The Algebra Of The USB

Consider the USB.

Universal Serial Bus. Our Friend. Our Nemesis. (image public domain)

You know what I’m talking about, right? The handy port and connectors that allow you to connect your printer to your computer, your iPod to your car and your satellite box to your television. I’m pretty sure that these plugs and ports can connect anything. Maybe all that’s needed to create a permanent peace in the Middle East is a long USB cable between Israel and Palestine.

The USB solves a lot of problems. But perhaps you’ve realized, like I have, that the USB causes a lot of frustration. Do you remember the last time you connected one of these plugs on one try? Probably not. I’ll bet it usually takes you several attempts to get the plug lined up right.

Break Out Your Slide Rules, Kids

It seems to me that the chances of connecting a USB cable and port should be about fifty/fifty. The plug can only be in one of two positions – face up or face down. Let’s do the math on that:


Where x = the number of USB ports

y= the number of reasonable ways you can try to get the plug in the socket

z = the chances that you’ll get the plug in the socket in one try

The arrow points at frustration. (public domain)

So if we have one USB port and one USB plug which fits the port one way but could reasonably thought to go in that plug two ways, our equation looks like this:

1/2= 50%

According to that formula, at least half the times you try to plug your printer in to your laptop that plug should just slide right in to the port. But we all know that doesn’t happen. In fact, if you try to plug in a USB, find yourself unsuccessful, turn it over and try again the chances are better than fifty/fifty that second attempt will also fail.

That Should Be Enough. It Isn’t.

Obviously the x/y=z formula does not take into account other factors that required to successfully make a USB connection. To better help you understand why this seemingly simple process is so challenging, I wrote down what it took for me to connect my iPod to my car on several different occasions. The difference in the mathematical formula I developed based on my scientific observations of myself is startlingly different:

(x/y)*f+a ÷u*(√fb/oc)=∞

I told you it was startling; maybe next time I say that you’ll listen to me.

Not all of you are acquainted with algebra in the same way that I am, so I’m going to reveal the factors represented by the letters in the new, more accurate formula:

The number of USB ports (x) divided by the possible number of ways the plug could fit the port (y) multiplied by the sum of frustration and anger expressed at the inevitable failed first attempt divided by the urgency with which we attempt to make the USB connection multiplied by the factor created by the square root of the uses of the f-bomb divided by the uses of other curse words equals infinity.

Yes, my little mathematicians, no matter what numbers you put in for the factors in my formula, the result is always the same – infinity. It is infinitely impossible to know how many attempts it will take to successfully connect a USB port and cable. Even when you factor in issues that might affect the results – frustration, urgency and the severity of cursing – it is impossible to predict the likelihood of a swift connection between two devices using USB.


How can this be? There is only one explanation. Biology.

Alive! They’re alive! (public domain)

USB ports are living creatures which feed on the energy generated from human frustration. When our first attempt fails, the port flips itself to defeat our reasonable thought that turning the plug over will bring success. The port does this over and over again until it is both sated and exhausted. We are able to get the plug into the port when the port no longer has the energy to gorge itself on our frustration.

So in the end, I have explained the biological origin for your frustration with USB connections via algebra.

Or does the fact that I can use math to prove biology explain why all my high school math teachers became alcoholics?


23 Comments on “The Algebra Of The USB”

  1. I just realized that I still, after all these years as an English major, skip over the italics that explain math formulas.

    Clearly this is a reflex, since every word you write is funny and I wouldn’t want to miss any of it.

    I went back to read the italics. Startlingly funny…and true.

  2. larva225 says:

    You just made me feel drunk on a Monday morning. Thanks for that.

  3. wineaux62 says:

    As your high school math tutor, I’m proud to work through this proof…and thankfully only drink in heavy moderation these days. I have an idea for next time – factorials!!!!! That will put a memorable smile on my face. 😉

    • omawarisan says:

      Ha ha ha!! Factorials, in that weird gurgling voice she had.

      No idea how the hell I got through college math without you sitting behind me “you have no idea what she’s talking about do you? Let me show you”. FYI…I had a B average there, still had no idea what they were talking about.

      Shoot you a note later.

  4. Alcoholics you say? I’m surprised they weren’t all sparking up a doobie!
    I can’t argue with your math or logic. This has to be the only plausible reason I can never make the connection.

  5. liamiman says:

    I knew there was a reason why I failed Math class. Algebra is another story entirely – as you have ably demonstrated.

  6. Eva says:

    That’s one heck of a formula. It’s kinda perty.

  7. Blogdramedy says:

    We always listen to you, Oma.
    But sometimes we don’t hear.
    Perhaps if you issued Q-tips?

  8. You lost me at x/y=z. I think this post proves that I was the worst math student ever.

  9. Dan Hennessy says:

    Any port in a storm . I don’t think the Israeli – Palestinian thing is going to work , though .

  10. Betty says:

    My head just exploded from that math stuff. And it usually takes me three tries to connect the USB. For some reason, the first attempt is right but it never goes in the first time.

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