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7-2. Modes and Cables

Software runs on hardware. If you can't figure out how to connect the hardware, the software is just so many lost bits. Among the simplest piece of hardware is the cable, a few wires or fiber-optic strands bundled together with a connector at each end. Cables should be able to be plugged and unplugged without having to worry about whether the computer was on or not. (Cables that are not “hot-swappable” are modal!) You should not have to configure devices, as is required for SCSI connections. With the USB and FireWire standards, these desiderata are finally being addressed. But there are still interface issues that have not been addressed, even with the new standards. For example, it is frustrating to have a cable with the right kind of connector but of the wrong sex. Because there are male and female ends to cables and because some pieces of equipment have connectors that mate with the male ends of cables and others that mate with the female ends of cables, you end up owning a surprising number of variations of each kind of cable. Many computer owners find themselves also purchasing sex-changing adapters because adapters are smaller and less expensive than cables. For example, say you own only male-to-female cables but you need to connect two devices that both have female connectors. You might choose to purchase a male-to-male cable, or you might choose instead to buy a male-to-female adapter and attach it to the female end of the cable you already own. Attaching the adapter results in a cable that is, effectively, male to male.

This dilemma is avoidable, but the methods usually proposed do not work. One solution I have heard is that all connectors on equipment could be standardized to be, say, female, and therefore all connectors on cables would be male. Even so, you would still need female-to-female adapters to join two short cables into one longer one, and a manufacturer would be wise to supply male-to-female cables to act as extensions for existing cables. Following this logic, you can construct situations that require every possible combination of male and female ends on cables and adapters, even with the convention specifying that all connectors on equipment will be female.


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