Archive for design

The dopey dongle

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , , , on April 29, 2009 by Apollo

I can’t believe I’m alone in thinking that the USB dongle must be one of the most badly designed, if well intentioned, devices ever to be plugged into a laptop.

I’ve usually managed to avoid these items by generally going with PCMCIA options when adding things to laptops, but recently had to add a wireless mouse, which needed the inevitable dongle, dangling almost 4 centimetres outside the edge of the laptop body. I just knew the inevitable would happen.

Things were fine for a while, but eventually you grow used to these things, and I discovered it wasn’t only moving the laptop that could be a problem, but also things around it. The first dongle bend wasn’t too bad, and was easily remedied, but had proved the principle for problems.

The second event was more serious, and was simply a “real world” event when the laptop was moved, and the fact that dongle stuck out so far mean it caught and ripped out at an angle. It basically disassembled itself, and the USB section was all but ripped off the PCB. Fortunately, being mounted on the end of the board meant there was little to be damaged, and after a little re-engineering, glue, and solder, things were back together again – and working fine.

Third up was potentially the worst case, and with the best of care, a drop will happen, and did, soon after the first repair. Because the repair was stronger in some respects than the original USB fitting, and in this case the USB plug was slightly bent out of shape. Cue a repeat repair, and a little bit of delicate metal bashing and all was well again, but there little doubt that repeating this damage was not going to go on time after time with no ill effect, so although it means dragging a wire around, an extension will have to be used to avoid this in future.

It seems silly that the standard solid long dongle design persists, as it seems bound to get damaged at some point in its life.

I just picked up a free USB wireless dongle – same dopey design which sticks out of the laptop for almost 5 centimetres. Fortunately, I don’t actually need it.

These long USB dongles just seem to be crying out for some sort of intelligent redesign, or even just a simple hinge.

If they could be reduced in size, which doesn’t seem impractical given what is visible on the board (I reckon the length could easily be halved), it would help, although I suppose the antenna needs are likely to mean they would never shrink down to the size of the Bluetooth USB dongles which can be fitted and almost forgotten, as they only extend about 5 millimetres from the socket.

Oh well, I’ll just enjoy my cordless mouse… with its cord!

Modern rubbish?

Posted in Tech, Venting with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2008 by Apollo

Clothes ironThe term Modern Rubbish is bandied about quite freely sometimes, and in this context refers to modern engineering design.

In truth, modern designs are usually very good, and avoid the excessive over-engineering that took place in the past, meaning items were heavy, wasteful, inefficient, and not necessarily the better for it. Modern designers usually have to minimise all waste in an item, and engineer in both strength AND weakness in appropriate places – take survival cells and crash zones on modern cars for example. However, I think many of them are losing out, and are over dependent on computer analysis and simulation, without the hands-on experience of materials that the old engineers had. Witness the ‘surprising’ rapid failure of a number of bridges due to the loss of a single stressed component in recent years. This shouldn’t have happened if the designs were truly simulated with the required accuracy, and had sufficient safety factors built in. It’s been more luck than anything else that no-one seems to have yet been killed by these modern, supposedly optimised designs.

This struck me the other day as I went to finish a task that I’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. This involved using a clothes iron to both dry and iron flat a number of large plans and maps which had suffered from being rolled up for years in a damp/wet store. An hour or two a day has both dried and restored them to reasonable flatness, and the last few were to be completed yesterday. The exercise has already worn the non-stick coating on the sole plate down to bare metal, and after say 20 hours, the iron stopped heating yesterday, with only three sheets to finish off.

Not much good for a supposedly quality item from market leader Tefal, I decided that a £5 Tesco item would be replacing it – couldn’t be any less short lived, could it?

While waiting for the next trip to the shops to come around, I decided to have a look at the dead Tefal – why had it stopped mid-session?

Getting into it was the first problem – modern security fixings instead of honest nuts, bolts and screws – good job we have a full set o f security bits. Next, having removed the ‘screws’, nothing would move. After breaking one knife blade, I found the seams, and brute force eventually convinced the moulded-in clips to release the first cover. This revealed some more ‘screws’ (and one hidden down a hole) which allowed the previously immovable parts to separate.

Now I was puzzled, the fuse was ok, and a quick test showed the element was ok as well. The wiring checked out, yet the thing didn’t heat. There were only two possibilities – the thermostat (temperature control), and the overheat protection device. The thermostat clicked away quite happily, and the overheat hadn’t been tripped. Time to follow each connection until something electrically dead was found.

Well, after a mere 20 or so hours of use, I found that the contacts on the thermostat were burnt out – not much of an advert for the quality of supposed quality market leader Tefal.

Resurfaced contacts saw the iron re-assembled and working a few minutes later, but I wonder how long it will last, and when it will have to come apart for the contacts to be seen to again?

It all depends. I may just have been unlucky, and a bit of dirt got between the contacts and carbonised as they arced, so it won’t recur for some time. Alternatively, some whizz-kid in Tefal’s design department buried his or herself into the datasheets, worked out how often the contacts would switch over the life of the product, determined it was not something anyone would keep for very long, and selected a cheap set of contacts that would last the life they predicted, and to hell with anyone that might not consider the thing to be ‘disposable’ after the warranty has expired.

Modern Rubbish?

I think more a case of Modern Rubbish Inexperienced Designers (building down to a price).