Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Tech Column: Never Forget Anything Again

by Bill Adler

Behold: The solution to the problem of remembering to take your clothes out of the dryer. Or remembering to move your car before they start ticketing at rush hour. Or remembering to call somebody back in 20 minutes.

The solution is the low-tech but infinitely versatile kitchen timer. For decades, wind-up kitchen timers have saved many a casserole from oblivion. Wind-up mechanical timers are about as far from high tech as you can get, but they have the uncanny ability to work the way you want them to. Mechanical timers aren't as accurate as digital ones, but all you need to do to set it is twist the dial. That's so much easier than pressing the hour button, then then minute button, then the start button -- and oops, did you press reset by mistake? It's refreshing not to have to replace batteries in at least one device.

Wind-up timers shine most brightly when they're used in settings outside of the kitchen: They can be used to time or remind you of just about anything. Have you ever forgotten that you started to fill the bathtub with water? Set the timer for five minutes when you start the bath and you'll never have flood conditions in your bathroom again. Wind-up timers are inexpensive and available in a variety of shapes, colors and designs. There's the retro-looking Progressive International Little Timer, http://amzn.to/zmVCP2, a cow-shaped timer, http://amzn.to/ws3aQe, or the classic 60-minute timer, http://amzn.to/wmdIAl. Some timers have magnetic backs, http://amzn.to/GAYvkh, so you can attach them to your fridge or other metallic surface.

You could you use the timer on your smartphone, but, wait! Is the timer app count down or count up? Will that timer set an alarm for every day or just for now? Will an incoming text message make you prematurely take the chicken out? Sometimes simple tech even beats Steve Jobs.

As for electric kitchen timers: two thumbs down. Pressing multiple buttons in sequence takes too many time-consuming steps when all you want to do set the timer and then check Facebook till dinner is ready.

A timer for every room, is my slogan. By keeping a wind-up timer in every room of your apartment or house, each room becomes a memory-enhancing space. There's only one spot that's not so good for a mechanical timer, and that's right on top of the oven, as you can see from this photo of what happens when you have something baking at 450 degrees in close proximity to plastic for an hour: http://bit.ly/GAG7FO. Yes, this was my timer.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft. He tweets at @billadler.

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