Ingenuity: It's the stuff of legends in the geek world. After all, why should you waste your hard-earned cash or spend hours at the old electronics store to purchase items that you can otherwise make yourself? We're not suggesting that you need to become an everyday geek MacGyver, but it's worth knowing that a number of household goods can serve as excellent substitutes for computer or gadget accessories that you'd otherwise spend a chunk of change on.
From laptop stands and cable-management tools to wrist-pain reducers and car GPS holders, the world of do-it-yourself accessory building is limited only by your imagination--not your skills. The DIY contraptions we'll be covering in this brief how-to article won't require a ton of tools, parts, or headaches. In our DIY land, you should be able to construct something to improve your geek life in 30 minutes or less.
Car Smartphone Holder
Why buy an expensive dashboard mount for your smartphone when you can build one in a variety of ways? We'll start with the iPhone, since half of the components you need for the project come right in the box--the carrying tray that the iPhone sits in is what you'll be using to attach the device to your car.
You may be wondering: How are you going to get your iPhone to sit comfortably in the tray if it's vertical? You have three solutions.
One, buy some heavy-duty Velcro and adhere four strips to the side of the tray in line with the iPhone's top speaker and its Home button. Use two longer strips to tuck the iPhone into the case securely, and then use Velcro to adhere the case itself to a spot in your car. Two, thread a larger piece of Velcro through the carrying tray's center hole to form a loop, and use that to hold your iPhone in place (this approach, though, will limit your ability to see part of the screen). Three, find some small but sturdy pieces of plastic, heat them up and bend them to form little clips, and glue these clips to the frame of the iPhone carrying tray to secure the phone in place.
Fear not, Android/BlackBerry/other users, for we haven't forgotten about you. In your case, try making a phone holder by taking a regular old soda cup--the specific size depends on the size of your phone and/or cup holder--and cutting what amounts to a high-back chair out of it.
We're borrowing this technique from Steph of the blog Upcycle Us, because it's just that cool: using chopsticks to make a stand for your tablet PC.
To start this DIY project, you'll need a ton of chopsticks (probably 15). Puncture a small hole near the end of five of them, glue four together on top of one another, and use a tiny nut and bolt combination (probably a 4-40) to attach the fifth. This is the front of your stand. Glue a few more chopsticks together (to fit the depth of your device), and glue them to the chopstick immediately above the swiveling one on the line you just created. That's the bottom of your holder. Take the rest of the chopsticks and glue them together to form the back of the stand, and then glue them to the previous set such that the end of the line of chopsticks is on the same horizontal plane as the swiveling chopstick.
When you try to swivel that chopstick (the leg that keeps the entire construction upright) back, you'll notice that it doesn't quite work correctly. Take a knife and carve out enough room on the rear-chopstick section to allow the front chopstick to swivel, and voilà: one inexpensive tablet holder.
If you need a brain rest from that last tip, we have just the trick for you. You know all those fancy, silica-gel wrist rests you can purchase to alleviate the stress of day-to-day computer use--specifically on your mouse hand? Well, you can make your own version faster than you can probably read this paragraph. Grab a cotton sock--an athletic sock, preferably--and fill it with either rice, flaxseed, or dried cherry pits.
Tie off the end of the sock with itself if you can, or use a string or band to seal it up (bonus points if you can sew the open end shut). And there you have it: one quick and easy wrist rest. You can even throw it into the microwave or freezer to give your tired arms an added jolt.
The New Mouse Pad
You probably can come up with all kinds of reasons why you wouldn't want to buy a new mouse pad. Fortunately, you can use a simple substitute. Take some wax paper--or better yet, baking sheet liners--and use cellophane tape to adhere a decently sized rectangle to your desk. You've now created an insta-mouse-pad that's every bit as slick and speedy as the $50 slabs you can purchase online.
Looking for a more personal touch? Buy a blank white mouse pad and some textile acrylic paint. Go to town with your artistic mind, let the paint dry, and then cover the whole pad with two layers of wax paper. Fire up an iron to medium-high heat, and then run it over the mouse pad. Your art will be forever sealed--and, more important, you'll have the coolest-looking mouse pad on the block.
Pocket-Based Earbud Management
Few things in life are more frustrating than having to sort through a horrible knot of thin cabling before you can start rocking out with your portable media player of choice. It's the Curse of the Earbuds. Thankfully, the hassle is easily preventable with a few cheap tricks. Here's the cheapest: Start with a piece of paper measuring 4.25 by 5.5 inches (one-fourth of a standard 8.5-by-11-inch sheet), and fold it so that its two longer edges meet. Now fold the result in half, but along the other axis (making the two shorter edges meet). Then fold that result in half. Crease it, and then squeeze the two edges slightly to form a small paper tube of sorts.
Slip in the earbuds so that they hang off the top of the tube you just created; the wire should dangle out of the bottom. Now wrap the wire around the paper tube, which should seal the whole thing together.
Also acceptable: Cut an old credit card in half, and carve two notches into the sides. One notch goes on the upper-left half of the card; the other, on the lower-right side. Make sure to cut a big enough hole such that a cord can wrap into the area, because that's exactly what you're going to do. Stick your earbuds in one notch and let the cord dangle out the other side. Now wrap the cord around the credit card piece horizontally (you should be holding the card piece vertically), and then tuck the earbud plug into the second notch once you near the end.
This story, "Make your own tech accessories" was originally published by PCWorld.