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The Programmer’s Toolkit

Dec 13, 2011 5:28 PM, By Patrick Barron

The must-have adapters, connectors, cables, and other accessories to get the job done.


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Various USB accessories including flash drives, USB hub, memory card reader, IR learner, and serial adapters

Connectors & Adapters

Many types of connectors and adapters are needed when testing switching of audio and video systems and control of RS-232 and IR equipment. Looking inside my laptop bag you can always find:

· Female RCA-to-BNC adapter

· Female BNC-to-RCA adapter

· BNC “barrel” connector, used for connecting two BNC cables together

· Female S-Video-to-RCA adapter

· Male S-Video-to-RCA adapter

· Female 9-pin-to-female-9-pin adapter, used to extend and join two serial cables with male ends; often called a “gender bender”

· Male 9-pin-to-male-9-pin adapter, used to extend and join two serial cables with female ends. Often called a “gender bender”

· Female 15-pin-VGA-to-female-15-pin-VGA adapter, links two VGA computer cables together

Serial adapters, audio cables, IR tester, and audio wiring guide

· Female 9-pin-to-male-9-pin null modem adapter; this is the single most important tool that I use and the one that I use most often. A null modem adapter does the simple task of reversing pins 2 and 3 (transmit and receive) on an RS-232 cable. In most cases, a problem with RS-232 can be solved by reversing the transmit and receive pins, and a null modem cable allows the programmer to quickly do this without soldering or crimping a new cable. Because this adapter is used so often, I normally keep 4 or 5 null modem cables at any given time.

· Phoenix screw-terminal-to-9-pin-female, used for connecting bare wires to a RS-232 port and quickly being able to move wires to different pins without soldering or crimping cables

· 9-pin “loopback” RS-232 terminator. Connect this to the end of a RS-232 cable to test connectivity. This adapter connects pins 2 and 3 inside the housing, which allows the programmer to receive the same signal that is being sent from an RS-232 port. By watching the data being received on the RS-232 port the programmer can test the entire length of the cable to make sure there are no shorts or broken wires in the cable.

· IR tester, connects to a 9V battery, and when a valid IR signal is detected, it emits an audible beep and flashes a red LED.

· Rack key. I keep a standard Midle Atlantic rack key in my bag that comes default with most racks that are ordered straight from the factory. Many times I’ve been on a jobsite unable to test anything because the rack was locked. While there are cases when custom keys are ordered, most of the time the default key is able to unlock a rack and allow testing to begin.

Various audio, video, and serial adapters; power adapter; and mini flashlight as well as a standard Middle Atlantic rack key.

USB Devices

A programmer at a jobsite uses various types of USB devices. USB flash drives are essential to transfer any kind of file in a quick and convenient manner. I usually keep three or four different ones handy, and the new USB 3.0 flash drives are extremely fast and make transferring large files much quicker provided that your laptop has a USB 3.0 connection. You will find a USB-to-serial adapter in my laptop because most laptops are no longer made with a built-in serial port. Many pieces of equipment need to be connected to a laptop with a serial connection for configuration, setup, and programming, so the USB-to-serial adapter is one of the most valuable tools I carry. The basic USB-type-A-to-type-B cable can be found as well as an extension USB cable for cases when a direct USB connection is needed. I also keep a USB-to-micro-USB adapter, which can be used to keep a cell phone charged during a long day when several calls to manufacturer tech support are needed.

Another useful USB device is the IR Learner from Crestron. This is used to capture IR hand controls for devices that are not found in the normal IR database. There are times when the programmer needs to be able to read and write files from various types of media cards, so a multipurpose card reader with a USB connection can be used to read CompactFlash cards, SD cards, XD memory, Sony memory stick, and many other formats. I use this most often when transferring media files sent from a producer on a hard drive or DVD to a media card to be played on a MPEG player. Because a large number of USB devices can be used at the same time, a laptop might not have enough USB ports to connect everything being used. This is where a USB hub can be useful. The last USB item that is essential is a full-size USB wireless mouse. Working long periods of time and having a full-size mouse to use instead of the touchpad on a typical laptop can make using the computer much easier.



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