In my previous column, “Making Ice Cream with Liquid Nitrogen,” I regaled you with taste-bud tempting treats of a cryogenic confectionary character. As an aside, I’m sure you are familiar with the phrase, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” but do you have any idea from when and whence this little scamp originated? In fact, this was one of a series of comic novelty songs from the 1920s that were set in pseudo-exotic locations. The verses of Ice Cream talk of a fictional college in “the land of ice and snow, up among the Eskimo”, the college cheer being the chorus of the song “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream.” Here’s a recording of Ice Cream performed by popular American band Waring’s Pennsylvanians circa 1925. The reason I mention this here is that my mom told me that when she was a kid during the latter part of WWII, the only record she had was a copy of Ice Cream (see also Part 1 and Part 2 of “The Times They Are a-Changin’”).
Magnetic cable connects to tip plugged into device.
But none of this is what I wanted to tell you about. While Rick was here, I noticed an unfamiliar dinky doodad plugged into the power/data port on his Android smartphone (what would be the lightning connector port on an iPhone). When I queried Rick about this, he informed me that — on a recent trip to the beach — his phone, his wife’s phone, and a couple of other gadgets were plugged into a multi-way USB power block. At some stage, one of them (name withheld to protect the innocent) inadvertently tripped over a cable and caused everything to crash to the floor. Rick noted that they considered themselves lucky that they hadn’t snapped the connecters off the cables at the points where they entered their various gizmos. Following this incident, Rick located some mega-cool magnetic USB adapters on eBay. These are great; you can get tips for Micro USB (as used by Android), Lightning (as used by Apple’s iOS devices), and USB Type-C (as used by everything… one day).
Magnetic cable with three possible tip types.
You plug the relevant tip into your device and leave it there. The side of the tip presented to the outside world has a set of electrical connectors and is magnetized. You also need to purchase a special cable, which has a regular USB-A connector on one end (to plug into your power supply), and a magnetic connector on the other (to connect to the tip plugged into your device). The cable is common to all three tip types. One important point to note is that you typically have to purchase the cable separately. Another potential “gotcha” is to ensure that your tip(s) and cable(s) come from the same manufacturer, otherwise they are unlikely to work well together. Also, one last point is to make sure that your tips and connectors support both power and data (I’m not sure, but my impression is that some offerings are power-only). I think this is a brilliant idea. If you happen to drop your device while charging, the worst that can happen is that the magnetic coupling disengages, as opposed to a regular cable where you have a chance of snapping the end of your connector off in your device. Apart from anything else, leaving the tip plugged into your device prevents dust and moisture getting in. As an added benefit, this also cuts down on the wear and tear associated with repeatedly connecting and disconnecting a regular cable. Rick kindly supplied two eBay links: the first takes you to the tip page, where Android tips are $0.99 apiece, Lightning tips are $1.45, and USB Type-C tips are $1.59; the second takes you to the corresponding cable page, where you can select between silver, gold, rose gold, and black versions, each costing only $2.89. Oh yes, shipping is free, although you will have to wait a couple of weeks (you can purchase equivalents locally that will arrive faster, but these will cost a lot more). I just ordered ten Lightning tips and six cables, which should cover yours truly, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous), and my son (Joseph). Unfortunately, I was so excited that I ordered six silver cables — if I’d thought to use the “Add to Cart” button, I could have ordered four silver cables for me, a black one for Joseph, and a rose gold version for Gina, thereby circumnavigating the “Is that my cable” questions that are bound to ensue.
Underside of Countdown Timer (the Teensy 3.6 is on the left)
But wait, there’s one more thing… I may have mentioned my Countdown Timer project on occasion (I try not to talk about it, but it may have slipped out). As part of this, I’m using a Teensy 3.6 processor, which is mounted on a stack of header pins to allow it to clear the connectors on the cables I’m using to drive the Lixie displays. The Teensy is powered from the main supply. When I’m programming it, however, the data connection is provided via its on-board Micro USB socket. Whenever I plug the regular USB cable into this socket, I have to support the Teensy to prevent it from pulling out of the headers. Thus, I also ordered one of the magnetic Micro USB tips, which I will leave plugged into the Teensy. I tell you; if I was any happier there would need to be two of me to contain all the excitement. How about you, have you seen (or used) these magnetic adapters at all? If so, do you have any thoughts you’d care to share? If not, do you think you could be tempted?