Thursday, July 24, 2014


Continuing the topic of all of the electronic gizmos that we've become accustomed to, I want to share a little info about a common configuration of power plugs- USB.

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is an electrical standard agreed upon by computer and electronics makers. Thankfully, cell phone manufacturers have finally decided to adopt the USB standard instead of using proprietary plugs for the phones sold in the last few years. This makes it a lot easier to find one charger that will fit your phone, MP3 player, emergency radio, GPS, and most other electronic toys. There are also USB-powered chargers that will recharge other common batteries.


USB plugs come in a few styles and sizes. Basically there are two types called A and B, and they come in Standard, Mini, and Micro sizes. (Pictures of the different plugs can be seen here.)

Left: USB A. Right: USB B.
Picture in public domain. 

USB 1.0 and 2.0 use four wires in each plug, the outside ones carry power and the inside pair carry data. 3.0 uses more wires, but the plugs are back-compatible to 2.0 so you shouldn't see any difference when using it for charging. (The technical details can be found here.) Make sure you have the cords that you need to connect the charger to whatever it is you need to charge.


These are a few of the commonly-used USB chargers. At the top is a car charger for my cell phone, but it will also charge my MP3 player and camera since they all use the same micro B USB plug.

The white block is a wall charger that has a Standard A port on it.

The third one down is a car charger with two Standard A ports.

At the bottom is a pocket-sized backup battery pack.

The car charger doesn't need much explanation, most people have seen them and know how to use them.

The wall charger actually came with my phone and is rated for 2.0 Amps (2000mA), which is about four times what the USB 1.0 port on your computer will put out. This allows the wall charger to recharge a phone faster than plugging it into a PC and is safe for modern electronics.

The dual port car charger allows me to charge or use two devices at the same time, so I can have the GPS plugged in and be charging my phone at the same time. It also comes in handy when there is more than one phone that needs to be charged at the same time.

This is a back-up battery pack that I bought for about $10.00. It has enough power to recharge my cell phone once (before needing to be recharged itself), and once charged can be stored for up to a year without going dead. It came with a cord (that didn't make it into the pictures because it was in use) that has a Standard A plug on one end and a Micro B plug on the other end.

To charge the battery pack I plug the Standard A end into my PC or wall charger and the Micro B end into the port on the battery pack shown in the picture to the right.

To get power out of the battery pack I plug the Standard A end of the cord into the port on the other end of the pack (shown on the left) and use the Micro B end to connect to my phone or other electronic device.

There are other alternatives out there for charging USB ported devices. I don't own any of them (yet) but they may be what you're looking for to add to your preps.
There are pictures out there of people who still had power after a disaster running extension cords out to the sidewalk and allowing their neighbors to charge their phones and thing. This isn't a bad way to help others and maybe build some goodwill. At the very least, power may be something you may have that you can barter with.

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