Spaghetti Cablese

March 31, 2017 | 00:00
Cables, anyone? Image: Elektor Retronics
Cables, anyone? Image: Elektor Retronics
In May, after exactly 10 years in a rented 16th century mini castle, Elektor HQ is moving to Aachen, Germany. All staff are expected to “travel as light as possible”, which is another way of saying that any mess or clutter accumulated in/at/around/below your workplace in the current premises will not be carried into the removal vans. Jawohl, the new offices must remain tidy and uncluttered from the beginning. To Elektor’s non-technical staff the company move should be a breeze as they live inside laptops, and the distance to Aachen is only 25 miles or so which should not exhaust the batteries. Sure, our marketing staff, web builders, managers and publishers too have accumulated a certain amount of debris but it is very light indeed as well as safe inside the trash bin in their Macbooks and tablets.

To those who work with electronics you can actually touch and smell, like Elektor’s lab workers, moving house (lab!) is a different matter altogether and inevitably requires chucking things. In the spirit of solidarity I also decided to open a few cabinets and boxes of the Retronics collection in the attic to find a few sorry-but-it's-goodbye’s. The first victim was a banana box crammed with cables and plugs I would date as 1980s-1990’s. I remember I got it from a retired radio repair man and now marveled to see his ingenuity and utter comprehensiveness at creating his own x-to-y adapter cables and even plugs to be able to deal with the galaxy of standards around when his business flourished.

With apologies to the Instagram Generation and not aiming to be exhaustive, I found in the box by tugging randomly at plugs and cable ends: RCA to DIN 3-way or 5-way, both male and female; 3-mm to 6.3-mm for headphones; SCART 1-to-1, SCART with audio to RCA plug breakout wires; SCART to BNC; Mini-DIN video (male/female); BNC to TV coax connector (male/female), RS-232 9-pin to 25-pin, DTR/RX/TX crossed (what was that again?) and 1:1 (male and female) (short, long, very long); Centronics 25-way cables, moulded and with hacked connectors, VGA to R-G-B on separate BNCs; 3-way and 2-way AC power cords; baluns (balanced line to coax). BNC-to-SO239/PL/UHF. STOP! All pretty useless today unless you want to program a 2716, repair vintage A/V equipment like VCRs, or write the final reference book on the Battle of the Electronic Standards.

Most of the cable spaghetti I dropped back into the box can be summarized as covering two areas only: (1) audio/video; (2) PCs. Two areas in which wireless communication and miniaturization seem to have taken over in response to customers’ general revulsion with all things cables & connector. The C & C’s are not gone though and we still have USB, AC power cord, 3.5-mm headphone jack, and HDMI to mention but a few. I will have a new box ready in 5 years’ time.

Bulky as they seem today, these old cables and their demised standards were a great source of articles for Elektor and other electronics magazine. Give an engineer a “standard” and he will hack, modify or adapt it to meet his requirements. Ingenuity rules as long as “the wires are accessible” and exactly that seems to vanish rapidly today, especially with the inroads wireless communication are making.

I wonder how you fared with the transition from the days of the solder joint and the oscilloscope to closed-system communication systems? Did you feel frustrated, or challenged rather? Do you have a Vintage Cable Box (be honest…)? Please add your signal line and press the Add Comment button below.
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