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Cable Housekeeping

There's a law of nature that says

It's more likely for the untangled to become tangled than for the tangled to become untangled.
Or something like that. I think it's also called the Second Law of Thermodynamics ... :-)

Whatever — the result is that wherever you have cables, you have a mess. People have recognized the problem and solved it for certain special cases (cable conduits, wireless devices, continuous power strips, cable ties, etc.) but, like with the paperless office, proliferation outpaces innovation; I expect there will always be cables, and therefore, tangled cables.

I've learned a few small things which have made my life with cables easier:

How to untangle cables. Untangling cables takes a certain amount of time, and it doesn't go any faster when you're in a hurry. My first tip is

Expect it to be a kind of meditation. Pay attention to the structure of the tangle. Don't be afraid to just stare at the tangle and gather your thoughts. Then,

Which cables are the easiest to remove from a tangle? Those that are

Once you remove the easiest cable, the others become less tangled, and easier to remove.

How to store cables. There are several things to optimize when you're storing cables: minimize how long it takes to store them, how much room they take up, and how much they get tangled with other cables while in storage, and maximize how easy it is to find what you're looking for when you get the cable out of storage.

My method for storing cables goes like this:

You might say "But I don't have a rubber band when I need one." Well, get some. It's the cost of doing business. You can spend a couple of bucks on a bag of rubber bands, or you can spend hours of your life untangling cables. It's your choice.

The advantages of this method (which outweigh the inconvenience of having to find a rubber band) may not be obvious, so I will mention a few:

Finally, I am grateful to Max Mathews for this:

Label MIDI cables. Many MIDI devices have an IN and an OUT port. When you're hooking these up, you get a couple of cables out of the box, go to the device, plug in the cables, go to where you're going to plug them in, and ... "uh-oh, which cable is which?" You have to go back to the device, figure out which one is IN and which is OUT, and then back to where you're going to plug them in, and you spend a while trying to find the right place to plug them in, and then ... "uh-oh, which cable is which?" Or you just guess, and then spend time trying to figure out whether the reason things don't work is because you've got the cables backwards, or for some other reason. So, Max's advice is:

Label the ends of MIDI cables.

What this means is that a cable that previously could be used with either end at either end now has a dedicated SOURCE end and a dedicated DESTINATION end. So, sometimes you'll have to switch ends of a cable. It's worth it, because you'll NEVER spend time figuring out which direction the bits are flowing.

Incidentally, the way I label MIDI cables is to wrap masking tape around the plug (several times, so that it gets opaque), and then draw arrows ("—>") at various places so that an arrow is visible from every direction.

N.B. DO NOT label the ends of a MIDI cable IN and OUT — it only causes confusion ("does OUT mean that data is coming OUT of this end of the cable, or does it mean that I should connect this to the plug labeled OUT?") Arrows are unambiguous. (You can put arrows on your equipment, too.)