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Quick Setup at LUG Meetings

Copyright (C) 2000 by Steve Litt, All rights reserved. Material provided as-is, use at your own risk. 

By Steve Litt
In maybe October of 1999, I jumped in the car and drove 3 hours to Gainsville to attend a FLU meeting. I had been on their mailing list for awhile, and they knew me as a guy from LEAP, and as a contributing author to some Unleashed books. In other words, I had a reputation to maintain.

I didn't do too well...

The main problem was that it took me *forever* to set up my box. Over 20 minutes, and I saw some of them set up in 5. At my home LUG, LEAP-CF, it's no big deal -- they know what I can do and didn't think much about my slow setups. But at FLU, it was downright embarassing.

Sometimes, especially when you're new, part of your image comes from how effectively you set up. Fast setup isn't an accident -- it's a matter of planning.

Quick Cord Handling

Nothing slows you down like tangled cords. Seems I've learned everything, from wrapping thumb to elbow, to electricians knots, to wrapping around the hand and tying in the middle. Every one of those techniques will tangle after a 30 minute trip in the trunk of the car. Those methods are not only slow to undo, but they're slow to pack up after the meeting. So I found a new cord wrap, and life got sweet. Repeatedly fold the cord in half, then tie a simple knot once it's short enough. For instance, take a mouse:

Now fold it in half:

Fold it in half again:

Finally, tie it in a simple knot:

The procedure takes maybe 10 seconds, and it folds up nicely for storage in a box or backpack. And it will not tangle. Best, it unties quickly and tangle free, ready to install. This same technique works excellently on power cords, on monitor cables (never kink -- tie loosely), and even on network cables 12 feet or less. On all knots, always go looser rather than tighter. Most mice and power cords are folded in quarters then tied. The longest network cables *might* be folded in eighths. Monitor cables should be folded only in half, because they're thick and can be damaged by kinking.

If you find that conservative folding leads to a knot with long tails hanging out, you can run one end through the loop a second time:

Depending on the cord handling techniques you've been using, this can cut off 5 to 10 minutes from setup and teardown.

Use a HandTruck

Multiple trips to and from the car set you back 10 minutes. That might mean you aren't set up before the meeting starts. That's not good. The good news is you can get one of those little businessman's handtrucks from any office supply store for less than $20.00. Those little handtrucks work great if you bring only one computer to the meeting. Make sure you have bungee cords to fit the job. Your handtruck should be easily accessible in your trunk. Bring it out, unfold it, place it on the ground, and hook on the bungee cords. Bungee cords must be the right size. Too tight and it's unsafe -- too loose and you can have an equipment avalanche.

Assuming you bring only one computer to a meeting,

High Speed Setup Tricks

If you're extremely limber and have 20/20 vision even in the dark at distances of 6 inches, you can skip this section. For all the rest of you, here's the speed trick.

It's easiest to set up on a table, but sometimes that blocks the view of fellow attendees. Do whatever's appropriate.

Either way, start by placing your computer face down (backside up), either on the table or on the floor just in front of it. Doing this places all the computer's recepticals clearly in the light and within reach, saving time for anyone with imperfect vision or lacking the agility to pretzel up under a table. Plug the power cord into the monitor, and place the monitor on the table. Now, pull each cord or device out of your box or backpack, and plug it into the computer. Once everything's plugged into your computer, place the computer upright in the desired place. Now plug all the power cords into your power strip, plug the power strip into the wall (possibly through a high capacity extension cord), turn on the power strip, and fire up your box. Troubleshoot as necessary.

If you always bring the same box, why not label every used receptical on the back of the computer, so you can check whether you've forgotten anything while the computer is still face down (and backside up).

Bring an Emergency CD

LinuxCare produced some tiny CD's that can boot, and then mount everything on your box. Get one of those and bring it. It's the surest way of busting back into your box if you mess up with LILO or blow a kernel compile. Practice with the emergency CD (on a non-vital machine, obviously) until you can quickly bust back in and re-lilo (no small trick when mounts are in different places than normal -- back up your existing lilo and make a temporary lilo to address the locations assigned by the LinuxCare CD.

Speaking of blown kernel compiles, I suggest you always keep a small, monolithic kernel around, and have it in lilo.conf, so you can boot to the monolithic kernel if you blow a kernel compile. Much easier than busting back in with a boot floppy or emergency CD.

Last but not least, bring the installation CD for your distro.

Bring Extra Stuff

Invariably, you'll need extra power cords and extra cat5 network cables. Be sure to have a hefty power strip with lots of outlets. Bring a 10-15 foot heavy duty extension cord in case your power strip can't reach the wall. Bring a hub -- switching 10/100 at each port is the best, but any hub will do.

If you have cheapo network cards hanging around, bring em.

Other people will plug into your stuff. Being the guy with extra stuff for others to use always boosts your LUG karma.

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