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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 20:26, 5 December 2012

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USB Cables
Tag yourself, I'm "frayed."
Title text: Tag yourself, I'm "frayed."


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Cleaned up the section on "weird shape". Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

In this comic, Randall states the 'Law of USB cables': You will never have more than one which has no problems now matter how many you get. Now that most devices charge off USB, having a cable (specifically, USB-A (the big end) to Micro-B or USB-C (the small end)) is essential. However, most USB cables are cheaply made, and carrying them around quickly damages them. This comic lists some common (and not so common) problems with USB cables.

  • Carry power but not data - USB cables have separate data and power lines. To save money (and sometimes for security reasons), the data lines can be omitted. This means it can be used for charging, but not data transfer. Two cables are shown with this problem.
  • Carries data but not power - Not typically done, but it could happen if the wires or pins get damaged.
  • Too short - Another money saving wheeze, some devices ship with pathetically short cables.
  • Charges phone slowly - More likely a problem with the charger than the cable, but may happen if the wires are damaged. Refers to some chargers not delivering more than half an ampere. Could also be caused by thin wires which lead to a significant voltage drop, thereby reducing charging speed.
  • Won't auto-activate portable charger - Portable chargers (basically big batteries) should activate when the device is plugged in. Something about the cable (possibly the way the data lines are shorted) is interfering with this mechanism.
  • Has annoying ferrite lumps - Ferrite beads are used to filter out interference from the cable. High-performance applications need these, but on a phone charger you're just adding unnecessary weight and bulk. Two cables are shown with this problem.
  • Heavy and not very flexible - Either a heavy-duty USB cable, with thicker insulation, or a shielded one with a metal sheath inside to keep out interference.
  • Frayed - Cables experience a lot of bending force at the ends, near the connectors, and these can easily burst the insulation as shown here. Two cables are shown with this problem.
  • Plug doesn't fit through case - There's no standard for what the plastic housing around the USB connector should look like, and sometimes these are molded so they don't quite fit in the phone socket or through the charging port of an external case.
  • Needs to be twisted to keep working - The wires inside are damaged, and only connect when held in just the right way. One step away from total breakage.
  • Weird shape - A normal USB cable but the connector is molded with a 90 degree turn (which is actually specified in the MicroUSB Specification, see pages 28-31) for no apparent reason and might be not convenient in some situations.
  • The good one - This is the one that really works out of the 15 shown, with 11 different problems. The funny thing is that it looks more or less exactly like at least 6 of the other 14. So it will take some time to find this cable.

The title text refers to the popular meme "Tag yourself, I'm..." which is used with pictures containing lots of strange phrases or other elements. People highlight individual details from the image with the phrase, usually self-deprecatingly. Here, Randall suggests that, like a USB cable, he's frayed. "I'm frayed" is also a pun on the sentence "I'm afraid" that is commonly added to the end of a comment which the speaker believes may leave a negative impression on the listener.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[15 USB cables are shown lying in a column. They are mostly very similar, with small differences. To the right of the cables there are 12 labels, as three of the labels belongs to three sets of two cables.]
Carry power but not data
Carries data but not power
Too short
Charges phone slowly
Won't auto-activate portable charger
Has annoying ferrite lumps
Heavy and not very flexible
Plug doesn't fit through case
Needs to be twisted to keep working
Weird shape
The good one
[Caption below the panel:]
The law of USB cables: No matter how many you get, you only ever have one good one.

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