Corduroy Mansions and other sundries

Over the months I have come across little items which I would have liked to mention but which won’t make a complete column.

Corduroy Mansions

The first thing that caught my eye is an online novel, which is being produced in daily instalments beginning just over a week ago, and going on for the next 19 weeks. I mightn’t have paid much attention except that the novel is being written by no less a person than Alexander McCall Smith, who is also responsible for the brilliant No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Anyone who hasn’t read those gentle gems should get on down to the library and catch up on the adventures of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first lady private eye. Anyway, back to McCall Smith’ latest project, in which he sets out to chronicle the doings of the inhabitants of Corduroy Mansions, a undistinguished building in Pimlico in London, which an architectural guide to the area describes as being of “no interest whatsoever”.

Readers can comment on each 1000-word chapter as it appears on the web and the author has promised to take readers’ plot and character suggestions into account as he writes future episodes. You can read the book online, receive it by e-mail, download it in podcast format, or you can even listen to it read by Andrew Sachs; he of the “my name is Manuel, I come from Barcelona and I know nothing” fame.

Jack Kilby

How many people on September 12, I wonder, gave a thought to a rather clever fellow called Jack Kilby who, on that day in 1958, successfully demonstrated the integrated circuit he had invented. Talk about inventions that changed the world; you’d be hard pressed to find any technological products these days which do not incorporate any of those wonder devices.

The major problem facing the electronics industry at the time was the so-called tyranny of numbers because electronic circuits, with thousands of components, were very difficult and thus very expensive, to connect together. Kilby was a new employee at Texas Instruments and, not being eligible for summer leave, turned his mind to solving the problem.

His breakthrough came when he realised that the components of an electrical circuit can be made in one piece out of semiconductor material, with all the connections already in place. Kilby was to win the Nobel prize for Physics in 2000 for his invention and would also be credited with the invention of portable electronic calculators and thermal printing.

Tevo shoX

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing with a little portable speaker system called the Tevo shoX which looks like a black golf ball and which can be used to listen to any device which has one of those mini-headphone jacks. I suppose that the prime use for it would be with audio players which only come with earphones, but it can also be connected to most cellphones with an optional cable.

I broke out my SANSA Clip music player to give the speaker a test run and it sounded a bit tinny to my ear until I realised that you have to twist the sides of the speaker in opposite directions until it unlocks and extends with a concertina section in the middle. It only adds a centimetre or so of height to the unit, but it improves the sound enormously.

The unit is small enough to make it feasible to carry it about in a pocket or suitable sock until its needed. It comes with a neat little retractable cable that will connect the speaker to a sound source and to a computer, via a USB plug, which recharges its on-board battery. The shoX is apparently available from major retailers for around R200 and the optional cellphone cables are around R40 a throw.

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