From the Tips Box: Keyboard Cleaning, Cheap Gadget Charging, Uncurling Cords

By Jason Fitzpatrick on May 26th, 2011


Every week we dip into our reader mailbag and pick out interesting tips to share. This week we’re looking at keyboard cleaning, saving money while charging gadgets, and straightening curly cords.

Cleaning Your Keyboard without Rebooting


Joe writes in with a simple tip for cleaning your keyboards:

After reading about how filthy keyboards can be I started making a conscious effort to keep my clean. I ran into a problem though, it’s a pain to clean your keyboard when your computer is on and I didn’t want to reboot my machine every time I wanted to run an alcohol wipe over the keys. Fortunately there’s an app that works perfectly to solve the problem. It’s called ToddlerTrap and was originally created to keep kids from messing up computers but it works just as well to lock the keyboard down while you’re mashing all the keys with a cleaning wipe.

Keyboards can get really gross but it is a hassle to have to boot down the machine to clean them. ToddlerTrap is a great app for Windows; Mac users might want to check out the similar but mac-centric app Keyboard Cleaner.

Cheap Gadget Charging

2011-05-26_143025Monica writes in with her solution for charging her devices without wasting money with phantom loads:

Most of my devices (smart phone, tablet, etc.) charge really quickly. If I plug them in at night before I go to bed then most of the night they are just sitting there tethered to the charging station. I hate wasting even a small amount of energy leaving them plugged in (the wall warts are always warm, even when I’m not charging!)

My solution was to get a $4 lamp timer from the local hardware store and hook it up to the power strip I’m using for my gadgets. I have it set to turn on two hours before I get up every morning. At night I plug my gadgets in, then around 4AM the timer turns the power strip on and they all get a fresh charge. I wake up at 6AM and pack them up for work and then the strip turns off.

Very clever, Monica. Lamp timers are light duty but a handful of portable gadgets will pull less power than a 100W bulb so your setup is safe, effective, and ensures you get a fresh charge without leaving everything plugged in longer than necessary.

Hacking Curly Cords with a Heat Gun


John apparently hates curly and kinked cords and has stumbled upon a clever way to banish them:

A few months ago I was at a hacker space [Ed. Note: hacker spaces are public or semi-public areas where tinkers, hardware/software hackers and others can gather to share resources and work on projects together] and I saw a guy making curled cords using a piece of pipe and a heat gun. I hate curly cords and I hate when my straight cords start to take on a kink or two so his solution was particularly interesting to me.

I took his idea and used it in the opposite way. What he would do was wrap a cord around a pipe and then use the heat gun to “set” the cord in the new shape. I promptly went home and got all my curled cords and stretched them out, using the heat gun to instead set them to the straighten state. It’s pretty much a fool-proof technique, just make sure you keep the heat gun moving and start far away. If you start up close and hold the heat gun in one spot you can melt the insulation on the cord.

This was really a two-for-one tip, John. Some readers just learned how to curl their cords and others learned how to uncurl them. Thanks for sharing!

Have a tip to share? Shoot us an email at and you might just see your tip on the front page.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/26/11
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