Three practical tools for clarifying where you want things in new locations

As a consultant, part of what I do involves perceptions and manipulations. A larger part of what I do is drudgery, involving constant sorting and resorting of information. The smallest part, the part I really enjoy, involves helping people figure out what they need to do and how they will do it.

In my line of work, part of the “what” involves the placement of wire and workstations to help with work-flow. Some of the spaces already exist. Others exist only in the imagination of the various folks who look at the blueprints. In either case, it takes some effort to get people to see things the same way. Everyone imagines space differently, and when there are multiple contractors it can become difficult to get things exactly where we want them.

Over the years, though, I have picked up a handful of useful tricks for keeping things on-track.

Trick 1 – Your Flashlight

My most useful tool is my flashlight. A good directed beam LCD flashlight can put a circle on a wall visible in even modestly lighted conditions. I can use it to highlight areas I want to talk about with a contractor, place a visible marker where I want to put a drop or a computer, or help someone track an otherwise twisted line.

I like a flashlight better than a laser pointer for all three of these tasks. One, the flashlight can actually illuminate things (important when you have to poke around in dark places). Two, a good flashlight is fairly rugged, while most laser pointers tend to be fragile. When I'm out on a construction site I do not want to have a tool which will break the first time I drop it.

Trick 2 – Markable Maps

When installing workstations or hardware in an existing site, it is not aways possible to lay hands on a blueprint. For just such an emergency, I haul out my wet-erase maps back from my table-top wargame days. Not only are they reusable, but they come marked with either a hex or a grid pattern. I use them to draw quick, alterable maps of the area, placing new workstations or drops in an editable format. It's novel enough that even uninterested customers at least stop and talk with me about it, sometimes letting slip things about what they need.

Markable maps can be purchased from any fine game store or many on-line retailers.

Trick 3 – Sticky Dots

Ah, dots, how do I love thee?

The introduction of multi-colored adhesive dots made life for those of us who deploy networks into existing spaces immeasurably easier. A pack of 1” or 1/2” dots allows me to exactly identify where I want power, data drops, fax lines, computers, and just about anything else I can imagine. If I'm feeling particularly athletic I can use them to mark where I want cable runs to go or mark them with the numbering scheme I want my contractor to use.

I cannot tell you how much agony I've avoided over the years thanks to a simple pack of dots.