2 Corinthians 4: 17-18

You knew this day would come.

Your beautiful wife has been on a cleaning kick. She has been tidying the upstairs bedrooms, which used to be the boys’ rooms, which were an awful mess of teenage boys’ junk. You thought you could tuck your preciousses in there, where they would blend in and she would never notice. No one would notice. They were safe.

But then, one evening, she drops a great big box on the ottoman. She looks at you, accusingly.

“I thought you weren’t hoarding these things anymore,” she says.


“You never know when you might need that special cable,” you say, “You might give me some big home improvement project some day, and that box will hold exactly what will do the job.”

She gives you that look. You know the one. The one where she’d really like to say something critical, but she’s holding it back, because she’s so darned nice all the time.

“Sort it out now,” she says. “I’m hauling everything away tomorrow.”

You go through it all. There was ribbon cable in there. A Centronics parallel interface. A 1200 baud modem. You never know when you might suddenly have a use for a 1200 baud modem, and they’re just about impossible to find nowadays! Oh my god, Firewire cable. You know how much that stuff cost? Appletalk to ethernet adapters. Phone wire. Ancient mice that only worked with the old school Apple mouse connectors. You untangle and sort, and she glares at you and you end up throwing all that history away. You finally cling to only a couple of nice ethernet switches, and you found your handy RS-232 patch adapter, which you slip into your pocket when she wasn’t looking. It’s all going to the dump now.

She doesn’t know about the much bigger stash you keep in the lab, though, so you’ll still be OK if the apocalypse comes and you absolutely must solder up a serial-to-parallel cable, or you’ll die.

Oh, no! She just came down the stairs with the big spool of Cat5! We can’t get rid of that!


  1. nathanieltagg says

    If there is anything you have ever written to prove we are kindred spirits, PZ, it is this.

    You have my profound sympathies.

    Long Live the Tangle.

  2. Cuttlefish says


    I was cleaning out my basement (it was overdue and more!)
    And I found a couple items I’d forgotten what are for
    Here, for instance, is a whatsit with a deally on its side
    And I think it had a charger once, or maybe that one died
    I don’t know if I need it, though I really rather doubt,
    But it looks like it’s important, so I dare not throw it out.

    And this thingy might be ancient—at the least, it’s rather quaint
    It’s got brass, or maybe copper, or I guess it could be paint
    Anyway, it’s kind of shiny—it’s supposed to look like gold—
    But it isn’t. And it’s broken. What it mostly is, is old.
    It was tossed in with some hardware, right behind a tub of grout
    But it just might be collectable; I dare not throw it out!

    Here’s a sort of metal widget, colored reddish-brown with rust
    It was hidden in the corner, under half an inch of dust
    They don’t make ‘em like they used to—and perhaps that’s for the best,
    And I think I once had four of these, but cannot find the rest
    It has no modern uses, no new features it can tout
    But I’ve had it for forever, so I dare not throw it out.

    The detritus of the ages, oh the odds and ends you’ll find
    If you’re looking through my basement, or you’re looking through my mind;
    All the stuff I thought was useful, so I always kept around.
    Surely most of it is useless—or at least, that’s what I’ve found
    Still, I kept my ways of thinking—you could say I was devout
    It was easier to keep them, so I never threw them out.

    But, for both beliefs and basements, that’s what cleaning is about:
    If they won’t stand up to scrutiny, it’s time to throw them out.

  3. Sean Boyd says

    I still use Cat5 (well, Cat5e) at home, ‘cuz I live in a really old place with lots of nasty stuff in the walls, and the wireless signal doesn’t reach the entire house, and I’m too cheap/poor to buy wireless repeaters, and I had the makings to make LONG patch cables. My leftovers sit next to the serial cable for my TI-83 calculator, a few I don’t recognize immediately, and three or four old towers that will head to recycling someday, I swear. Lost the soldering kit, though…I was never great shakes at it anyway.

  4. DonDueed says

    I have no wife. Therefore I have a closet full of that tangle (and far more, I’m an EE so there are things like a moribund Fluke Scopemeter — a really cool thing, once upon a time).

    Recently I gathered up and organized all the old wall warts (power adapters). The final count was somewhere in the mid-to-high thirties. (That does not, of course, include those that are currently in use, which is probably another dozen or so.)

    Hey, I may need those.

  5. ck, the Irate Lump says

    timgueguen wrote:

    Is there an electronics recycling program in your neck of the woods? The modem at least might be recyclable.

    For electronics that old, I’d definitely suggest the recyclers. There’s probably lead in the solder on those things, and it should be disposed of properly so it doesn’t contaminate groundwater.

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    My local Best Buy has a recycling program which accepts electronics which most conventional recyclers eschew. Anything electronic sans CRTs are accepted. Strongly recommend checking yours for similar services.

  7. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Looks like the contents of a 14 Gallon bin in my closet.
    Cat 5? 100mb/sec? Why keep? My ethernet is gigabyte these days.
    Firewire cables, talk to me, as I have spares, 400 or 800, along with USB 2.

  8. whheydt says

    Re: Nerd of redhead @ #9…
    “gigaabyte” Ethernet, eh? I rather doubt that. You almost certainly have GigaBIT Ethernet.

    (Sorry…as a long time programmer with some networking chops, I really hate it when people blow terminology and units. Don’t get me started on the difference between baud and bits/sec. Indeed PZ’s modem is actually 600 baud and 1200 bps.)

    As for PZ’s basic problem…see if there is a museum near by that wants older digital equipment. On the other hand…anything Mac-specific, I would toss in a heartbeat.

  9. Larry Kearney says

    The electronics and associated paraphernalia I’ve thrown out since graduating from college would form a very nice compendium of the state of technology over the last quarter of the 20th century and the first of the 21st. Computers of all types. Modems with acoustic couplers to 56k. Switches. Wireless routers and cable modems. And cables. Oh, my. Cables galore!

  10. 00001000bit says

    If there’s a 44 or 88 mb Syquest drive in that box, I implore you not to throw it out. I’ve got a couple old carts from my college days that I’ve wanted to get data off, but the drive I bought on eBay years ago proved to be a dud. :(

  11. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Re: Nerd of redhead @ #9…
    “gigaabyte” Ethernet, eh? I rather doubt that. You almost certainly have GigaBIT Ethernet.

    You are correct. Mea culpa.

  12. FossilFishy (NOBODY, and proud of it!) says

    When Ms. Fishy and I moved in together we were adults. We each had all the accoutrements of modern living, but I had more as I’d lived on my own rather than the shared house she was in.

    When she saw all the boxes I put in the basement either unopened or still partially filled she gave me a hard time about it. But I refused to get rid of it all. And for years thereafter, and I do mean years, she would say “I wish we had an X, Y, or Z” and I’d go “I’ve got one.” and would produce it from my hoard.

    Sadly, our relocation to Australia necessitated downsizing and I no longer get the satisfaction of proving that clutter can be useful.

  13. says

    Had to do the same thing last year. Honored First Wife put her foot down and it all had to go. And she gave “the look” when she said it, so I knew she meant all of it. Well, except my Osbourne 2. 0f course, she didn’t mean that. I mean, it still boots. Granted, I don’t have any disks to run on it, but it still technically works, so it’s not junk, right?

  14. Cuttlefish says

    Just thinking…. second person singular is seriously under-utilized. You don’t really want to see that. You don’t always recognize it when you see it. You are, however, moved in a rather different way.

  15. drken says

    Yeah, most of those cables are useless now, except the RCAs. But, if nothing else keep the power supplies. Always keep the power supplies. They never become obsolete and can be swapped between devices with similar voltage needs. You never have too many power supplies.

  16. chigau (違う) says

    YOB #16
    My Osborne 1 is still in the basement.
    Last time I turned it on was not this century.
    The B-drive was broke.

  17. Dr. Pablito says

    I am absolutely the dweeb to go to for cable exotica around the building. So many flavors of SCSI to maintain with cables and terminators. Nubus. RS232, of course. GPIB. All the Mac OS system disks, all the way back to OS 4. *twitch*

  18. says

    This drove my mother and me nuts about my father. He had a huge bowl full of old switches and cables and connectors, all of it useless becasue it did not correspond to modern safety standards, and the plastic and copper got brittle over the age, the steel rusted even through chrome plating etc. When I grew up and got the house, I (not my mother) have put my foot down and said it has to go. We put it on the electronic waste patch in the garden to be thrown away when corresponding container is in the town.

    Years later I found the bowl under a sack in the chicken coop when I was demolishing it. This time around I saw to it that it really gests thrown away. But some useless junk still pops up here and there.

    And sometimes when I need something and my father bemoans that I threw it away I remind him, that having some spares in the house is usefull, but not ones that are at the end of their usefullness and could be even dangerous when used.

  19. latsot says

    When the huge plastic box in my office gets full of cables and unidentifiable technology my wife quietly (oh so quietly) throws the contents out, thinking I won’t notice the shrieks of a thousand cables in existential distress. I put up with this for two reasons: first, it will be about a fortnight before the box is half full again and second, if I make a fuss she might come after the 9 or so unused laptops and 6 or 7 other machines lurking in there.

    She established a pattern early in our ownership of this house by making an unassailable argument about why I needed to give away my network of 8 Sparc 5s. Now, since we are in a healthy adult relationship, I pretend not to notice she’s throwing away my stuff and she pretends not to notice all these computers I no longer use.

    But mark my words: one day she’s going to urgently need an RS232 cable and a ribbon for a Citizen 120d printer and a box of backup tapes and the consequences of her actions will come home to roost.

  20. naturalcynic says

    Yesterday I was wondering whether I could borrow the neighbor’s cat, or maybe yours. But then since I am moving, all those halfdead mouses just had to go.

  21. A. Noyd says

    If you have any old game console cables or peripherals, definitely check with a used gaming store before junking them.

  22. gijoel says

    @cuttlefish Do you know you can sing your poem to ‘Monster Mash’. Can’t get it out of your head now, can you?

  23. unclefrogy says

    good thing I do not live close to you because I would be tempted to take that box of interesting stuff home with me.
    uncle frogy

  24. rustiguzzi says

    You’re not throwing away one of these, surely? How ccould you live without an RS232 interface lead?

  25. marcoli says

    This made me laugh. Funny, but I consider my wife to be the hoarder of floppy discs and useless cables and chargers. I just don’t care b/c she keeps them in her office cabinet. My cabinet has only things that might be useful one day…

  26. says

    There’s a corner of my basement where, should one find the need for a cassette reader for a Commodore Vic-20, one would have a reasonable chance of finding it. Likewise for a cable to connect an Amiga to a 90’s-vintage multiscan monitor; a 40 megabyte SCSI hard drive; 10-15 Intel and AMD CPU chips ranging from early Pentium to probably 2014ish vintage and a similar assortment of motherboards which may or may not accomodate them; and possibly a Token Ring network card. Oh, and enough case fans to build a wind tunnel.

  27. notruescott says

    Yeah, I’ve got stacks and stacks of old technology, mostly old Apple gear. It breaks my heart a little to see your box go.
    My wife is much more understanding. She sews and quilts and knits and crochets, so the mass, weight and volume of her hobby far exceeds mine.

  28. blf says

    RS-232 has a huge advantage over other communications links in at least one respect: With a few exceptions, it’s trivial to write a simple driver for an RS-232 interface. This means that, if you are involved with the (admittedly specialist) task of “bringing up” new hardware, it’s usually possible to talk to the new machine in a matter of hours. Whilst the deployed version of the machine — what is sold — may lack an (obvious) RS-232 link, the earlier developmental versions quite probably did have such a link.

    Upshot is I still use RS-232. The knowledge that seems to be dying out — based on my experience — is “modems”, or perhaps more accurately, non-null DCE.

  29. says

    That’s why I kept my RS232 patch adapter. It’s sweet. I was always attaching new gadgets, and you never knew whether you need a null modem cable or straight through, or whether you needed a particular line connected for sync, and it let you figure that out without soldering and resoldering.

  30. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re #33:
    at first glance, I read your note as and possibly a Tolkein Ring network card.

    “And in the darkness bind them”, which can only be destroyed in the fire of its creation, oh my :-)

  31. blf says

    @36: Yep! RS-232 patch boxes are very useful. Admittedly I haven’t had to use one in several yonks now, but when you needed to fiddle with the circuits (wiring) it’s the bees knees, so to speak.

    Funnily enough, the last RS-232 problem I had, just a few months ago, was solved with the help of an oscilloscope, which quickly made clear there was an issue in the baudrate, rapidly tracked down to a clocking problem. This wasn’t a simple-ish 9600–19200 type problem, one end was so badly setup it was trying to use what we calculated was somewhere around 11Megabaud. Oops.

  32. Matrim says

    Do NOT get rid of a spool of Cat5 cable. That stuff is endlessly useful. On second thought, do get rid of it, I’d be happy to take it off your hands.

  33. brucej says

    @37 Long long long ago, when the Internet was young, all those cables were cutting edge (or still in the future, like Firewire) I read a humorous rewrite of Tolkein’s poem that did indeed include a reference to token ring….wish I could find it again.

    This was back when my 1200 baud modem was used and I found things on the Internet by consulting my large printed-on-my-dot-matrix catalogue of FTP sites…

    And PZed, sure those weren’t Phone-net connectors? I don’t recall any Appletalk-Ethernet adapters. There were adapters for the old Apple AAUI connectors to 10-base-T.

  34. says

    I took a ten-year old Apple bluetooth keyboard out of my box the other day, stuck in some new batteries, paired it with my current (Windows) computer, and bam I had a smaller keyboard that’s a bit more suitable for me to use without the hand containing my badly broken finger.

    There is hope for all of us and our boxes yet! I’m sure that’s a good enough reason to keep “the power cable that I’m not sure if I still have the brick it’s supposed to attach to” for another a decade or so…

    (and it’s three friends. maybe I should tie them all together so if I ever find a brick I can try them all in one go?)

  35. Derek Ledbetter says

    Do you have any of the old Apple Extended Keyboards? You can get $40 or so for one. People love those clicky keys.

  36. says

    My wife hasn’t bothered me about my tangled wires because I’ve bundled them all carefully and wrapped them up with cable ties. It’s all about the neat. :-)

  37. wzrd1 says

    I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one to have an RS-232 breakout box. :)
    And pretty much ever type of SCSI and SCSI terminator ever made.
    And way, down at the bottom of one of those boxes of historic cables should still be a Ford campaign WIN button (collected largely because it was about the stupidest campaign slogan I’ve ever heard).

  38. KG says

    Ancient mice that only worked with the old school Apple mouse connectors.

    I picture them with long white beards, dilapidated waistcoats, and half-moon spectacles! I thought the plural for “mouse” as in “computer mouse” was generally held to be “mouses”.

  39. agenoria says

    It’s not just men hoarding cables…. I’m sitting next to a box of them – some mine, some my partner’s. I’m not parting with my 14.4k modem!

    Anyway, the cables have other uses. I live in a rented house, and the workmanship when repairs have been done isn’t exactly of the highest quality. It’s not worth paying a lot for fittings in a house you don’t own, so I improvise.

    There’s a length of cable holding a gutter in place where it wasn’t fitted properly. There are curtains on an interior door as draught excluders which are hanging from another network cable.

    But I really ought to find out which of the keyboards aren’t working and recycle them. There should be something around here to connect a PS/2 to a USB port.

  40. Pierce R. Butler says

    Anybody want a big bag of (samples randomly) Timbuktu Pro (1999) and Kai’s Power Tools (1992) manuals? How ’bout two bags? Four?

  41. Dark Jaguar says

    I’ve gotten a pretty good eye for stuff that legitimately I’ll never need to use again and stuff I need to keep for my antique electronics collection.

    No way you should throw out that spool of Cat 5. Heck, I refuse to use a purely wireless connection for my PC, because an ethernet connection is just plain faster and more reliable (and more secure, not that I’m too worried about that last part). I use wireless exclusively on my portable devices, and anything that is hooked up to a TV or monitor gets a dedicated cable.

  42. says

    I’m going through the same thing with a brother who moved back into the family house last year. Managed to get him to get rid of the 8″ floppys. Still working on the 3.5 floppys and the ZIP drives.

  43. says

    I’m in the process of moving and changing jobs, and had to do this to myself. All that stuff I once thought might be useful became a burden. Lucky for me, Taiwanese companies still produce and sell a lot of these things (e.g. RS232 adapters) so they’re easy to replace. It’s the waste of money and environment that’s bothering me more.

    But I will not and have not gotten rid of my USB external floppy drive. When all else fails, FreeDOS doesn’t. (That and my DIN-PS/2 adapters. Anyone know of second hand shops selling 101 keyboards?)

    Michael Duczech –
    With or without the “click of death” (which never happened to me), zip drives were one of my biggest regrets. What a waste of money.