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New Year's Non-Resolutions: Appreciating the Inventions that Make Our Lives Easier

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It gets tiresome listing all the things you want to change about yourself but know in your heart you're 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 MapQuest and then loosened it further to shrieking at my new GPS because it didn't know left from right. What's the point of making these resolutions?

Instead of doing that this year, I'm 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 I'm on a phone call, or if I find myself deliriously embedded on the Internet researching a story, I would've 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 10 wintery minutes before a trip, so that the engine would cooperate. Then along came a miraculous thing called antifreeze, which keeps the engine warm in winter and cool in summer. I can't get over that. Dad must've 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 wasn't quite that old) by a French chemist named Charles Adolphe Wurtz.

Ballpoint Pens

Believe it or not, there was a time between the quill and the crayon where a dark liquid called "ink" was sucked into a fountain pen so that your ancestors could write a letter on something called "paper." 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 that's OK because the ballpoint pen lasted longer and you didn't have to carry a bottle of ink all over town in case someone asked you for your autograph or something. The first day ballpoints 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, he's the one who patented the idea but couldn't 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 didn't. In fact, some taxis today, at least in Mexico, have them but they don't work and when it rains, the cabbie has to hang out the driver's window and swipe at the windshield with a greasy rag. So next time you're 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 would have 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. We'd 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, I'll take Jack Bauer, Man of Kevlar.

So, instead of elastic New Year's resolutions, I offer 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.

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