Opinion: Inventions of necessity?


Commentary by Ward Degler

My wife likes to say, “The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.”

Guilty. I’m a guy, so I just naturally like gizmos, gadgets and doodads, with an occasional thingamabob thrown in for good measure.

For openers, I like desktop inventions. You know, things designed to keep you from working. Newton cradles, for instance. They are both hypnotic and useless, and guys love them.

The floating globe is another. The steel ball rotates endlessly between powerful magnets. A kid in my eighth-grade class built a rotor that spun between two wire-wrapped rods. A simple electric motor, but it kept us hypnotized for hours.

As a woodworker, I’m intrigued by gadgets that will help me do a better job of whatever it is I’m doing. I’m particularly vulnerable to safety devices. And, I use them. Table saw and router attachments likewise capture my imagination. I use some of them.

Some inventions sweep down on us from the rarified air of inventors’ workshops, carry us away for a time and then vanish. The hula hoop comes to mind. Likewise, the bottle cutter. And who can forget the macramé rage? For a while, there wasn’t a house in the nation that didn’t have a garden hanging from the ceiling.

Some devices are both stupid and dangerous. The car desk, for instance. It attaches to your steering wheel so you can work while you drive. Seriously?

Some inventors have way too much time on their hands. They invent things like the walking sleeping bag; a sleeping bag with legs so you can move from tent to tent without leaving the comfort of your bed.

For people who lose the TV remote, there is a remote-control couch pillow. Hold it on your lap and punch in your favorite program. Or accidentally lie down on it and wonder how the heck you got the medical school’s autopsy channel.

The butter stick – butter your toast the same way you apply Chapstick. For some reason it never caught on. Neither did the smart hairbrush. I guess folks didn’t want a voice report on the health of their hair right after getting out of the shower.

Still, there are inventions that I love for their absurd creativity. A DVD re-winder is one. Invite guests in for a movie, and afterward pop the disk into the machine. Tell guests you hate it when someone fails to re-wind a movie after watching it. They’ll get it when they are halfway home.

My all-time favorite, though, is the latest upgrade to the Pet Rock. This one comes with a USB cord.


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