Know your cords! USB cables are not all the same
If you are like me you travel a lot - or at least did so when that was something we were allowed to do with ease. For the past 15 years, more often than not, I was on the road exploring some part of the globe that I have neve been to before. Most of these places are cheaper places because although I do have the luxury of having a 100% online job, I don't get paid millions so I gotta find a way to do things in the cheap. For the most part I am successful in this but other times I have tried to go "too cheap" and ended up making mistakes that have been more trouble than they were worth. This next story is a stupid one, but a very real one.
In my case I was simply trying to transfer photos from my SLR to my laptop while staying in a guesthouse in Guatemala, and the computer was no longer picking up my camera. This is always a concern because I do not have a card reader because those things are kind of obsolete now that we have (finally) come to a point where the various manufacturers decided to stop being scumbags and having different size cards just for the sake of forcing you to pay for their overpriced ones (I'm looking at you, Sony!)
So since a USB cable is something that is available just about everywhere, I went out in search of a new one. I found one easily, and assuming that all USB cables are the same I just go the cheapest one that was more than a foot long since I do not need speed or super-high quality, I just need function.
When I returned to my room to transfer the photos, the situation was the same: The computer was not recognizing that I had plugged my camera into the laptop at all, no matter how I wiggled it. What follows is an exercise in stupidity on my own part, and a mistake that I will never make again.
I took my camera and my phone (but not the cable, like an idiot) to the local computer repair shop feeling as though I was dealing with a USB hardware of software issue and I don't really like to mess with the interior workings of my computer or get involved too deeply in the "device manager" section of things either.
Once the computer guy hooked my stuff up, with his cable, the laptop recognized the camera immediately and now I look like a dumbshit that doesn't know how to plug in a USB cable properly even though the design of these things basically insures that you can't possibly do it wrong.
It turns out that there are a wide variety of USB cables out there and the one I brought with me from USA had in fact become broken, but the replacement one that I got was not a data transfer cable.
It all seems so silly to me now that I didn't realize this on my own, but some of the super cheap USB cords are simply meant for charging devices, not for transferring any sort of data. I think the one that I bought, being the miser than I am, was something crazy like $1 less than the one that did. I also don't read Spanish so I didn't even bother trying to read what was on the packaging, which was mostly in Chinese anyway.
Thankfully, the issue wasn't something expensive and difficult like there being a problem with my camera or laptop connections but it was merely a "user error." Once we had determined this at the shop the guy behind the counter chuckled (and spoke excellent English) when he told me that this is one of the main issues that they have people come in the shop for. So many devices use a USB for charging that don't need data transfer capabilities (headphones, for example) that the manufacturers are able to produce cables with 2 less wires in it, save a few cents per unit, and therefore offer them at a lower price.
I was a victim of my own stupidity and hope to prevent others from making the same mistake. The first thing you should do if your device isn't recognized by your computer is spend a few bucks on a USB cable that definitely is for data transfer. I would be willing to bet that in 90% of cases, this is going to sort the problem out immediately.