I’m about to whip out my “old man” stick and tell you young guns that LANs are meant to be survived, not enjoyed. If you’re not pulling your hair out from an IP address conflict, troubleshooting a graphics issue with five other people trying to crawl into your chassis, or trying to get in a headshot while on a contended network thanks to a really, truly dumb Ethernet hub, then you’re doing it wrong.
Those days are well and truly behind us, though. You kids have it easy. But you still have to pack a survival kit for a LAN, and I’m here to tell you what you need to bring to survive the 2016 Joburg rAge LAN.
Screwdrivers and pill organisers
One of the most-seen things on the LAN floor are PCs that have been taken apart. Maybe there’s a hardware issue to be fixed, or perhaps someone’s upgrading that old graphica card – the point is, there’s a big need for screwdrivers, especially because there’s no Geek Squad or Genius Bar in sight.
So you’ll need four screwdrivers – two of the Phillips variety, and two flatheads, in medium and small sizes. There are several screws that need a Phillips point with a smaller bit, while flathead screwdrivers come in handy for all sorts of things, including adding leverage to remove a stripped screw that’s been stuck in a motherboard standoff. Make sure you mark them as well – screwdrivers in a LAN disappear faster than nice stationery in an office environment.
Pill organisers come in really handy for screws. They’re also transparent, so you can see what you’ve thrown in there, and they’re available everywhere! It’s not really an essential item, but when you’re stripping down a build, or a graphics card, or even a laptop, it helps to not have loose screws lying around. If you have spares at home, bring those as well – there’s always someone who doesn’t have a screw with the right thread, or a poor sap who doesn’t have enough motherboard standoffs.
Noise-canceling headset and in-ear headphones
TWO pairs of headphones, Wesley? Whatever for?! Well, aside from helping anyone with tinnitus reduce the amount of stimuli around them that sets it off, the two complement each other well. You’ve seen pro gamers in tournaments like the WCG, or The International, do the same thing.
The inner-ear headphones go in first, and they’re for the sound from the game and your chosen chat client. The headset is used for your microphone and to cancel out the ambient noise around you. A lot of headsets do a great job of noise cancellation, but it comes at the expense of reducing the levels of other sounds its playing, like your game audio. This way, however, you have the best of both worlds, along with peace and quiet once the headset goes on. LANs are noisy, and there’s fan noise to kick off my tinnitus into overdrive for days.
Sidecutters and cable ties
Sometimes, a lot of what goes down at the LAN is a small trio of friends trying to organise the cables in a brand new chassis that’s been bought on the floor. In this instance, cable ties are awesome. You can use them to bunch up any cables that aren’t needed, or neaten up those huge snakes of power cords that can’t be run behind the motherboard tray.
The sidecutters come in handy for when you’ve made a huge mistake and used cable ties for the wrong thing. We’ve all done that before.
USB drives with an operating system installer
New PC builds these days don’t always ship with a DVD drive. In fact, it’s been a little over two years since I last used mine. Most people now install Windows, Linux, and MacOS over the internet or through a USB drive.
So I recommend bringing a few of them, if you’re that one friend who always has a Live CD environment on a flash drive to push people to the Linux master race. Ubuntu 16.04.1 is the latest distro from Canonical, and free to distribute and install. If you’re interested in other flavours, you can look into them below:
While you can download the images through the respective tools that Microsoft offers, getting the ISO images directly is a better method, and you can pause these downloads if you so wish. A USB utility like Rufus will work for getting the installer to work in legacy BIOS or EUFI modes.
Along with that, it’s nice to sometimes have recovery tools as well. Offline Windows Password and Registry Editor is a Live Linux image that helps to reset your password in case you forget it (although any Live environment can do this). And then there’s the legendary Hiren’s Boot CD, which includes a number of utilities for data recovery and testing hardware. These kinds of environments are also useful in the case of a failing hard drive – you don’t ever want to attempt drive recovery while running an OS on the drive to be recovered.
Rubbing alcohol, one eraser, tissues, and a microfibre cloth
Frequently, dust will get dislodged while you’re moving your PC, and it goes into places where it shouldn’t – the RAM slots, inside the GPU heatsink, perhaps even the PCI slots that you’ll never use again, and sometimes dirt goes where it shouldn’t either. In times like this, it’s nice to have a cleaning kit to get things working again.
The eraser might be a headscratcher, but it’s an awesome tool for cleaning metal contacts in a pinch if you don’t have proper cleaning solution. Simply rub the eraser lightly across them, and it’ll clean them without leaving any marks or lifting the metal layers. Take great care with this method, though. Rub gently to avoid removing the gold plating, and make sure you remove any excess rubber residue. It tends to become an insulator, and may cause issues further down the line.
The tissues are also dual-purpose – place them everywhere in your case to check for leaks in your water cooling setup, or dab some alcohol onto them to take off thermal paste that’s being stubborn.
If you’re prone to staying up late at night, staring at your display, you’re feeding a lot of harmful blue light into your retinas, which can damage them over time. Looking at light that doesn’t have that specific wavelength is much less straining on your eyes, and so a display with a warmer colour is easier to read. That’s why Gunnar gaming glasses exist, but those are rather expensive.
F.Lux is a utility that automates changing the display colours to warmer tones that are better for the eyes, and it’s free to download and distribute. Simply accept the defaults, and at around 6:30PM your display yellows quite a bit to reduce eye strain. This way you can keep fragging noobs well into the wee hours of the morning, and not let up your A-game.
Alternatively, just sleep for a bit.
A pillow or small mattress for your butt
The final recommendation is a non-tech thing, but it’s no less important. Sitting on a chair for too long is not healthy, but sitting for too long on a slightly more cushy chair is better in the sense that now you don’t worry so much about your foot going to sleep.
There have been some rAge-goers who are all too swagger and end up bringing their own eating, but a pillow is an easy thing to carry – Lay-Z boys and double couches are a little cumbersome to lug into the LAN!