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  • Cleaning Up Your Computer Desk
    Four hints for a claustrophobia-free workspace
    Maybe, like me, you've been proudly riding the gadget wave for several years now. If so, you have an MP3 player, Web cam, external hard drive, printer/scanner combo, and maybe even a mini surround sound speaker system—all occupying the space you once carved out for your computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. For every little gadget we bring home from the store, what do we find neatly coiled in the box? More cables!

    Well, if you've ever imagined the mess was growing while you weren't looking, or if you're feeling the need to bring your machete along when you check your email, we have a few less drastic (and safer) steps you can take to clean up that clutter.

    Unwire Your Keyboard and Mouse
    Two of the wires most visible on your desktop belong to your keyboard and mouse. Often, they stretch across your work area taking up space and getting in the way. Even if you have them on a keyboard tray under the desk, the wires dangle around your knees, or they're so short you find yourself constantly yanking on them.

    A wireless keyboard and mouse will solve these problems. They let you put the keyboard wherever you want, even if you want to type from ten feet away. Their batteries can last for months, and most wireless mice are rechargeable, or can use rechargeable batteries.

    Many wireless keyboards use an adapter that uses a cable to plug into a spare USB port. But if cables are your enemy, look for an adapter that plugs directly into your USB port—without a cable. By the way, keyboards and mice don't send a lot of information to your computer, so if you have old USB 1.1 ports on your computer (which are slower than the new USB 2.0), this is an excellent use for them.

    If you have a newer computer, it may already have wireless capability in the form of "Bluetooth." This technology lets devices talk to each other (and to your computer) from up to 30 feet away. Check your computer's user guide to find out if it has Bluetooth built in.

    Set up a Home Network
    It may seem like a strange way to get rid of a few cables, but a home network can really help you get a lot of equipment off your desk.

    If you've got a closet or an out-of-the-way place in your house that's near a phone jack or cable outlet (which one you need depends on what kind of Internet service you have), you can move your modem over there. Connect a wireless router to your modem, attach a wireless network adapter to your computer, and you'll be able to connect to the Internet from any room in the house—no strings attached.

    That's three cables and one device cleared from your desk in one move.

    And once you've got a home network, you can put other devices in out-of-the-way locations, too. For example, add a "print server" to your network, and your printer can sit in that closet with your modem and other home networking equipment. Elevate Your Power Strip
    That mass of wall-warts you've been using to warm your toes would look much better, and have better ventilation, if it was off the floor. Use Velcro to attach your power supply to your desk, behind your monitor perhaps, and you'll spend less time scrabbling around on your knees.

    Consolidate Your Cables
    So far we've worked on eliminating cables, or hiding them. But let's be honest. A smaller rat's nest behind your monitor is still a rat's nest. What do we do if we still have cable clutter? Straighten it up.

    There are several Web sites devoted to products that will help us clean up our cables. It's a veritable smorgasbord of cable clutter cleanup creations. Here are some of the products that will help you out:
    • sells some handy (and cheap!) gadgets to help you organize your cables:
      • A "cable tunnel" (also called a "conduit" or "wire loom") is a plastic tube that's split down its length. You can push several cables into the tube to form a single, clean-looking unit. This works best when the cables are all running from the same place to the same place, but using even a short length of the tubing to combine the cables will help clean up the area. A cable tunnel also helps protect your cables from your pet ferret, feet, and the occasional spilled soda. More attractive and safer!
      • Clips and ties let you attach cords and cables to your desk. Having cables run down the side or wrap down the feet of your desk keeps them out of the way. This technique works best for cables you don't find yourself unplugging on a regular basis.
      • Cable wraps can work like cable tunnels by wrapping a bunch of cables. But some cable wraps are for wrapping excess cable around them. Ever have too much speaker cable? Wrap the excess in a Cable Fish until it's just the right length.
    • The Wire Mate uses a different approach. It's basically a box that you fasten to your desk, or to the wall to simultaneously organize and hide lots of cables.
    • Musicians have been wrangling cables since the microphone was invented. Check out the Cable Depot, available from Sweetwater Music. Mount one to the back of your desk to help route your cables where you want them, rather than letting them hang loose and in your way. Or use it to keep track of cables you're not using right now.
    • Velcro! Velcro lets you attach items to your desk or wall without breaking out the power tools. Long strips of Velcro can hold cables in place, up and out of the way as they wind their way to the back of your computer.
    Advance and Conquer!
    Sitting in a clean, organized workspace gives a very satisfying feeling. Even if you like the "lived-in" look, getting all those wires out of the way will help you be safer and have more room to clutter your desk with more important stuff. With a few affordable tools and some common-sense techniques, you can create a clean, uncluttered workspace that will brighten your room and your day all at once!

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