29 May

My grandfather doesn’t understand computers. Nor does he have an email address or a smartphone or a router or a backup solution. Those words are all foreign to him. It’s just not something native to his generation. I don’t fault him for it nor do I find it odd in the least.

What my grandfather lacks in tech gadgets, he makes up for it with craftsmen’s tools. He has belt sanders, angle grinders, band saws, jig saws, hand saws, hacksaws, saw horses, mattocks, sledgehammers, hammer drills, pneumatic drills, drill presses, work benches, plum bobs, and plenty more odds and ends to make some of the reality show garages on Discovery Channel jealous. However, the prize of his collection has got to be what he refers to his “junk cabinet.” There has never been a bigger misnomer in the history of etymology.

Every good craftsman has a junk cabinet. Junk cabinets are a coalition of miscellaneous odds and ends that handymen collect through their lives “just in case.” Coincidentally, every project that goes awry—which is just about every project—the junk drawer’s services are called upon. Lost a 3/4” wing nut? Check the junk cabinet. Cotter pin snapped? There’s probably something in the junk cabinet you can use to replace it. Small gear broken? There’s bound to be an identical one found in the junk cabinet. If not, then there’s something in there that will provide a comparable solution until the end of the project. The junk cabinet is every good garage’s greatest weapon.

I grew up on a farm, but now I’m a graphic designer by trade. I have little use for a junk cabinet. I’m a geek. And if you’re reading this, you’re a geek too. Geeks generally don’t have junk cabinets. But we have something that’s just a good in the geeky world.

We geeks have cord boxes.

According to my extensive research of 3 other geeks, I’ve concluded that every geek out there also has a cord box, though it’s not something we regularly discuss. Possibly because of our geek nature, we discuss little in general unless it’s done on a forum somewhere (preferably on this site!).

Some of you might be wondering “what exactly is a cord box?” A cord box is exactly as its name implies. It’s a box and full of cords that a geek has accumulated over a lifetime of geekhood. For convenience sake, a cord box’s natural habitat is normally the closet nearest to a geek’s gaming or computing station. A geek’s cord box must never be too far away from his geek domain. It’s like a psychological source of geek power.

When I was 16, my cord box was relatively small and only contained a few AC adapters from long-since discarded portable CD players and self-amplified speakers. By the time I reached college, the cord box started to collect old surge suppressors, RF switches, a few system selectors, spools of speaker wire, the N64 controller with the white buildup in the analog nub that never correctly centers itself (reserved for guest gamers only… especially enemies) electrical tape and of course . . .  splitters. . . lovely, lovely splitters.

After college, I got a place to call my own. I no longer needed to share a room so closet space became less of an issue. Much like a hermit crab, my old cord box discarded its former shell and moved to a larger cord box that stood roughly waist high. For a while it was just cord box and me. We were like a geeky crime fighting duo except instead of ridding society of evil-doers; we helped friends and ourselves with cool tech arrangements. Things started to change when I met my wife.

When my wife and I got married and moved into our new home, she accidentally confused my cord box as a “pile of garbage.” We laughed about it the first time… but the other two times….

The problem is, she doesn’t know the possibilities that lie inside the cord box. But then again, she isn’t a geek. She’s more of a nerd. Nerds don’t have cord boxes. I think they have something completely different like jobs or something.

She has only seen the magic of the cord box once in her life when one of my many 1/8” to component audio splitters sprung forth from the cord box and allowed her to enjoy her iPod on the home stereo. She doesn’t understand that with the right combination of cables, I can run my PS3 into one of the old portable DVD players. I can extend her macbook desktop onto the living room TV screen (through her choice of either VGA or component inputs). At the drop of a hat, I’m ready, willing, and able to field strip anyone’s pc or install a home theater system. I sleep more comfortably at night with that type of security.

Now at the ripe age of 30, my cord box has asexually reproduced into several cord boxes. I’m fairly certain it was an instinctual self-preservation technique. In a recent effort to “organize” our apartment, my wife made me swear I’d clean out my closet. The old cord box is now gone. Instead, three smaller boxes remain. One baby cord box seems to house mostly computer stuff like old power supplies, piles of ribbons, composite cable converters, a few loose tubes of Arctic Silver, and a spare fan or two. I believe at the center of the tangled mass is an outdated GeForce Ti 4200 which makes me think that maybe its trying to grow its own heart or brain. The other two boxes are hard to tell apart. They’re both the same size of box and have just about the same kinds of things jammed inside. That’s why I refer to them as “the twins” . . . at least that’s what I refer to them in my head. I wouldn’t dare call them “the twins” in public.

“Honey, have you seen any USB extension cables around the apartment?” I’d ask in the middle of Target or somewhere equally public.
“No. I actually have no idea what you’re talking about.” my wife would probably reply.

“Oh, OK. I can probably find one stuck somewhere inside one of the twins. I’ll pull one the little bastards out of the closet when I get home.”

And then everyone around us would just stare.

Secretly, I love it when I misplace items that belong in one of my cord boxes. Because then I get to drag all three of them out of the closet and dump them on my office floor and rummage through their treasures. I’ll be nearly knee deep in console controller cables, broken headsets, loose speaker wire, Christmas lights, coax cable splitters of various sizes, coax cable amplifiers, coax cable, monitor power cords, external hard drive casings, internal hard drives, 3 1/2” floppy drives, computer ribbons, florist wife, electrical tape, zip ties, Ethernet cables, wireless hubs, standard hubs, USB hubs, USB cables, micro USB cables, mini USB cables, a dead iPod, an old “turbo” SNES controller, system switches, female to female connectors, male to male connectors, female to male connectors, RF switches, S-video cables, digital cables, fiber optic cables, HDMI cables, component cables, composite cables, when my wife will come out of the living room and notice me. She’ll just stare at me for a moment as an old telephone cable falls off my shoulder; her mouth agape at what was once an area where humans could navigate without a guide.

“What?!” I’ll ask.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Randy Yasenchak.