Tuesday, May 8 2007
I've been using lots of cans and jars in my ongoing laboratory reorganization project, and while they're great for everything from tiny screws up to large potentiometers, they're too small for bulkier items like plumbing fittings, computer mice, laptop parts, and most kinds of cable. My largest metal can, the kind that used to contain food, is a large tomato can, and I'm using it to hold an assortment of small tubes of glue. The next size of metal can smaller (a Progresso soup can as opposed to the smaller Campbell's soup can, which is the standard metal canned food container) is holding my entire collection of resistors.
For items that are too bulky for such containers but not bulky enough to justify a cardboard box, I'm using old half-gallon plastic gin and vodka bottles, ones whose tops I've cut off to make handy wide-mouth cylindrical containers. I've also saved those plastic containers that stacks of blank CDs and DVDs come in. The kind that hold a hundred CDs are great for fairly bulky collections. For example, I'm using one to hold all my switches smaller than those of the standard household variety.
My favorite container for somewhat larger items is an old gallon paint bucket. I'm using one to hold my collection of 3/4 inch copper pipe fittings, another for my brass plumbing fittings, and still another for my old-style (non-USB) serial cables. Unfortunately, though, I don't have nearly enough old paint buckets for the things I'd like to put in them.
From experience, I've learned that cables and wire contribute to chaos far beyond their volume. They love to tangle around things and form matrices of entropy. One thing that contributes to this end state is the process of hurried rummaging that characterizes my behavior when I'm looking for (or connection or disconnecting) a cable. In the past I've considered all cables to be similar enough that I'd stuff them together into a crate or a drawer (I had a single "wire drawer" back in Brooklyn, for example). Such organizational generality inevitably led to horrendous knots, usually with tiny wires wrapping back and forth around thicker cables, seeking out and lodging in those pinchy little spaces between the cable and those two screw fasteners on either side of an old-style serial or parallel cable. Trying to remove a parallel cable from a chaotic nest of wires is always unpleasant, since it's already snagged on smaller wires and will snag on more as you try to extact it. Telephone and ethernet cables also like to snag on that little plastic clitoris that pokes out of their connectors. Many of mine are broken or hanging by a string after bad experiences being pulled out of wire nests. USB and Firewire cables don't have any such projections and are much easier to remove from cable assortments.
Insha'Allah, one result of this reorganizational jihad will be the segration of my cables into containers based on their type, meaning that I will no longer have to root through unwanted cables until I find the one I need. If I can just lift the top cable out of a container because it's exactly the one I'm looking for, then I won't be doing so much rummaging, and my cable collections will stay tidier and less tangled.
My bulkiest cable collection is that of my standard power cables. I have dozens of them, and they take up enough room that I've decided to house them in a mailbox I'd originally bought to keep tools safe from weather up on the solar deck.
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