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Tuesday, Sep 02, 2014
Richard Mullins Columns

Hail the inventors who simplify our lives


If any trait separates humankind from the animal kingdom besides a love of reality TV, it is the innate desire to make and use tools. Chainsaws, eyelash brushes, night-vision goggles, anything. And presuming evolution's validity, perhaps the No. 1 tool humankind invented after coming down from the trees was probably the sharp stick to poke a rival, and then soon after, tool No. 2, the rock tied to a stick to hammer away at something or other. Perhaps a clam, or perhaps a rival who also had eyes on that clam.

And so I stood in the Home Depot hammer aisle, completely amazed that someone had dramatically improved the No. 2 tool ever invented, the hammer.

What do you do with a hammer? You hold the hammer in one hand, a nail in the other, and then pound your thumb with the hammer. Then you try again and eventually pound the blasted nail in place and start over.

But this new, altogether brilliant hammer generation fixes that. Atop the hammer head is a narrow groove, just the size of a nail, and a magnet to hold a nail in place. One-handed, you simply tap the nail into the wood/wall/rival — just enough to stick the nail in place a bit. The magnet releases the nail, and you're free to wail away at the nail with all you've got. Heck, you don't even need a second hand. Thumbs rejoice!

Forget the iPhone. That's innovation. Such humble-yet-brilliant innovations don't get the recognition they deserve, if you ask me, and so I set about to collect a list of those inventions that have truly improved our daily lives, or at least mine. Definitely send me your list of inventions. I'd love to see them. Here's a start of my list.

Indeed, parenthood overall is such fertile ground for innovation, as the problems crying out for fixes so quickly multiply and overwhelm even the most perfect of parents. Hence, here's a tip-of-the-hat to washable markers, sprayable sun block, the Diaper Genie and that most incredible of innovations — ever — medicines in the form of dissolvable strips. If you can trick your kid into opening his or her mouth for a half second, you can pop in a dissolvable strip and — poof — it disappears, medicine administered.

Is this skirting the life lesson of “learning to take your medicine”? Sure. But come on, give parents a break. There are plenty of teachable moments. Sometimes, you just gotta get the medicine in there and move on to the next crisis.

As for who gets credit for inventing the nail-holding hammer, the picture is a bit murky. A quick patent search found dozens of patents for hammers that have some kind of nail innovation. I found versions on the market by Olympia Tools, Hart tools, Eastwing and others.

But somewhere in the dim pages of history, there is someone (likely with a smashed thumb) who looked at the hammer and said, “Hey, I've got an idea.” And to them, I say thank you and give a thumb's up.


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