MBW 785: Rubber-Chicken Rickroll

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What are your thoughts about today’s show? We’d love to hear from you!

The proposed EU standardisation on USB-C connectors and USB PD sounds sensible to me. I remember the days before the EU guidance on using USB, carrying around Nokia, Ericsson and Toshiba power bricks :roll_eyes:

AFAIK has nothing to do with cable quality or data rates, so not sure what Alex was getting at. You can buy poor quality lightning cables too.

Covers phones, tablets, cameras, speakers, headphones etc.


Plus it’s a minimum standard I think. People can still innovate as long as they support the connector and USB PD.

Yes, it is the charger and its USB-C cable that is being standardised.

I have 1 charger and cable in the kitchen for my laptop, iPad Air, Android smartphone. I have to have a separate USB-A charger, with its Lightning cable for the iPad mini (previous generation). I just plug in whichever one needs charging in and let it go.

I also have a USB-C dock in my home office, again, I can plug any of those devices into it for charging, and the monitor has USB-C input as well, which provides power back out, so I can plug any of those into the monitor for power delivery and for display use…

At work, I have the same set-up, a USB-C dock and monitor with USB-C input and power delivery. I can plug those cables into any of my devices to charge them.

Apart from my company iPhone SE, I have to carry the separate cable and charger with me for that.

I haven’t heard the episode, but when charging, there is no data flow. For the dock and monitor, yes, but they use heavy duty, quality cables.

It is the PD that is the key. This provides a standard for negotiating the amount of power to be delivered between the charger and the device being charged. It is a standard. With the old USB-A, that was around 1W or so, because that was all the standard defined. All the super charging methods were proprietary, so you might have a super charging phone and a super charging adapter, but if they used different standards, the device would only get the bog basic trickle charge that USB-A defined.

With USB-C PD, the device and charger can negotiate what they need, from the basic 1W, right up to around 100W - depending on the capacity of the charger, of course.


I think Alex’s point was that for any given type c port or cable the user does not know what to expect. There are a dozen things you might be able to do, but you don’t know until you try— and even then it might not be clear if a “missing” feature is a limitation of the cable or the port/device. We have the same problem with HDMI, which presents a common shape with significant (and invisible) differences in capability.

I think Apple should just put USB C on the iPhones and be done with it until there is some big innovation. But I also that average users— and there are hundreds of millions of them— would be very angry that their large collection of lightning cables would need to be retrofitted, or else they would need to carry a dongle at all times. People were mad about the switch from the terrible 30-pin connector, even though lightning was objectively better in all the ways that matter. Type C doesn’t enjoy such a clear cut advantage over lightning.

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p.s. If Apple goes port-free on the iPhone, do the smart connector pins support high-speed data transfer? Rene is already worried about getting ProRes video off the phone via lightning.


But we are talking purely power delivery here. All the user and device have to expect is that the charger conforms to USB PD.

USB-C is much more versatile than Lightning or Micro-USB, when we move away from pure charging, which is what the proposed law defines. USB-C can do USB, DisplayPort, Power Delivery and Thunderbolt - or a mixture thereof. It can do speeds of up to 20gbps (40?) at the moment, compared to the 40mbps that USB-A and Lightning can do.

The USB-C standard also defines the symbols that need to be put next to the ports, to tell the user what they are capable of. The problem is, some manufacturers leave the symbols away, because it detracts from the devices aesthetics. That isn’t USB-C’s fault, that is manufacturers putting form over function.

My USB-C docking and video cables are clearly marked and on my laptop, the USB-C + Thunderbolt port is clearly marked and different from the USB-C + PD port next to it.

But, again, we are talking purely about the wall charger and cable for delivering power to the device using a standard power delivery protocol that allows the device to negotiate the optimum power.

That is exactly what the EU thinks as well. There is nothing to stop innovation. USB-C will be expandable for the near future, but it isn’t going to be the standard connector for the next millennium. But nobody is stopping the industry from approaching the EU and saying that they have a new, better standard and the law should be modified to use the new, improved, industry standard.

That last bit is the problem. The EU gave the industry the chance with MicroUSB to get its house in order and, again with USB-C (~10 years) , but companies kept reneging on the proposed standard. Now the EU has said, enough is enough, if you can’t stop your squabbling, we’ll settle the argument for you.

The primary points of the new standard/law being:

  1. you don’t need to provide a new charger with each device sold
  2. any charger will work with any product (max power being the only factor, laptops will need, usually, 45W - 100W, everything else ~5W-40W). For everything other than a laptop, you can get away with a lower powered charger, for a laptop, you will need a high power one.

So, apart from laptops, once you have a basic charger, you are set for any number of devices. Assuming most are battery operated, you generally don’t need 5 chargers for 5 devices, you can probably get away with 1 or 2 chargers.

That means fewer chargers need to be made, instead of many just chucked in a draw or thrown in the bin. Things like a laptop, which needs a higher charge, more often, will probably still get their own charger, but phones, watches, tablets etc. don’t each need their own charger and cable.

As I said, we have around half a dozen devices, but we have 1 USB-C charger in the kitchen, the phones and tablets don’t all need charging at the same time. The laptop can trickle charge on that charger, or I can plug it into the docking station in my home office.

Likewise, when I am at work, I can plug any of those devices into my monitor or my docking station, if they need a quick bit of power. As I said above the exception being the iPad mini at home and the iPhone at work.

Yes, I can remember the switch from 30-pin to Lightning. But it was a shortlived pain. I replaced my phone docks and the radio had a USB adapter as well as the 30-pin adapter.

And I think USB-C does have real advantages, not least of which is theoretical speed. Lightning is limited to USB 2 speeds, AFAIK - so around 40-50mbps on a good day. USB-C, currently, has up to 20gbps and the standard for 40gbps is already defined, so if Apple do it properly, we are talking about nearly a 1,000 fold increase in throughput. If they use 3.1 or 3.0, we are still talking several hundred times faster than what Lightning currently offers.

(I just did a quick search, Lightning can, theoretically, do up to 450mbps, but all of the supplied cables with iDevices are rated at USB 2.0 speeds (50mbps), so they can’t use their full power - and you were talking about not knowing what to expect and whether it was the cable, port or device that limits USB-C, looks like Apple is doing the same with Lightning anyway.)


I chuckled at @Leo’s comment about Edison’s electrocution of an elephant. I also thought this was related with the AC vs. DC (Tesla vs. Edison) current wars, but the Wikipedia article of the incident claims it is unrelated.

Edison’s effort to use DC for the power distribution grid was doomed from the start; Geoffrey West in the book “Scale” explains why. Simple networks work fine, but scaling up from high-voltage generators are problematic – DC does not scale. At the junctions where DC voltage is stepped down and branched, there’s the constant risk of back-flow of current in the network. Variations in the load at the end-points (homes and businesses) compound the problem.

Contrast with alternating current. Oliver Heaviside worked out the theoretical framework for electrical impedance; Tesla applied that work in the Niagara Falls grid. Impedance requires the use of energy storage (capacitors and inductors) in the circuits, and the timing/phase of the alternating current is critical. Bringing new generators online is a tricky thing, and the frequency of all generators in the grid must be within close tolerances. Leo, I presume you got some details of RC and RLC circuits in your HAM certification.

Professor West also discusses our arterial network: why impedance is required for blood to flow smoothly and efficiently to all our cells. In fluid transfer networks, backflow is a problem. Plumbers call it water hammer. Besides physical damage to the arteries, eddies/backflow are bad: they are a signal for the blood to clot. West draws a brilliant analogy between the electrical grid and our arterial network. We know that the elasticity of the arteries is critical for health. Impedance explains why: that elasticity is used to store mechanical energy and provide an impedance for flow with the reactance (i.e. rebound) of that springiness. Aha! This is one of many topics discussed in this modern science book. You should definitely put it on your Audible list; if Trianglulation were still around, he’d be a heck of a person to have for an interview.

Impedance is cool stuff; it’s something that few students currently get in their education. I’m particularly interested in musculoskeletal impedance: how tension and flow assist our posture, movement, and ability to do work. Simple levers-and-hinges models are inadequate to describe how we move. Electrical engineers learn about electrical impedance; those lessons are equally applicable to mechanical systems.


Agreed. It’s very versatile but you need to check the specs to see what you have. Shame most don’t use the labels.


I think this chart just highlights the challenges faced by average consumers, none of whom will know what those symbols mean— even if they’re present. Not to mention the challenge of reading those behind a monitor or a desktop tower. And then the cables are even less likely to be labeled. So do we need symbols on ports and cables, along with a translation key affixed to the Kensington lock? Lol.

I agree it is good to have a standard shape, but still maintain the real-world situation is a confusing mess.

With regard to tracking, the question was pay or accept tracking for personalised adverts. I say neither. Or rather, I pay for some services, but I couldn’t pay for all sites I visit, especially those I visit only occasionally.

But track me? NO! You can show me adverts relevant to the page I am currently viewing, no problems with that, but don’t track me.

Im with Alex, regarding cookie tracking options, I will leave a site that doesn’t offer me the choice and I will leave a site the tries to hide the options.

I think that’s the idea :slightly_smiling_face: But agreed, for the average person, this is a headache. But I don’t agree USB-C is broken or flawed and shouldn’t be used.


Interesting, just picked this up on heise, the new official USB-4 kabel certification logos, for packaging and for the cables/devices. 40gpbs and 240W charging.

The new logos are supposed to simplify the packaging and the devices, so that there is less confusion for consumers.


It’s not really an issue isolated to USB, is it? Ethernet interfaces and cables for example. Or Thunderbolt 1/Thunderbolt 2/DisplayPort.

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USB 1.1, 2, 3, HDMI, this list is endless.

Even Lightning suffers, with higher speeds possible than the cables that Apple provides allow.

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Good point, and I believe Apple will go “portless” on the iPhone 14