Fireworks, food, and a great little USB hub: Share something wonderful with friends this Independence Day

America's founding fathers might not recognize our modern world, but there's one thing they passed down through the generations: camaraderie and a sense of celebration. This Fourth, we're sharing some memories, a cool tool, and best wishes.

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I've been thinking a lot about a good friend, Steve Amontis, who passed away nearly a decade ago. Many of our long-time readers knew him. He was an IT guy and avid gamer who wrote for some of the early online tech mags.

Steve used to glory in grilling up a feast for friends and setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July. As we approach Independence Day, I've been thinking about the sheer joy he used to have in the sometimes ill-advised bangs, booms, pops, and flairs of the holiday. One time, I remember, he lit a firework, stared thoughtfully at it, and suddenly dived into the nearby bushes, apparently convinced it was about to blow up. Good times. Good times.

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Steve also used to love finding neat gadgets, tools, and solutions, and then sharing his discoveries with his friends. It didn't matter how big or small the product was that he found. What mattered was whether it could do something really well, was really cool, or could be really helpful.

He passed along that joy of shared gadget discovery to me. It's one of the reasons I love doing this column. I get to share cool stuff I find, learn, and discover with you. Often, we'll look at big things. But sometimes, like today, I get to share with you something that's not a headline maker: a simple USB hub.

We've all used countless USB hubs, so why is this one worthy of any virtual column ink? The answer is simple: it does a few things really well.

A very nice USB hub

usb-hub-zdnet.jpg

Image: Cateck

I bought the Cateck USB 3.0 6-Port Aluminum Hub with 2-Slot Card Reader Combo for $36.99 back in December and have used it every day on my main machine, my aging iMac. As with many accessories I purchase, I wanted to speed up my work flow and solve some simple problems.

Those you who don't have an iMac may not realize that it comes quite well equipped with ports. It has four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an SD card slot, and even a headphone jack.

Unfortunately, even with this cornucopia of connection options, I needed more. From a pure ergonomics point of view, the fact that all these ports were on the back of the machine (Apple once again putting form over function) made plugging and unplugging things an exercise in reach-around frustration.

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Doing both video production and 3D printing, I was also constantly trying to insert very delicate memory cards into the back of the machine by feel. The iMac doesn't natively handle MicroSD cards, so to read and write to these cards, I had to first fumble and fiddle with getting them into a microSD to SD adapter, basically a full-sized card with a slot for the itsy-bitsy MicroSD card.

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My big hands do not do well with cards smaller than my pinkie nail.

The other problem with the iMac is that I use more USB 3.0 devices than the machine has ports. I have an Elgato Stream Deck, a SpaceMouse 3D mouse, my entire audio mixing console, an iPad, iPhone, a Blue Yeti mic and more.

I definitely needed more USB ports, but they had to be powered. Many USB hubs will give you more ports, but they power those ports from the USB connection they use to attach to the computer. I needed separate dedicated power.

None of this was a world-beater problem, but it was annoying. I set out to look for a USB hub that would give me more ports, accept both an SD card and a MicroSD card, and provide its own power.

There were a number of choices, but the one I settled on was the aforementioned Cateck hub. I liked that it was angled for easy access and that the MicroSD slot was something my stubby fingers could get to without other connectors being in the way.

The Cateck hub comes in black and white. I bought the black but I'm showing a picture of the white hub because you can see the connections better in the white image.

It was a great discovery. Ever since I plugged it in, it's worked. It's simple, relatively inexpensive, and does the job well. It's just the sort of neat, moderately obscure discovery that Steve would have loved sharing with his friends. And so, in memory of my buddy on fireworks day, I'm sharing this simple little discovery with you.

Celebrate with friends, food, and fun

For those of you outside the US, we have a tradition I'd like to invite you to share. Fireworks may not be the smartest things to set off in your backyard, but going out and grilling great food and spending time with friends is something you can all do.

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Whether you're celebrating the independence of the United States of America or a day with a pretty blue sky somewhere else in the world, go out there, grill something satisfying, and, if you feel the urge, raise a toast to my buddy Steve and all those who love neat gadgets and cool tools.

If you have something cool you want to share with your virtual friends here on ZDNet, you're also welcome to do so in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.