Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Life With Cables

March 16, 2009, 10:30 PM

My Life With Cables

Cables: Don’t like ‘em.

You can precipitate my problems with cables by simply calling me. There is a 50 percent chance that you will be greeted by the sound of my desk set banging against a radiator, because the spiral cord of my phone keeps tangling and assembling itself into a compact ball. Why? Am I unconsciously rotating or dancing while talking on the phone?

But my real troubles with cables occur out of sight.

My desk is far from organized, but the mess on top pales compared to the chaos lurking below. I just did a quick inventory and counted a staggering 31 cables running riot down there.

Over the years I have made multiple attempts to tame this mess. All my strategies share one fatal drawback: replacing a single cable means I have to untie the entire arrangement.

This is how I deal with the situation these days: If I get a new device, I just stuff any new cables right into the swamp of existing ones. And if I need to remove a cable, I optimistically pull on it, like a madman.

I don’t even want to get started about the endless varieties of cables, chargers and adapters out there. My biggest frustration stems from a much simpler problem: I use a lot of extension cords with multiple sockets. Although these cords are obviously designed to power six cables, I can barely squeeze in three, since most electronic equipment nowadays seems to sport absurdly large plugs. This reminds me of some very inconsiderate folks one so often encounters on the subway.

Adding to the insult: those Frankencables are immorally expensive. I have a habit of losing power adapters when traveling, and spend a small fortune on replacements. When I close my eyes, I can see Mr. Radio and Mrs. Shack living on an island made of solid gold.

I don’t want to complain, though — I am just a designer.

A couple of years back, I tried unsuccessfully to hook up an old drum machine to an electric keyboard. This gave me a glimpse into the terrifying universe of cables that musicians and audiophiles have to deal with.

I am aware that I could reduce the number of cables in my life if I took advantage of all the advancements in wireless technology. The problem: if it’s not attached to a cable, I will lose it.

If my 24-inch computer screen wasn’t connected to the wall with a power cable, it would disappear among the sofa pillows one day.

The most venomous of all cables are headphones. The combination of thin wires and stubborn earplug hooks is an endless source of gordian frustration (notably amplified when combined with seat belts on an airplane).

The true malice of headphones, however, is revealed when they are allowed to mingle with other cables.

Last year, as my family was packing up for our big move from New York, I was stunned at the number of cables I had amassed over the years. I had stuffed them all into a huge box, and was now confronted with one solid knot.

Upon our arrival in Berlin, I realized that there were some extremely important cables woven into miles of headphones and other junk. Untangling this mess was impossible, unless I cut some evil $3 headphones. Then I realized that a crucial cellphone charger had an identically thin black cable: a situation that required steady hands and a bold heart.

The storage issue has been resolved: In a dark corner of our basement I have attached to the wall an eight-foot plank spiked with long nails, and all my cables now hang untangled in neat lines.

I sometimes sneak down there and wallow in memories of battles past.

I am sure that a generation from now, all our hassles with cables will be long forgotten. But I pledge to keep history alive, and look forward to telling my grandkids stories of SCSI cables, unpolarized NEMA 1-15 sockets and DVI plugs.

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