The cookies were set out,
The hors d’oeuvres were hot
Festivity was cranking
But the tunes, they were not.
The music had started,
Then the stereo went “pop”
So we scrambled for speakers
And an iTunes’d laptop.
When what to my greatest chagrin did appear?
But some tangled-up cables
And a great sense of fear.
In the end, music played
Our guests, overjoyed.
But anonymous cables
I have learned to avoid!
Inspired by the classic poem “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore
Two and a half weeks ago, my husband and I wrapped up our final DIY project of 2010: making our wallpapered, dark-paneled kitchen a little (actually, a lot) easier to look at. While the rest of our little house has a good dose of original 1920s charm, the kitchen had fallen victim to several decades worth of “cheapest way out” fixes, and was more or less begging for mercy. So we scraped layer after scary layer of wallpaper, and then sanded, primed and painted the heck out of the wood paneling beneath. After that, all that was left to do was put in a backsplash where there had been none before.
So, in order to keep things vintage-but-not-too-old-fashioned and stay in harmony with the age of the house, we used some faux pressed-tin tiles to complete the look (for the record, they look awesome). They’re modern and “old school” all at once, and are even kind enough to match our brushed nickel cabinet hardware. So believe me, the last thing we wanted to do was screw up the whole look by slapping white plastic wall plates back onto the outlets once our “metal” backsplash was installed.
The solution? Brushed stainless steel wallplates, like this one from Leviton‘s Acenti line. They’re sleek, beautiful, allow for a flawless transition between electrical outlets and the stainless steel decor surrounding them, and compared to a lot of other home upgrades that you could be shelling out for, relatively inexpensive. And what I like about Leviton Acenti stainless wall plates is that they’re available in many more configurations than you’d find at most local home and garden centers. While most retailers typically carry classic single-gang styles (and maybe double-gang if they’re getting really fancy), the Leviton plates are available in up to 6-gang configurations, so you’re covered in almost any conceivable situation, from your kitchen to a large office.
Filed under: Cables and Wires, Power and Data Distribution
Most people out there (including, most likely, you) would be hard-pressed to derive joy and excitement from something as mundane as an extension cord. But after 4+ years focusing on the ins and out of the cabling world, I’ve reached the point where I actually find certain power extensions interesting, even (dare I say it?) cool. And whereas it could be off-putting to others if I were to babble on in person about the amazing attributes of a given extension cable, I’m not directly subject to weird looks if I talk about them in this blog… so lucky me, and here goes! I promise, you’re going to like this one, too.
Coleman Cables is known for producing some of the most well-made, thoughtfully designed extension cords on the market, and the Cord Runner™ is no exception. I’m just sorry that I didn’t meet this product in time to introduce you to it in time for outdoor holiday decorating! If you’ve ever been hanging lights just to wish you had power outlets at regular intervals, then the Cord Runner™ definitely has New Best Friend potential for you.
Unlike most extension cords that plug into a wall outlet on one end, and provide you with a couple of outlets at the other, the Cord Runner™ extension cord actually has 3 outlets spaced out along its length, so you have convenient power access points staggered all the way from Point A to Point B. An outlet setup like this can be a huge asset not only for the holiday decorating I mentioned before, but also for jobs that require several power tools to be available at the same time, yet spaced slightly apart.
The Cord Runner™ is available in lengths ranging from 6 to 50 feet, so no matter what the scale of your job is, there’s a cord to suit it. And here’s another great feature: all 3 outlets are molded out of clear plastic, with protective flaps to keep out dirt and moisture, as well as a neon power indicator light embedded into each one. When power is running through a receptacle, the entire outlet glows to let you know that. It increases the safety of the cord, and makes it look good too, which never hurts.
Flir iSeries Thermal Imaging Cameras: Fast Answers Without All the Risk, Wall Damage, or Disassembly
Thermal imaging cameras – how can you not love them? It’s like having bionic vision power right in your hand, whenever you need it. While the majority of us don’t exactly need one on a regular basis (bummer), a thermal camera can be a major time-saver and incredibly helpful preventive tool for electricians, HVAC techs, mechanics, machinists, and even maintenance supervisors.
Why so? Because unless you’re cooking, enjoying an island getaway or just trying to stay warm mid-winter, heat can be a very bad thing. I’m talking about the kind of heat that’s produced by overstressed or damaged electrical wiring, malfunctioning engine components, and too much mechanical friction. This kind of heat can shift from risky to all-hell-breaking-loose really fast, so it’s best detected early on. Just one problem: these renegade heat sources are often located behind walls or deep within machinery, so unless you’re within feeling distance, you probably wouldn’t even know that there was an issue until it was too late.
Enter the Extech Flir iSeries thermal camera. Thanks to infrared technology, this handheld thermal imager is actually able to “see” through walls and into machinery to locate hotspots before they erupt into bigger problems. The results are displayed on a high-def color LCD display that’s built right into the handset, so all you do is point, shoot, and take a look at what’s going on (temperature-wise) behind the scenes.
One of my favorite features of the Flir iSeries cameras is that they have a Picture-in-Picture (PIP) feature, which combines a real-life, photo-type image with the thermal imaging, so that you know exactly what you’re looking at, and have the best point of reference possible when it’s time to troubleshoot.
That said, stay cool, my friends – and if that’s not possible, get your hands on one of these cameras.
I was just looking back through some of the slides from a Cabling Installation and Maintenance fiber optic webinar I sat in on last week (by the way, one of the most useful webinars I’ve ever sat through), and I was again amazed at how important cleanliness is to successful fiber terminations. Presenter Varis Hicks from EXFO shared NTT-Advanced Technology’s list of most common reasons for fiber optic network failures, and contamination is the top offender. The numbers are pretty crazy – reportedly, 98% of installers and 80% of network owners run into issues caused by not-clean-enough endfaces. Sounds like there are a lot of fiber optic connectors out there in need of some serious (albeit gentle) scrubbing.
That’s why I thought I’d tell you about MicroCare Sticklers™ CleanWipes. As far as optical cleaning wipes go, these things are exactly what you want: strong, portable, and most importantly, lint-free. The “fabric” that CleanWipes are made of is non-woven “hydroentangled polyester” – look closely at it, and you’ll see that it has a random, swirly, web-like formation. And unlike cotton, paper, and other natural materials, the polyester filament is made to not produce dust, lint, or fiber particulate, so your careful cleaning won’t leave behind any unwanted nasties that could mess things up.
Another thing that I really like about these fiber wipes is that they’re available in both stay-at-home and field-friendly packaging. If you tend to do most of your fiber terminations and cleaning in-house, the 90-count tub is perfect for your workbench. What’s really cool is that the tub is cylindrical, but its lid is hexagonal, so if the container gets knocked over, it can’t roll away on you. If your business relies more on field terminations, the individually packaged wipes are perfect – just open one contaminant-free packet at a time, as needed.
Proper fiber and endface cleaning may be vital to a network’s success, but just because it’s important, it doesn’t have to be a major hassle – all you need are the right products to make the most of your technique. That’s why it’s a great idea to get these on your side.
Considering the current (and unwelcome) dip in temperature we’re experiencing, the term “extreme heat” is starting to have a very attractive ring to it. A nice, toasty day in the sun sounds pretty good right about now, and I don’t think I’d even mind the sunblock and sweat factors involved (for once). Bring it on!
But if I were, say, a hose or cable in an engine bay, the mention of “extreme heat” would probably be enough to send a chill up my spine (if cables and hoses can even be said to have those). That’s because while heat sounds great to winter-striken humans, it’s a much scarier prospect to automotive components, which tend to break down when exposed to too much of the hot stuff.
Engine bay temps, particularly in highly-specialized work and military vehicles, tend to soar way above what makes us melt contentedly on beach vacations. I’m talking hundreds of degrees – and depending on the environments they’re used in, sometimes more. More than a little of that, and plastic and rubber parts start to dry out, crack and crumble. It’s pretty much a death sentence for the vital components under the hood… so how do you get around that?
Thermo-Shield Tape ought to do the trick. Made up of a fiberglass-aluminum composite and backed with a seriously heat-resistant adhesive, this stuff is able to deflect as much as 90% of radiant heat away from the critical components it’s wrapped around. It’s quite the multitasker, considering that it not only finagles its way around parts that can’t be disconnected, but can also be used to terminate heat shrink and braided sleeving in a very professional and heat-tolerant manner. And did I mention that Thermo-Shield is stable up to 2000°F? If that isn’t enough for you, there’s also a double-thick version… that should put your mind at ease.
Filed under: Braided Sleeving, Tools and Cases
Wraparound (or “split”) braided sleeving is one terrific way to tame and hide cables. If you’ve never used it, it lets you bundle and hide cords inside a sleek-looking woven wrap, but is much easier to use than traditional braided sleeving because it’s split down the side. That slit lets you slide cables in along its length, instead of slowly inching the braided sleeving over them like you have to with the expandable kind. To sum it up, it’s a lot like wire loom, but instead of being made out of hard plastic, wraparound sleeving soft, woven, and extra flexible.
But despite its softness and lack of sharp edges, split wraparound sleeving can, like wire loom, be quite a pain in the tokus to install. It’s no hard to do, per se, just time-consuming… especially when long lengths are involved. That’s why Bentley-Harris is making an ingenious little device known as the Woven Wraparound Installation Tool.
Let me just say that inserting cables into split wrap by hand versus using a gadget like this is like trying to clear 6 inches of snow off your driveway with a toy beach shovel instead of using a snow blower. You can do things the slow and hard way, or zip through the job (literally) with a wraparound installation tool. Your choice.
The wraparound sleeving tool does a couple of things at once. First, it keeps your cables gathered together for insertion, so that you don’t have to wrestle with them individually. Then, it “zips” them into the sleeving all at once. No inching your way along – just wrap the tool around your cables, insert the tool into the end of the sleeving, zoom it through, and you’re done. I’m serious – I’ve used tools like this on several occasions, and they’re great… you can’t go wrong. Paying around $5 for one of these is way more than worth it when you consider the time and frustration you’ll save.
Poor Wire Duct. Nobody ever looks at it twice. It always shows up and does its job, but the people who depend on it most are always drawn to the “prettier,” more interesting things in the room, like the shiny server enclosures, or all of the electronics with their displays and flashy LED lights. Let’s face it: if the typical networking environment were a school dance, wire loom would be the one who stood unnoticed in the corner all night.
But believe it or not, I just did a double-take… and at a piece of wire duct, no less. Not because it was shiny or unbelievably good looking, but because if its very unique talent: bending. Bendable wire duct? Yes, you heard me right , and I no, am not pulling your leg. Wire duct, always known for being on the uptight and rigid side (structurally speaking) has now loosened up, become a lot more flexible, and started going by the name “Richflex.”
If you haven’t already figured out why Richco® Richflex is so great, I’ll tell you: cable runs, on occasion, have to bend. Into corners, out of corners, around corners… you get the idea. But put them in a stick-straight piece of wire duct, and the bending part gets tricky. It usually involves cutting the wire duct where the bend needs to occur, and then splicing the pieces back together with preformed plastic elbows. It’s a drag.
That’s why the thought of flexible wire duct is enough to bring a thrill of joy to the cable installer’s heart – no cutting, no custom splicing; just a quick flick of the wrist, and Richflex goes in the direction you need it to. All of this bendability even applies to Richflex’s “fingers” – whenever you need to break a cable away from the rest of the run, just bend a rung aside to make the transition easier.
Filed under: Network Products, Tools and Cases
I recently hopped onto an airplane to go visit family, and as I got ready to leave, I realized how frighteningly calculated my carry-on packing and preparations have become. It’s a pretty serious case of TSA-induced OCD. There’s the clear cosmetic bag filled with 3oz (or smaller) bottles, the cell phone, the camera, and the ID and boarding pass, all strategically positioned in the oversized handbag in such a way that they can’t fall out or get swiped, but are ready to whip out (in the order needed) as soon as I get to the security checkpoint. Forget the people who bumble with their shoes, belts and laptops – I have a flight to catch, and I haven’t been sent to the x-ray machine yet.
Not to go on about my travel-induced neuroses; the point is that when you have to take your show on the road, things are always more complicated, and it can be a little disorienting when you have to repeatedly juggle your stuff. It’s one thing to do that when you travel home for the holidays, but when your job depends on it every single day, well… you’ve gotta have a way to keep your act together. Especially if you’re an on-the-go phone or network installer who works on the road, and has to truck around all of the tools and parts needed to tackle each job.
That’s why I really like the IDEAL Telemaster Kit for RJ11 and RJ45 cable terminations. Whether you’re dealing with RJ11 or RJ45, this all-in-one kit has a multipurpose crimp tool that works for 1, 2 and 3-pair RJ11 plugs, and 4-pair RJ45s, as well as assorted stranded modular plugs (45 total) that come separated into their own compartments, so you never have to guess which kind you’re grabbing for. One of my favorite things about the plug compartments is that they make it easy to keep track of inventory – they let you see, at a glance, how many of a certain plug type you have left, which definitely beats scrounging around the bottom of your tool kit for just one more RJ45 connector.
Filed under: Gadgets, Power and Data Distribution
Thanks to everyone’s combined obsessions with gadgets and green energy, tech gifts like solar chargers are hot ticket items this holiday season. With a few days left of Hanukkah and Christmas just around the corner, environmentally-friendly gadget accessories are great quick-fix for the last-minute, impossible-to-buy-for friends and family on your list.
Talk about perfect timing. I just came across our very newest product, the Solar Power Pack by Manhattan/IC Intracom, and I have to say, I like it. I’ve played around with other pocket-sized solar chargers before, and while they were very cool and worked, I felt like they were a little… how can I say this? Prototypical. Like someone had only just worked the kinks out, and then put them on the market.
There’s nothing wrong with that (after all, pretty much every decent product out there has undergone a period of evolving from good to great). It’s just that I like to see little bit of polish and refinement in the things that I buy – I’d rather not have the “rough draft,” so to speak.
That’s why I like the Solar Power Pack – it still charges small electronics with the power of the Sun, but has much more of a “next generation” feel to it. And at 3.7 by 1.5 inches, it’s tiny… smaller than your average cell phone, as a matter of fact. Believe it or not, the mini solar cells have the ability to power MP3 players up to 45 hours, cell phones for up to 12, and portable video games for up to 2. Not too shabby, considering that that’s free electricity.
What’s really cool is that the Solar Power Pack comes with a small variety of adapter cables and interchangeabe tips, which allow you to fit just about any popular device out there. Need to top up the battery pack’s power at night, or during a particularly sunless day? Just plug it into your computer’s USB port, and you’ll be good to go in no time. The Solar Power Pack is also perfect for international travel, because it lets you charge your gadgets anywhere, without ever worrying about which wall outlet adapter you’ll need.