You also want to make sure you save it in the same place as your regular old library. In Windows, this is usually in “C:\Documents and Settings\username\My Documents\My Music\iTunes\” On a Mac, this is usually in “Music\iTunes Music\iTunes” and you will need to click the “down arrow” next to the file name to enable folder browsing. A new, empty iTunes library will then open up.

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Congratulations, you now have your own, private library.

Step 3: Add Your Tunes – Now comes the fun part. Now you get to browse through all your music files and pick the exact tunes you want to listen to. Go to “File – Add to Library” and a new file browser window will open.

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Go to the folder that contains your music (should be the same general place your libraries were, i.e. “My Music” for PC, “Music-iTunes Music” for Mac by default). If you changed the default music folder and don’t remember what it is now, you may have to do a search for music files. Just search your hard drive for “*.mp3, *.m4a, and *.m4p” for the standard iTunes music files.

Now that you’ve found your music, you have two options for adding the actual files. You can either select all the folders (“Ctrl-a” on PC,” -a” or “command-a” on Mac), hit enter, and delete the files you don’t want from your new library, or you can go through and select all the folders or files you want individually (hold down “alt” on a PC, “” or “command” on a Mac to select multiple files or folders) and hit enter. If you choose to delete the files from your library, make sure you do not send the files to the trash or recycle bin, they would be unusable by other libraries.

Step 4: Quit iTunes and Try Out Your New Digs – You have now succesfully created your own library, but you need to know how to access it in the future. Quit iTunes and do the “shift-double-click(PC)” or “option-double-click(Mac)” maneuver again on the iTunes icon. The old dialogue box will pop up again. This time, click “choose library” and select your new library (everyone who uses iTunes will have to open iTunes this way or it will just open up the last library used).

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You can now use your library as freely as you like. Create your own playlists, get rid of stuff you don’t want, whatever you want to do. When you sync your iPod with the new library however, it will completely erase your iPod and fill it up only with the songs on your new library. If you don’t want this to happen, enable “Manually select files” in the iPod preferences and drag over the songs you want synced.

It is a bit of a pain, but until iTunes comes up with a simpler way, it’s either this or the old-fashioned select-and-drag. There are third-party applications that will manage multiple libraries with a little less hassle, but I’ve never tried any, so I can’t vouch for any of them. A quick google search for “iTunes manager” should turn up a few options. Either way, sit back wipe the sweat off your brow, turn up the volume to Queen’s We are the Champions, and throw back a bottle of your favorite syrup, because you have just conquered the iTunes libraries.

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How to Survive the DTV Switch

Posted by AfroWhitey | Home Theater & A/V,How-to | Tuesday 19 May 2009 12:12 pm

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On June 12, 2009, almost every television station in America will be forced to stop broadcasting analog signals. What does this mean? It means that anyone still using bunny ears to receive their local stations may lose their signal on that date. Your TV may go completely fuzzy. Most people by now know about the DTV (Digital TV) switch that is about to happen, but not everyone knows what to do about it, so I am going to attempt a walkthrough to be sure you are ready.

Step 1: Will You be Affected? – The first step is to determine if you will even be affected by the switch. Anyone who has a cable subscription or who uses a satellite service such as Dish Network or DirectTV is already good to go. They will not be affected at all by the switch. The ones who have to worry, are the ones that are using a tabletop antenna to receive their television stations, but not everyone will need to buy a converter box, and some may not even need to buy a new antenna. Let’s see which category you fall under:

Any TV built after July 1, 2007 was required to include a digital tuner. That means that if you bought a TV after that date, you are probably okay, skip to Step 3. If your TV is larger than 36″ and bought after July 1, 2005, you are also most likely in the clear. Anyone with a TV older than that will probably need a converter box.

To check if you need a converter box, you’ll need to look at the back of your TV where the antenna plugs in. If it says “Digital Tuner” or “ATSC,” you’re okay, at the most, you will only need a new antenna and you can skip to Step 3. If not, you will need a converter box. Another way to check is to go into your TV’s channel setup and see if there is a digital tuner option. If not, you need a converter box.

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Step 2: Order Your Coupons and Buy Your Converter – If you determined you need a converter box in Step 1, you should order your government coupons as soon as possible. The Government is offering $40 off any approved digital converter box to ease the transition. You are allowed 2 coupons per person, so if you are married or have a roommate and need more coupons, be sure to order some through them as well. The coupons expire after 90 days and there may be a waiting list to get one because of the late rush of requests, so order as quickly as possible here.

Now you need to find a good converter box. You can buy them at any place that sells electronics. Just ask a salesmen to show you the ones that are eligible for the coupons. Most of them will cost you nothing but a little tax. I recommend Dish Network’s DTV Pal. It is eligible for the coupon and it has a detailed channel menu that makes setting timers to record or watch your favorite shows a breeze. I bought 2 and they are very easy to use and set up. Unfortunately, as of this point, the $40 TR-40 is sold out, but the similar DTV Pal Plus is only another $20 on top of your coupon.

Step 3: Install Your Converter Box and Scan for Channels – If you bought a converter box, consult the user manual to hook it to your TV. It is usually as easy as plugging your antenna into the box and plugging the box into the TV using the provided cables. Now you need to scan for channels.

With a converter box, simply turn on your TV and the box and it should automatically scan for channels. If you have a TV with a digital tuner built in, access your TV’s channel setup menu and scan for digital signals using the digital auto-program. If you receive all your local channels, you’re good to go, if you receive “weak signal” messages or fuzzy pictures, you probably need a new, more powerful DTV antenna. Try moving the antenna around a little, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to buy a DTV antenna. Digital TV is always crystal clear because the signal is either there, or it’s not. So if you see snow or static, you will need a new antenna.

Step 4: Buy and Install Your DTV Antenna – You can buy a DTV antenna at any place you can buy electronics these days. I bought mine at Target and it feeds both of my TR-40s through a standard coax splitter. They typically cost around $40. Spend any less than that and you risk buying an antenna that isn’t powerful enough. Do not buy this antenna. I tried it first and it was just too weak. We were constantly forced to adjust it. The main difference between a DTV antenna and bunny ears, besides the price, is that DTV antennas are typically amplified through external power (they plug into an AC outlet in the wall). They sell external antennas that you can mount on the outside of your house, and you may want to consider that if you had trouble getting channels before the switch.

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Why Bother? – Some of you may be thinking that this is way too much hassle to deal with and may be considering cable or satellite. What it comes down to is a matter of price. You can spend about $40 once and receive unlimited local channels in crystal clear, digital picture by staying with over-the-air TV, or you can spend about $10 or more a month for the rest of your life for the basic cable plan and receive what is often, sketchy, fuzzy signals. Those who already have cable or Satellite don’t need to worry about this, but anyone who receives over-the-air TV and is satisfied with the amount of channels they get should seriously consider it before switching. Digital TV is a good thing, but paying for channels I can get for free is not something I want to do.

As always, if you have any questions, or need help getting your TV ready for the DTV switch, feel free to contact me by commenting below, or using the links to the left.

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