A hard-fought lesson about USB cables



There are good reasons for things like “charge only” extension cables. In fact, Cory has written about such things on this site. While I can see this being a huge source of frustration coming at it from another angle, it’s not about manufacturers being wilfully obtuse, or just trying to save a few bucks on cheaper cabling. There really is a market for extension cables without data connections.


Could make another post about the joys of getting a raspberry pi powered. Cable too long or of poor quality? Dodgy power supply? Watch the voltage drop make the system unstable.

Making the power outlet usb was a giant mistake, in my opinion. It leads people to think they can plug the thing into any old usb socket and it’ll work great, and that rarely happens.


So the iOS version is reversible in the port?

The catch is that you often have no idea whether you’re getting a cable that’s fully functional or charge-only, and then you’ll find yourself with a number of USB cables that are all virtually identical in appearance, but some will provide data and others won’t…


USB is weird.

The rate of charge can vary wildly from one cable to another. Very few devices will tell you how much power they’re getting, and cables aren’t clearly marked. I had the wrong identical-looking cable plugged in on a long car trip once and my phone battery died while charging.

Some USB-to-AC-plug adapters cause my phone’s touchscreen to flip out completely. This is even true through a Qi charging pad, somehow. If I use the phone manufacturer’s adapter to plug in the Qi pad, all is well. If I use a different one, it may or may not work well.


Not to mention that the camera SHOULD have been designed (rotatable?) so that it could work with micro usb connectors of multiple alignments…


And here I thought this was going to be a post about how crappily fragile the design of micro-B USB connectors is.

Seriously, I think I destroy at least one of these things every year just through routine use. Can’t think of any other connector type I’ve ever had the same problem with.

And what with making all devices micro-slim, it seems like these things are the way of the future.


The Lightning adapter works either way, so iOS devices won’t be affected.

I have the Android version of the Seek Thermal and the microUSB connectors on 3 of the 4 devices we have in the house are pointed the wrong direction.

It’s fabulous for thermal selfies!

I bought the OTG extension cable and it worked for me. I’d anticipated having to hold the camera with my hand while juggling the tablet with another hand. I managed to jam the Seek Thermal between the case and the folded-back front so I didn’t need three hands to shoot thermal images.

Make sure you order an OTG extension cable. That ensures data connectivity.

I agree. And I think the failure there is one of a lack of defined standards. This is an issue that was either not considered, or disregarded as not important by the groups that established the different USB standards over the years. Colour coding would go a long way to addressing this problem, in much the same way that Type-A USB 3.0 sockets are usually blue to help distinguish them from ports using older protocols.

But most manufacturers are fairly anonymous businesses without the public profile to advocate for such standards. My response to Sean Ragan’s piece was to point out that the current situation isn’t based on “creat[ing] artificial demand”, but rather it’s just businesses providing different cables to different customers in a market that has no clear mechanisms for customer and seller to easily differentiate between the versions of USB extension cable. It’s a mess to be sure, but not necessarily a cynically manufactured one for the purpose of profiting from the confusion.


I have a little Arduino project which for some strange reason was designed using a micro USB port, and after much effort I still haven’t found a cable capable of charging it aside from the BlackBerry-branded one that came with my Playbook. (I cannot understand why mini USB was not an option.) I did find this nifty thread about testing the voltage output of different cables; they do indeed seem to vary considerably.

[quote=“peterk, post:8, topic:51628”]And here I thought this was going to be a post about how crappily fragile the design of micro-B USB connectors is.[/quote]I found out about those the hard way with the aforementioned Playbook. It seems like such a colossal step backwards from nigh-indestructible standard USB.


And I thought USB was supposed to cure all the compatibility headaches we had with RS-232.




USB cables exist in 4-dimensional space and exhibit quantum effects at macro scale.


I managed to break this effect using white-paint marker (mostly using black cables and black plastic equipment; black marker is used for the rest of the cases).

A high-contrast mark for the upper side of the connector, on both the cable and the socket, does wonders. On laptop, extend it a little over the edge so the position of the connector is visible. Use high-contrast (white on black, or vice versa) so it is visible even in low light.

Saves lots and lots of those little frustrations.

For difficult to see places, a piece of sandpaper on a double-sided tape can serve as a haptic marker of top side. Or a smear of sand in nail polish.


Is not happening to me. Maybe the connectors are afraid of me. Wouldn’t be surprising, the tech things show such suspiciously obedient behavior when I am around.

And I replaced some miniUSB with microUSB in some of my toys in order to cut down on the types of connectors to care about.

This is a significant annoyance. Leads, inter alia, to disappearance of VGA and (especially) Ethernet connectors on the basis of their thickness. And the other collateral damage is the batteries that have to be flat and smaller than they ought to be.

Because the things (whether the user interfaces or the cables) are designed by marketers for the plebs instead by engineers for engineers. Bacause the plebs seems to be intimidated by anything that sounds technical.

As for marking the known-good cables, once they show to be working for you, nail polish or paint-based markers do wonders. Or couple loops of colored wire, or anything that will not wear easily and tells you that this is the good cable.

Or, for charging only, make your own. The microUSB connectors are a few buck for 20 pieces, and the rest is a length of two-strand wire. If the device needs the signalling resistors on D+/D- to tell it how much juice it can suck, these can be added to the connector itself. To make it extra-small, throw out the original snap-on case and use a heat-shrink tube instead.

Depending on what “flip out completely” means, this may be caused by poorly filtered output. Try out adding a LC filter on the output, or just loop the cable a few times through a EMI-reducing ferrite core, possibly the two-part snap-on one, bought or salvaged. If you choose to make your own cable, you can also add the filters into the connector itself (preferably to the USB-A side, as the metal shell will provide mechanical support while the microUSB B side would need some sort of potting, otherwise the parts would tend to break off).

As a further advantage, such homemade charge-only USB cable is obvious to be charge-only as it is only two-wire. No chance of a mistake. And you can also add a little green LED on either side (better, on the microUSB side, so the cable end is easier to find in the darkness) to indicate that it is powered up.

Well the same dynamic used to apply to popes too…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Schism


That’s a good reason for charge-only cables, but it’s not generally the reason people either sell them or buy them. The 15-year-old USB2.0 standard for ports, hubs, and cables provides for a maximum of 500mA of current, about half what a smartphone needs to charge at full speed. In response to that, the mobile industry has spent the past seven years or so drooling on itself and shitting out one janky, half-assed solution after another, one of which is shorting the data cables to carry more power.

I can’t fucking wait for USB3.1 to take over.


Nah, they are just spin 1/2 connectors