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back to article Any storm in a port

Consider this column to be a virtual pub. I raise my glass to all time-wasters out there. It’s customary for this column to ignore the big news items of the week and instead focus on things that don’t really matter. So permit me to avoid wasting your Friday afternoon fruitlessly on conjecture about the inexplicably popular topic …

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Not 100%

But I reckon I get it wrong about 75% of the time. That's why I leave the cables plugged in an disconnect the OTHER end...

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Happy

Re: Not 100%

37 out of 37... ever tried your hand at roulette?

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Facepalm

to-"doh!" list

I sometimes get it wrong as many as four times, before realising that I'm trying to plug a usb device into the sata port just below the usb port

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Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

...are almost exactly the same width, as my young daughter discovered.

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

The only difference is that Ethernet ports also accept peanuts and raisins as perfectly viable plugs whereas USB still rejects those.

The only hardware test I will ever trust is exposing tech to 5 year olds. If it survives that, you can consider it exceeding military standards of robustness..

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

It's perfectly possible to insert a USB device into an Ethernet socket. I have a range of support tickets from my staff that will prove just that. In fact, it can be so convincing that they then call up and report a fault because the USB device isn't powering up. And I've had to straighten no-end of RJ45 internal connectors because of just this kind of mistake.

That said, the biggest problem with USB is still the power. You can get them the wrong way up, sure, and you can cause damage (I have at least a couple of tickets where the machine broke entirely because the USB blanking/keying part of the connector was shoved into the port by the force and damage the internal connectors on a laptop motherboard). But you can't explain to people that a 5m USB cable is going to be unreliable (but I find the USB -> CAT5 extenders tend to cater for any extreme circumstances), nor that they can't run a laptop hard drive off ANY USB port they plug their portable SATA convertor into. Sure, it'll work MOST of the time, but not all.

I have a wonderful Zalman hard-drive-thing that also pretends to be a CD drive (from ISO's on the disk) so convincing that you can boot and install from Windows/Linux ISO's at USB 3.0 speed without the OS knowing any different), but it still flakes out on some computers with USB that's technically standards-compliant but actually not giving as much current as the non-compliant ones. Hell, I kept a 2-USB-port-to-one-USB-connector adaptor just for that device so I could draw power from both ports (still technically non-compliant, I know, but works). And that's before you even get into the modern compact machines without DVD drives that people then go out and buy some ridiculous high-powered external Blu-Ray for and expect it to work off the USB.

USB, despite its poor design in terms of plug orientation and power, is though pretty damn good and the closest thing we've ever had in terms of one-port-to-rule-them-all. Hell, I just carry a batch load of USB convertors now and I can plug almost anything in. PS/2 keyboards and mice, Ethernet cables, serial, parallel, even SATA. It's one of the best things to happen to the industry. And for that, I'm prepared to overlook the fact that about 20% of the time I get the orientation wrong (except on those computers that, for no reason, have ports "up the wrong way", where it's closer to 80% obviously).

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Facepalm

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

It's funny because it's true. Especially the first post.

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Flame

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

>USB, despite its poor design in terms of plug orientation and power, is though pretty damn good and the closest thing we've ever had in terms of one-port-to-rule-them-all.

at the risk of starting an Flame war -

USB has not ever been the 'one-port-to-rule-them-all' -- actually Firewire was/is.

with 5w of power, you can run 3.5" hard drives - without external power - you can daisy chain devices, I forget the length but I think it was 16 devices.

it is faster at data transfer then USB 1 or 2 (for sustained transfer).

oh yes... I almost forgot, a plug/port which only fits in, in one direction -- even though it still often takes 3 tries :)

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

>> USB has not ever been the 'one-port-to-rule-them-all' -- actually Firewire was/is.

>> with 5w of power,

>> you can daisy chain devices, I forget the length but I think it was 16 devices.

Beat me to it, far superior - not just in transfer rate, but in internal architecture as well. Even Firewire 400 outperforms USB 2, and Firewire 800 leaves it standing. USB 3 is now coming along and finally allows USB to pass where Firewire was over a decade ago !

Yes you get bus power - any device could add power to the bus and that would power the repeater/hub in multiport devices. The power was actually more normally 12W - the official spec was for up to 1A (instead of 1/2A for USB), and devices typically supplied 12V (the spec says up to 30-something I think, instead of 5V for USB).

It's not for nothing that manufacturers have implemented their own non-standard, bastardised, "more than a trickle" power support for their devices to charge through USB - many of which just get to where Firewire has always been !

Daisy chain/branch in any arrangement you want as long as there aren't any loops, with cables that are the same both ends so none of this finding you've got the wrong end of the cable - the article didn't touch on that !.

I believe what killed it was Apple being greedy and wanting too much in licence fees - so the rest of the industry told them to sod off. Pity. The difference between Firewire 800 and USB 2 on my laptop is like the difference between night and day. Problem is that Firewire devices are "less common" and "rather more expensive" than USB :(

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

Firewire is/was more expensive, since the protocol is dumber, the device has to do a little more work.

Having firewire enabled is also a security flaw, since it can easily be exploited in a DMA attack.

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

FireWire is an evil brought on by demons. Dumbest protocol by far. The world is better off without it.

Also, I am glad to know I am not alone. Flipped USB 100% for sure.

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Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

Mr Flintstone, this reminds me of another story that I will save for a future column (maybe next week) in which we discovered that a co-worker (an adult) had spend six months feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot, apparently in total ignorance and completely without malice, although with plenty of stupidity.

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Facepalm

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

In the early mid '90s I worked at a computer place that I will only refer to as "Chinaman Joe's PC Emporium" to protect the guilty. One day we got a PC in for warranty repair for a defective floppy drive. Sure enough, we could not insert a disc. After removing the drive from the computer, we decided to take it apart to see what broke. Upon removing the cover we saw a gray plastic gear sitting in the middle of the drive, completely unconnected to any sort of geary mechanism. As we stood there contemplating this paragon of malfunction our Chinese coworker came by, looked at the whole thing and exclaimed "Rego! My kid pray with that!" We turned the gear over and, sure enough, it said Lego.

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Gold badge

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

Mr Flintstone, this reminds me of another story that I will save for a future column (maybe next week) in which we discovered that a co-worker (an adult) had spend six months feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot, apparently in total ignorance and completely without malice, although with plenty of stupidity.

Looking forward to it, but give me some time to look up what a floppy drive is again. My memory isn't that good. If I recall correctly, it involved 8", 5.25" or 3.5" and I have a vague recollection of using a hole punch in that context.. :)

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Boffin

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

Fault call logged. Paper keeps jamming in printer, won't feed.

Home visit arranged, arrive on time, open up printer, remove toy soldier, re-assemble printer, all ok.

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Thumb Up

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

Agree with all of the above and to add:

On a slow morning I've spent a good two or three minutes trying to jam a USB pen into an HDMI socket and vice versa.

Still it's not as bad as wireless. I think for every minute wasted on connecting a cable into a socket I've probably spent a good 10 trying to get various wireless devices to talk to each over.

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Angel

Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

LOVE IT You made me spray my monior with mashed banana!!! (well it is lunch time)

Reminds me of the so called computer grad who called me when they couldn't boot a laptop as they'd forced the power jack into the ethernet port

Go figure....

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Re: feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot

By any chance was he a member of manglement???

I only ask because you brought up the stupidity comment.

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I used to have the same problem

But then I discovered an easy solution.

USB connectors always have two square holes (see picture) on the upper side, except when they're on the lower side or when they aren't present. They also have a USB logo on the lower side, except when it's on the upper side, when it's absent, or when it's on both sides.

The upper side of the socket is the one furthest from the floor. Where sockets are mounted vertically, it's the side that would be nearest to the floor if you laid the device on its side with the wrong side facing up. You may find it easier to think of it as the left-hand side (right-hand side for left-handed people). But then you will have to decide whether you're in front of the computer or behind it.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

This is true, however I have discovered that, especially with low profile devices, manufacturers are required to fit the ports upside down. In fact my current PC has correctly orientated usb ports on the rear but due to the arrangement of internal components the forward facing ports are not. Likewise with my two laptops, 15" and 11" respectively, no prizes for which is upside down. Bring back cylindrical connectors!

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Re: I used to have the same problem

Having recently acquired an old Blueberry PowerPC iMac, I noticed that their USB ports are mounted upside-down (at least, by modern standards). I put it down to lack of standardisation at the time rather than Apple "thinking dfifferent", though.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I used to have the same problem

I have a memory of a laptop which had two USB ports, one above the other as is common - but they were mirror images for polarity. Get it right for one - and it's wrong for the other one.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

The upper side of the socket is the one furthest from the floor. Where sockets are mounted vertically, it's the side that would be nearest to the floor if you laid the device on its side with the wrong side facing up. You may find it easier to think of it as the left-hand side (right-hand side for left-handed people). But then you will have to decide whether you're in front of the computer or behind it.

This would be great if it was true, but it isn't. Indeed, it isn't even what the standard says. The standard gives orientation in terms of (to paraphrase) the side facing the user, but does not specify how that is determined. For many applications is obvious but e.g. rack equipment could conceivably be mounted above head height in which case the orientation is reversed. I've seen plenty of cases that make this very assumption which can be bloody inconvenient when indicator light on directly mounted equipment shine downwards on a box mounted at knee height to start with.

That always assuming any attention is paid the the standards in the first instance. I've seen plenty of examples where they are simply ignored with no justifiable defence under the spec. Cheap flash MP3 players are a favourite - for some reason the screen always seems to point downwards when they are plugged into a computer in violation of the spec.

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Holmes

I have no idea what the problem is

Normal-sized USB plugs always have a USB logo on the upper side, period. There is no "except" to this – at least in 10-odd years using the things, I've never found a cable that didn't comply. Side-tilted sockets are a little bit more of a challenge, yes, but in any given device they'll all be tilted to the same side – you figure one, you figure all.

Really, whenever I hear people complaining about USB plugs, I don't know if I'm just too sharp, or it's them who are too stupid. Actually, I do know – I'm not that sharp really.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I used to have the same problem

Thank you very much sir, the 6 cables currently attached to my laptop and ports seem to be consistent.

And the ports seem to be consistent, even the vertical ones (assuming you wouldn't stand your laptop on end unable to open the optical drive).

But I wouldn't say the USB logo is on the lower side of the cable. I'd say it's on the upper side. It's only on the lower side if you think of the socket and cable as plugging into each other and the orientation of the cable as being the opposite of the socket and the socket being the right way up.

In summary: on my cables USB logo => this way up.

The only thing is that the USB symbol looks a bit, er, "male" and it's actually on the female side.

Thank you for saving me some time every week and for patiently reading this way of wasting it.

as plugging the

So simple rule:

hub seem to be consistent and have the rule that various hubsmy cables

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I used to have the same problem

Just ignore the last bit. The textarea was partially out of the scrollable area. Sorry about that.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

Picked up an older Dell desktop. The USB ports on the front are located under a bulbous protuberance that requires you to insert them pointing sort of but not quite upwards. Two stacked ports. No possible way to see which way they're oriented, or even exactly where they are. Four tries minimum to hit to right spot.

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Re: I have no idea what the problem is

The cables that come with Western Digital portable HDDs & Logitech Harmony remotes, to name just the two examples within grabbing distance. Both have the manufacturer's logo topmost on the USB A plug, and the USB logo underneath.

Yes, it shits me too. As far as I'm concerned it's a breach of the USB Consortium's standards - which are a requirement for use of the USB logo - and so their membership should be revoked. But, then, they didnt do much about Palm's much more egregious flouting of the standard a few years ago (when Palm decided to fake Apple's Vendor ID rather than write their own music-management software), so I don't expect much to happen over mislabelled connectors.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

Yes Dell and the gap under the front of the Optiplex.

Yes it allows you to stick your USB cables in so they don't stick out of the front of the case and risk being knocked off but they are a beggar to plug things into. I took to leaving a short extension cable in so that I could plug devices in where I could see what I was doing.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

Sage words but a bit bloody difficult to implement when you're half under a desk in the dark reaching around trying to plug one in the back of a tower.

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FAIL

Re: I used to have the same problem

I remember those Dells (the NLX and very non-standard form factor) and, yes, they could be a bitch to plug into. And then the really fun part was when you found out that the front ports didn't actually supply enough power (or something....) and you actually had to plug whatever into the back to get it to work. Major design fail.

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Re: I have no idea what the problem is

It's not just WD... my BlackBerry phone's USB cable has the BlackBerry logo on top and the USB one underneath. While it was exceedingly irritating the first few times I used it, it is the worst problem I've encountered with the phone so I'll maybe turn a blind eye this once.

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Re: I used to have the same problem

Ah, but those were the days when USB pens and other USB devices were thicker then they are now, and the USBplug part would be at the bottom of the USB device,

so having 2 in reverse polarity mounted atop of each other meant that you could use the double height USB devices without blocking the other port.

Crappy ascii art

+=========+

==|_U_S_B___|

__________

==| n S B |

+=========+

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Re: I have no idea what the problem is

I used to think this was the case until a few months ago I bought a new logitech remote control. The USB cable that comes with that is a full size A to micro B (same cable used to charge all non Apple phones), I was amazed to find that logitech had put their own logo on the upper side and USB logo had been relegated to the bottom.

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Re: I have no idea what the problem is

Except for the one I have here that says "Garmin" on one side - and "China" on the other, with no trace of a USB logo anywhere to be seen.

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: I used to have the same problem

@Kubla Cant

I wish I could have upvoted your post 50 times, thankyou for the funniest thing I've read on't 'net in months. I was just literally crying with laughter.

A shining example of satire - a shame none of the previous 16 responders seem to have picked up on the joke... *sigh*

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Unhappy

They ARE fiendish

Most of the time, the side with the deeper holes goes uppermost, but a) sometimes (especially on cheap shit things) the manufacturers ignore this and b) as you observe, the cable lashes out at you if you try and rotate it to the correct orientation anyway.

And don't get me started on micro USB where the difference in shape is so minute you can spend EVEN LONGER trying to find which way fails to snap off the little thing in the centre of the connector...

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Re: They ARE fiendish

>And don't get me started on micro USB where the difference in shape is so minute you can spend EVEN >LONGER trying to find which way fails to snap off the little thing in the centre of the connector...

Micro USB.... and the little buggers have sharp corners, so if I've cack-handed I scratch whatever I'm plugging it into. As it happens, this has scratched the black coating off from around the socket on my phone, making it marginally easier to spot in the dark.

Why can't an industry standards body develop a plug that it happily goes in both ways, has rounded corners and is mechanically strong enough to support a device in a dock? It isn't difficult to see that these are desirable qualities, yet it is only some company known for proprietary kit manages to grok this.

And yeah, whoever made the exterior of USB A plug symmetrical, but not the insides was daft. At least the old PS/2 plugs could be located by touch, and then rotated until the plug went in.

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Re: At least the old PS/2 plugs could be located by touch

... and then rotated until the pins were bent and wouldn't fit in any way.

IFTFY

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Re: They ARE fiendish

Worst thing about micro USB... USB Micro A and Micro B are only differentiated by a slight bevel in the corners on one side. It is quite possible, even likely that you can shove a Micro A plug into a Micro B socket and bend it out of shape and cause damage this is only rendered unlikely by the fact that Micro B is exceedingly common and Micro A is exceedingly rare.

Also with both Micro A and Micro B, they are so small and the sockets so weak that you can easily push it in upside down not all that hard and break the socket off the PCB.

My final peeve with Micro USB sockets, is that in many devices, the anchoring for the socket mounting is so weak relative to the average force used to push the plug in (plus the slight wiggle room most plugs have) that the sockets tend to snap off the PCB far too easily, the Nokia N900 was prone to this.

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TRT
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Re: They ARE fiendish

Isn't that Apple's new connector?

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Anonymous Coward

I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

I find USB plugs have some strange magical property. After trying one way, which always fails, I try the other and it still doesn't go in. Then I turn it over once more and have about a 50% chance of it going in, sometimes it still needs another turn or two.

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Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

Ditto.

One day someone really clever will design a plug for computing that actually works. Currently every one of them has some form of flaw.

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Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

I'd like to add to the wish-list of desirable features in this dream plug and socket combo: some method of inherent waterproofing so that little rubber thingies over the ports aren't required. More devices are being designed to be waterproof.

In addition, it should go in either way, and have rounded corners to make it suitable for docking station and the clumsy user.

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Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

It's a quantum thing. USB ports have 1/2 spin.

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Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

How about creating a plug+socket that does the orientation automagically--you know, using magnets or something, so that all you have to do is get the damn cable near the relevant part/port on the computer and the two bits get all excited and jiggy and begin face-sucking and mating in the blink of an eye? Oh, wait...

Never mind.

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Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

I have an idea for a plug that is orientation independent, sturdy enough to not be damaged and able to carry significant current.. Unfortunately it is the 3/4 inch jack plug and as such all devices using it will have to be a minimum of an inch thick.

Still, plenty of room for bigger batteries....

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Coat

Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

Rounded corners, on a plug (which can potentially be connected to a MOBILE DEVICE? Pfft.. forget it. Already patented.

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Boffin

I get it right most of the time...

...because the flat metal side of the USB type A connector without the join showing is the 'up' side. Look carefully at a USB type A connector and you'll see the join on one side where the metal shield has been welded together. For vertical USB connections, the up side is the side furthest from the motherboard. In my TV the 'up' side is the side furthest from the screen. That covers most of the USB connections I come across. The others I get wrong every time!

HTH!

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah, well, me too

I have encountered the USB plug conundrum so many times as to have entered a state of awe, wonder and philosophical pondering as to rival Plato. Precisely WHAT IS that phenomenon? I agree the laws of probability should be 50% over time, but I consistently get it wrong on the first try to the point that I am baffled by the regularity. Seriously, WHAT IS that ? How, does it happen? You can't be that far from theoretical probability mean and not have a reason.

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