A society drowning in cords, and how to manage them

power cordsFirst, we got our own cell phones.

They were friendlier than the previous in-car versions, offering the same talking abilities without location restriction. But they also required a charging cord to be carried around, forever nesting in our suitcases and/or purses. Then computers became mobile, and they needed a cord too, lest we be stranded without a way to play Oregon Trail. Then MP3 players became a thing (which needed headphones, another cord), and then tablets, and before we knew it, we were carrying around cords upon cords. A tangled mess of single colored adapters that must stay with us a majority of the time.

For a while we thought our Apple products would feed from a single-shaped device, but even they changed, forcing us to either upgrade all around, or continue with the business of multiple cords.

The same can tangled-ness can be said for our homes; electronics of all kinds require a constant source of power, leaving us with the wake of their lines. TVs, stereos, lamps, and more have us bowing to their needs with their ugly plug in needs.

So where did we go wrong? Now even cars are becoming electric, requiring even a larger cord to be toted while traveling. While some efforts are being made toward wireless charging and hot pad stations, the majority of “wireless” devices still require a standard outlet, and a power cord.

Managing the chaos

Until all our electronics re-juice ET style, all we can hope for is a more controllable mess. Crafty types can bind together toilet paper rolls (with optional paint) for a storage grid – though this isn’t ideal for travel. While messier folks just tote around a knot of coated wire, pulling out what’s needed as items die.

For an in-between, look to cord keepers or rubber stick-ons that “grab” the cords and make them stay put. Best for in-home cords, such as desktops, phones, or power strips, models can be affixed to the wall for semi-permanent keeping. For traveling, stick to wrapping features, such as circular items that hold both ends down during movement. Both items come in various sizes, adaptable for all types of cords.

Whether choosing to organize gadgets with more gadgets or living with the ever-growing mess, it’s safe to say the age of the cord is upon us. Our only option seems to be grinning and bearing the technological whirlwind we’ve created.

How to make a DIY laptop stand for $8

A laptop stand is a great thing to have if you’re working at a desk. It not only allows your laptop to breath more easily and run cooler (since it’s propped up), but it also makes your setup more ergonomic by having your laptop’s display at eye level.

You can buy laptop stands pretty much anywhere, and they come in all different shapes and sizes. However, they’re pretty expensive — one of my favorite laptop stands is the Griffin Elevator, which rings in at a cost of almost $35 on Amazon.

I wanted to see if I could make my own laptop stand that closely models the Griffin Elevator, but build it for the fraction of the cost, and I believe I have succeeded greatly. Here’s how to do it.

Materials

  • 10-foot length of 1/2-inch PVC pipe – $1.49 (Sometimes you can find 5-foot lengths, but 10 feet is the better deal. Plus, you can use the leftover for other DIY projects!)
  • Six 1/2-inch PVC elbow joints – $2.76
  • Two 1/2-inch PVC end caps – $0.52
  • Kitchen drawer & shelf grip liner – $3.23

Total Cost: $8.00

Assembly

Putting this PVC laptop stand together is straightforward and easy, and there’s no pre-determined measurements that you need to follow, since all laptops are sized differently. All you need to do is cut your PVC pipe into seven different lengths. One of the pipes should be roughly the length of your laptop, four of them should be roughly the width of your laptop, and the other two determine the height of your stand, which is completely up to you.

After you have your seven lengths of PVC pipe, it’s time to start assembly. Simply just attach the pipes to the joints. Refer to the photo above as a guide. If you want to make the stand really sturdy, you can glue the pipes and joints together with some PVC cement.

After you’ve assembled the stand, ideally you want to add some kitchen drawer grip liner to the base and at the top. This stabilizes the stand and keeps it from sliding around. It also prevents the laptop from accidentally sliding off the stand easily. Cut out small squares of grip liner and glue them on (pictured above) using some super glue or any other glue you have lying around.

You’re done! That was all there was to it. It’s arguably the best DIY project that I’ve ever done because it’s quick, simple, useful, and it hardly cost anything.

Review: Asus K53E-A1 Laptop Review – 15.6″ Brown Beauty

Asus makes all kinds of laptops. Sometimes it’s hard to even know which model is what with the number-based naming scheme. But, I believe that I am using a laptop that is noteworthy in its design and usability, the Asus K53E-A1. The more I use this laptop, the more I enjoy it.

Running Chrome, playing Minecraft, streaming Netflix, and watching YouTube are all great and flawless experiences on the K53E. As a browsing and media-consuming laptop, the Asus K53E is great. Just don’t plan on going unplugged for long, as the battery life is about 3-4 hours.

Asus seems to love the new brown look. Many of the newer laptops by Asus, the Transformer tablet with Android, and now the K53E-A1 laptop all have options in this color. The brown is a great color and a fresh take on the usual “black” electronics. The aluminum on the upper side of the body is also a great touch and gives the laptop a richer feel.

 

As a “daily driver” work laptop, I am very happy with the K53E. The keyboard is Asus’s chiclet style, which I love. It is easy and responsive to type with, and it even fits in a nice number pad. I use Google Docs as much as possible, using all the features including Google Draw, which I find exceptionally pleasing because of the incredible Asus touch-pad. Multi-touch functions work great, scrolling is smooth even horizontally. It’s great to finally start seeing touch-pads that compete with Apple’s.

This model includes the Intel CORE i3 processor running at 2.10Ghz,  a 500Gb hard drive, 4Gb of ram, a 15.6″ HD screen, and a full size keyboard with num pad. Even with all these features, this laptop sells for just under $600 on Amazon. It comes with Windows 7 Home Premium and the usual Asus software including Asus Web Storage which can be very useful if you store a huge amount of data at home and want to take it anywhere with this laptop.

If you are a student looking to get a great laptop for school, someone looking for a good browsing laptop for a good price, or a business person looking to have a comfortably sized laptop, the Asus K53E is a great choice. Just be prepared to have an extra battery on those long trips.

Netbook Review: Asus EeePC 1005HA

The ASUS Eee PC 1005HA is a 10.1″ netbook featuring Asus’ new “seashell” design, and boasts 10.5 hours of battery life.  This netbook offers some high-end features as well as a small, light form factor.

Color Options: Blue, pink, white, black.

In the Box: Laptop, 6-cell removable battery, Eee laptop sleeve, power cord and charger, 1 disc, user manual and warranty card.

Complete Box Contents
Complete Box Contents

Specifications:

  • Windows XP
  • 1GB RAM DDR2 (expandable to 2GB)
  • Atom N280
  • 160GB HDD (Separated into two data partitions and one recovery partition)
  • 802.11 B/G/N
  • Bluetooth
  • 1.3 megapixel camera.

A Few Caveats

Before I start, I need to mention that I made a few modifications to the netbook before I began using it.  When I purchased the 1005HA-P it came bundled with a 2GB Crucial DDR2 RAM stick which I installed almost immediately after receiving the netbook.  I did use the netbook with the stock 1GB for a few minutes, and I didn’t notice any issues with speed.

I also immediately replaced the pre-installed Windows XP with Windows 7 before conducting any tests.  I had read that people were having great success installing Windows 7 as their primary operating system on this netbook, and I can agree that it runs incredibly well.  With 2GB of RAM, I notice absolutely no performance problems.

Since this netbook doesn’t come with an optical drive, I had to install Windows 7 with a USB flash drive, which I previously wrote a guide about.

Screen

Toys 019 (Medium)The WLED screen on the 1005HA-P is bright and very glossy.  This creates vivid, high contrast images in normal lighting but can cause a lot of glare around bright lights.  I used this computer for several hours with the afternoon sun over my shoulder, and at ¾ screen brightness I did not have a hard time browsing the internet and reading documents.

The glare does not make the screen unreadable, but it definitely can be a distraction.  The screen is also a fingerprint magnet (just like the rest of the device), so I recommend getting a screen cleaning kit if possible.

While the seashell design allows for a smaller form factor, it does come at the cost of preventing the screen from tilting completely backwards.  The seashell cover can extend to approximately 100 degrees before coming into contact with the base of the computer.  This doesn’t make the computer unusable, but it does mean you’ll have to reposition yourself if you are reclining in a chair or couch.

Keyboard

Toys 027 (Medium)One of the biggest factors in picking a netbook is typically the keyboard since it usually must be reduced in size.  The 1005HA comes with a 92% sized keyboard (meaning the netbook’s keyboard is just about 10% smaller than a standard keyboard without the numeric keypad).

The keyboard on the 1005HA is fantastic and I can type on it just the same as I do a regular keyboard.  All keys are in their standard locations (including the Delete key which so often gets relocated on laptops), and the keyboard also features two full-sized shift keys (previous versions had a very tiny right shift key).

Toys 038 (Medium)
1005HA next to a standard desktop keyboard.

The keys are fairly quiet and provide very good feedback so you definitely know when you’ve pressed a key.  A special Function key allows you to activate many useful shortcuts across the F1-F12 keys, which is how you can brighten and dim the display, change volume, enter sleep mode, etc.

For a brief usability comparison, I was able to type 119 wpm with 95% accuracy on the 1005HA which is very close to what I type using a standard computer keyboard.  This entire review was written on the 1005HA’s keyboard and I experienced no typing fatigue.

Multi-touch Touchpad

Toys 028 (Medium)In my opinion, the touchpad is where the 1005HA really shines.  This netbook features a multi-touch touchpad, meaning that you can use more than one finger simultaneously to achieve different functions.  The touchpad is seamlessly integrated into the chassis of the netbook, so there is no discernable difference between the plastic of the laptop and the touchpad other than small raised dots.

Before I talk more about the multi-touch, here’s an important tip if you have this netbook: the 1005HA doesn’t seem to ship with the most recent drivers for the touchpad, meaning it is missing some useful functionality (especially for multi-touch gestures).  Visit the Asus driver download page and download the touchpad drivers for the 1108HA model.  Installing these drivers will unlock several new features.

From the factory, my touchpad was set to scroll vertically by dragging a finger down the right side of the touchpad and horizontally by dragging a finger across the bottom of the touchpad.  Because the touchpad is seamlessly integrated into the laptop chassis, I found it incredibly hard to find the right spot to place my finger (especially in the dark).

To fix this problem, I enabled multi-touch scrolling which was included in the newer version of the touchpad drivers.  This allows you to place two fingers on the touchpad and drag them vertically or horizontally to scroll, which I found to be much more effective than the scroll regions.

Another useful gesture is pinch-to-zoom.  When you want to zoom in on a picture, webpage, or document, simply perform a “pinching” motion to zoom in.  To zoom out, do the opposite.  This functionality is very similar to the zoom features of the iPhone and iPod Touch.

The touchpad is highly customizable and I recommend checking out the settings yourself to get an ideal customization.  To do this, locate the Synaptics Pointing Device icon in the system task bar, right click it and select Pointing Device Properties.  Click the Device Settings tab and then click Settings to adjust your touchpad’s settings.

Battery

The 1005HA-P comes equipped with a 6-cell lithium ion battery which has a listed 10-hour life.  This netbook comes with a utility from Asus called the Super Hybrid Engine (explained later in the Processor section) which allows for dynamic overclocking and underclocking of the CPU and helps conserve energy.

With my testing, the laptop easily gets 9 hours while being actively used (meaning running several programs simultaneously) with the screen at half brightness and the CPU set to Power Saving mode.  Turning up the brightness to its highest setting and overclocking the processor will definitely cause a decrease in battery performance, however.

One thing to note is that Windows typically does not provide an accurate battery life meter when it first starts up.  Windows 7 usually lists my battery life as 5 hours when I first turn it on, then quickly jumps to over 9 after a few minutes of use.

Power Supply

The included power supply is very light and small (in fact, it came with the smallest power “brick” I have seen).  The wall socket connector is only two-prong, which is nice if you don’t have access to grounded outlets.  The power brick does have a ridiculously bright indicator light which is a huge downside, I have to face it against the wall at night because it lights up my entire room.

Seriously, this thing is aweful.  Do we really need this bright of an indicator light?
Seriously, this thing is awful. Do we really need this bright of an indicator light?

The connector that plugs into the netbook is small and feels very secure.  One important thing to note is that you have to push the plug until it clicks, otherwise you may have charging problems.

Toys 037 (Medium)

Hard Drive

The hard drive came partitioned with two data partitions, which is somewhat of an annoyance if you want to keep your files all in the same place.  I opted to use free software to repartition the hard drive with two partitions: one 100GB partition for the operating system and one 60GB partition for data.

Processor

The 1005HA-P comes equipped with a 1.67 GHz Intel Atom N280 (this is where it differs from the standard 1005HA, which comes with the N270).  Atom processors are specially designed for mobile applications and provide a tremendous amount of number-crunching power while being highly energy efficient.

Asus includes some very useful software called the “Super Hybrid Engine”, which is marketing jargon for software that can underclock and overclock your processor on-the-fly.  The Super Hybrid Engine allows you to switch between three different power modes: Super Performance (overclocked to 1.8 GHz), High Performance (stock 1.66 GHz), and Power Saving (underclocked to 1.2 GHz).  A fourth Automatic setting is available that dynamically underclocks the processor while on battery, and changes to the stock clock once the netbook has been plugged in.

Webcam/Microphone

This is the first computer I’ve purchased that came with a built-in webcam/microphone, so I was very excited to try it out.  While it does a great job of transmitting video and audio, it is much lower quality than a standard desktop webcam/microphone.  For a netbook, though, the 1.3 megapixel camera is an improvement from the standard 0.3 megapixel cameras.

Toys 021 webcam

General Usability

The 1005HA packs a huge amount of power in its hardware so I’ve never been stopped from doing something I could do on my desktop computer.This netbook is small enough to be put in the secondary pocket of my backpack, which is exactly where I keep it every day.  I typically am away from home for 10+ hours, so this little guy is all I use during the day when I need to work on homework, browse the internet, or well – do anything.  The 1005HA packs a huge amount of power in its hardware so I’ve never been stopped from doing something I could do on my desktop computer.

Sure, there are a few downsides.  Even at 10.1 inches, the screen is still pretty small and can make typical tasks a chore (especially if you’re used to multiple widescreen monitors).  Netbooks also seem to induce a hunching posture when working at a table, and it can definitely become uncomfortable working on the device for long periods at a time.

That being said, I do work on the device for long periods at a time.  This netbook comes to the library with me for all-night study sessions, and I never think twice while running Microsoft Office, Firefox, OpenPandora, and many other programs at the same time.  I use it to watch movies and lectures and have never worried about the battery running out.  The 1005HA runs very cool and I haven’t had any problems keeping it on my lap for extended periods of time.

Final Thoughts

The 1005HA is small and light enough to be carried everywhere and has a battery that can keep you going the entire day.  Since it is capable of running Windows XP (or Windows 7, in my case), I can use all the software I use at home without being tethered to a desk.  This netbook is a direct replacement for a full-sized laptop and proves that even small devices can pack an incredible punch.

For more photos of the 1005HA, check out the gallery below.

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