Relocating all those fricken' cables...

Every now and then we relocate our computers, TVs, stereos etc.

There can be some reluctance and stress around this task for people who aren't sure which cable goes where.

Sure, everything is working now, but when you get it to the new location...holy crap!

Where do all those cables go?

A lot of the time where cables should go, at least which plug goes where, should be self evident.

There's been some effort to make this frustrating task obvious and easy by making cables and sockets unique for the job they are doing i.e. it should be hard or impossible to plug the wrong thing into the wrong socket.

But, designers and humans being what they are, this is far from foolproof and certainly doesn't prevent people just jamming plugs into sockets that look "close enough" (as is outlined in my article about USB sockets).

Aside from that, there are often lots of cables doing roughly the same job but going to different places and technology.

For example, your stereo will probably have 4 speakers or more. They'll probably all be the same type of connector but where you physically place the speakers, and which socket you connect them to, is both important and very easy to stuff up.

In the computer networking world many of us will now have at least a few Ethernet cables running about the place between our modem, computer, network switch, printer and maybe even your TV and other internet capable devices.

They all use Ethernet cables (assuming you aren't using wifi) but where you plug them in is critical to them working.

A lot of technology will have (read should-have) labels on the sockets.

Things like your modem and router will probably have colour coded sockets now.

This is all very nice but if you don't know what the words are or the meaning of the colours, then your are back to square one.

So here's my big tip.

Carefully label each cable and its socket with a unique number BEFORE you unplug anything.

It may, in hindsight, seem very simple and obvious, but so many people just don't do it and end up in a pickle.

In the image at right I have just photo-shopped on numbers as an indicator, but here are some extra tips with the labeling itself to help avoid pain with that:

  1. You should write on the device itself with an indelible pen or use sticky labels.

  2. Test and make sure that the pen doesn't rub off and/or the labels don't fall off. You don't want your hard work and cleverness undone.

  3. Wrap sticky labels around the cables and write the number on that.

  4. Label each end...

  5. ...and every socket...

  6. with a UNIQUE number. Start numbering at 1 and just keep going up.

  7. Don't be tempted to restart numbering from 1 on another device or otherwise change your numbering scheme. This just introduces potential for ambiguity and THAT is what we are trying to eliminate.

  8. A unique number used only once is almost impossible to get wrong at reconnect.

  9. If you are moving multiple devices at once, you can put an alphabetical prefix on the cables for a particular device e.g. the stereo numbers start with A1, A2, etc., the PC starts with B7, B8 and so on. BUT I still recommend that the numbers just keep going. Don't restart from one again even with a different alpha' prefix.

  10. Make sure the labels on the device are exactly where the cable goes. Use little arrows or otherwise tie the label to the actual socket if it is difficult to this.

  11. AVOID labeling sockets or cables that aren't connected to anything. Such dead-ends will only serve to raise doubts down the track when you wonder just where the hell the matching number is (especially as greater amounts of time go by between disconnection and re-connection).

  12. Photographing the cabling before you start, and after numbering but before disconnection, can provide some extra context if you fancy.

  13. I take a lot of photos with my phone in such circumstances now just because I can and it costs nothing.

I hope that helps you.

Maybe moving technology in the future needn't be scary after all :-)

Have fun, David

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