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October 14, 2011

The Best Inventions of All Time, according to me

by Barbara O'Neal

In the days since Steve Jobs died, I have been thinking a lot about the impact of his brain on my own personal life. It’s big, I gotta tell you.  Originally, I was resistant to the lure of the Apple Man, but he seduced me with a tiny gadget, the Shuffle.  What walker could resist a machine the size of a half dollar that could be loaded with hundreds of her favorite songs and clipped to her collar?  Not this one, that’s for sure. 

It was the gateway drug.  A Shuffle led to a Nano, so I could mix up the playlists a bit. Then an iPhone, because who could resist a whole computer in your pocket?  And it was such a dream machine that I fell to a Mac for my desktop, this enormous, HD lovely screen and no clunky beige box to have to find a place for; and then….hey-sanna, ho-sanna, sanna-sanna, hey: the iPad.

This all started me thinking about great inventions, and which ones matter the most to me, personally.  This is my list. 

CamelBak hydration systems.  For the uninitiated, this is basically a backpack with a water 5715092288_b1a965c80b_z bladder inside, attached to a tube from which you drink.

This is the first thing on my list because I live in Colorado and it is DRY here. Before the invention of Camelbaks, a long hike required a silly number of water bottles in the backpack, and one always had to carry a bottle in the hand, which leaves only one hand free in case you need to scramble, and you may not know this, but even the weight of a 10-oz water bottle is annoying on the elbows after a few hours.  You feel it, the repetitive bend and fall.  Along came Camelbaks, in a zillion sizes, and hikers round the world rejoiced.  I have many sizes—a big pack for days on the trail, smaller ones for short hikes around town with friends.  The best part is filling the bladder about a quarter of the way full the night before and tucking it into the freezer.  Top it off in the morning with water, et voila! Ice cold water the whole day. 

This technology has morphed into a lot of things, but my heart-stopping moment was the day in maybe 1988 or ’89 when my father, a gadget geek from way back, invited me and my boys to come over to his house to see his new toy: Prodigy, the online service.  He gleefully typed in his information, and the computer made those little noises that later became so familiar to us.  My other said, “The computers are talking to each other!” and a chill ran down my spine.  The world blew open for me in that moment, and even though it was years before the rank and file had access to the Internet the way we do now, the road started for me there, in that dark office, with two modems talking to each other.


4439530234_c33f3d7d4b_zPizza cutter
I know.  Silly.  Unless you’ve baked 90 billion pizzas for 6 hungry boys and had to struggle with cutting them with a stupid knife.  My list, so I’m adding it.



Electric kettle
It used to be hard to find them in the US, so my first encounter with them was in England. Now, as I 6208103848_5a1c6ed1fd_z have mentioned before, I am a serious tea drinker, and I will not heat water for tea in the microwave because it loses temperature too quickly, so I always had to turn on the stove to heat water for tea.  Entirely inefficient. I love, love, love my electric kettle.  (This photo, thanks to Flickr, is from Ben Templesmith, who titled it, "Behold America. And electric kettle. You push a button and it BOILS WATER. #rarethingsintheusa. I can now work late nights thanks to this brilliant invention.


I’m torn on this one, honestly, because I am an iPhone addict, too.  My phone has a camera that takes amazing photos, which the iPad doesn’t do.But I love my iPad insanely. We are best friends. We go everywhere together, upstairs, downstairs, to the local coffee shop, on planes and in hotel rooms. It’s my own personal programmable TV, loaded with all my favorite stuff, historical dramas mostly, and some teen shows like Felicity.  It’s my food & exercise diary and my bank, and with the addition of the teeny external keyboard, my writing computer, too. I can curl up in my chair and be anywhere in the world and I can do it with my fingers and not stupid mouse. 


Other inventions
I asked my beloved, Christopher Robin, what his favorite inventions are. His answers:  microwave ovens, which saved him because he can’t cook, and 24/7 stores, which amazed and delighted him, coming as he does from a country where the shops closed at 4, and noon on Wednesday.  “If one needs paper hankies at two o’clock in the morning,” he said, “one can buy them.”  (What I think in reaction to that is, yes, but you have to get up and get dressed and drive to the store and buy them.  But to each his own.)

How about you? What are a few of your favorite inventions? 





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Hi Barbara. Love this.

My technology moment was the first time I saw an electric stove. No flame. How could it cook?

When we lived at my great-grandmother's cottage, my father moved the hand pump indoors one spring. Hooked it up to the sink.nIndoor toilet, too. That was a huge deal in the New England winters.

But the Mac is my favorite. All stuff Mac. Good-bye Steve Jobs. iSad.

I have many many many food prep related inventions which I love, but I'd have to say my favorite one is the food processor. The chop, slice, slice, puree, crumbs, grate all can be done with a knife or other hand tool, but when large quantities are needed there's nothing like this time saving machine.

Electronic sewing machines: I love my Viking. Of course I'd love a D1 even more, but my D2 is what I could afford. Little scissor man I heart you.

And lets give a shout out to all those late 19th century inventors who brought us power and light without which we wouldn't be in this discussion today.

The Mac. Scrivener. DVD's. TCM.

And pizza. That covers me...:)

I remember my first computer as if it were a miracle--a "portable" KayPro (1982! and it weighed a TON) which changed my life as a writer.

Wireless internet. Because I'm addicted. And it saved my sanity on 9/11.

And I agree with your beloved on the microwave. Defrosting was my downfall as a homemaker.

Skype, because my grandchildren are far away. It's a miracle.

I'm going to think about this more in the shower!


And the ipod.

And the thinning process for glasses, which is why I am not wearing coke bottle bottom lenses

Oh, good one, Barbara! ATM'S! Getting money any time you want..a good thing.

Overnight mail. HAs saved the day many-a-time.

Dare I say email??

Lancome undereye concealer. Nuff said.

A round floppy plastic thing, that looks like a flat frisbee, that's cover for plates and bowls when you put them in the microwave. It's flexible, so it fits on anything, but it doesn't seal.

Ice maker.

(And back in the day, faxes. Magic.)

Air conditioning becoming a standard in cars. I remember the vacations with a car full of kids and the windows rolled down.
Computers a gift to the massess.
Microwaves, no need to heat the house in the summer cooking. Just throw it in the microwave.
Atms and debit cards, no need to carry cash.
Enjoyed reading your blog.

My Kindle. I never thought I'd ever read books on an electronic device but I love, love, LOVE the Kindle. My bookshelves overfloweth so now I can continue feeding my habit without sinking the house into the harbor.

My first laptop. Yes, of course, the home computer revolutionized my life and writing career. The laptop kicked it up a thousand notches. Coupled with the Internet, it allowed me to be mobile.

The VCR. Record and watch shows back whenever. Genius!

The . . . oh wait. Let's keep it G-rated.

Prescription strength ibuprofen. Also codeine. On my way to get an emergency root canal (is there any other kind?) and someone would have died during the night if not for better living through chemicals. The victim may or may not have been me. Just saying.

MacBook Air. So light I stick it in my purse, and I carry a medium-small purse. I love it so much I rarely use my desktop. I'm completely in love with it. I saw Tasha Alexander with one at some convention years ago and promised myself that one day it would be mine. (I didn't steal Tasha's, I bought my own.)

And yes, my iPod. I actually used to record my favorite songs onto cassette tapes so I could go running listening to music I loved on my Walkman. Who even remembers Walkmans anymore?

Steve Jobs, God bless you. I expect Saint Peter and all the gang at the pearly gates are up there enjoying their iPads, iPods, iMacs . . . Barbara, I see we are soul-sisters.

I was an early Prodigy adopter, too. Which was a miracle after the local system of one line at a time on the green monitor, sending thoughts out into the ether and not having anyone who could show me how to access others' thoughts!

Truly, the Web, more than the Internet, has made such a difference in our lives. Once Jobs invented/introduced the GUI, we all were able to access amazing amounts of information and relationships. Without it, none of us would ever have known one another, for instance.

When my daughter was at the Citadel they issued Camelbaks to each of the incoming "knobs", or freshmen. It gets freakishly hot in August in Charleston, and those babies saved more than one kid's life, I'm sure. Holly, especially, since she used to be prone to sunstroke. I like the idea of freezing it beforehand!

Another amazing invention is the hearing aid. Have you seen how tiny they are nowadays? My best friend has had declining hearing for years, and now she can enjoy our beloved symphony concerts again. It makes me tear up, truly.

My favorite new technology is the touch screen. My computer is basically just a big touch screen monitor, and my phone and Color Nook also use them. Amazing.

Mobile phones. As someone who grew up with one phone in the house, which one had to sit on the stairs landing to use, this is remarkable. Last summer we traveled across the US, and while we were driving in the middle of nowhere the non-driver could access the Web wirelessly. So cool.

I memory of Steve, I will stick to inventions in his lifetime.

Kevlar - All of our soldiers wear body armor every day in combat. Most of them get to come home from combat, some of them do because of Kevlar. So do some police officers.

The original Mac - Even if you have never turned one on, you love the Mac. Without it, starting Microsoft Word would look something like this:
cd: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office14\

and the graphical user interface would be sitting on a shelf in Menlo Park.

Micro computer controllers - The little computers that make cars generate more power on less fuel with cleaner air; lights go on when they are needed; turn on AC and heat according to their needs and all of the other little things that, just happen. Many of those little guys run some form on Linux.

Pheresis - The process of separating platelets from whole blood. If you know someone who has had chemotherapy or an organ transplant, you know someone who is alive today because of pheresis.

BTW, that is not a pizza cutter, this is a pizza cutter:

That is not a Domino's pizza cutter, that is a hand built cutter my brother made for me.

To co-opt Mick Dundee's line -- "Now that's a pizza cutter"

I love the technology behind reloadable bus cards for public transportation. It speeds things up and you don't have to worry about the exact change thing.

Alan, my best friend's husband's family had a chain of plasmapheresis centers. It's a very cool, and win-win-win way of using something we all have to benefit others.

Win #1: Individual sells their platelets
Win #2: Pheresis centers sell the platelets to pharmaceutical companies
Win #3: Big Pharm created the drugs that save lives

Also, did you know that plasma was one of the key ingredients in insect repellent products, at least the effective ones?

Love my iPhone and iPad, so I'll ditto those.

And add my Keurig. Love it so much I bought one to take to San Pedro, where it was the hit of the island. ;-)

Lightweight laptops, food processor, microwave, bamboo back scratcher for that perpetually itchy spot on my shoulder blade, and scissors. (They work better than a tradition pizza cutter, Barbara.)

My goodness there are so many things :-)

1. iPhone and my MAC!!
2. Learning toys for young children (they never had those kinds of toys when we were kids)
3. e-mail!!!! :-)
4. Internet...period
5. Skype


I replied earlier, but think I forgot to clear the robot. So...ATMs, yes. Such an easy thing.

Karen, I'm with you on hearing aids. Miraculously small. They've made a big difference for my father.

Wow, Alan, that IS a pizza cutter!

And hugs to Kathy. Modern dentistry is certainly something to celebrate.

I heart my iPod shuffle. Proud Mac user since 1989!!

Digital cameras. Go on vacation, take 500 photos, one memory card, awesome.

Lasik eye surgery. I bow to whoever invented that!

Social media websites, how could I know how you all were doing all over the world without it!

With you on the 'computers are talking to each other' moment, Barbara!!

When I think of those sudden-intake-of-breath moments, I think one of them for me was seeing my first Polaroid picture bloom into view. That's sort of technology, yes?

Then, the first non-IBM word processor . . . clunky as the 'Eagle' PC was in 1982, it was still a revolution for the media company where I worked.

But, although I've not yet managed to get a toe into the Apple waters, I must say that the camera in my Android phone was and continues to be a revelation of versatility and remarkable results.

Oh, yeah--maybe nobody else was a travel geek like me, but the first time I sailed into LAX, avoided many long lines, and checked in and upgraded my seat by merely inserting my United card into a little monitor? So cool. Of course, my affection for United and for air travel in general has cooled a lot in the succeeding years, but it was lovely for a brief moment there.

Alan, I now have pizza-cutter envy, even though I can't eat wheat, seldom eat dairy, and rarely have even gluten-free pizza. That tool just makes it all seem so POSSIBLE! Nice brother you've got!

1: Sleep number beds
2: DVR
3: Once a month flea & tick treatment for dogs & cats
4: Digital cameras
5: Prostate shrinking drugs
6: Ebook readers
7: Motion pictures
8: Premium quality ice cream
9: Electric cars
10: The Internet

Cars that can make 5000 mile trips without blowouts, vapor lock, or geysers of steam coming out of the hood.

Jumbo jets, despite the hassles it's still the best way to see the planet.

Portable music players starting with the Walkman to the latest i-whatever.

Small, affordable home espresso makers. Just saying' :)

I still have my first Walkman. Can't make myself throw it away. It's in the same drawer where I put it the day I got my first iPod. That's the iPod I charge every day when my iPhone isn't charging. That's the iPhone I use instead of my old iPod. That will go in the drawer soon, too. The kids laugh and call it my museum drawer. The grandkids don't laugh. They ask to visit my museum drawer.

Oh yes, Doc. Flea preventatives. I remember the days before them and wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy. It seemed like no matter what you did...hours of flea combing, flea powder, flea collars, harsh dips, foggers, insect growth regulators...you still ended up with infestations.

Nothing comes close to wonder of being able to be close to an animal and come away flea free.

At this time I love my color Nook and my laptop.
Life is good.

I love my Kindle. I love books, holding them, smelling them, but I LOVE my Kindle.

Thumb drives, flash drives, jump drives - call it what you like - that little thing that fits on a key chain and has more storage space than my first computer.

Similar to your pizza cutter, the rotary cutter used in quilting. Until the 80s, quilters used cardboard or plastic templates to trace shapes on fabric, then cut them out with scissors. It could take 20 hours to cut out the pieces of a quilt. Now we use acrylic rulers, self healing mats, and razor-bladed "pizza" cutters and cut the same shapes in 2 hours.

My iPod is my lifeline and I wouldn't go back to CDs for anything, but the CD was a pretty fantastic invention, too. Records weren't portable, so along came tapes. With tapes, though, you couldn't play your favorite song and skip the rest. Well, you could, but it took a while and it eventually destroyed the tape. Same thing with DVD's vs. VHS.

When we got Dish I wasn't terribly interested in the DVR. I can't imaging television without it now. I can record shows without tinkering for hours or missing them when they change date or time. I can skip the commercials. Best of all, if I'm watching a show in real time and the phone rings, I can pause it so I don't miss anything. Can't understand what someone says? Back up and listen again.

Digital cameras - the pure convenience of snapping 87 photos and sifting through to find the perfect shot is unbeatable.

Scoopable cat litter. And post it notes. And Tupperware.

Oh, yes, Sandi, the first time I saw a tiny little flash drive (and the friend who gave it to me loaded an entire 1400 page manuscript into it in seconds for me), was a big 'oh, my world has changed' moment. Thanks for reminding me.

Oh, yes, Polaroids were pretty fantastic, Laraine! And I love planes, and everything that makes that easier, too. The self-checkin is terrific and saves a ton of time.

Sandi, ow, thinking of all that cutting! My hands winced on your behalf.

And I love Postits, and tiny flash drives, and digital cameras, too. So EASY!

I love my Kindle. I can afford to buy more books with it and I don't have to worry about trying to squeeze still more books on my bookshelves and it also makes it less likely that I will be crushed to death by piles of books crashing to the floor. I know I'm not the first person to rave about the Kindle today. See what an important invention it is? I also often read TLC on it and am writing this response on it.

My Sunbeam Hotshot, which is my version of an electric kettle. I don't see too many of them anymore. You can heat up to two cups of water in it. I use it for tea, hot chocolate, and even to brew just one cup or mug of fresh coffee. For coffee, I then pour the hot water through a filtered cone of fresh grounds. No need to brew up an entire pot of coffee.

And that little thingie that pulls the hull out of fresh strawberries. LOVE it!

Oh Deb, that strawberry tingy, yeah.

1, auto mobile " gotta go places" bike, plain train..
2, television, gotta have entertainment" Radio
3, cell phones "gotta connect n talk"
4, sewing machine. "gotta dress up"
5, flushing toilet. "ur shit might stinks"
6, watch. "Gotta know the time"
7, camera. "gotta catch that moment"
8, light bulb. "gotta ...." see her. Lol
9, cooking stove, "gotta eat" Microwave? Lazy asses. Lol learn how to cook. Impress her or him
10, Kama sutra, "enough said" amen

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