27 February 2012

The Trouble With Cords

Despite the rise of the wireless age, computers and other electrical devices from landline phones to modems to cell phones to GPS units to iPods to shavers to Kindles and Nooks to power tools to CD players to lamps to printers to toasters need cords. All of them need power cords. Many of them have headphones or earbuds attached to them. In crowded office buildings, ethernet cords are preferrable to wi-fi for Internet connections because the crowded airwaves are thick with different wireless router signals.

Several issues with this state of affairs eventually become clear:

1. There has not been very much standardization of connectors, so you have a mass of similar looking cords and it isn't always visually obvious which one goes with which device. Yet, you fear throwing one out because replacing a proprietary cord for a device is almost as expensive as replacing the device itself. Even if the cord can be found or replaced, your device is effectively useless until you replace it and simply finding the right cord can take considerable time on top of any cost of replacement.

2. Homes and offices are not generally designed with convenient places to plug everything in; their outlets were placed for lamps and blenders, not for an era when everything from your toothbrush to your book are electric.

3. Most surprisingly, cords and the slots that they attach to, are quite prone to being the first part of an electric device to break that needs to be replaced. In hindsight, this makes sense. These are some of the most frequently manipulated part of a device that is often otherwise more or less solid state. But, it is still surprising how easy it is for an internal break to arise in a power cord or head phone cable, for example. At first, you find that twisting it or extending it "just so" is necessary for it to work, and eventually, the contortions needed to get the internal break of the wire within the cable becomes to great that it becomes effectively unuseable. However, since you can't see the break, it often takes many days or weeks of deduction to determine what is the matter - ruling out bad outlets (or perhaps just outlets turned off through a connection to a light switch), a loose connection at places where the cable is intended to connect with something, a flaw in the AC to DC converter box on a cable, a flaw in one of the speakers in a set of headphones, or a flaw in the connection to the electronic device.

4. A related but more vexing problem, because it is hard to solve, is when slot to which a power cord or other slot in a device is jarred or broken. The internal part may cost only a couple of bucks or require only a little nudge, but mass produced electronics are so cheap, and the labor and skill that go into taking one apart, tinkering with it, and putting it back together are so great, that such a little problem can effectively turn your device to junk.

1 comment:

Jon W. said...

We've had three mobile phones with three different connectors: micro-USB (Motorola), mini-USB (LG), and proprietary (Samsung). Guess which cord the cat chewed through? The charger indeed costs as much as the phone, so I was fortunate to salvage it with some wire strippers and electrical tape.