Monday, May 27, 2024

The Ape and the Machine

A while back, my phone stopped charging.  I was on a road trip with family, and though the phone was plugged into a 12V to USB connector, it just wasn't taking a charge.  I'd watch it struggle, the charging graphic flitting on and off as I navved our way home.  It didn't lose charge, but neither could it seem to bump up above 65%.

It's a cheap refurb Samsung, because that's how I roll.  Sure, it was a hundred and seventy five bucks, but it still chugs along nicely at a fraction of the price of new.  Refurbs do that, right up until they don't.

It was, rather obviously, something to do with the connection between the phone and the charger cable, which is the increasingly ubiquitous USB-C.  Either the phone was dying, or my cable had given out.  When I got home, I slotted a USB fast charger into the phone, and that worked like a charm.

So the issue was the cable, or rather, the pluggy bit.  Well, good, I thought.

Cables are cheap, and we dispose of them much as we dispose of things we perceive of has having little value.  This was the same one that had come with the phone when I bought it, so it wasn't exactly built to last.

I could just order another one.  It's what we do.  You don't bother fixing such things.  

Only, looking at it, I found myself wondering what a fix would entail.  Did I really need to add more waste to the world?  Here, an object so complex that for most of human history, creating it would be beyond the ken of even the most skilled artisans or scientists.  It is capable of transferring both power and gigabits of data, carrying as much information in a second as all human writing from our first scratches on cave walls through to the founding of the American republic.  Why dispose of it?  What was most likely wrong with it?  

For the twenty four pins on interior of the two-sided USB-C connector to work, they've got to come into contact with the pins on the receiver.  The connector, being made of inexpensive metal, is entirely capable of deforming over time, loosening to the point at which connections are inconsistent.  That diagnosis exactly matched the nature of the failure.  

So fixing it should be straightforward.  Just apply force.  But how to do so without breaking it?  I have no pliers that are adequately delicate, and the odds of just mashing it into uselessness seemed high.

Then I realized, well, no, I did have what I needed.

I picked up the cable, and delicately placed the connector in between the canines of the right side of my mouth.  I touched the tip with my tongue, feeling the coolness of the metal.  A tongue is a remarkably sensitive organic instrument, really rather excellent at perceiving small things and infinitesimal variations.  

Then I bit down, applying a tiny but slowly increasing amount of force to the center of the connector.  A moment passed, and another, and then my tongue felt the metal give, ever so slightly, the very smallest of movements. 

I held it up and peered at it through my reading glasses.  No visible change.  Good.

When I plugged it into my phone, it worked perfectly.

A win for the higher primate, I suppose.