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Little Dongly Things - the book version ( i think...) (07/06/22 16:45:10)
    Time to declare war, I think, on little dongly
    things. More of them turned up in the post this morning. I’d ordered a new
    optical disk drive from an American mail-order company and, because I
    live in that strange and remote place called “Foreign,” and also because I
    travel like a pigeon, I was keen to know, when ordering it, if it had an
    international power supply.
    An international power supply is the device that means it doesn’t
    matter what country you’re in, or even if you know what country you’re in
    (more of a problem than you might suspect)—you just plug your Mac in
    and it figures it out for itself. We call this principle Plug and Play. Or at
    least Microsoft calls it that because it hasn’t got it yet. In the Mac world
    we’ve had it for so long we didn’t even think of giving it a name. Nowadays
    a lot of peripherals come with international power supplies as well—but not
    all. Which is why I asked. “Yes, it does,” said Scott, the sales assistant.
    “You’re sure it has an international power supply?”
    “Yes,” repeated Scott. “It has an international power supply.”
    “Absolutely sure?”
    This morning it arrived. The first thing I noticed was that it didn’t have
    an international power supply.
    Instead it had a little dongly thing. I have rooms full of little dongly
    things and don’t want any more. Half the little dongly things I’ve got, I
    don’t even know what gizmo they’re for. More importantly, half the gizmos
    I’ve got, I don’t know where their little dongly thing is. Most annoyingly,
    an awful lot of the little dongly things, including the one that arrived this
    morning, are little dongly things that run on 120-volt AC—American
    voltage, which means I can’t use them here in Foreign (state code FN), but I
    have to keep them in case I ever take the gizmo to which they fit—provided
    I know which gizmo it is they fit to—to the U.S.A.
    What, you may ask, the hell am I talking about?
    The little dongly things I am concerned with (and they are by no
    means the only species of little dongly things with which the
    microelectronics world is infested) are the external power adapters that
    laptops and palmtops and external drives and cassette recorders and
    telephone answering machines and powered speakers and other incredibly
    necessary gizmos need to step down the AC supply from either 120 volts or
    240 volts to 6 volts DC. Or 4.5 volts DC. Or 9 volts DC. Or 12 volts DC. At
    500 milliamps. Or 300 milliamps. Or 1,200 milliamps. They have positive
    tips and negative sleeves on their plugs, unless they are the type that has
    negative tips and positive sleeves. By the time you multiply all these
    different variables together, you end up with a fairly major industry that
    exists, so far as I can tell, to fill my cupboards with little dongly things,
    none which I can ever positively identify without playing gizmo-
    pelmanism. The usual method of finding a little dongly thing that actually
    matches a gizmo I want to use is to go and buy another one, at a price that
    can physically drive the air from your body.
    Another possible reason is that it is sheer blinding idiocy. It couldn’t
    possibly be that, could it? I mean, could it? It’s hard to imagine that some of
    the mightiest brains on the planet, fueled by some of the finest pizza that
    money can buy, haven’t at some point thought, “Wouldn’t it be easier if we
    all just standardised on one type of DC power supply?” Now, I’m not an
    electrical engineer, so I may be asking for the impossible. Maybe it is a sine
    qua non of the way in which a given optical drive or CD Walkman works
    that it has to draw 600 milliamps rather than 500, or have its negative
    terminal on the tip rather than the sleeve, and that it will either whine or fry
    itself if presented with anything faintly different. But I strongly suspect that
    if you stuck a hardware engineer in a locked room for a couple of days and
    taunted him with the smell of pepperoni, he’d probably be able to think of a
    way of making whatever gizmo (maybe even the new gizmo Pro, which
    I’ve heard such good things about) he’s designing work to a standard DC
    low-power supply.
    In fact there already is a kind of rough standard, but it’s rather an odd
    one. Not many people actually smoke in their cars these days, and the
    aperture in the dashboard that used to hold the cigar lighter is now more
    likely to be powering a mobile phone, CD player, fax machine, or,
    according to a recent and highly improbable TV commercial, an instant
    coffee-making gizmo. Because the socket originally had a different purpose,
    it’s the wrong size and in the wrong place for what we now want to do with
    it, so perhaps it’s time to start adapting it for its new job.
    The important thing this piece of serendipitous pre-adaptation has
    given us is a possible DC power standard. An arbitrary one, to be sure, but
    perhaps we should probably just be grateful that it was designed by a car
    mechanic in an afternoon and not a computer industry standards committee
    in a lifetime. Keep the voltage level and design a new, small, plug, and you
    have a new standard. The immediate advantage of adopting it would be that
    you would need only one DC power adapter! Think of that! Well, not
    exactly one, you might need a dozen of them, but they would all be exactly
    the same! Just get a box of ’em! They’ll just be a commodity item like, um,
    well, I was going to say lightbulbs, but lightbulbs come in all sorts of
    different wattages and fittings. The great thing about having a DC power
    standard is that it would be much better than lightbulbs.
    Apart from doing away with endless confusion and inconvenience, the
    arrival of a new standard would encourage all sorts of other new features to
    emerge. Power points in convenient places in cars. DC
    power points in homes and offices and, most important, DC power
    points in the armrests of airplane seats ... I have to own up and say that,
    much as I love my PowerBook, which now does about 97.8 percent of what
    I used to use the lumbering old desktop dinosaurs for, I’ve given up trying
    to use it on planes. Yes, yes, I know that there are sorts of power-user
    strategies you can use to extend your battery life—dimming modes, RAM
    disks, processor-resting, and so on—but the point is that I really can’t be
    bothered. I’m perfectly capable of just reading the in-flight magazine if I
    want to be irritated. However, if there was a DC power supply in my
    armrest, I would actually be able to do some work, or at least fiddle with
    stuff. I know that the airline companies will probably say, “Yes, but if we do
    that, our aeroplanes will fall out of the sky,” but they always say that. I
    know that sometimes their planes do fall out of the sky, but, and here’s the
    point, not nearly as often as the airline companies say they will. I for one
    would be willing to risk it. In the great war against little dongly things, no
    sacrifice, I think, is too great.

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Little Dongly Things - the book version ( i think...)