back to article Any storm in a port

Consider this column to be a virtual pub. I raise my glass to all time-wasters out there. It’s customary for this column to ignore the big news items of the week and instead focus on things that don’t really matter. So permit me to avoid wasting your Friday afternoon fruitlessly on conjecture about the inexplicably popular …


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  1. John Robson Silver badge

    Not 100%

    But I reckon I get it wrong about 75% of the time. That's why I leave the cables plugged in an disconnect the OTHER end...

    1. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: Not 100%

      37 out of 37... ever tried your hand at roulette?

  2. bag o' spanners

    to-"doh!" list

    I sometimes get it wrong as many as four times, before realising that I'm trying to plug a usb device into the sata port just below the usb port

  3. Uncle Slacky

    Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

    ...are almost exactly the same width, as my young daughter discovered.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

      The only difference is that Ethernet ports also accept peanuts and raisins as perfectly viable plugs whereas USB still rejects those.

      The only hardware test I will ever trust is exposing tech to 5 year olds. If it survives that, you can consider it exceeding military standards of robustness..

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

        Mr Flintstone, this reminds me of another story that I will save for a future column (maybe next week) in which we discovered that a co-worker (an adult) had spend six months feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot, apparently in total ignorance and completely without malice, although with plenty of stupidity.

        1. Euripides Pants

          Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

          In the early mid '90s I worked at a computer place that I will only refer to as "Chinaman Joe's PC Emporium" to protect the guilty. One day we got a PC in for warranty repair for a defective floppy drive. Sure enough, we could not insert a disc. After removing the drive from the computer, we decided to take it apart to see what broke. Upon removing the cover we saw a gray plastic gear sitting in the middle of the drive, completely unconnected to any sort of geary mechanism. As we stood there contemplating this paragon of malfunction our Chinese coworker came by, looked at the whole thing and exclaimed "Rego! My kid pray with that!" We turned the gear over and, sure enough, it said Lego.

        2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

          Mr Flintstone, this reminds me of another story that I will save for a future column (maybe next week) in which we discovered that a co-worker (an adult) had spend six months feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot, apparently in total ignorance and completely without malice, although with plenty of stupidity.

          Looking forward to it, but give me some time to look up what a floppy drive is again. My memory isn't that good. If I recall correctly, it involved 8", 5.25" or 3.5" and I have a vague recollection of using a hole punch in that context.. :)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

            Fault call logged. Paper keeps jamming in printer, won't feed.

            Home visit arranged, arrive on time, open up printer, remove toy soldier, re-assemble printer, all ok.

        3. Fatman

          Re: feeding paperclips and sticky notes into the floppy drive slot

          By any chance was he a member of manglement???

          I only ask because you brought up the stupidity comment.

    2. Lee D

      Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

      It's perfectly possible to insert a USB device into an Ethernet socket. I have a range of support tickets from my staff that will prove just that. In fact, it can be so convincing that they then call up and report a fault because the USB device isn't powering up. And I've had to straighten no-end of RJ45 internal connectors because of just this kind of mistake.

      That said, the biggest problem with USB is still the power. You can get them the wrong way up, sure, and you can cause damage (I have at least a couple of tickets where the machine broke entirely because the USB blanking/keying part of the connector was shoved into the port by the force and damage the internal connectors on a laptop motherboard). But you can't explain to people that a 5m USB cable is going to be unreliable (but I find the USB -> CAT5 extenders tend to cater for any extreme circumstances), nor that they can't run a laptop hard drive off ANY USB port they plug their portable SATA convertor into. Sure, it'll work MOST of the time, but not all.

      I have a wonderful Zalman hard-drive-thing that also pretends to be a CD drive (from ISO's on the disk) so convincing that you can boot and install from Windows/Linux ISO's at USB 3.0 speed without the OS knowing any different), but it still flakes out on some computers with USB that's technically standards-compliant but actually not giving as much current as the non-compliant ones. Hell, I kept a 2-USB-port-to-one-USB-connector adaptor just for that device so I could draw power from both ports (still technically non-compliant, I know, but works). And that's before you even get into the modern compact machines without DVD drives that people then go out and buy some ridiculous high-powered external Blu-Ray for and expect it to work off the USB.

      USB, despite its poor design in terms of plug orientation and power, is though pretty damn good and the closest thing we've ever had in terms of one-port-to-rule-them-all. Hell, I just carry a batch load of USB convertors now and I can plug almost anything in. PS/2 keyboards and mice, Ethernet cables, serial, parallel, even SATA. It's one of the best things to happen to the industry. And for that, I'm prepared to overlook the fact that about 20% of the time I get the orientation wrong (except on those computers that, for no reason, have ports "up the wrong way", where it's closer to 80% obviously).

      1. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

        It's funny because it's true. Especially the first post.

      2. Fred 4

        Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

        >USB, despite its poor design in terms of plug orientation and power, is though pretty damn good and the closest thing we've ever had in terms of one-port-to-rule-them-all.

        at the risk of starting an Flame war -

        USB has not ever been the 'one-port-to-rule-them-all' -- actually Firewire was/is.

        with 5w of power, you can run 3.5" hard drives - without external power - you can daisy chain devices, I forget the length but I think it was 16 devices.

        it is faster at data transfer then USB 1 or 2 (for sustained transfer).

        oh yes... I almost forgot, a plug/port which only fits in, in one direction -- even though it still often takes 3 tries :)

        1. SImon Hobson

          Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

          >> USB has not ever been the 'one-port-to-rule-them-all' -- actually Firewire was/is.

          >> with 5w of power,

          >> you can daisy chain devices, I forget the length but I think it was 16 devices.

          Beat me to it, far superior - not just in transfer rate, but in internal architecture as well. Even Firewire 400 outperforms USB 2, and Firewire 800 leaves it standing. USB 3 is now coming along and finally allows USB to pass where Firewire was over a decade ago !

          Yes you get bus power - any device could add power to the bus and that would power the repeater/hub in multiport devices. The power was actually more normally 12W - the official spec was for up to 1A (instead of 1/2A for USB), and devices typically supplied 12V (the spec says up to 30-something I think, instead of 5V for USB).

          It's not for nothing that manufacturers have implemented their own non-standard, bastardised, "more than a trickle" power support for their devices to charge through USB - many of which just get to where Firewire has always been !

          Daisy chain/branch in any arrangement you want as long as there aren't any loops, with cables that are the same both ends so none of this finding you've got the wrong end of the cable - the article didn't touch on that !.

          I believe what killed it was Apple being greedy and wanting too much in licence fees - so the rest of the industry told them to sod off. Pity. The difference between Firewire 800 and USB 2 on my laptop is like the difference between night and day. Problem is that Firewire devices are "less common" and "rather more expensive" than USB :(

          1. Tom 38 Silver badge

            Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

            Firewire is/was more expensive, since the protocol is dumber, the device has to do a little more work.

            Having firewire enabled is also a security flaw, since it can easily be exploited in a DMA attack.

        2. hungee

          Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

          FireWire is an evil brought on by demons. Dumbest protocol by far. The world is better off without it.

          Also, I am glad to know I am not alone. Flipped USB 100% for sure.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

        Agree with all of the above and to add:

        On a slow morning I've spent a good two or three minutes trying to jam a USB pen into an HDMI socket and vice versa.

        Still it's not as bad as wireless. I think for every minute wasted on connecting a cable into a socket I've probably spent a good 10 trying to get various wireless devices to talk to each over.

      4. pacmantoo

        Re: Also, Ethernet sockets & USB ports...

        LOVE IT You made me spray my monior with mashed banana!!! (well it is lunch time)

        Reminds me of the so called computer grad who called me when they couldn't boot a laptop as they'd forced the power jack into the ethernet port

        Go figure....

  4. Kubla Cant

    I used to have the same problem

    But then I discovered an easy solution.

    USB connectors always have two square holes (see picture) on the upper side, except when they're on the lower side or when they aren't present. They also have a USB logo on the lower side, except when it's on the upper side, when it's absent, or when it's on both sides.

    The upper side of the socket is the one furthest from the floor. Where sockets are mounted vertically, it's the side that would be nearest to the floor if you laid the device on its side with the wrong side facing up. You may find it easier to think of it as the left-hand side (right-hand side for left-handed people). But then you will have to decide whether you're in front of the computer or behind it.

    1. Iain 15

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      This is true, however I have discovered that, especially with low profile devices, manufacturers are required to fit the ports upside down. In fact my current PC has correctly orientated usb ports on the rear but due to the arrangement of internal components the forward facing ports are not. Likewise with my two laptops, 15" and 11" respectively, no prizes for which is upside down. Bring back cylindrical connectors!

      1. Uncle Slacky

        Re: I used to have the same problem

        Having recently acquired an old Blueberry PowerPC iMac, I noticed that their USB ports are mounted upside-down (at least, by modern standards). I put it down to lack of standardisation at the time rather than Apple "thinking dfifferent", though.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      I have a memory of a laptop which had two USB ports, one above the other as is common - but they were mirror images for polarity. Get it right for one - and it's wrong for the other one.

      1. Gerhard den Hollander

        Re: I used to have the same problem

        Ah, but those were the days when USB pens and other USB devices were thicker then they are now, and the USBplug part would be at the bottom of the USB device,

        so having 2 in reverse polarity mounted atop of each other meant that you could use the double height USB devices without blocking the other port.

        Crappy ascii art




        ==| n S B |


    3. Rebecca M

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      The upper side of the socket is the one furthest from the floor. Where sockets are mounted vertically, it's the side that would be nearest to the floor if you laid the device on its side with the wrong side facing up. You may find it easier to think of it as the left-hand side (right-hand side for left-handed people). But then you will have to decide whether you're in front of the computer or behind it.

      This would be great if it was true, but it isn't. Indeed, it isn't even what the standard says. The standard gives orientation in terms of (to paraphrase) the side facing the user, but does not specify how that is determined. For many applications is obvious but e.g. rack equipment could conceivably be mounted above head height in which case the orientation is reversed. I've seen plenty of cases that make this very assumption which can be bloody inconvenient when indicator light on directly mounted equipment shine downwards on a box mounted at knee height to start with.

      That always assuming any attention is paid the the standards in the first instance. I've seen plenty of examples where they are simply ignored with no justifiable defence under the spec. Cheap flash MP3 players are a favourite - for some reason the screen always seems to point downwards when they are plugged into a computer in violation of the spec.

    4. xperroni

      I have no idea what the problem is

      Normal-sized USB plugs always have a USB logo on the upper side, period. There is no "except" to this – at least in 10-odd years using the things, I've never found a cable that didn't comply. Side-tilted sockets are a little bit more of a challenge, yes, but in any given device they'll all be tilted to the same side – you figure one, you figure all.

      Really, whenever I hear people complaining about USB plugs, I don't know if I'm just too sharp, or it's them who are too stupid. Actually, I do know – I'm not that sharp really.

      1. Tac Eht Xilef

        Re: I have no idea what the problem is

        The cables that come with Western Digital portable HDDs & Logitech Harmony remotes, to name just the two examples within grabbing distance. Both have the manufacturer's logo topmost on the USB A plug, and the USB logo underneath.

        Yes, it shits me too. As far as I'm concerned it's a breach of the USB Consortium's standards - which are a requirement for use of the USB logo - and so their membership should be revoked. But, then, they didnt do much about Palm's much more egregious flouting of the standard a few years ago (when Palm decided to fake Apple's Vendor ID rather than write their own music-management software), so I don't expect much to happen over mislabelled connectors.

        1. AJ MacLeod

          Re: I have no idea what the problem is

          It's not just WD... my BlackBerry phone's USB cable has the BlackBerry logo on top and the USB one underneath. While it was exceedingly irritating the first few times I used it, it is the worst problem I've encountered with the phone so I'll maybe turn a blind eye this once.

      2. Fuzz

        Re: I have no idea what the problem is

        I used to think this was the case until a few months ago I bought a new logitech remote control. The USB cable that comes with that is a full size A to micro B (same cable used to charge all non Apple phones), I was amazed to find that logitech had put their own logo on the upper side and USB logo had been relegated to the bottom.

      3. hasbeen

        Re: I have no idea what the problem is

        Except for the one I have here that says "Garmin" on one side - and "China" on the other, with no trace of a USB logo anywhere to be seen.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      Thank you very much sir, the 6 cables currently attached to my laptop and ports seem to be consistent.

      And the ports seem to be consistent, even the vertical ones (assuming you wouldn't stand your laptop on end unable to open the optical drive).

      But I wouldn't say the USB logo is on the lower side of the cable. I'd say it's on the upper side. It's only on the lower side if you think of the socket and cable as plugging into each other and the orientation of the cable as being the opposite of the socket and the socket being the right way up.

      In summary: on my cables USB logo => this way up.

      The only thing is that the USB symbol looks a bit, er, "male" and it's actually on the female side.

      Thank you for saving me some time every week and for patiently reading this way of wasting it.

      as plugging the

      So simple rule:

      hub seem to be consistent and have the rule that various hubsmy cables

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I used to have the same problem

        Just ignore the last bit. The textarea was partially out of the scrollable area. Sorry about that.

    6. Barry Rueger

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      Picked up an older Dell desktop. The USB ports on the front are located under a bulbous protuberance that requires you to insert them pointing sort of but not quite upwards. Two stacked ports. No possible way to see which way they're oriented, or even exactly where they are. Four tries minimum to hit to right spot.

      1. graeme leggett

        Re: I used to have the same problem

        Yes Dell and the gap under the front of the Optiplex.

        Yes it allows you to stick your USB cables in so they don't stick out of the front of the case and risk being knocked off but they are a beggar to plug things into. I took to leaving a short extension cable in so that I could plug devices in where I could see what I was doing.

      2. beep54

        Re: I used to have the same problem

        I remember those Dells (the NLX and very non-standard form factor) and, yes, they could be a bitch to plug into. And then the really fun part was when you found out that the front ports didn't actually supply enough power (or something....) and you actually had to plug whatever into the back to get it to work. Major design fail.

    7. jon 72

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      Sage words but a bit bloody difficult to implement when you're half under a desk in the dark reaching around trying to plug one in the back of a tower.

    8. DRendar

      Re: I used to have the same problem

      @Kubla Cant

      I wish I could have upvoted your post 50 times, thankyou for the funniest thing I've read on't 'net in months. I was just literally crying with laughter.

      A shining example of satire - a shame none of the previous 16 responders seem to have picked up on the joke... *sigh*

  5. Robert Ramsay

    They ARE fiendish

    Most of the time, the side with the deeper holes goes uppermost, but a) sometimes (especially on cheap shit things) the manufacturers ignore this and b) as you observe, the cable lashes out at you if you try and rotate it to the correct orientation anyway.

    And don't get me started on micro USB where the difference in shape is so minute you can spend EVEN LONGER trying to find which way fails to snap off the little thing in the centre of the connector...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: They ARE fiendish

      >And don't get me started on micro USB where the difference in shape is so minute you can spend EVEN >LONGER trying to find which way fails to snap off the little thing in the centre of the connector...

      Micro USB.... and the little buggers have sharp corners, so if I've cack-handed I scratch whatever I'm plugging it into. As it happens, this has scratched the black coating off from around the socket on my phone, making it marginally easier to spot in the dark.

      Why can't an industry standards body develop a plug that it happily goes in both ways, has rounded corners and is mechanically strong enough to support a device in a dock? It isn't difficult to see that these are desirable qualities, yet it is only some company known for proprietary kit manages to grok this.

      And yeah, whoever made the exterior of USB A plug symmetrical, but not the insides was daft. At least the old PS/2 plugs could be located by touch, and then rotated until the plug went in.

      1. Pookietoo

        Re: At least the old PS/2 plugs could be located by touch

        ... and then rotated until the pins were bent and wouldn't fit in any way.


      2. TRT Silver badge

        Re: They ARE fiendish

        Isn't that Apple's new connector?

    2. Phil W

      Re: They ARE fiendish

      Worst thing about micro USB... USB Micro A and Micro B are only differentiated by a slight bevel in the corners on one side. It is quite possible, even likely that you can shove a Micro A plug into a Micro B socket and bend it out of shape and cause damage this is only rendered unlikely by the fact that Micro B is exceedingly common and Micro A is exceedingly rare.

      Also with both Micro A and Micro B, they are so small and the sockets so weak that you can easily push it in upside down not all that hard and break the socket off the PCB.

      My final peeve with Micro USB sockets, is that in many devices, the anchoring for the socket mounting is so weak relative to the average force used to push the plug in (plus the slight wiggle room most plugs have) that the sockets tend to snap off the PCB far too easily, the Nokia N900 was prone to this.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

    I find USB plugs have some strange magical property. After trying one way, which always fails, I try the other and it still doesn't go in. Then I turn it over once more and have about a 50% chance of it going in, sometimes it still needs another turn or two.

    1. jason 7

      Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37


      One day someone really clever will design a plug for computing that actually works. Currently every one of them has some form of flaw.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

        I'd like to add to the wish-list of desirable features in this dream plug and socket combo: some method of inherent waterproofing so that little rubber thingies over the ports aren't required. More devices are being designed to be waterproof.

        In addition, it should go in either way, and have rounded corners to make it suitable for docking station and the clumsy user.

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

          I have an idea for a plug that is orientation independent, sturdy enough to not be damaged and able to carry significant current.. Unfortunately it is the 3/4 inch jack plug and as such all devices using it will have to be a minimum of an inch thick.

          Still, plenty of room for bigger batteries....

        2. nanchatte

          Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

          Rounded corners, on a plug (which can potentially be connected to a MOBILE DEVICE? Pfft.. forget it. Already patented.

      2. Michael Thibault

        Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

        How about creating a plug+socket that does the orientation automagically--you know, using magnets or something, so that all you have to do is get the damn cable near the relevant part/port on the computer and the two bits get all excited and jiggy and begin face-sucking and mating in the blink of an eye? Oh, wait...

        Never mind.

    2. Suricou Raven

      Re: I'm sure I can beat 37 out of 37

      It's a quantum thing. USB ports have 1/2 spin.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, well, me too

    I have encountered the USB plug conundrum so many times as to have entered a state of awe, wonder and philosophical pondering as to rival Plato. Precisely WHAT IS that phenomenon? I agree the laws of probability should be 50% over time, but I consistently get it wrong on the first try to the point that I am baffled by the regularity. Seriously, WHAT IS that ? How, does it happen? You can't be that far from theoretical probability mean and not have a reason.

    1. Martin 71 Silver badge

      Re: Yeah, well, me too

      It's fear. I have noticed this too. What happens, is, having broken at least one connector in our lifetimes (usually on a laptop or other item where it's difficult/impossible to replace), we take it VERY easy, the slightest resistance makes us reverse the connector. Then we find either (A) it fits, in which case the first time was wrong, or, (B), it doesn't fit, which means the first time was right but we didn't push hard enough through fear.

      I agree the designer of the connector needs to be beaten

  9. JimmyPage
    Thumb Up

    Horizontal USB sockets

    aren't too bad - they seem to have an "up" and "down". It's the vertical ones (usually hidden well out of sight at the back of the machine) that cause problems ...

  10. JDX Gold badge

    Very glad

    That after several years, most USB plugs now actually identify the 'top' in some way... same for iPod dock plugs... and device makers _seem_ to be standardising accordingly.

  11. wayne 8

    I often ponder the USB plug's affinity for the flip side

    Makes me think of that Intel rock star ad with the co-inventor the USB. Couldn't have come up with a way to determine plug orientation other than holding the plug to see the face then hoping as the plug is re-oriented to the socket that it does not get flipped. It is time that is wasted on something other than preferred time wasters.

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      Re: I often ponder the USB plug's affinity for the flip side

      I wonder if there's a scientific paper in here somewhere about the quantum relationship between USB plugs and falling cats or buttered toast?

  12. spiny norman

    Possible explanation

    Most of the USB plugs I use have the USB logo on one side and some other logo on the other. The "some other" is often the vendor's logo, or in one case the "don't throw in the bin" logo. Whatever, they're bigger and more prominent than the USB moniker and I'm naturally drawn to that being the "top". Hence almost 100% failure rate till I worked out what was going on and trained myself to turn it over.

    If someone could just tell me how to line up the prongs of a halogen GU10 bulb without spending 15 minutes trying to locate it by feel, my happiness would be complete.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Possible explanation

      It's always the bloody awkward, inaccessible connectors that are the hardest. Bayonet and screw light bulbs are easy, because those are usually on exposed fittings and so easy to see. But spotlights, which are recessed and at full ceiling height are always the hardest. So you get the shitty thin 2 pin types, that you often have to screw in. Using a tiny jewellers screwdriver rather than a nice thumb screw naturally. And then the magical GU10, with 2 tiny flimsy pins to bend and fail to make a connection, and a crappy cheap spring holding the whole connection together. All of this has to be done in the dark, at full stretch standing on the floor, or with you head bent at a funny angle under the ceiling, if standing on a chair.

      The same with USB. Mini USB is easy to see, because it goes on small devices that you hold in your hand to connect. The full-size USB on the other end, often goes into the backs of PCs, under desks, and so must be impossible.

      I'm considering creating a new connector, that can only be plugged in while the right way up, in a locked filing cabinet, in a disused basement lavatory, with a sign on the door saying, 'beware of the leopard'. Obviously you'll need a torch to see it, because the lights will probably have gone...

    2. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Possible explanation

      >> If someone could just tell me how to line up the prongs of a halogen GU10 bulb without spending 15 minutes trying to locate it by feel, my happiness would be complete.

      Use your tongue.

    3. Richard 12 Silver badge


      First, check it's a GU10 and not an MR16.

      The GU10 lamp has "top-hat" prongs, MR16 has straight pins.

      Now look at the socket and note the four holes.

      Two are round - ignore them, they are screws.

      Two are elongated, these are the two to jam your top hat prongs into.

      Align roughly with the fatter end of the elongated holes, insert, wiggle slightly and twist clockwise to engage.


      If they're actually MR16 then the bigger holes are the screws, so you line the pins up with the two tiny holes and push.

      In both cases the lamp will probably light up before you've inserted it all the way, burning your hand.

      - Top safety tip - turn the damn thing off first. You can tell if its off because the lamp that doesn't work is off when it's off, and off when it's on.

  13. relpy

    This is really old news

    It's a well documented fact that any 50 / 50 chance decision will be gotten wrong at least 9 times out of 10.

    My personal best effort ever was:

    German Girl: "would you like to come with me? I know this nice hotel. We could have some fun."

    Me: "No, I want to go see Lichtenstein".

    25 years later I still haven't fathomed that one out. (See Icon).

    Regardless, to be sure of answering correctly, the odds need to be exactly 1,000,000 to 1 against...

    1. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: This is really old news

      This makes perfect sense.

      You are interested in stamps, Lichtenstein makes great stamps and has a superb philatelic museum and shop.

      You are not interested in hotels, in fact, one hotel is much the same as the other.

      If the German girl wants to go have some fun, then she can go with you to the philatelic museum in Vaduz.

      1. relpy

        Re: This is really old news


        So it was her fault all along?

        Who'da thunk.

  14. wayne 8

    Nothing that applied black marker won't fix.

    Interestingly most cables have a "memory", they lie a certain way and they get used to it. Not USB cables, they tend to invert when left uncoupled for any time.

    When I first encountered the greater than 50% probability of the plug being inverted at first insertion, I applied black marker to the side that I would see as I was inserting the plug. Worked for vertical sockets as well. Forgotten all about that until I read the article.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing that applied black marker won't fix.

      And you always have sufficient lighting when you're plugging them in? I don't.

  15. Anonymous Custard Silver badge


    I'm obviously in the majority here in getting it wrong more than right (~75% in my case).

    But the ones I used to hate more were the old PS2 connectors for keyboards and mice. Not only were they rotationally symmetric from the outside except for the small lip that you could never see when you were holding them to try and put them in, but if you were even a little off and pushed, you ended up bending or breaking the pins inside. Then at best it was a pliers job, at worst a new bit of kit.

    So perhaps USB isn't so bad after all, as at least there you can normally do it on the second go and the risk of actually breaking the damn thing aren't high

    1. relpy

      Re: PS2

      And they came with the bundled 50 / 50 chance of getting the keyboard and mouse the right way around when trying to plug them, arm twisted like a SCO lawyers soul, into the back of the computer.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: PS2


        SCO lawyers have souls? Who knew?

      2. Rebecca M

        Re: PS2

        And they came with the bundled 50 / 50 chance of getting the keyboard and mouse the right way around when trying to plug them, arm twisted like a SCO lawyers soul, into the back of the computer.

        I never understand why they didn't simply make the ports identical in the first place - they used a six pin mini-DIN - two for power, two for signalling, and two unused. The keyboard and mouse used the same two pins for signalling even though they were not automatically compatible with each other. It would have been a trivial matter to put the signals for one or the other to the unused pins and wiring both signals to both ports as many laptops actually ended up doing, Then you would simply have two interchangeable keyboard or mouse ports with no possibility of connecting them up the wrong way round.

    2. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: PS2

      A bit like ramming a DVI-I plug into a DVI-A port... or was it the other way around?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    SCART used to be bad for this, despite the fact that the plug is clearly asymmetrical.

    USB ports, on a horizontal plane usually have the USB logo on top.

    However, by tower PC at home has front-side USB ports that for some reason, counter-intuitively, have the 'top' of the USB port facing the rear.

    Also, I have a little pen drive that isn't a full USB male interface, just the central part with the connectors. This is very easy to put in the wrong way, or into Ethernet sockets.

    I now tend to use USB hubs which are permanently connected to the awkward-to-get-at ports, but are at hand to plug in devices locally, so wrong way rounds are difficult to do.

    1. Gazareth

      Re: Optional

      SCART was the work of Satan.

      USB's just one of his kid's school homework projects.

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: SCART was the work of Satan

        SCART also had the only hardware interface designed to unplug itself in slow-motion. The connection was about as tight as coins in your pocket.

      2. Anthony Hegedus Silver badge

        Re: Optional

        Yes, SCART was the work of the Devil himself. A French Devil. They're designed to fall out of the socket when any amount of force is exerted from the massive sideways-fitting lead. And then when you do try and fiddle with them, they usually fall to bits. They are also used to con gullible a-little-knowledge-etc type people into purchasing gold-plated versions. Who remembers seeing gold SCART leads for £79 at currys?

    2. David Hicks

      Re: Optional

      SCART was f*$%^*"%^ evil.

      You could get the orientation right easily enough, but then you'd reach behind the tv and start sliding the damn cable around and about all over the place trying to get the thing in. All you needed was to be a fraction of a millimeter out and you may as well have been next door.

      Inevitably, five minutes later, you'd have to pull the tv out and plug the damn thing in by sight. Worst Cable Evar.

    3. graeme leggett

      Re: Optional

      SCART had two problems.

      Either the socket was as loose as a loose thing (insert your own epithet) or it was so tight that you thought the plug wasn't going because it was the wrong way round - at which point you'd turn the plug around ensuring it wouldn't go in.

      Secondly the cable (especially if it had all the pins connected) had a mind of its own and the strength of a full grown python and would defy any attempt to orientate with the socket.

      Just remembered a third point - SCART sockets that weren't fixed to the TV/VCR case and so moved around as you forced the plug home. As a result repeated insertion causing problems with the PCB it was on. I have certain small Sony Triniton TV in mind.

  17. Thecowking

    Spin 1/2 particles

    I noted this earlier this year, USB plugs are clearly macro-quantum mechanical exhibitors of spin.

    As spin half particles, they require 2 whole revolutions to be in the correct orientation.

    This is why you can be wrong 75% of the time and it make perfect sense. It's also how you can rotate them through 180 degrees two or three times before getting it right.

    Stand back! It's nearly real science!

    1. Juillen 1

      Re: Spin 1/2 particles

      Hmm.. I thought they were spin 3/2 devices..

      They said you had to be nuts to understand quantum physics. I didn't understand it before I started using USB peripherals..

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. ukgnome

    this is a manufacturing fault

    I see what's going on here, your PC is actually upside-down.

    1. pixl97

      Re: this is a manufacturing fault: Dell

      Most desktop towers are built with the mainboard mounted on in inside right of the case (if you are looking at it from the front). Dell likes to build any number of units internally reversed, so not only are the connectors on the other side of the rear of the case, you have to flip the connector for it to go in.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: this is a manufacturing fault: Dell

        To be fair to Dell, their left handed factory workers are much happier for it...

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: this is a manufacturing fault: Dell

          The Dell Latitude D400 laptop has a USB external DVD drive. It contains a typical laptop self-powered thin mechanism. However it appears they needed more power than the laptop's USB socket would provide. So they made the cable plug a combined USB A and a polarised power connector stacked one above the other.

          That reminds me of an external USB 2.5" hard disk unit. It had two USB A connectors daisy-chained on the PC end of the cable. It didn't differentiate which was the real USB connector - and which was the dummy fhat just supplied extra power from some laptops.

  20. Frankee Llonnygog


    It stands for "U Sodding Bastard". Or at least that's what I usually end up calling it.

  21. Chris Miller

    Samsung (e.g.) helpfully print a USB symbol on one side of the connector to assist with getting it wrong right.

  22. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    It's the bloody cables. If the USB connector is the right way up, the cable is twisted. As soon as your attention wanders, it'll flip back the right way (inevitably trying to take a bite out of your wrist on the way round). So you know the connector is the right way up by the tension in the cable. Except when the cables deliberately tense up, in order to fool you.

    Still, I failed an even easier stupidity intelligence test last night. While fixing my Mum's Dell all-in-one PC, I wanted to plug a USB cable in, so bent down under the desk to find the case...

    1. Darryl

      Did you give your head a good hard crack on the edge of the desk once you realized your error and stood up too quickly? That's my go-to move

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    its not just electrical plugs n sockets ....

    I remember being in IT support 14 odd years ago, it should have really been called "Printer Support" since HP's laser jets took up more time than all the PC issues I seemed to have to deal with.

    Anyway I found that users could put the humble toner cartridge in a variety of ways, sometimes not pull the tab off and pull the piece of plastic out (to release the toner) . The best one had to be on what at the time was a 5 grand colour laser jet , with a rotary carousel of the 4 types of CMYK cartridge, and someone had tried to push a Magenta cartridge into a Yellow Hole. These things were "keyed" (and colour coded) so you shouldn't have been able (or attempted) to do it , also there was a ratchet on the rotating-carousel of the cartridges, and it was well and truly jammed, as it had rotated around and the ratchet was stopping it from being reversed. I somehow did manage to free it . Users , who'd have 'em? I guess it kept me gainfully employed.

    In the valley of the people that can't put the square (colour coded) peg in the square hole (like the toy for 3 year olds that we all once had ) , the person that uses their 1/2 of remaining eye and 2 remaining neurons is KING !

    So Alistair "You're FIRED !" ( in my best Sir Sugar voice )

  24. Longrod_von_Hugendong

    The problem with USB is not the way around they are...

    but how close they put them together... they are the exact distance apart so nothing else will fit by 0.5mm. Drives me nuts.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: The problem with USB is not the way around they are...

      If I may be so bold...

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have one plug that works *every* time..

    It's the 3.5mm audio jack :).

    For the rest I have a hub mounted on the desk so I can see the buggers..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have one plug that works *every* time..

      Assuming that the 3.5mm socket and plug are appropriately matched as mono/stereo - if they are not innocently carrying an embedded optical link.

      The old DB25 connectors were used for so many interfaces - you were bound to blow up something at some time.

    2. Silverburn

      Re: I have one plug that works *every* time..

      I get mine wrong, because it's right next to the microphone 3.5mm jack.

      Every frickin' time.

      I'm sure the "unknown microphone detected" message I subsequently get on screen is actually my PC's code for "You are an utter loser."

  26. Darryl

    Helpful hint of the day

    Do yourself a favour and go get a bottle of Liquid Paper correction fluid. Put a nice, easy to see blob on the 'top' side of each USB cable connector.

    (For white or light coloured cables, use a black Sharpie or something.)

    Then you'll always know which way the cable is oriented, which takes SOME of the guesswork out.

  27. Tom 38 Silver badge


    I can't believe you lot call yourself IT professionals, and haven't yet mastered the tricky art of plugging cables into computers. Nobbly bit goes up. Nobbly bit always goes up. Work out which way is up on your computer. Insert plug into socket.

    I normally like Dabbs' articles, but this one is utter pish. He admits to being flummoxed by VGA D-sub 15 plugs, yet can cope just fine with the identical shape of a mini HDMI.

    On the list of things to get annoyed about, "OMG, I had to rotate the plug 180°" does not merit 846 words.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Flamebait

      What nobbly bit? Whatchoo tokkin about Wills? Nobbly bit? Nutter.

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Flamebait

        On the 'top' of almost every connector that goes into a computer is a raised logo or marking.

        On a USB cable, it is usually the USB logo.

        On a PS/2 cable, it is usually a raised line.

        On a SPDIF cable, it is usually a raised line.

        On a RJ-45, it is the cable release lever.

        On a eSATA, it is the cable release lever.

        This goes in facing UP.

        Pay attention now, this is where it gets crazy. Plug in the cable so that the bit that is supposed to face UP does in fact face UP.

        Mental. I can see how you get it so wrong so frequently.

        It does get trickier if you are plugging into an extension card or onto a motherboard attached port in a tower case (or any case where the motherboard is not orientated flat and the right way up). For the motherboard, re-orientate the case (in your mind, put the computer down) so that it is pointing UP and plug the cable in so that it is pointing UP. This is advanced stuff now, so take a break if you haven't got it yet.

        For expansion cards, UP is a different direction. Expansion cards have a front and a back. The front is the side that faces away from the CPU. This is UP. Plug the cable in so that UP is UP.

        It's almost like someone thought about this…

    2. P. Lee

      Re: Flamebait

      Oh yeah?

      Which way around does the knobbly bit on an rj45 connector go in a vertical NIC?

      I'm still waiting for my 100m optical lightning adapter. I want it held with magnets so it doesn't destroy things when I forget to unplug it.

      A pox on thin-pins in VGA adapters which feel as though they should plug into a DB9 serial port housing and those IDE cables which weren't keyed. Scratch that, a pox on all IDE cables.

      Thin-net BNC - now there's a proper daisy-chain system!

      1. Tom 38 Silver badge

        Re: Flamebait

        Which way around does the knobbly bit on an rj45 connector go in a vertical NIC?

        Seriously? It goes facing up, which is away from the CPU for an expansion card.

        You guys actually get this stuff wrong?

      2. Fatman

        Re: IDE cables which weren't keyed.

        I just hated those motherboards and add on cards where the cheap bastards used a double row of unpolarized berg sticks as the floppy or IDE connector.

        After a few miscues, I decided that the best solution was a RED sharpie used to insure a red stripe on pin one of the cable, and a red dot at pin one of the connector.

  28. hopkinse

    obviously from the same school of design as SCART connectors...

    At least USB slots are often on the front of a device where you can see what you are doing. As a previous owner of Peugeot/Citroen cars I was less than surprised to find out that the SCART standard originated from France: a good idea but the implementation fell somewhat short :-) I've lost count of the number of times I have had to scrabble blind at the rear of a TV or video/dvd player, trying to find the tiny sweet spot on a flush mounted SCART socket, where it will actually accept the plug. The alternative being to spend ages disentangling the rat's nest of tv/video/console/satellite/set top box wiring to haul out the offending unit for a better view

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: obviously from the same school of design as SCART connectors...

      Ah - was it a Citroen that had the distributor positioned so that the timing gap had to be set by poking something through the front of the car?

      The Renault Dauphin had those enclosed wheels that needed the panels removing to change a wheel. If they took off over a humpbacked bridge at speed the wheels were liable to tilt upwards - and fold as they hit the road again.

  29. Custard Fridge

    USB ports - why not invert every other one?

    Why don't USB ports alternate between one way up or the other?

    That way when you're scrabbling around blindly trying to plug it in with your hand half-trapped round the back of a dusty old PC, you'll know that rather than have to turn the USB around, you can simply go for the one next to it and it will fit?

    Yes, I would imagine the production cost would be too high.

    Oh, and scratch straw poll - I get it wrong about 60% of the time

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: USB ports - why not invert every other one?

      Some do.

      It makes life even worse, as when you flip the connector over you'll move slightly and now try to put it in the next one - upside down.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    USB power

    I recently bought a 7 port USB 2.0 hub. After about a minute there was a pfffttt sound as the "1.5A" powerplug died. Did an RMA - the new hub's psu lasted all of three hours. Yet a Dlink 7 port hub has since been happily working for months. The load is a simple keyboard and mouse.

  31. Brian de Ford


    Sure, it's bad design. You can't easily determine orientation visually even when both parts are in plain sight (you need reasonable eyesight and light to see clearly into the connector).

    Of course, you can do it by feel. But if you get it wrong and don't feel the resistance you can push too hard and break the plastic inner thingy (I've done that once). A more resilient form of polarization, such as found on mini-and micro-USB would be an improvement. Of course, somebody stupid enough can still force it in and damage it (3 of my neghbours are prime candidates for doing this).

    A better design would be like the power connector on a mac mini - it will go in either way around and you'd have to be really strong and stupid to plug it in at 90 degrees to the correct orientation. But I expect Apple has a patent, trademark and registered design on connectors looking even vaguely like that one.

    So live with it being naff. Except it's worse than you thought. The design is such that one of the connectors will wear out a lot quicker than the other. Guess which connector is on the PC and which is on the cheap-to-replace cable.

  32. Anthony Cartmell

    Is it me?

    The other annoying aspect of USB is that the connection never seems very reliable or solid even once you've got it plugged in right. The plug is far too wobbly in the socket for my liking.

  33. DaveWL

    It's worse than that - I only ever achieve 33% success rate with USB

    Please see below for explanation:

  34. Harman Mogul

    USB is a piece of cake

    ...compared with optical cabling. At least with USB, when you get it wrong, you just turn it over and then it is right. Every which way you turn an optical connector, it's wrong.

  35. Ian Michael Gumby

    Riddle me this...

    For a man who self proclaims himself as a 'tart' (you can see his bio at the bottom of the article..) , why aren't you a blond or is that a dye job?

  36. Cheshire Cat

    Reversible USB exists

    Just use cables from these people:

    Costs more but if its too much trouble for you to flip the plug over...

  37. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Old-skool DB9

    Have two orientations - neither of which is correct.

  38. graeme leggett

    Non standard orientation

    The square (with bits shaved off) "B" device end of a USB cable gives you only a one-in-four chance of getting it right on first go.

    So why do some printer manufacturers put the socket on their machines at 90 degrees to what you would expect?

    I know the real reason is that because it's based on the orientation of the PCB that its soldered to but why should the user have to divine the position of a PCB inside an otherwise featureless case to get the cable into an out of sight recess down between the printer and the wall. (I suppose I should think myself lucky I got a laser printer for £20)

  39. Ribblethrop

    This reminded me of struggling with USB ports before realising that 99% of these ports are aligned in the same way, relative to the motherboard. -1

  40. Death Boffin

    Disk Drive Power Connectors

    The large 4 pin ones. Somehow they were not keyed as well as they could have been. Trying to get them in whilst hanging upside down over a Compaq case was always a problem. They were invisible behind the all the other framework and other cabling. Anyway, power-up was always exciting as it occasionally resulted in popping sounds as the little chips flew off the board when the power connector ended up in the wrong way. Icon for what happened to the drive...

    1. Fatman

      Re: Disk Drive Power Connectors

      Are another case where I used a RED sharpie to identify (in this case, the RED wire) the orientation of some dammed plug.

  41. EL Vark

    It took a while, too long, really, before I got the knack of blindly feeling up the ol' stick with my index finger to find the LED, or in some cases the retractable bits where the LED hides, which is always, for me, the "DOWN" or "AWAY" position. Having perfected this system, I now have a slightly better than 60% rate of getting it right the first time. The real swearing begins when spacetime conspires against one, engorging the male connector or puckering up the female by a micron or two. This is always 50/50 and results in exactly the correct amount of muttered expletives.

  42. The Alpha Klutz

    usb ports are easy

    i can plug usb into any device except an imac where the ports are thoughtlessly inaccessible, at the back, where satanist steve jobs wanted them.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: usb ports are easy

      Yes, I never understood why manufacturers put USB at the back. And although iMacs provide a two-port low-powered USB hub in the keyboard, this isn't much use if you're been talked into getting the wireless keyboard.

  43. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    And what about power leads?

    Has anyone ever found ANY feasible explanation for not using the power plug format made popular by kettles and desktop PSUs for laptop PSUs other than yet another attempt at making life difficult?

    Personally, my favourite format there is the two-pin you also find on most stereos. I discovered that it also works very well as a power cable extender on an Apple laptop PSU if you shift the plug off it - much better for international use than dragging a collection of international adaptors along..

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: And what about power leads?

      The "Cloverleaf" (or Mickey Mouse) connector is a an earthed version of the figure of eight connector. They have lower amperage ratings than the "kettle lead" type.

    2. GrantB

      Re: And what about power leads?

      I like IEC plugs/sockets (jug/kettle plugs are properly called IEC_60320 C13/C14 or high temp versions) and USB for all its faults is finally a very common standard for low power supplies.

      If I was building or rewiring a house, I always thought if would be nice to be able to select say IEC sockets throughout the building and perhaps have USB power sockets scattered around the place for low-power devices to help avoid the spread of ugly lumpy transformers sprouting from sockets and power adaptors

      Thing is that despite international standards covering many things, and the success of USB, despite the plug orientation thing, we are a long way from international standards on something as basic as power supplies. 50 vs 60hz is becoming less important but the 110 vs 240 difference between countries and of course a random array of incompatible plug types does not inspire confidence in international standards winning out over the long term..

  44. Ken 16 Silver badge

    I used to get USB's wrong

    until someone gave me the helpful advice that the seam is on the bottom

  45. mickey mouse the fith

    silly design decisions abound

    The ps3 slim seems designed to angry up the blood where USB is concerned. What idiot thought it was a good idea to hide them under the overhang, rendering them completely invisible unless you get down to their level or tilt the machine upwards. Its hard enough finding the bloody things, let alone plugging the cable in the right way up.

    Vertical ones on the back of towers are also designed to enrage and confuse.

    Much as I hate Apple, that new fangled connector of theirs sounds like a good idea ( if it wasn't designed by Apple, and thus saddled by silly licencing and DRM chips)

  46. Alistair Dabbs

    Look for the USB logo on top? I'm afraid not

    A lot of readers here have been telling me that I should ensure that the USB logo is on the top face of the plug when I insert it. If I do that with my Western Digital pocket hard drive, the plug is upside-down and won't go in.

  47. Old but bold

    a drop of white corrector on the plug

    that fixed the problem for me, so i match with a drop of white corrector on the plug

  48. robin48gx

    Thought it was a stupid design when I first saw it

    Obvious people would get annoyed with it, should not have been visually symmetrical. What committe designed that ? Who was on the board ?

  49. Bodestone

    Says it all

  50. Patrick R

    Stupid design

    And then they invent devices like the Kingston DT160 that you can't hold and push at the same time...

  51. itzman

    Very few shapes have rotational or even mirror symmetry

    So you would think it vanishingly unlikely that sockets and plugs could even begin to be inserted wrongly.

    You would think..

    Come on chaps. Patent the W-shaped plug and socket. Or the L shaped one. Or one shaped like a keyhole

  52. Trustme

    Me too..

    I used to have this problem with USB plugs al the time, until I realised they always have a USB logo on one side and it plugs in with the USB logo showing as you plug it in - depending on which way up the USB socket is installed that is, so if you have a desktop or tower unit, a split second turning the plug to face you USB logo upwards will negate most of the bad attempts - except when you're plugging into a desktop that's on it's side so you don't know which way is "up" or you're plugging it into something with the slots on their sides (helpful!) and then you're back to the 50-50, which somehow always turns into 0-100 in favour of failure.

    I'm sure there's a psychological aspect to this, where you do it wrong so often you become convinced you will do it wrong and your brain will subconsciously pick the wrong way to do it on order to preserve it's expectations!

  53. Nick Pettefar

    It's because

    They were designed by an IDIOT!!!!

    I even managed to force one in upside down once, destroying the peripheral.

    The amount of mobile items with a mechanically unprotected mini or micro USB socket to connect to are mind-boggling. I've seen no end of devices where the USB socket has come loose. A house guest last week had a brand-new tablet which would no longer charge - it used a micro USB socket which came loose. At work they handed out mini portable hard drives (a disaster in the making anyway) which encrypted the data via a fingerprint reader. Most of them soon suffered from ripped-off mini-USB sockets and the data was lost because they could not decrypt the data.

    (The new Apple connector and indeed the old too seem to be much stronger and fit for purpose.)

  54. Fiddler on the roof
    Thumb Down

    Same Problem for Me

    Every day I switch from my work laptop to my home computer. I get it wrong every time, not most of the time, but everytime. I like you wonder how this is possible, I would expect to get it wrong smoetimes and right sometimes. Perhpas USB connectors are just sneaky bastard things!!

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not just USB...

    ...the greater than 50/50 probability phenomenon also applies to the leaflet in a box of tablets - i.e. no matter which end you open, it's always the leaflet end, even if you switch (quantum mechanics at work surely).

    Also which string closes the vertical blinds, you'll more times than not pick the wrong one.

  56. David Moore

    HDMI port...

    I'm forever trying to plug USB cables into my laptops HDMI port. Bastard thing.

  57. KierO

    I too have been cursed by USB. Name any other port, anything: Serial, DVI, DisplayPort, VGA...all work fine for me.

    But USB?! Nah...."I'm going to taunt your supposed 'intelligence' human, by being the wrong way round, no matter WHAT way round I am, HAHAHA."

    I hate the front facing USB ports on my Coolermaster case almost as much as needing to work for a living.

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