What Makes a Good Connector (or a Bad One?)

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December 11, 2012

My father and I both joke about how putting up the Christmas tree (specifically, stringing lights) has to be the number one cause for divorce in the US. Each year it is about the most painful 4 hours of my life that I spend. It only takes about 2 to string all the lights on our 9 foot tree, but I inevitably dedicate another 2 hours to replacing burned-out bulbs and identifying dangerous strands or sockets (side note: the wife and I can’t stand the flicker associated with LED bulbs).

Which leads me to the reason for writing this: The Christmas tree light socket. It has to be

The Worst Connecter Ever

Figure 1 The Worst Connector Ever

the worst connector on earth. First, they are nearly impossible to remove. The bulb base fits almost flush into socket. No lip or feature to pull on; enter broken and bloodied fingernails. The retention has to be in the hundreds of pounds. I often find I need surgical tools to remove them. Second, they provide for ridiculously poor and unreliable contact. About a quarter of the bulbs that are out just make poor contact and removal/reinsertion fixes the issue. Third,

they are all just different enough that they aren’t interchangeable. I have a collection of Ziploc bags with different types. I inevitably have to swap bulbs between base types. That’s a plus- at least the bases are easy to swap.Watch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)


This got me to thinking… what makes a good connector? This may sound obvious, but do connector designers out there have a “bible” or best practices they go buy? I would recommend this:

  1. Electrical performance. This goes without saying. Most connectors do this well, matching the electrical properties for the application.
  2. Ease of assembly. Make the connector easy to assemble (by hand or automated) with minimal special tooling.
  3. Ease of disassembly. See #1 above. Usually neglected because, well, most connectors don’t have to be disassembled.
  4. Ease of connection/separation. Use simple locking features that make connections quick and easy.
  5. Reliability. Both electrical and mechanical… make sure it holds up to the environment.
  6. Compatibility. I realize there is a marketing component to this, but the more “open” and compatible a connector standard is… the better.

We’ve all had dealings with one in the past. Maybe it was at a previous job. Or a previous project. We’ve all used a connector at one point or another that made us think… “What the hell was that engineer thinking?!” What are some of your “worst connector ever” experiences, and what additional best practices do you think there should be?

Also, in case you are wondering, yes, I plan to be first in line on December 26th to finally buy a pre-lit tree. I’ll have an excuse to throw everything away and start over when a bulb or socket goes out.

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