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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

New Yearís Non-Resolutions

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
It gets tiresome listing all the things you want to change about yourself but know in your heart youíre bound to fail. Again. Like you do every year. My resolutions were getting too elastic anyway. I kept resolving to not get hysterical every time I got lost while driving somewhere new, and then I loosened it to blaming Map Quest and then loosened it further to shrieking at my new GPS because it didnít know left from right. Whatís the point of making these resolutions?

Instead of doing that this year, Iím going to thank the unsung heroes who invented things that will continue to make life easier for yet another year.

The Whistling Tea Kettle
Since I tend to be absent-minded when concentrating on a topic to write about, or if Iím on a phone call, or if I find myself deliriously embedded on the Internet researching a story, I wouldíve burned the house down years ago, if not for that shrill whistle, alerting me to water reaching the boiling stage. So I consider English inventor Sholom Borgelman (changed to Borman) a hero for inventing the whistling tea kettle in London just after World War I.

Antifreeze
I can remember my dad starting up our old Buick for at least ten wintery minutes before a trip, so the engine would cooperate. Then along came a miraculous thing called antifreeze, which keeps the engine warm in winter and cool in summer. I canít get over that. Dad mustíve been a tad behind the times though, since I just found out that antifreeze was first prepared, and called ethylene glycol, in 1859 (the family Buick wasnít quite that old) by a French chemist named Charles Adolphe Wurtz.

Ball Point Pens
Believe it or not, there was a time between the quill and the crayon where a dark liquid called ďinkĒ was sucked into a fountain pen so your ancestors could write a letter on something called ďpaperĒ. This method considerably predates texting and was much easier on the eyes. (Ink was also used to dip the long hair of the schoolgirl sitting in front of you into the inkwell on your desk.) Then came the ballpoint pen, not nearly as much fun but way neater. It took more effort to stain your shirt with a ballpoint pen than it did with a fountain pen, but thatís o.k. because the ballpoint pen lasted longer and you didnít have to carry a bottle of ink all over town in case someone asked you for your autograph or something. The first day ball points went on sale in the United States, they were guaranteed to write for two years without refilling, and were instantly sold out at a cost of $12.50 each. The inventor of this time-saver was, technically, American John Loud back in 1888. Well, heís the one who patented the idea but couldnít make it practical. In 1935, it took Hungarian brothers Ladislas and Georg Biro, plus the president of Argentina, to get the ball rolling again. Eberhard Faber paid the Biros half a million for the rights, later selling them to Eversharp. Chicago businessman, Milton Reynolds ran with the ball over the finish line.

Windshield Wipers
You probably think they always came on cars, but they didnít. In fact, some taxis today, at least in Mexico, have them but they donít work and when it rains, the cabbie has to hang out the driverís window and swipe at the windshield with a greasy rag. So next time youíre driving in the rain, say thanks to a lady from Alabama, Mary Anderson, who invented and patented the windshield wiper in 1905. I only wish they put one on each of the side view mirrors.

Kevlar
Stephanie Kwolek of Pennsylvania has saved the lives of countless police officers wearing bulletproof vests made of her invention, Kevlar. Perhaps she saved your life, too, since Kevlar is used in brake linings, parachutes, skis, and boats. And, without his Kevlar vest, Jack Bauer wouldíve been killed in Series 1 of 24, instead of lasting all the way through Series 8. Not only that, but America as well as the rest of the world would have been blown up by evil-eyed villains. Weíd all be pushing up daisies, had Jack not worn his Kevlar vest, five times stronger than steel, for protection. While some people might prefer Superman, Man of Steel, Iíll take Jack Bauer, Man of Kevlar.

So, instead of elastic New Yearís resolutions, I offer the following thanks to Sholom for the whistle that may keep my house from burning down, Charlie for the car that starts in winter, John for the pen I write with, Mary for letting me see through the rain, and Stephanie for the life of Jack Bauer.

Happy New Year!


© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
December 29, 2010 column
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