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Innovation is Fun!

Technology is a frightening, fascinating, fabulous thing. It has created some of the most amazing, horrible, convenient and silly things imaginable.

If you look for a list of the “greatest” or “most significant” tech breakthroughs, you’ll quickly find that the majority of curated lists will focus on just the last few years, as there have been so many, and they are so wildly differing that it’s hard to pluck a handful and say “these are the most important.”

Surely when we look at history at this moment, we’d have to say that refrigeration, indoor plumbing, splitting the atom and the internal combustion engine would make most people’s list of 50, maybe even 10 of the “biggest” of all time. Air travel? The cell phone. The Internet. But then there are the little ones, like the ball-point pen, glue, and matches.

Two things about technological innovation that are significant to me are first, the unexpected turns a single innovation will take – leading to things never dreamed of by the original innovator. Second, how often an engineer will look at a problem and solve it in a completely unexpected way – often, backwards from the more conventional thinker’s approach.

When we enter into “discussions” of problems confronting mankind, our tendency is to see the scary and the awful, or limit our vision to what the one item can do without considering where our endless imagination and chance discovery might take us, once up on the shoulders of a previous invention or technological breakthrough.

That said, I stumbled across two things recently that are as different as possible, and yet each in its own way offers a promise of a simpler, healthier life. And, with a chuckle, I present:

Air Fryer

I’ll start with the Air Fryer, as it’s not exactly new, but is becoming more affordable and therefore visible in stores. Always searching for a way to make food tasty yet more healthful (and less fattening), when an ad for a reasonably priced ($69) air fryer popped up somewhere in my travels on the Internet, I was intrigued.

As Wikipedia explains, an air fryer is a scaled down version of a convection oven, and a heat source that rivals the very hot oil required for conventional frying. It works by using very hot air as opposed to very hot oil (or water).

“A mechanical fan circulates the hot air around the food at high speed, cooking the food and producing a crispy layer via browning reactions of two kinds. In caramelization, sugars break down and chemically transform into complex brown-colored substances, while in the Maillard reaction, typically seen where meat is roasted or stir-fried, the carbohydrates/sugars and proteins in a food react with each other to form Schiff bases, which then form other flavorful compounds, including brown ring compound containing one or more nitrogen atoms in the ring, such as pyrazines and pyridines. The Maillard reaction requires temperatures of between 280-330 degrees F, while caramelization temperatures depend on the sugar being caramelized and range from 230-360 degrees F.” (Wikipedia)

All of which is to say, it takes very high temperatures to get that flavorful goodness out of most of the foods that we enjoy so much when they’re fried. And, needless to say, aside from being fattening from adding all the oil used in frying, it’s a pain to clean up after cooking that way. The air fryer —now that I’ve tested it and can say that it really does work— solves the problem by circulating very high temperatures around the food, cooking it and creating the chemical reactions that make the tasty fries and wings.

The Tap

The Tap, on the other hand (literally), is a wearable device that slides over your fingers and acts as a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. It can be paired with a phone, tablet, or computer, and can be a real benefit to anyone who finds the small keyboard of a phone or tablet hard to hold or painful as configured to type on.

First reviews aren’t stellar, but as with most new products, it will get customer feed-back, someone will invent the “better mousetrap,” and as we now see people walking down the street simply “talking” into the air (they actually, of course, are wearing Bluetooth ear buds and are talking on their phones (or listening to and responding to texts and emails on the go), we’ll no doubt one day add the convenience (and privacy) of a single-handed “keyboard” we can use anywhere, any time.

Nancy Roberts