Despite my love of the latest gadgets, I do have a soft spot for old mechanical contraptions such as typewriters, trams, cars and, of course, steam engines. So I am grateful to Engadget for news of the latest development in USB-charging power. An enterprising mechanic has harnessed a small steam engine to a generator in order to produce enough power to charge and run any device that can take a USB feed–including our beloved iPhone. Now this is much more fun than simply plugging the thing into the wall socket. It makes a lovely noise and you really get all the visual and audible clues that your device is being charged.
As Engadget says, this could be yet another example steampunk. There has been a recent revival in the construction of fantasy machines which look like Victorian science fiction but often contain modern equipment. An example would be a Mac Mini hidden inside a fantastic re-creation of Charles Babbage's difference engine.
I rather fancy a replica of Stephenson's Rocket in my garage, powered up to provide light and heat. What a wonderful concept! Come to think of it, that steam USB charger isn't as daft as it sounds. All you need is a drop of paraffin and you have enough power to charge a phone. When all else fails, this could be the answer.