Hardware Tips: Find Lost Gear, Reduce Clutter, and More

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It's time for another one of those grab-bag tips articles--you know, like the one I did back in June, when I told you how to quiet down a laptop, make a poster, and track Netflix movies, all in one article. (Did you miss it? Read "Tips Galore: Silence Laptops, Make Posters, and More," if you feel left out.)

Read on for a service that helps you find lost laptops, cell phones, and more; a nifty USB desk hub that'll cut down the clutter on your desk; and a quick way to turn off your monitor and conserve power.

Help Lost Gadgets Find Their Way Home

Not long ago, someone I know left her Kindle on an airplane--and never saw it again. Perhaps the person who eventually picked it up wanted to return it, but didn't know how because the gadget had no identification attached.

Enter SendMeHome, a free service that helps reunite people and their stuff. All you do is register an item--any item, really, from electronics to sports equipment to luggage--then print a specially coded label and tape or glue it on.

If someone finds your item, they just visit the SendMeHome site (the URL appears on the label, natch), enter the code, and send you a message. From there it's up to you to arrange the item's return.

That makes SendMeHome a bit different from StuffBak, a similar service that offers a toll-free phone number finders can call, covers their shipping costs, provides a reward (in the form of StuffBak labels), and so on.

Of course, you pay a few bucks (upwards of $30) for all those services, and you have to buy StuffBak's labels. SendMeHome costs nothing to use, though you can order a sheet of eight weather-proof vinyl labels, in varying sizes, for $4. Mine took about two weeks to arrive.

Obviously there are no guarantees that these labels will help you recover lost items--but I feel a lot more comfortable knowing that an honest person can easily return my smartphone, digital camera, and other gadgets.

Reduce Clutter With Flush-Mount USB Hub

USB hubs come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: They sit on your desk, adding to the overall clutter. (Where have you gone, wireless USB? Where?!)

If you happen to have a desk with those cord-organizing grommet holes, I've got the perfect solution: the In-Desk USB 4 Port Hub.

This clever accessory fits inside any standard 2-inch grommet hole. Plug the underside into one of your PC's USB ports and you've got four new "topside" ports at your disposal.

There's also room in the center of the hub for any cables that were previously fished through the hole, though obviously you've got a bit less pass-through space overall.

The only real hitch is that it's not a powered hub, so a smattering of devices (like portable hard drives) won't work when plugged in.

If you can live with that, this nifty little gizmo will run you just $12, plus 3 bucks for shipping. It's not at all a bad deal for anyone looking who likes holes but dislikes cable clutter.

Turn Off Your Monitor By Pressing a Hotkey

Monitors, including desktop and laptop LCDs, consume a considerable amount of power. Yet most of us leave ours on and running all day (if not all night).

Sure, you can configure Windows to turn off the display after a period of inactivity, but that's less than ideal: Either the delay is too short, meaning the monitor turns off when you don't want it to, or it's too long to do any good, efficiency-wise.

What I want is a way to quickly turn off the monitor when I get up from my desk and then turn it on again when I return.

Yeah, I know, it's called the Power button. But that doesn't help laptop users. And some monitors take awhile to restart after being powered off.

A British company called VeryPC just unveiled a utility called PecoBOO that combines your Webcam with facial-recognition technology: Whenever you turn away from or leave the computer, the software turns off the display. It turns it back on when your face reappears.

That's kind of cool, but it seems like overkill to me. All I really need is a hotkey that'll turn my display off without actually cutting the power. After all, there are hotkeys for standby and hibernate modes; why not for just the monitor?

Thankfully, there's a pretty easy way to set that up. All you need is a tiny, free command-line utility called NirCmd, and the simple instructions provided by the How-To Geek.

In a nutshell, you'll extract NirCmd to a folder on your hard drive (I used C:\Nircmd for simplicity's sake), create a shortcut to it, assign a hotkey of your choice to that shortcut, and then, if you want, pick a nice-looking icon to go with it.

Works like a charm. Now, whenever I press Ctrl-Shift-M, my monitor goes dark. A tap of any other key wakes it up again. The only challenge I face is remembering to do this every time I get up from my chair--but I trained myself to use other hotkeys, so this should be a breeze.

Think of the energy we could save if everybody used this tip!

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog. Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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