Of technology and tinker toys... 

DQW Bureau
18 Sep 2003

Finally, does your PC have an Ethernet connection? If so, in all likelihood it looks like a somewhat overg-rown version of the telephone socket on the wall into which you plug your telephone:

Typically, this jack appears on a PC’s back panel, either on the outside of a PCI card or on the external mother-board I/O panel that contains the many ports that (still, even after USB has become accep-ted) cause a ‘rat’s nest’ of cab-les behind the PC that would make even the most hapha-zard of rats proud. 

The jack then connects to circuitry on the motherboard or on the PCI card to ‘do its thing.’But what about Ethernet-enabling small devices?
Some printers do come with Ethernet jacks, allowing them to be ‘peers’ on your network so that any PC can print to them without being depen-dent on any ‘host’ PC. (Com-pare that to the case when a printer plugs into the USB port of a particular PC–it’s really that PC that is sharing the printer out onto the network. So if that PC goes down, so goes the printer.)
Ethernet-direct-connected printers and other peripherals can make for easier network man-gement (even in a small office or at home.) But most sub-$1,000 or so printers do not include Ethernet by-def-ault; you either pay extra for a card that slips into the printer, or you use an external printer-to-Ethernet server box.

Ethernet jacks are often left out of lower-cost devices due to cost and complexity issues. And especially for physically smaller products such as por-table printers, remote sensors, and more, space for the Ethernet jack plus its support circuitry can weigh in as problems. Yet it might be very valuable to have those small products ‘on the network...’ 

An answer!

Well, the problems of size (and depending on the device, of complexity) now seem to have been addressed, since reader Pete Tuckerman has brought our attention to this rather special Ethernet jack: 

Because this isn’t only the Ethernet jack–this ‘jack’ contains the entire Ethernet circuitry, including a built-in Web server! The tiny ‘jack’ from Lantronix is now the entire solution! 

The tinker toys...

I don’t presume that this is the only such solution (alth-ough it may be), but it is a wonderful example of how our ‘Tinker toys’ continue to shrink. I recall when an Ethernet board was just that–a large board full of components. Over the years, it shrank to the small PCI card pictured above, and the circui-try is even smaller for on-motherboard solutions. Yet even in those instances, the Ethernet circuitry only provides communications at the lowest level–the full ‘Ethernet solu-tion’ still requires the rest of the computer to provide the TCP/IP protocols, Web server, and other capabilities. 

Today, it’s all in the jack 

What used to take a large box of Tinker toys, now takes just one.And that is the signature of how technology industries have been and are moving for-ward, driven first by the Con-vergence of Computers, Com-munications, Content, and Consumer electronics, and now poised to accelerate from the birthing pains of NBIC (the Convergence of Nanotech-nology, Biology and medicine, Information sciences, and Cognitive sciences.) 

As the song said,

“We’ve only just begun...”

Jeffrey R. Harrow

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