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The solution to a very specific problem.

02 December 201808:27AMsg-2018travel

Grace had waved me off from her spot by the pool with the same air as a parent depositing their spawn at the arcade for the afternoon, and that was probably for the best.

"Alright, well, have fun."

While I would have loved to share this experience with her, I have a feeling she'd have found it frustrating after much less time than I needed.

I was going to Sim Lim Square.

Sim Lim Square is bewildering warren of tightly packed electronics merchants, selling everything you can imagine, and quite a few things you can't. It's not a place you necessarily go for the price, or the quantity, or the quality. Or even, really, for the experience. It's a place you go for specificity. It's six floors of solutions to problems you never even knew you could have - but obviously someone does, or this very specific item wouldn't be for sale.

There's this thing, which seems to be a strip of LEDs, inside a transparent case, powered by a USB port. Who needs this? And why?

Or these things - fans that draw power from the charging port on your phone. Who could possibly want this? What is their story?

Or this! It's a lanyard, and a measuring tape, and a phone charging cable, all in one. Which may just be the most useful useless item I've ever seen.

It's this fascinating look at supply and demand. Obviously there's some kind of demand for these products, or they wouldn't exist. I can see the supply, the end product in front of me. The demand must be out there somewhere - I just cannot possibly imagine what it is.

The truth is, we may never know.

What I can do is share the problems I took to this smorgasbord of specificity, and perhaps alleviate the bewilderment of some future traveller.

A cable, another cable, and a box containing two plastic widgets

I'd only taken carry-on, so I had to limit myself to what I could stuff between clothes. Which meant that, no matter how much I wanted one, I wasn't going to be buying the five-metre-long HDMI cable I needed. These are solutions to much smaller problems. So, from left to right, we have:

  1. A headphone extension cable, to fit any smartphone. What makes this one different is that it extends not just the output lines, but the input line as well - which means it'll work with my microphones. I could have found this on eBay... maybe. But there was no guarantee that the one I ordered online would have the extra microphone line. In fact, most of the ones I tested didn't - but this one did.
  2. A micro-USB 3.0 Y-cable. I have a Raspberry Pi under my desk, which is basically a tiny computer powered by a phone charger. I have it connected to a hard disk, which is where my files live, and the Pi makes them available over the network. Unfortunately, the Pi can't supply enough power to run my new hard disk on its own. This cable lets me connect the power line of that disk to another source, while still having the data lines connected to the Pi.
  3. Capacitative shoulder buttons. I gotta admit, I bought these on a whim, but they work surprisingly well. They basically let you put buttons on the top of your device that touch a specific point of the screen when you click them. I've been experimenting a bit with streaming games to my phone, and these might make that experience a little bit more ergonomically friendly.

For 99% of problems, you'll have to prise my eBay account from my cold, dead hands. But if you need to test a thing, or find a thing, or discover a thing, then a terrifying neon rabbit warren is hard to beat.

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