Monday, February 2, 2009

Oh, What a Tangled Web

 The jungle under the desk is puzzling.

All of the cables, lines, transformer boxes, hubs and the rest of the connections that keep the computer and all of the peripherals functioning together inevitably turn into a tangle.

And not a trivial tangle -- this morass of copper wire is practically impossible to straighten out.  The reasons are not clear. There must be an applicable branch of mathematics,  topology, knot theory, that could explain how and why the tangle happens, and more importantly, how to resolve it. The Koenigsberg bridge problem, that kind of thing.

Why bother? The tangle makes diagnosis of hardware issues extremely difficult. If a drive disappears from the desktop, is it because it is unplugged, or did the USB cable detach, or is it a more serious problem?

The other issue is fire prevention. Somehow a knot of electrical cords seems hazardous, although circuit breakers would presumably trip before the whole house is engulfed. 

One issue seems to be that the power lines and the cables want to go in different directions. All of the plugs want to go to the power strip, while the cables seek a firewire hub,  a usb hub, the back of the computer, speakers, or the desk top. (The real desk top, the piece of wood holding up the computer).

The other problem is that the cords are too long. This would not be a drawback unless you're working in an room the size of a broom closet and all of the component are on top of each other. A six-foot cable connecting components that are 18-inches apart leaves a lot of extra cord available for a tangle.

The collected wires seem to want to tangle. A straightened out set of wires can turn into a jumble if you look away for a second.

Consequently, the non-tangle strategies involve bundling and shortening. "Bundling" here means wrapping wires into loops and then either putting a rubber band around them, or sticking them inside a plastic cable tube. 

We all remember from physics that moving a wire through a magnetic field generates a current, and that sending an alternating current through a wire creates a magnetic field. This is how electric motors, transformers, and many other devices work. It's called induction.

The question, then, is, are all of those knots of cable under the desk radiating magnetic fields, and if so, what potential effect could that have on how the hard drives, and all the rest, function. Perhaps the wires are supposed to be in a tangle to prevent this from happening.

One of these bundles will make a cheap compass deflect a little bit.  So the confined wires are creating magnetic fields of some intensity. Is the person sitting at the desk unknowingly bathing in several electromagnetic fields? What if Paul Brodeur was right? 

We know that it is possible to make a fluorescent tube glow if you hold one on the ground under high voltage wires. Is the field from the wires creating a current in the tube? Let's put all of these questions aside for a moment.

Shouldn't there be a formal way of  laying out a configuration of wires in such a manner that you're not inadvertently creating transformers under your desk? Algebraic geometry anyone? Matrices? Functions? 

So, you can see that trial and error is the least complicated way forward. Or so it would seem. 
See all of those diagrams? Or attempted diagrams?

How can you find a solution when you can't even figure out the problem. Let's hope the house doesn't burn down. 

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