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Connectors: A History of Their Technology? 598

Posted by Cliff
from the plug-away-on-a-slow-day dept.
dpbsmith asks: "It seems like a simple engineering problem--construct a device for easily and safely connecting several dozen wires at the same time--but the variety and creativity in their design over the years has been amazing, and, clearly there have been trends, fashions, and styles. In the fifties and sixties, virtually all connectors were roughly similar to the D-Sub design used for RS-232. A stiff, straight pin engaged a springy socket that contacted and bore against it on all sides. There were minor variations in shape and placement; the Amphenol Blue Ribbons (think Centronics), the connectors into which circuit boards engaged, but they were all variations on a theme. I was absolutely astounded the first time I saw a modular RJ-11 connector. Cheap, effective, and utterly unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Who invented these? Western Electric? Recently, we have the USB connector and the Firewire connector, obviously members of the same family (and a cheap-and-cheesy-seeming family it seems); on the other hand, my telephone and my digital camera have connectors that are very small and snap in with a positive lock that must be released with a squeeze, obviously yet another fundamentally different design. What do people know about the design, history, and engineering behind connectors over the years? Is it all hidden away, trade secrets of the connector companies, or is their a story that can be told?"
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Connectors: A History of Their Technology?

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  • by DanCracker (245857) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:15PM (#4185218) Homepage
    If we're talking about connecters, we should take time to ponder the mystery of BNC connecters, their origins, and what the hell BNC stands for anyways!

    • Bayonet Navy connector (originally
      designed for military system applications during World War II)
      • by BiOFH (267622) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:42PM (#4185353)
        Sorry -- According to the one source no one seemed to bother with (Amphenol themselves) it is, as the coward pointed out, 'Bayonet Neill Concelman' and was named for Carl Concelman (and not Carl & Concelman).

        This was an easy find:
        http://www.amphenolrf.com/products/bnc.asp
      • Huh? Try Barrel Nut Connector. That's what BNC, in the RF sense, has always stood for.

        Yes I'm sure there's a Bulgarian Nympho Club, but thats beside the point.

        • Yes I'm sure there's a Bulgarian Nympho Club, but thats beside the point.

          I just checked on google. No Bulgarian Nympho Club. At least not on the web. Damn. I just posted to tell everyone to not get their priceline tickets to Bulgaria just yet.
      • my grandfather made automated machinery to produce these connectors. interestingly, though amphenol and others made these connectors, they never really automated the process--i guess with military contracts, the govenrment will pay whatever is necessary--so, machinists created each component for a connector individually. expensive!!! my grandfather automated the process, creating a machine which would create one a second, which was difficult at the time--ww2. the machines ran without much attention, using statistical methods and optical comparitors, they made sure the quality was high. and, he was paid more for the scrap copper than for the material required! so this business ran rather well! amphenol later purchased the business. it is also interesting to hear the advantages which one could get by producing electrical components during ww2--atomic clearance! you could pretty much get whatever you wanted. equipment was scarce at the time, and with clearance you could pull up to the warehouse and take whatever you needed from those without clearance. being caught reselling machinery and such was nearly treason.
    • My book of more network information than you can shake a stick at says:

      Several possiblilities are usually suggested as to the origin of the term BNC:
      - British Naval Connector
      - Bayonet Nut Connector
      - Cayonet-Neill-Concelman (probably the correct explaination somce the connector was named after Neill and Concelman, its two creators)

      [Encyclopedia of Networking, v2. Tulloch and Tulloch]
    • There are other RF connectors like BNC, but with some feature different. For instance, there is a TNC connector [telexwireless.com] that's the same size but has threads instead of a bayonet mount. Seems logical that B and T stand for Bayonet and Threaded, doesn't it? There is also an N connector [telexwireless.com] that looks like a TNC but is much larger. That's probably where the "Baby N Connector" version of what BNC stands for came from.
    • BNC stands for Bayonet Neill-Concelman. The names British Naval Connector or Bayonet Nut Connector are sometimes used but are not correct. The connectors were named after their creators; Neill designed the "N-type" connector and Concelman designed the "C-type" connector. The BNC is a hybrid "N/C-type" with a mechanical extra; the bayonets.

    • This one has been debated for years, and was a thread in the letters column of an IEEE magazine. One claimant named Robert who worked for Amphenol said he designed it on his kitchen with his wife said they dubbed it "B.N.C." for "Bob and Nancy's Connector".

      Most of the ones like "Bayonet Nut Connector" and "British Nautical Connector" were proven to be retcons - for instance, it was manufactured in the US long before there were any British manufacturers.

  • Cable connections (Score:2, Informative)

    by PDX (412820)
    You can find more info in the Cable FAQ through Google.
  • Ben Brown obviously likes big connectors http://www.benbrown.com/switch/ [benbrown.com]
  • game reference (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iocat (572367) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:20PM (#4185249) Homepage Journal
    One of the coolest things about connectors is that the Atari 2600, C64 and Sega Genesis all had the same 9-pin connector. You can hook a Genesis pad up to your 2600 and it works well (B is the only button that works, along with the D-pad). There's even a hack for making the Genesis pad work with the two-button 7800 -- sadly I can't find the link atm. Coolest thing I've seen recently is a converter that lets you use PlayStation dual-analog controllers on the Atari 5200. I believe I saw something about it here [atariage.com].
  • by lingqi (577227) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:22PM (#4185261) Journal
    I was six when i first heard of the term "male" and "female" connectors. Even though I keep pestering my dad about
    1) which one is male / female, and
    2) why they name it something stupid like that

    he just kept "umm... ahhh"-ing and never answered.

    I was like 17 when it finally dawned on me why they named it that way. ha! then it all made sense.

    moral of the story are:
    a) who says electrical engineers / connector designers are not perverted?
    b) to save yourself trouble, don't talk about male/femail connectors in front of little kids.
    • a) who says electrical engineers / connector designers are not perverted?

      Let that be a letton to y'all, folks: If your kid asks you a simple question, that has a perfectly simple answer, and the only answer you can provide is "ummm... ahhh", your kid is going to grow up into someone who thinks that the mechanics of human sexual behavior is "perverted".
    • (Bad spelling is traditional on /., but "male/femail" is a bit much!)

      Yeah, the pornographic nature of electrical connectors is pretty strange and amusing. One wonder how the bluenoses let this happen!

      Another example: joystick. These were originally invented for high-accelleration aircraft, where the pilot was subjected to G-forces that prevented him (it was always a him, of course) from lifting his hands out of his lap. So they invented a flight control that consisted of a simple stick between the pilots legs. The masturbation metaphor was unavoidable, but where were the censors when all this was a happening? This was the 1950s and America was overrun with Guadians of Virtue. I guess the only answer is that GoVs are just plain dense!

    • The real mystery is why a female panel connector is called a "jack".

      I remember being embarrassed the first time I had to explain the difference between "male" and "female" connectors when I was in high school.

      • ANSI Standard (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        And male panel connectors are called jacks, too.

        Male/Female refers to the contact type.

        Plug/Jack refers to movable/fixed. The more movable connector (eg, on the end of a cable) is a plug, and the less movable connector (eg, on a panel) is a jack. This is covered in the ANSI standard for reference designators.
    • the term "male" and "female" connectors

      When I was doing some part-time work crewing for a "sound reinforcment" firm, I could never remember which way round the XLR connectors went. Which can be a bit of a problem when you've just unravelled 200m of multi-core - the wrong way round. One day the chief sound-engineer grabed a cable and waved both ends in my face and calmly said:

      "Remember: Males give. Females receive"

      He also pointed out that the 13-amp mains worked with a different standard. Although I've never figured out why :-j

      • mains work backwars beacuse having two pins sticking out of the way with 220v of potential across them just waiting for someone to brush it is a bad thing.

        What always messed me up was that on the female side of the XLR (with the holes) the body of the connector goes inside of the male connector(with the pins).

        sorta messes up the male female distinction
      • Re:connector genders (Score:4, Informative)

        by K8Fan (37875) on Monday September 02, 2002 @07:07PM (#4186009) Journal
        When I was doing some part-time work crewing for a "sound reinforcment" firm, I could never remember which way round the XLR connectors went.

        I did sound on a touring edition of a broadway show back in the early 1980s. The system supplier was Masque Sound, who did most of the shows on Broadway. The bad habits of the stagehands forced the companies to do things a bit differently -

        Every single XLR cable was female - on both ends. Every XLR panel connector was male.

        The reason was that the stagehands insisted on pulling cables out by the cord. Apparently, pressing the little tab was too much work. Masque found that the female XLR would be the one to break, so they used females only on cables, because they were easier to repair. They would go through and replace every female XLR on every a 32 channel mixing board.

        Even more bizzarely, they used 2 prong polarized AC cords for speaker connectors. The speaker cabinets had duplex outlets on the back.

    • I was six when i first heard of the term "male" and "female" connectors. Even though I [kept] pestering my dad....

      He should just respond: "You will go blind if you keep asking".
  • Connector technology (Score:4, Interesting)

    by base3 (539820) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:22PM (#4185262)
    A more egregious example of the connector conspiracy [tuxedo.org]: Dell's innovative arrangement [upgradinga...ingpcs.com] of the pins on the standard ATX power supply connector (e.g. the swapping of +12V with ground). The result is that upgrading or replacing the power supply with a non ($$$) Dell model will result in a short, and possibly a fire.

    Perhaps they should rename themselves "Packard Dell."

    • (e.g. the swapping of +12V with ground). The result is that upgrading or replacing the power supply with a non ($$$) Dell model will result in a short, and possibly a fire.

      Or, if you buy decent power supplies, something like a sharp ticking noise or a high pitched whine as the power supply went in to current foldback in order to protect itself (and whatever it was connected to).

      Seriously; spend $30 on a power supply instead of $19.99. Dell will knock you down, but they won't destroy your equipment.

  • by pubjames (468013) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:23PM (#4185270)
    Talking about connectors, one thing that really mades me mad is the amount of power supply adapters we have to have these days. My office floor is littered with them, for net routers, printer, laptops, displays, mobiles etc. etc. Why can't we have two circuits? And for that matter, why are electric plugs so big. In the UK the are enormous. Many things these days only take a tiny bit of power - can't we have smaller electrical plugs? On my travels it seems that in the rest of the world electrical plugs are pretty big too. Is there anywhere with little dainty ones and without huge power adapters? Japan perhaps?
    • Miniaturizing transformers is really expensive - having those devices come with smaller transformer would noticably add to the price of the device.
    • I think he means the plug that goes into the AC power outlet itself. They are pretty big and chunky. Personally, I've always thought the plugs used in the US (edison plugs) are pretty crummy in design. Until the fortuitous addition of a bigass ground pin, they always fall out of the damn outlet, or pop out halfway to let things short out. There are sooooo many better designs, but shit, the installed base is big big big.
      • I think he means the plug that goes into the AC power outlet itself.

        Yep, that was one of my gripes. The other was the power adapters. I know nothing about electronics, but wouldn't it be possible to have a house with two circuits, one with big plugs for the stuff that needs more power, and another with little plugs which where the electricity has already been 'transformed' (yes, I'm really that clueless) for all the other stuff.
        • Look in your basement, at where your washer and dryer are plugged in. Very different.
    • by K8Fan (37875) on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:05PM (#4185469) Journal

      The UK AC plugs may be large, but they are safe, which is a lot more than I can say for the horrible US AC plug design. I visited the UK last year with a bunch of US multi-voltage video equipment. My British hosts were stunned at how bad the US plug design was, and how easy it would be to shock yourself as you inserted or removed one. The hot blade is exposed with AC power on it - if your finger should slip, you get zapped.

      The UK plug design is plastic along the length of the blade, and only the end is metal. By the time you see the metal tip of the blades, the circuit is already broken.


      • This reminds me of a hopefully not-too-offtopic joke.

        Two officers (let's have them be British and American) are in a restroom taking a leak. The American finishes and walks to the door, skipping the sink on the way out. The Brit says "You know, chap, in the British military, they teach us to wash after using the restroom." The American responds "That so? Interesting. In the US military they teach us not to piss on our hands."

        I've never heard of anyone shocking themselves, despite how "easy" it may appear.
        • I used to know a fellow that has what appears to be a hair lip. In reality, when he was about 3 years old, he unplugged a coffee maker with his mouth. Rolled him across the floor in a rather rapid fashion.
      • The UK AC plugs may be large, but they are safe, which is a lot more than I can say for the horrible US AC plug design.

        As one poster already pointed out, some of this has to do with the different voltage.

        I'm going to say that this also has to do with the fact that the British were also much more sensitive to electrocutions because it used to happen a lot. Why? For some reason, it was only in the last five or so years that electrical devices starting coming with electrical cords already attached. (One of those old laws on the books that no one can really explain.)

        So, as late as the early 1990's, you would bring home a new lamp, and you were responsible for wiring it up with a new electrical cord as well. There was a time this was done in America as well (and for a few products is still done; if you insist on installing a new electric stove in your home yourself, you'll be installng the electrical cord on as well.) However the Brits were doing it for many years after the world stopped, and several dozen people per year were getting seriously electrocuted. Eventually Parliament changed the law, but they still take that sorta thing seriously.

    • Japan is an odd duck...they have two different power standards, one for one half of the country, and one for the other. The plugs and juice seen in Tokyo is sufficiently compatible with the American standard as to not require an adapter of any kind. When I was in Malaysia on business, I couldn't find an American voltage adapter and had to make do with a Japanese one...it worked okay to recharge my laptop. Malaysian plugs, now, those are huge. Big, chunky transformer-sized plugs for the simplest appliance.
  • AMP (Score:2, Informative)

    by digitect (217483)

    My father worked for AMP [amp.com] for 25 years. They were a leader in all sorts of electronic connections until just a few years ago when Tyco purchased them to try and run them into the ground like everything else they touch. We had more AMP connectors in our garage than most people have ever seen; it was cool.

    To this day I still find AMP connectors in common appliances, computers, automobiles, watches... pretty much everything that requires an electrical connector.

  • RJ-xx's suck (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mscalora (226843)
    Those RJ-xx's suck. They guys who invented them should not be blamed, they are great for things like phones that you only need to plug and unplug once a year or so. Now, we use them for modems and networks that we plug and unplug all the time, the damn release thingy only last a 100 or so unplugs. Also, we you pull the cable through a rats nest, they catch and break off. The guys who started using them with ethernet should be shot. There have got to be lots of other connectors that would have been better.

    -Mike
    • I agree that the little plastic catch on the RJxx series connectors are a pain.

      I'm convinced, though, that Dante Aligheri's little-known tenth circle is reserved for the geniuses who decided on a slide-lock connector with a DB-15 for 10-megabit Ethernet transceiver cables. I've seen a lot of bad (or simply misused) connectors, but I think this one's still the prize-winner insofar as I'm concerned.

      Phil
  • by Otter (3800) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:37PM (#4185330) Journal
    I was absolutely astounded the first time I saw a modular RJ-11 connector. Cheap, effective, and utterly unlike anything I'd ever seen before. Who invented these? Western Electric?

    Ignore the 'being digital' crap and read this [mit.edu]...

    Think of it: the lowest common denominator in being digital is not your operating system, modem, or model of computer. It's a tiny piece of plastic, designed decades ago by Bell Labs' Charles Krumreich, Edwin Hardesty, and company, who thought they were making an inconspicuous plug for a few telephone handsets. Not in their wildest dreams was Registered Jack 11 - a modular connector more commonly know as the RJ-11 - meant to be plugged and unplugged so many times, by so many people, for so many reasons, all over the world.
    • Some hotels still don't have such auxiliary jacks in the handsets, offering the lesser convenience of the RJ-11 in the wall. But because hotel managers also have learned that constant use breaks the clip, many cut it off, making the plug a onetime "permanent" connection, never to come out again. That is inexcusable. Even the most benign digerati will use anything from a penknife to a corkscrew to reopen the jack, the effect of which is well deserved but devastating. Get with it, hotels.

      Intrestingly, here in the UK the agency responsible for licencing telecommunications equipment insist that consumer equipment have the RJ-11 clips clipped.

      As for plugging into the wall we've of these weird BT designed things which are slightly bigger than the RJ-11. The nice thing is that they are made of a less brittle plastic, so are not as prone to breaking. They also tend to lie flat so are not quite as painfull to stand on. (alas my young son has found my stash of RJ-45s, so my feet still hurt).
    • Really? And here I always thought someone went about to design a plug that would snag on anything and everything when you tried to pull it through a mess of cables.

      RG-45 has the same problem. Fortunatly many RJ-45 manufacturers realized this long ago and started putting little sheathes on the ends of the cables to keep them from snagging so badly. It's still a pain when I go to a site and have to retrieve the 50 misc. cables from under the floor where they've all just been run at random over, around, and through each other.
      • Is that what those annoying rubber sheaths are for? They drive me crazy. They make it really difficult to press down the clip, especially when you're reaching around a computer, underneath a desk. I always take them off.
  • Not circular! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 3141 (468289)
    A request to any who would design a new connector:

    Unless it's a one-pin "jack" based connector, please don't make it circular. Circular connectors are a real pain - think of the PS/2 mouse (and keyboard) connector. Which angle do you put it in? Try, it doesn't work. Rotate... it doesn't work. Rotate again... you get the idea.

    Even an arrow on the "up" part doesn't work, as often the socket is mounted at a funny angle.

    That's all.
  • by Bleck (203017) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:43PM (#4185360) Homepage
    While the original article states that USB and Firewire-style connectors appear to be part of a "cheap-and-cheesy-seeming family it seems," keep in mind that these plugs have a specific purpose: they can be hot-plugged (both in terms of the computer sensing the connection, and more importantly, in terms of being powered on at the time) without risk to the electronics.

    One of the main problem in many old-style plugs was that if you had power running through them, and the wrong pin touched first, you flash-fried your electronics. Although RS-232 and similar connectors attempted to have all pins touch at once, it was a touch-and-go thing ... it could work 9 times out of 10, and then on the 10th, you've fried your motherboard :)

    USB (and many newer connections) ensure that your ground and power connect appropriately, so that you don't have current running in bad places :) Their exact design may be up for debate, but that one nice little feature is why it's so easy to have (say) your truly plug-and-play USB hard drive -- all the components can be already up and running, and you don't have to worry about powering down the system to connect them and have everything recognized.

    Anyway, long post about a small topic :) But it's something!

    --Tom
    • While the original article states that USB and Firewire-style connectors appear to be part of a "cheap-and-cheesy-seeming family it seems," keep in mind that these plugs have a specific purpose: they can be hot-plugged (both in terms of the computer sensing the connection, and more importantly, in terms of being powered on at the time) without risk to the electronics.

      Really. The FireWire spec was actually swiped from a very rugged design. The Apple engineers ripped them from the Nintendo videogame controller (for the 6 pin) and the Gameboy (for the 4 pin version). For the most part the 6 pin is nice and rugged - I've only had problems with the tiny 4 pin. Anyone who puts a 4 pin FireWire connector on any device other than a camcorder should be hung up by their thumbs though.

    • It would be nice if USB plugs would stay in once placed in position. All my USB devices are static, like joysticks and camera adapters, and they'll dislodge or fall out all the time. Grr.
  • by jukal (523582) on Monday September 02, 2002 @04:43PM (#4185364) Journal
    Now I know how to explain my kids how babies are made. Look, son, here is the RS-232 and it's counterpart, here is RJ45, you plug it in like this - now this, my son, is something really special - a RJ11.

    When you connect this with the other gender, these tiny little bursts of electricity flow into the female connector. The female then processes the information and squirts the results out via a RS-232 connector - this may be messy....next day, son, we will cover gender changers.

  • Favorite connector (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rongage (237813)

    Personally, my favorite connector has to be the Camlok E-series power connector. There is just something "interesting" about a connector that is rated for 400+ amps of current flow. And just TRY to break one or pull it off the wire...

    For multipin, I would have to say that the old IBM Latchback connectors are tops on my list. 240+ pins, all designed to mate at the same time, all gold plated, and designed for low level signals (unamplified audio for example). Single cam based latching mechanism, keyed, and easily maintainable.

    Of course, if you have never work in a concert hall, you probably will NEVER see any of these connectors in real life....

  • Connectors in my PC (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:04PM (#4185463)
    Hmm... I'll waste some time here and assign grades to the connectors in my PC on a scale of 1 to 10:

    • Keyboard/mouse DIN - 5. Works OK, but hard to orient. Making mouse and keyboard identical was stupid. Feel not very satisfying.
    • AC Power cord to power supply - 9. Very satisfying feel. Easy to use.
    • AC Power cord to wall outlet - 6. A true classic. Rated down because of childhood memories of annoying transition to 3-prong grounded outlets. Could have used better protection against fingers/children.
    • 1/8-inch audo jacks - 8. Easy to use. It would be better if all audio equipment would use the same connector (i.e., no 1/4-inch or RCA jacks).
    • USB connector - 9. Sure beats previous solutions. Would be nice if the up/down orientation distinction was more obvious.
    • RJ-11/RJ-45 modem/network - 8. Very convenient; elegant design. Achilles heel: if you try to pull the cable out of a tangle of wires, you're likely to break the little retaining tab and ruin the cable.
    • 15-pin VGA video - 5. Hard to orient, screws are inconvenient (but easier than the 3-BNC connector alternative). Technical achievement award to those who figured out how to kludge 1600x1200 signal frequencies through this thing.
    • 9-pin serial connector - 3. Boring. Same problems as VGA. Should have been done with 2 or 3 pins. (Old larger serial connectors rate a 1 for total overkill.)
    • Parallel printer connector - 1. Choosing to save money by not putting a shift register in the printer was one of the most unfortunate decisions in the history of personal computing. How many kilotons of copper have been needlessly wasted on all those wires? Cable is thick, heavy and expensive. This is a classic example of how the marketplace can converge on a suboptimal solution and then get locked in.
    • Centronix printer connector - 1. See previous entry. This end is especially bulky and cheap feeling, to boot.
    • Internal IDE connection - 3. Ribbon cable is hard to manage. Master/slave business is a hassle. Doesn't seem to be a clear standard on orientation keying. Hard to tell when properly seated. Max length too short.
    • Internal SCSI connection - 3. Same problems as IDE (except for length limitation), plus additional confusion over terminations, ID numbers, and incompatible speeds and widths.
    • CD-ROM audio - 6. Not too bad, once you track down where the connection is on the motherboard.
    • Hard drive power. - 9. Surprisingly easy to use, given the amperage it must support. The twisting behavior is really nice. I've never had problems with these.
    • Motherboard power - 7. Doesn't stand out much, no big problems.
    • Misc motherboard stake pin connections - 2. No physical alignment constraints and poor silkscreen markings make these a big hassle.
    • ISA Slots - 3. The lack of a proper mechanical specification for these caused a lot of alignment headaches. It's a good thing you could use the slot screw to get the thing all the way in with brute force. Things got better once most cards shrunk to the size of a business card; less to go wrong.
    • PCI Slots - 6. Relatively unexciting.
    • PCMCIA Slots - 8. I'm amazed at how all of those tiny pins connect without getting crushed. Good feel, ejection button is fun.
    • The USB mechanical spec calls out that the USB logo be molded on one side of the cable in such a way that you can feel it and the other side be smooth. The logo is specified to go up.

      And all was good.

      Until manufacturers could save $0.02 by putting their jacks on upside down or sideways. Now you have a bunch of nicely polarized cables that you can orient blindly in the mess of cables, but have no idea which way the jack is oriented. :-(

      (Yes, I have an upside down computer from a vendor that knows better and screwed me for $0.02.)
    • 9-pin serial connector - 3. Boring. Same problems as VGA. Should have been done with 2 or 3 pins. (Old larger serial connectors rate a 1 for total overkill.)

      Errr...This tends to suggest that you don't know what all of those pins are there for.
      Yes, a basical serial signal works just fine on 2 or 3 pins, but most of the additional pins are there for various flow control and other issues when controlling devices such as external modems and serial printers. Doing in-band signaling would have added significant (at the time) overhead and not worked so well.

      • I'm well aware of what every signal in the serial connector is for. They could have done the signaling in-band without much added complexety by adding a few extra bits per serial word. (Not with weird ASCII bytes inserted in the data stream.)

        They could have picked an operating mode (parity, stop bit, bits-per-byte) while they were at it, leaving baud rate as the only variable.

        I'm sure they just weren't thinking that their design would be still in use many decades after its introduction.

        • RS-232 was invented when communications devices used discrete transistors and SSI ICs. 25-pin connectors were the standard for many years. The planned replacement for RS-232 used a 37-pin connector.

          In-band signalling introduces latency and complexity. It is simpler and more reliable to use dedicated wires. RS-232 also has to support synchronous communications, although you are not likely to see that on low-end equipment. It is also not limited to the ASCII character code.

          PCs use a very limited subset of the features of RS-232.

    • by Jonny 290 (260890) <brojames@duc t a p e.net> on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:30PM (#4185580) Homepage
      And I'll take the RF and audio side. :)

      1/8" stereo audio - Cute, impossible to insert incorrectly, noisy (electrically), easily broken.

      1/4" audio - Big and ugly, until you get used to it. Then you get 18 hours on a modular synth and learn to love them.

      RCA - What, like 100 years old or something? Classic, and easy to use.

      XLR - Good idea, bulky, but positive contact, locking, and keyed. Pro shops use this for a reason.

      UHF (PL-259 / SO-239) - Ancient, gives an impedance spike on the line, fucking impossible to solder with anything less than a 150 watt iron.

      BNC - Beautiful. Love this one. I'm converting all RF gear in my shop to BNC, bit by bit. Power handling isn't quite up there, but you can go N for that.

      N - Tough, reliable, smooth (impedance-wise), and dead simple to install once you get the hang of it.

      F - KILL THIS FUCKING CONNECTOR. Yes, I know it costs you $0.03 per unit, but it's annoying and the inherent 'center conductor IS the pin' is remarkably irresponsible. I'd feel so much better if that cable TV jack on the wall was a BNC.

    • by Yarn (75)
      * Keyboard/mouse DIN - 5. Works OK, but hard to orient. Making mouse and keyboard identical was stupid. Feel not very satisfying.
      Evolution at work, the tranition from DIN to minidin occured at the same time as the transition away from serial mice.

      * AC Power cord to power supply - 9. Very satisfying feel. Easy to use.

      Ah, yes, the trusty IEC connector. AKA kettleleads in the UK. Great things, pity the distribution boards are so expensive.

      * AC Power cord to wall outlet - 6. A true classic. Rated down because of childhood memories of annoying transition to 3-prong grounded outlets. Could have used better protection against fingers/children.

      I'd not give US wall plugs more than a 3. At least they have flat connectors, unlike those crappy EU ones. Unsheathed, tinny wobbly little things. UK three-pin plugs are far better.
      * 1/8-inch audo jacks - 8. Easy to use. It would be better if all audio equipment would use the same connector (i.e., no 1/4-inch or RCA jacks).
      Not robust enough, I've wrecked a couple of these.

      * USB connector - 9. Sure beats previous solutions. Would be nice if the up/down orientation distinction was more obvious.

      OK. I guess.

      * RJ-11/RJ-45 modem/network - 8. Very convenient; elegant design. Achilles heel: if you try to pull the cable out of a tangle of wires, you're likely to break the little retaining tab and ruin the cable.

      Agreed

      * 15-pin VGA video - 5. Hard to orient, screws are inconvenient (but easier than the 3-BNC connector alternative). Technical achievement award to those who figured out how to kludge 1600x1200 signal frequencies through this thing.

      Should see old SUN equipment, the connector contains little coax connectors.

      * 9-pin serial connector - 3. Boring. Same problems as VGA. Should have been done with 2 or 3 pins. (Old larger serial connectors rate a 1 for total overkill.)

      Most of the extra pins have a use. Flow control for a start. Important when you're going to throughput with as little silicon as possible.

      * Parallel printer connector - 1. Choosing to save money by not putting a shift register in the printer was one of the most unfortunate decisions in the history of personal computing. How many kilotons of copper have been needlessly wasted on all those wires? Cable is thick, heavy and expensive. This is a classic example of how the marketplace can converge on a suboptimal solution and then get locked in.

      Greater throughput than other tech at the time. Similar connections were used for scsi.

      * Centronix printer connector - 1. See previous entry. This end is especially bulky and cheap feeling, to boot.

      The good thing about these is that they're rated for about 50V. If you have a lot of relays to control these things are ideal, and commonplace.

      * Internal IDE connection - 3. Ribbon cable is hard to manage. Master/slave business is a hassle. Doesn't seem to be a clear standard on orientation keying. Hard to tell when properly seated. Max length too short.

      Designed to a price.

      * Internal SCSI connection - 3. Same problems as IDE (except for length limitation), plus additional confusion over terminations, ID numbers, and incompatible speeds and widths.

      More modern internal SCSI should have D-shaped connectors, nicer.

      * CD-ROM audio - 6. Not too bad, once you track down where the connection is on the motherboard.

      The latch is a mixed blessing, good in that you don't knock it out, bad in that it's really hard to release when it's clustered up with the rest of the junk on a mobo.

      * Hard drive power. - 9. Surprisingly easy to use, given the amperage it must support. The twisting behavior is really nice. I've never had problems with these.

      MOLEX. I've had these fall apart on cheap PSUs.

      * Motherboard power - 7. Doesn't stand out much, no big problems.

      No problems, as long as you're using standard equipment. Some large manufacturers pull tricks like swapping positions of different power levels. A multimeter helps.

      * Misc motherboard stake pin connections - 2. No physical alignment constraints and poor silkscreen markings make these a big hassle.

      Cheapness rules here

      * ISA Slots - 3. The lack of a proper mechanical specification for these caused a lot of alignment headaches. It's a good thing you could use the slot screw to get the thing all the way in with brute force. Things got better once most cards shrunk to the size of a business card; less to go wrong.

      Yet another near-dead connector. Lasted well considering. I've had more problems seating PCI cards with their smaller connectors.

      * PCI Slots - 6. Relatively unexciting.

      Ayup. You missed AGP. I'm amazed how densely that bastard is packed ;).

      * PCMCIA Slots - 8. I'm amazed at how all of those tiny pins connect without getting crushed. Good feel, ejection button is fun.

      Not much finer than an IDE connector, and a better alignment system.

      Missing:
      slot1 (pretty good, but obviously a dead end) 7,
      Socket7, 8, A, 370 etc etc. some great fun with no alignement, socket 8 worthy mention for being two different pin densities in the same connector. 3-9
      Firewire: good design, 10
      Floppy power: what internal power supply should be :)
      BNC.. great for signals
      Triax, for studio and location video feed: FAR TOO PICKY 2
      FC and other fibre connectors, incredible, they do near instantly what takes me by hand about 5min.
      • by Hodr (219920)
        I can count by the number of scars on my fingers how many times I have attempted to unplug the power cable for a hard drive.

        These have got to be the worst designed plugs in the universe. They go in easy, and are impossible to remove.
      • ZIF socket - 7. More pins than the rest of the plugs put together, and they still fit perfectly. But alignment is tougher than usual and you have to get through all the crap piled on top of the CPU first.
      • PCI slots - 4. Those things require a LOT of force to seat properly, so much that I thought at first I would have to lean on it and break it. And virtually every card I've installed had alignment problems (granted, I didn't have a proper screwdriver, and they were ATI cards, but still...)
      • Apple ADC - 9. Snap on, snap off, reduces clutter, what's not to like? You can only get it on high-end Macs and Apple's LCD displays, perhaps.
      • SDRAM slot - 7. About the only slot that seems designed to have its contents removed on a regular basis.
    • Bah.. on your scale, i'd score BNC connectors a 13 - you have to consider play value here - I challenge anyone who's ever built a 10base2 net *not* to have built castles/spaceships/whatever out of t-pieces and terminators.. man those things feel gooood going together (shiver) ;]

      On a similar note.. you gotta hand it to ZIF processor sockets.. those with the "klunky" levers.. a real feeling of staisfaction/amazement that they dont bust up the teensy lil' pins!
    • by Tablizer (95088) on Monday September 02, 2002 @06:45PM (#4185906) Homepage Journal
      Your forgot one:
      • Human sex organs - 7. Nice, but it would be better if the male had it's own female connector slot and double-jointed-ness in the pin for the the times that male can't find an opposing connector.
    • by tzanger (1575) on Monday September 02, 2002 @08:28PM (#4186384) Homepage

      Making mouse and keyboard identical was stupid.

      No, what was stupid was not just running all wires to both connectors. The only difference between the two is that the keyboard clock and data are run to two pins on the keyboard (and not connected on the mouse) connector, and the same thing for the mouse. Just run all the traces to both and you can plug either in to either port.

  • The best connectors, bar none, are the USB/FireWire connectors. Small and cheap but not flimsy, easy to insert and remove (little pressure), but good retention, nearly impossible to break under normal circumstances, capable of carrying power, no stupid retention clip, compact but not tiny...
  • In north america, it seems that all computer power cords are standardized. I don't mean the standard electrical plug. But the "other" end of the cord. Whether it plugs into a calculator, adding machine, comptuer, monitor, or some other types of equipment.

    It has a standard sized six sided shape with three holes for metal prongs to fit into.

    Perhaps, you've seen a cord with a connector that is the opposite gender of these. It might, for example, but a cord comming out of a monitor with a connector that accepts a standard computer power cord.

    This cord has metal prongs (male?) but a sheath around the prongs into which the bulk of the plug from the other end fits (femals?).

    If you know the kind of connector I'm talking about, then why can't electrical power plugs work like this?

    At present, electrical plugs have metal prongs that can be touched with your fingers while the plug is partially inserted into the electrical outlet. What if there were a plastic "fence" around the group of prongs so that it was impossible to touch the prongs while it is being inserted into an outlet? The outlet would have to have the "cutout" for this plastic fence to fit into.

    Anyone who has plugged an Apple monitor's electrical cord into the Mac so that the Mac controls the flow of power to the monitor knows what I'm talking about here. It is impossible to touch the prongs while you're inserting the plug into the socket.
  • RP-TNC connectors (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sparkmanC (93863)
    With the recent 802.11b Wifi craze I'm surprised anyone hasn't mentioned the RP-TNC connectors that appear at the back of the popular Linksys WAP11.

    They have proved very hard to find, and expensive to order. The connector or adapter cable often prove to be the most expensive part of a homebrew antenna!

    Does anyone have any antenna / RF cable tips or know of stores in the SF bay area?
    • Re:RP-TNC connectors (Score:3, Informative)

      by DMDx86 (17373)
      Open it up, and solder in some normal connectors...

      The reason why 802.11b equip. has these funny connectors is becuase the FCC mandates that wireless equipment have "difficult to obtain" connectors.

      If you don't want to solder, then go to http://www.fab-corp.com/ [fab-corp.com] and see if they have what you want.
  • Andersen Powerpoles (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jonny 290 (260890) <brojames@duc t a p e.net> on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:10PM (#4185496) Homepage
    I love connectors. I love sticking wires into a DB25 to make my TI82 talk to my PC. I love crimping RJ45's (nothing beats that satisfying perfect crimp). I love squishing down a 50 pin IDC with a pair of visegrips (or a vise, if I'm lucky :)). Maybe it sounds trivial, but there's just something about connectors and interfaces that makes me smile. Yes, I am insane.

    Might as well plug my favorite DC power connectors, Andersen Powerpoles [powerwerx.com] Modular, color-coded, genderless, super-easy to assemble, safe, positive click on connect, etc. Emergency services are quickly adopting them as the standard for all 13.8v (12v nominal) gear for their setups. Perhaps a few cents more than the cheap barrel connectors or Molexes, but they're definitely worth it. I've driven over 12-year-old Powerpole connectors and they're none the worse for wear.

    (no connection between me and andersen besides happy customer status, btw.)
  • Fahnestock made the clip.

    And it was good.

    --Blair
    "Bring back the B-Cell."
  • by wfmcwalter (124904) on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:14PM (#4185508) Homepage
    It's interesting to see how the same old problem is solved in a new way when your target user varies from the usual.

    I'm always impressed by the connectors for peripherals (generally controllers) on modern video-game consoles. Consider, if you will, the humble playstation connector:

    • It can be operated successfully by a two year old, with no training or supervision.
    • It's impossible to connect it wrongly.
    • It appears to be entirely immune to the harmful environmental contaminants associated with its users (small children and lonely geeks).
    • ... and it absolutely, positively will not break.

    If only connectors for "grownups" were designed this way.

  • SCART (Score:2, Insightful)

    by roy23 (159499)
    Can anyone think of a crappier design than SCART??!
    • Can anyone think of a crappier design than SCART??!

      Tailing into the mains, wedging with matchsticks?
  • by Arandir (19206) on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:27PM (#4185564) Homepage Journal
    Medical Ultrasound systems have a unique connector problem. An ultrasound probe has to connect to the ultrasound machine, but there are a huge number of signals that must get transmitted. The traditional ultrasound probe has a connector that looks like a huge 2" by 5" RS-232 plug with up to 256 pins (more in some cases).

    To prevent constant pin breakage and bending, most ultrasound machines have special guides on the ports (jacks) so that the plug can only be inserted at a precise angle. But it still happens. When you've paid up to $50,000 for an infant cardiac transesophogeal multiplanar probe and you break a half-cent pin, you tend utter words that should not be uttered near an infant needing such a diagnostic examination.

    Acuson invented a new type of connector for their Sequoia line of ultrasound systems. The "MP" connector is a flat plate that rests snuggly against another flat plate in the port, held secure by a quick release knob. Imagine a very large inkjet cartridge connector. Unlike an inkjet connector, they're very rugged, and spec'ed out a heck of lot tighter. No more broken pins! And they're a lot easier to attach and detach than the old style.
  • by victim (30647) on Monday September 02, 2002 @05:30PM (#4185578)
    The crufty among us will remember the ultimate minimalist connector. The original ethernet (thick wire) used a large coax cable as the backbone. You connected to it by drilling a tiny hole and inserting your tap into the cable in such a way that it made contact to the core and shield without shorting anything and wiping out the whole network.

    It really made 50ohm BNC look good when it came out. :-)
  • Gotta love them - at first they look like a 25-pin serial but on closer inspection they've got 3 little bnc-style connecters and a bunch of control pins :)

  • This has to do with an air connector.

    A few years back I was serving on active duty in the US Navy. The ship I was on was in drydock for overhaul at the time. We were performing asbetos ripout on a large space so you had to suit up in a tyvek overall suit and breathe via a mask connected to an air supply via a hose. The connecot on the hose was called a quick-disconnect fitting. If you have ever used pressurized air tools you know what I'm talking about. To connect the hose you simply push a hale fitting into the female fitting. To disconnect you just have to lift a small spring-loaded collar and pull the fittings apart.

    One night I was standing the6PM-Midnigh watch. On that particular watch you have to go to the command center (EOS -Enclosed Operating Station) and get your logs signed by the Officer on duty. This particular night when I went to go get my logs signed around 1150 PM. The Office asked me to stand in the EOS and wait for him to do a quick inspection of the engineering spaces.

    As I waited all the other watchstanders gradually appeared at the EOS to get their logs signed. Naturall, with about ten people milling about in a small space a lot of conversations started up.

    Normally most of the watchstanders in the EOS wear headphones to hear the communications in the engineering spaces. Since so many were talking aloud thay all had hung up their headphones with their earpieces pointed outward just in case someone called in.

    Time really flew by and before we knew it the time was 12:30 AM and we hadn't heard from the watchofficer. One of the watchstanders picked up a phone and paged him on the loadspeaker through the engineering spaces. Nothing. No reply for almost five minutes. Worried, a coulple of watchstaders began to leave the EOS to look for him.

    Suddenly we someone paged me personally via the phones. I picked up a handset to answer the call. I responded and the Officer said," Petty Officer, I'm calling because something rather embarrasing has happened and I know I can trust you to keep this quiet. I went down to the lower level to inspect the asbetos ripout area and hook up to this air thingy and can't seem to get it to disconnect."

    The first thing that flashed through my head was that everone in the entire engineering room had just heard his "secret" because of the headphones hanging. Second, this guy has just spent 45 minuted trying to figure out how to disconnect a quick-disconnect fitting. I hit the floor laughing. Master's Degree in Engineering from an Ivy League School, several years of the best technical schooling the US Navy has to offer and this guy can't figure out a quick disconnect fitting.

    Needless to say, by the time myself and everyone else recovered we managed to talk him through getting it disconnnected. He never did live that one down. Every newby watchstander would give him a smirk and a knowing look when they had to deal with him face-to-face. BTW ,the guy also happened to be the biggest jerk I ever worked with- then or since.

  • You will never see them on consumer grade electronics equipment, but they are widely used on military electronics equipment and commercial equipment that has to survive in a hostile environment. They are weatherproof cylindrical multi-pin connectors with a twist-lock collar. They come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations.
  • The vast majority of the electrical connectors you see are either male of female. They're all built just to mate with its complement, which raises parts storage issues as well as restricts how things can plug into eachother. I got a hold of genderless-mating modular connectors that can snap together in many configurations, and have no concept of 'male' or 'female'. They're apparently made by Anderson Power Products [andersonpower.com]. I have a few pictures of their smaller connectors here [arpa.org]. Connectors like these would be GREAT for daisy chaining DC power sources and/or building quick-disconnect battery charging harness, since their design maintains polarity regardless of the "direction" of the connector (supply to supply, battery to battery, battery to supply, etc)
  • by lanner (107308) on Monday September 02, 2002 @09:20PM (#4186576)

    So, here is what I know. Not everyone here knows their cables or connectors nor do they need to. Here are some simple things to help you out with.

    RJ stands for Regents Jack. RJ11 is your typical 2-6 pair telephone jack. RJ45 is your typical 4-5 pair Ethernet pin jack, also gets used for DS1s.

    BNC is a Barrel Node Connector. BNC gets used on test equipment, older coax cable NICs for thin or thicknet. Also DS3 twinax cable interfaces. That screw in on the back of your TV set? F-type.

    Tons of pretty pictures;
    http://www.cmsa.wmin.ac.uk/~alan/compon ents/conn/

    Molex appears to have a nice connector tutorial for you to check out. I need to look this over myself;
    http://www.molex.com/training/bce/gstoc.h tml

    Get yourself a Molex catalog. Every type of cable connector you can imagine. Go to their products page and browse around.
    http://www.molex.com

    Do not forget Amp, even though their web presence sucks (or last time I looked)
    http://www.ampnetconnect.com/

    Random cable interfaces, with some pictures;
    http://www.peakaudio.com/CobraNet/Netwo rk_cabling. htm

    Cable Types for 3Com Products
    http://support.3com.com/infodeli/tools/m isc/cables /cabling.htm

    Unix Serial Port Resources: Sun Serial Port & Cables Pinouts
    http://www.stokely.com/unix.serial.port.r esources/ A-B-Ycablepinout.html

    IEC has standards, like that power plug on the back of your computer -- an IEC 320 plug.
    http://www.iec.org/

    Your typical U.S. three prong power plug is an NEMA-5-15P (P for plug), and the receptical is a NEMA-5-15R. Here are some charts with pretty pictures;
    http://www.leviton.com/sections/techsup p/nema.htm
    http://www.quail.com/locator/nema.htm

    SCSI connectors, pinouts, and protocols, and some IDE/ATA stuff too;
    http://t10.org/

    Do not forget about the Fiber Channel and HIPPI;
    http://www.t11.org

    PCI card interfaces;
    http://www.pcisig.com/

    EIA/TIA;
    http://www.tiaonline.org/

    Whoa, I just found this... standards for wiretapping?;
    http://www.tiaonline.org/standards/ carnivore/

    Cisco, always a great place to look and learn. Common LAN interfaces from what I see;
    http://www.cisco.com/univercd/cc/td/doc/prod uct/la n/cat6000/6000hw/inst_aug/0bcabcon.htm

    More Cisco, including V.35 and X.21 pictures;
    http://www.cisco.com/univercd/cc/td/doc /product/ac cess/acs_mod/cis3600/hw_inst/cabling/marcabl.htm

    Arg, I had to repost this because Slashdot says, "Your comment has too few characters per line (currently 26.9)." That sucked and needs to change.

    If you have more references, please let the world know. I know stuff, you know stuff. Put your stuff here.

  • by msheppard (150231) on Monday September 02, 2002 @10:47PM (#4186864) Homepage Journal
    Cut both cables with scissors.
    Strip the wires about an inch (with your teeth of course).
    Twist the right ones together.

    Electrical tape and solder optional.

    M@

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