While I’m aware that a geek’s desk might not be the most fascinating thing in the world, I’m proud of all the tech gear I’ve acquired over the years. While everyone’s office setups will look different, there are a few “universal” items that I think are worth always having in your reach. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a start.
Fair warning: Juiced sent me this NovaHUB to check out, and I absolutely love it, because it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for but was too lazy to investigate on my own. It offers one USB-C connection that allows me to give a device a gigabit Ethernet connection (incredibly useful for turning my Ethernet-less laptop into a portable testing station for my home network), two more USB-A connections, two USB-C connections, an SD card reader and a 4K HDMI connection.
Hubs like these come in all different permutations and price levels. I wouldn’t go buy a Swiss Army knife like this one if all you need is, say, a USB-C Ethernet adaptor. Still, I’ve used this little gadget plenty of times since it arrived ” so much so that I keep it in its box so it doesn’t even get scuffed. That’s TLC.
I used to work at Wirecutter, and I trust many of their recommendations ” especially when they’ve taken way too long to evaluate the nuances of tiny gadgets that, for most people, are an “oh I saw this at Best Buy and thought I needed it” impulse purchase. They’ve always been big fans of Anker’s various wall chargers, so I have two: one which dishes 12W per USB-A port to connected devices, and another charger that has both USB-A and USB-C connections (for 12W and 30W charging, respectively, unless you’re using both at the same time).
You’re probably wondering why I don’t just use, say, the wall charger that came with my phone. Well, it is slower and it only has a single USB port. When I go on vacation, I try to bring just one wall adaptor to charge everything I need, because it’s annoying to travel with a rat’s nest of chargers and cables.
Yes, it’s dusty. There are many things in this slideshow, and have not cleaned my desk in some time ” nor will I waste an extra minute in bringing you these incredible gadgets. In this case, I’m using a simple Spigen S350 stand to mount my Apple Watch’s charger vertically, which then allows me to attach the watch in a more pleasing fashion (and make use of its “tap to see the time” nightstand mode) than simply strewing it across my desk.
How do I love thee, Raspberry Pi 4? Let me count the ways. That’s not the ugly white-and-red case you normally get when purchasing one, by the way; it’s a custom Flirc case that’s designed to maximise cooling for this super-tiny PC, as I was a bit concerned about it overheating during a typical California summer.
As for the Raspberry Pi 4 itself, I use it to run Home Assistant, which allows me an absurd level of control over the various gadgets in my home ” including my Philips Hue lights. I also use it to run AdGuard Home, and I force all my devices to run their connections through the Raspberry Pi 4 for a delicious (and mostly) ad-free experience whenever I’m browsing the web.
FiiO E10 USB DAC
Do I need a USB DAC? Probably not. I’m not a huge audiophile and probably wouldn’t care that much about using motherboard sound. Still, the USB DAC allows me to fine-tune the oomph in my headphones using a physical dial and buttons, which I much prefer to fussing around in my operating system. It was a cheap purchase at the time, and I’ve used it for the past seven years without issue. Someday I’ll use its coaxial out port, I’m sure. Someday.
As many cheap USB flash drives as I can find
A blurry photo of some cheap-arse USB flash drive that I found in my drawer is a perfect metaphor for how I treat these things. I used to do too much flash drive research, spending hours to determine the best combination of price, speed and connection type for the many, many flash drives out there. And then I’d buy something for, like, A$56, and promptly misplace it within a month. Ugh.
Nowadays I just use whatever falls across my desk. If a friend is giving away flash drives, I’ll take one. If some company sends me product screenshots and press releases on a flash drive, I’m thrilled ” one more to add to the collection. I refuse to spend anything north of A$15-A$30 on a flash drive, because I simply don’t trust myself to hold on to it.
So, yes. Here’s a shitty old Lexar flash drive. It’s probably not very fast, and it only supports 16GB of space, but that’s enough for a speedy Windows 10 installation. What more do you need?
Some cleaning spray for screens
Don’t use Windex to clean the screens of your expensive gadgets, good god. You should be using something much less abrasive ” ideally distilled water, and maybe a mix of distilled water and white vinegar if you have a stain you just can’t get out. That, or do what I did: invest in some fancier, non-abrasive cleaning spray a decade ago and keep it with you forever. (How often do you really need to clean your screen, after all?)
I’d link you this product if I could, but it’s been so long that the label has worn off the bottle. I’m pretty sure it still cleans; at least, my monitor looks pretty.
That stupid Lightning dongle
Maybe I should have made this slideshow, “tech gear I frequently lose.” Little is more annoying than being unable to find this tiny adaptor that allows you to use regular headphones with your modern iPhone. I still would much prefer a fatter iPhone with a headphone connection (and big-arse battery) than a skinnier device, but, hey, I’m not an Apple product designer.
To solve this, I had to change my mindset. Instead of stuffing the dongle in a drawer somewhere and invariably losing it to the crack in reality that eats up all the tiny stuff in my desk, I keep it attached to a pair of headphones at all times. If I ever need it for another device, like wired earbuds, I take it off and use it. I always return it to these particular headphones, because I don’t want to pay Apple A$15 to get a new one.
A set of tiny screwdrivers
Confession: My tiny screwdrivers are buried in a moving box somewhere, so I can only show you this random one I found in my desk drawer. The principle of the thing applied, though. If you’re a geek who’s often putting things together ” whether we’re talking desktop PCs or new cases for your Raspberry Pi ” you’ll want to have a set of tiny screwdrivers handy. Precision screwdrivers, really, that allow you to get into all the places a regular-sized screwdriver can’t go. My set of precision screwdrivers, which I’m pretty sure I acquired more than a decade ago, has been one of the most-used tools in my toolkit for years.
Some kind of awesome surge protector
I bought a wall-mounted surge protector eight years ago, and I keep it handy in case I ever need to connect a lot of things to a single wall socket. I love the pivoting plugs, too, which mean a device with a stupidly large power brick won’t likely eat up multiple ports.
You can never have too many surge protectors, right?
I don’t use many batteries, but I also don’t see the need to waste a spot on one of my precious surge protectors for a device dedicated to charging them. It’s 2020; USB-C is good enough. And that’s exactly why I like the EBL Smart AA AAA NiMH Rechargeable Battery Charger. Connect it to your computer over USB-C or USB-A and let your batteries charge while you go about your work and/or gaming. Easy as that.
A super-tiny USB adaptor for SD cards
I confess, I only bought this adaptor because I wanted an easier way to extract all of my Animal Crossing: New Horizons screenshots from my Nintendo Switch. Still, it cost around $A25, and it’s the easiest method I could find to read a microSD card on my desktop or laptop PC. It’s tiny, it’s convenient and it gets the job done.
I, too, used to do the ol’ “use car keys to open Amazon packages” technique. That got annoying, so I finally borrowed a box cutter from a friend ” I think she got it from her old job at Starbucks? ” and I’ve never gone back. I’ve kept this trusty little device front and centre in my drawer ” a place of honour ” because I don’t want to lose it and because I use it so much. Also, the blade is completely replaceable, though I suspect the whole thing probably costs about A$3-A$5, so I’m not super-concerned about that.
Some way to control your sprawling cables
Nothing against cable ties ” especially awesome reusable Velcro ones. I just think it’s important that you have some method to turn your cable clutter into a prettier setup. These cable clips are nothing fancy, but they’re great for keeping your critical cables in the same place. At least, I use them all the time for my phone charger, because I got sick of having to reach down to the ground to grab it whenever I knocked it off my nightstand.
A spare Ethernet cable (or two)
I can’t count the number of times I need to grab an Ethernet cable for something quick. And I also can’t count the number of times I’ve opened my desk drawer to realise that I’ve used all my spare cables to get other devices hooked into my network.
The solution? Always have spare Ethernet cables. One cable is fine. Two cables is even better, especially if you can get some of varying lengths. You won’t need to spend a fortune for a simple, awesome Cat6 cable; and if you’re buying multiple, you can get an even better deal over at a site like Monoprice ” where I typically shop for all my cables if I’m buying a bunch at once.
Honestly, I wouldn’t even stop at Ethernet cables. Get at least one extra of everything you typically use ” Ethernet, Lightning, USB-A, USB-C, standard three-prong power cables, etc. That way if you ever need one (or one you’re using stops working correctly), you won’t have to waste a ton of money buying an overpriced one at the store or wait days to get one delivered. Backups are your friends.
Ziploc slider bags so you don’t lose your stuff
The best way I’ve found to organise my many cables ” yes, I have a lot ” is to give each cable type its own labelled Ziploc bag. I don’t use those stupid “press and seal” bags. No. Those take too long to seal and don’t always work if you’re in a hurry. The “zipper“ bags that seal for you are the ticket, and they make it infinitely easier to find and grab the cable you need and seal it all back up again.
Honestly, though, you can use these bags for just about anything: Any of the tiny gadgets I’ve mentioned in this story could go in a bag along with their similarly sized peers. You can then stuff the bag in your desk drawers to give yourself a little extra protection from “wandering gadget” syndrome ” a curse I am all too familiar with.