Cthulhu Lives in The Blog Cave

i-811fbd406ae61332ef2f2a59d670d6c4-Cthulhu-thumb-300x408-66010.jpgApropos Linux in Exile losing his Linux System to a Predatory Windows Install the other day (see Windows killed my laptop, again) I've been thinking about and beginning to do something about cleaning house. See below for my latest Windows mini-horror story (not as bad as LIE's). But first, a word about Cthulhu. Who lives in my blog cave.

I have three computers sitting here in the blog cave, two of which I use on a regular basis. The Windows computer is used at this time only for scanning slides because the software that comes with the scanner for Windows is convenient and nice and the software Epson tossed off for the Linux community sucks. Well, it works fine, but it assumes that you want to do all the work yourself.

Anyway, behind my four monitors, three keyboards, and so on there is a tangle of cables connecting five or six external hard drives, a printer, a scanner, some video equipment, and who knows what else to the two computers and input devices. You can imagine that just the power cords for fifteen or sixteen things that plug in is a tangled mess. The USB cables are myriad. If Cthulhu come over to give me a hard time he would be overwhelmed with this tangle and I would be able to defeat him easily. In fact, I'm pretty sure Cthulhu is already there, easily hiding ... well, sleeping ... among the wires, undetectable (see illustration).i-b976dfa0cf6da4452b6e3c70168a6f74-messbehindthescreen-thumb-300x225-66012.jpg

A while back I got some cable straps and a few other pieces of hardware and resolved to clean this mess up. That came a few days after ... and I am not making this up ... my external computer speakers, which were turned off, started putting out AM radio signals. Seriously. I figured that if that could happen, anything could happen.

That did not work of course. I think I didn't have a good enough plan for running cables. The mess didn't go away. It just got less dusty because messing around with the cables caused some of the dust to fly away, and I blasted some of the larger dust bunnies with canned air. Also, the lengths of the USB cables had only one criterion: Being long enough. Most were too long. I had 6 foot USB cables connecting things that were 8 inches away from each other, for example.

So, I bought some shorter USB cables on line, where USB cables are very cheap. I have a variety of shorter lengths now. And, I've dutifully stored them away in the box I keep USB cables in and have not installed them, because I've not been quite ready to deal with it yet. I'm afraid to go back there. Cthulhu lives there, you see.

Three weeks ago, on two separate occasions, I ran into deeply discounted wireless Logitech mice, the kind with the USB dongle. One had a large dongle, the other a small one suitable for a laptop. They were so cheap I bought them both, with the intention of using them instead of wired mice. Two cables would then be eliminated. I've decided to get rid of the external powered speakers too. They are very old ... they probably pre-date all of my hardware, and most of my hardware is old. They started to make funny noises other than the AM radio signals. They consist of too many large parts and too many wires and cables. I've discovered that I can wire my computers directly to speakers built into monitors. Of course, I disconnected the external speakers but I've not extracted them from the Cthulhu behind my monitors yet because they are too tangled in.

Also, I'm thinking of getting an external speaker that runs off a powered USB port anyway. I'd use it at home but have it handy to give to Amanda for presentations at school, and to take it to my own lectures and talks. There is that moment now and then when you need sound but the presentation hardware you've got to work with is not set up for it. A small powered external speaker would rarely be ideal but it would always be better than the laptop speaker.

I haven't extracted the no-longer-used mice yet either. As a matter of fact, there is an HP wireless mouse that has a charging cradle with a USB wire .... a mouse that gives you no wire on the device itself but adds a wire to your tangle .... that broke a while back and is still integrated into the tangle. Who knows what else is in there. There may or may not be a label printer in there somewhere. I think there might also be a couple of squirrels that got in there the other day when I left the garage door open for a while. Of course, Cthulu may have eaten them by now.

Oh, the Windows story: I wanted to plug in one of the new mice dongles to each of two computers, a Linux and a Windows computer.

I plugged one of them into the Linux computer and it worked fine, no delays, no mess, no fuss, no dialog boxes, no conversations with the system, no dirty looks from the computer. It just worked.

Then I plugged the other mouse dongle into the windows computer. Well, first, I unplugged the old mouse and that caused the computer to beep and start up a process and throw up a dialog box that said something unhelpful. Then, I plugged in the new dongle, and that caused the computer to beep and start up a different process. Some old software installed by the proprietary driver for a scanner that no longer exists then started up and searched for the scanner. Window's hardware searching software started to run. A dialog box told me that new hardware had been plugged in, as though it was possible that I could not know that. A few more dialog boxes opened but then closed, mercifully, on their own. A warning came up that the scanner could not be found (the one that does not exist and has nothing to do with the mouse). Then the mouse sat there unusable for about another 20 seconds, then it started to work.

Soon, I will do it. I'll probably remove every single cable and piece of hardware, to the other side of the room, sorting it all into piles of like kind (cpu's in one pile, keyboards in another, USB cables organized by length, etc). Then I'll dust and clean everything. I may build a small shelf to hover over my desk ... something about a foot high so that things can sit on it as well as below it, to sort things out a bit more. Then I'll place all the hardware sans cables or wires where I think everything might go .... the monitors and keyboards obviously have to go in certain places, but the CPU's have somewhat more flexibility, for instance. Then, I'll figure out a configuration of power strips so that I can flip switches to turn off categories of things. Most of the perhipherals sit there not being used most of the time. A printer/scanner switch and a secondary external disk drive switch would be nice. Then, a switch for each CPU/Monitor combination from which I'd also power the powered USB breakouts and any required external hard drives. I'd route and tie up the power strip and device power cables as needed. Then, the monitor cables would be routed and tied off as appropriate, then finally the USB cables.

i-8bf935dc1678cef5a767267f2f11dce7-Ernestine1-thumb-300x329-66014.jpgThat's sort of what I did last time, but now it would be done with fewer cables. I also may do something smart with the breakout boxes. It turns out that no matter how convenient networking is, switching a USB cable is easier, more efficient, and safer for some applications. For instance, I mentioned that my Windows computer does a better job (and I promise you that I'm choking on these words as I write them) than the Linux computer at interfacing with my scanner. But, sometimes it is easier to use the Linux computer. Rather than having the scanner available on some inter-OS network that would never work right and sit there sucking up resources all the time so I could use it five times a year, I would just unplug the USB from one computer and plug it into another. Same with my printer, and with two or three of the external hard drives. So, I'd have a powered USB breakout box for each computer sitting there within reach (and labeled!) and the CPU-end of the USB cables for five or six devices right there, so I could change connections much like an old fashioned telephone swithboard operator (see illustration).

Eventually, everything will be wireless except for my Avant Stellar keyboard.

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I second Stephanie's recommendation of Vuescan. It does a great job of scanning on Linux with my three scanners - a Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro for scanning film (slides and negs, both 35mm and medium format), an Epson Perfection 4990 Photo and an Epson Perfection 1650. The only glitch I have is that on the Minolta, since upgrading from Linux Mint 9 to Mint 10, is that the scanner is not recognized by double clicking on the file. Rather I have to type in the terminal:
sudo ./vuescan

By Scott Rowed (not verified) on 10 Jun 2011 #permalink

Well, I want it to be open source. I'm not totally against non-open source software, so I may give it a try.

Scanning software, for the purposes of scanning, doen't need to do too much. Other than controlling the hardware, everything you can do to an image can be done in other software. What I like about the Windows epson software is the way it handles file names, incrementing the numbers added to the name, etc. ... remarkably, the Linux version does not do that VueScan probably does something along those lines.

The more ambitious you make this reorganization project, the less likely you are to ever actually do it. You need to do it in small stages- take one cable, and untangle it from Cthulhu. Tomorrow, do something else. Eventually it will get done, and a lot faster than your current world domination plan.

One more thing- some peripherals don't like being turned off from a power strip. For example, an ink jet printer needs to "park" the print head before turning off, or it'll dry out. External hard drives probably need to flush buffers.

Here's another organizing item you might like- monitor arms. Like this:


It frees up the desk space under your monitors, leaving more room for crap. I love mine.

By Benton Jackson (not verified) on 10 Jun 2011 #permalink

OK, installed, tested, works great! Thanks for the suggestion. I may well pay the 40 bucsk for this.

See how fast doing stuff in Linux is?


I've looked at monitor arms and other devices of that sort and I can easily get into using such items. Right now I don't think I need them .. my "desk" is custom built from dumpster parts and works fairly well.

On turning off peripherals and such: It depends, but that would have to be taken into account. The external disk drives may shut themselves down when they are not in use so turning them off with the power strip would probably be OK since that would only happen about once a week. But what I'm really thinking of is turning off all the transformers that are plugged in even to unused devices. I'm not certain, but I think a lot of things drain power when "off" or not in use, such as a powered USB hub. I've got at least one monitor that tells me it is "off" by shining a yellow light ... obviously it is not really off.

So yes, everything has to be turned off properly, but a power swtich can then kill those other pesky leakers.

Regarding world domination .... we shall see ... we shall see ...

O.T. and odd to mention perhaps, but I have never, ever heard "dongle" used like that. (I suppose because I spent so many years cursing them at work)

Yes, I think the word Dongle has come to refer to the blue tooth or whatever technology device because a) it looks like a dongle and b) does not have a name.

I might have gotten that word from Linux in Exile now that I think of it.

"dongle" was used 20 years ago at Apple to refer to things attached to the USB, I'm not aware that any such devices existed.

By uncle Glenny (not verified) on 10 Jun 2011 #permalink

My solution to 'puter proliferation is to use VMs. One physical computer, as many virtual ones as I want. I'll send you a picture of my physical setup (yup, monitor arms and wireless keyboard and mouse) as soon as I'm back from the current road trip.

By D. C. Sessions (not verified) on 10 Jun 2011 #permalink

Hey Greg, have you heard of Synergy (http://synergy-foss.org/). It is FOSS software to share one physical keyboard and mouse (not really one as it is two devices...) between multiple computers. So you can have multiple monitors on your desk, each connected to a different computer, and just move the mouse between them.

Dan, Imma look into that. I'm a little reticent to use software solutions when hardware ones do as well for the simple reason that I can move my hands from one keyboard to another with zero system resource drain, and it looks cooler, but still, it could be good.