Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ten-minute Hack: Bathroom Power

Electric toothbrush and electric razor plugged into two wall sockets, with a USB charger nearby, unable to plug in.

Is it weird to want more power sockets in the bathroom? I think not.

It's the twenty-first century. Between my wife's gadgets and my own, we usually have three or four devices fighting for the two sockets in the bathroom. Well, that changes tonight.


I happened to be in K-Mart today, and I picked up a simple six-socket power strip. Nothing fancy. Notably, it does have surge protection, which I figured was wise given that it'll be in the bathroom (I'm not really concerned about getting zapped if an accident occurs, though, because the wall socket itself has surge protection circuitry).

Six-socket power strip.
But key to this endeavor: The strip has two screw collars on the back. Bingo.

The back of the power strip, showing the two screw collars.
Honestly, the hard part was finding the screws to fit those collars. I have several screws of various sizes, but those collars have extremely tight tolerance. I needed a shallow head and pretty narrow shaft. I had to paw around for awhile in my screw box, but I finally found two that fit the bill.

Ten-minute Hack

This is an easy one. I slid the screws into the collars, positioned the power strip where I wanted it, and wiggled it around a bit to etch the screw tips into the wood. Now, I just have to whip out my trusty DeWALT and...
The gap between the wall and the sink cabinet. It's only eight inches.
... oops. Hard to tell in the photo, but that's only eight inches of clearance.

Okay! Quick change of tools: Papa Tomczak ages ago gifted me with a spare screwdriver, intended for computer repair. Turns out, it's just the right length and torque to fit this project, if I add a liberal amount of elbow grease.

T-handle screwdriver. Designed for computer work, but it's high-torque and short, perfect for this project.
In point of fact, I needed a lot of elbow grease. The side of the sink cabinet is some kind of pressed particle board, and it took some "oomph" to cut through the outer layer. Once I could get the screws to bite, though, they went in easy.

Then it was just a bit more elbow grease to get the collars to set back on the screws and...

Power strip mounted horizontally to the side of the sink cabinet, under the basin.

Now all of the bathroom's little electronic residents have a home. 

Final Thoughts

I might use some more velcro ties to pretty-up the loose wire between the power strip and the wall socket, but I'm overall pleased with the outcome.

Three devices plugged into the power strip: electric toothbrush, electric razor, and cellphone.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ten-minute Hack: Controlling the Wire Monster

It should be no big surprise that I have more than one loose wire running around the dashboard of my car. I actually have three: two USB micro cables to charge my cellphone and earpiece, and a stereo headphone cable to plug the phone into the AUX jack of my car (memo to self: next car... USB audio in or bust). These wires are not only unsightly, they're a snagging hazard with the cup-holders underneath them and a dog frequently in the car. It's neither fun nor safe to have your cellphone yanked into your lap by its charging cable while you're going at 45 MPH because your dog wanted to put a friendly paw on your hip to say "Hello."

I've been putting up with this rat-nest for awhile, but I finally decided this weekend to stop putting and start hacking. I put together a simple hack to tame the wire-beast on my dashboard. Excluding planning and part procurement, it took no more than ten minutes. Here's how it went down.


As a first-pass solution, I grabbed some velcro ties (tip from Momma Tomczak: never run out of velcro ties) and gathered the wires into one coil. That was already an 80% solution, but I didn't like the idea of supporting the weight of the wires solely by their sockets (the audio wire in particular; I'm on my third one of those because they keep breaking from too much pressure at the point of contact into the radio).

Taking a look under my console, I learned that I was in luck: screws! Thank you, 2000 Honda Civic!
Camera shot of the under-side of the car console, showing two screws.

Taking a quick trip down to Lowe's, I browsed the hardware aisle for a few minutes and found my new favorite area: the hobby parts drawers (which are basically "Replacement parts for your Erector set"). I fished around and settled upon these little beauties: ⅜" Natural Nylon Clamps. Picked them up for a little over a buck and headed home.

Plastic bag containing Hillman nylon clamps.A single Hillman nylon clamp, showing its R-shape.

Ten-Minute Hack

There wasn't quite enough room to get the electric drill in between the cup-holders, gearshift, and lower console, so I settled for a manual screwdriver (actually, I, uh, manually used the screwdriver drill bit from my DeWalt drill... Don't tell my high-school mentors). I slipped the nylon clamps in between the screws and the console, and screwed them down until they felt solid. It should hold (which comes from the same engineering lexicon as the software test theory of "It Probably Works," but hey, ten minutes spent). Rather than thread the wires through the clamps, I threaded the velcro ties through the clamps to make it easy to swap out or rearrange the wires.

The wire harness installed, suspended from the nylon clamps. Underside-console view.The wire harness installed, suspended from the nylon clamps. Front-console view.

Final Thoughts

I'm pretty happy with how this turned out. Minimally-invasive, and it's really cleaned up the problem. There's a bit more slack in the cable leading to the AUX jack than I'd like, but the way to fix that is to find a right-angle headphone jack plug so I'm not extending an inch out of the radio unnecessarily. I'm confident that this solution should clean up my snagging issues.

One minor issue remaining is that when nothing is plugged into the charger or stereo cables, they don't stay in the cupboard easily and have a tendency to dangle. I may get a stick-on wire holder to affix to the left lower side of the console to stow those when they aren't in use, but that's a minor issue compared to having wires snake around my cup-holders continuously.

Yay, ten-minute hacks!
Completed project: Wires nicely stowed, and the wire harness sitting comfortably under the console.