Archive | Gadgets

iPhone 4: Way Cool But Is Anyone Recycling Their Old Ones?

Last week was quite a week for novelty and inspiration. Alongside the USA’s dramatic victory over Algeria in the World Cup and the longest tennis match in history, Apple also rolled out the latest incarnation of its incredibly popular iPhone.

In Japan, where the launch for the iPhone 4 began on Thursday morning, Apple’s exclusive wireless carrier had sold out by early afternoon. In the United States, more than 600,000 pre-orders for the new phone crashed the system on Wednesday. One eager soul in Dallas camped out at an Apple store a full week before the launch. Some in the telecommunications industry are expecting that Apple will sell 9.5 million of them by the end of June. (Compare that with the first iPhone release in 2007, when it took about 2½ months to sell 1 million.)

In my own neighborhood here in London, there was already a queue around the block by the time the Vodaphone Store opened at 10 a.m. Men and women in suits tapped out texts on their soon-to-be-outdated iPhone 3G’s. Mums sipping Starbucks tried to keep restless toddlers in their strollers. In short: Dozens of people delayed the start of this stunningly beautiful June day by several hours, all so that they could be the first to get their hands on this latest i-toy.

Read the rest of this post at

image: iPhone 4 line on launch day at San Francisco Apple Store 125 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Five Reasons Not To Get An E-Reader

For my mother’s 79th birthday later this month, her four children are going to give her an e-reader. We have yet to decide which one to give her, but she’s very keen to join this trend.

As a frequent traveler, and avid reader, she finds that she’s always lugging 12 hard-cover books wherever she goes (often London to visit me!). So she’d like to lighten her load. Apparently, several of her friends already have e-readers and they are all thrilled with them.

I have mixed feelings about this present. On the one hand, as someone who — by her own admission — barely has running water and electricity, my mother is not exactly what you’d call techno-savvy. So there is a dragging-her-into-the-21st century quality to this gift, which, as someone who spends all day online, I welcome with open arms.

On the other hand, I’m also wary of the onslaught of e-readers. I worry about what happens to our society when we no longer read those great artifacts of the 20th century: books.

Read the rest of this post at

Image: 23/365 plus 1 [eReader] by The Hamster Factor  via flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Five Ways To Stay Positive While You Move

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

We’re moving in exactly one week. And so I’m pretty single-minded right now. When I’m not actually doing something connected to the move, I’m thinking about the move.

I’ve fessed up before to just how very much I hate moving. (Some would say irrationally so. I name no names.) But I’m also trying to take my own advice from last week’s volcanic ash crisis and remind myself that “Ce n’est pas gràve.”

And it really isn’t all that “gràve.” In fact, there are a lot of positives that emerge when you move house and they aren’t just the simple pleasures of decluttering.

In that spirit, here are five ways to stay upbeat during a move:

1. Reconnect with your kids’ childhood. One of Gretchen Rubin’s four splendid truths is that “The days are long but the years are short.” She employs this principle to capture what it’s like to be a parent:  how those long, seemingly endless days of reading Good Night, Moon and potty-training dissolve – overnight – into adolescence. Her point is that you really need to savor your kids’ childhood while it lasts because while it may feel long in the day to day, it’s actually fleeting. (I had this same realization last year while re-reading Peter Pan with my daughter.)

Moving helps you to savor their childhood. Because of the many things you unearth as you re-open those frightening storage containers that you hid in the depths of your closet when you first moved in are the myriad art projects, report cards, essays and birthday cards that your kids have done over the years. My own favorite was a picture that my son drew when his (quite progressive) nursery school did a unit on Martin Luther King. I’d forgotten all about this picture, which used to hang above the desk in my old office. It depicts a sort of Monsters, Inc.-style version of MLK addressing an audience with a disproportionately large microphone while saying “I hope that one day Black people and White people can be friends.” Priceless.

2. Reconnect with your own past. You may not have any kids. But you’ll still be forced to take a trip down memory lane as you yank stuff out  of those dusty old cupboards. I found a pair of my father’s orthopedic shoes. He left them here on his last visit to London in October of 2008. We saved them so that we could give them back to him on his next visit. But he never came back. He died, suddenly, of a heart attack in March, 2009. Back when he was alive, I hated those shoes. They were large and clunky and a visible reminder that the body of a man who used to take jump shots in our driveway well into his 50s was slowly giving out on him. (It ended up giving out on him much more quickly than we expected.) But seeing those shoes again actually made me happy. They were a tangible reminder of his presence in our lives. And I needed that.

3. Allow yourself to let go of the *shoulds*. I’ve written before about how many of us go through life tethered to an endless list of things that we feel we ought to be doing, yet never quite manage to accomplish: making photo albums, reading the Bible, joining a gym. During the course of going through my files the other day, I came across some notes from a Hebrew class that I took while pregnant with my son and which I’ve schlepped around with me for (gulp) ten years. The thought was that some day I’d get my act together and really learn Hebrew. Well folks, I still haven’t let go of the goal of figuring out my relationship to Judaism. But I think that I’ve finally acknowledged to myself that despite my best intentions, that process will not entail learning Hebrew (a least for the foreseeable future.) Toss. Ditto my hopes of ever actually using that over-sized fish poacher that we got for our wedding. After twelve years doing noble service as a de facto spice rack, I think it’s finally time for me to dispatch that particular item from our lives. Phew.

4. Imagine new vistas literally and figuratively. One of the most exciting things about moving is that it offers the prospect of a whole new neighborhood to discover. There will be new cafés, new book stores, new dry cleaners – not to mention new neighbors!  I love change so imagining these things is always a way to motivate myself when I just don’t feel like calling the Gas company to request new service or whatever arduous task lies at hand. It’s a bit like singing My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music, if you’ll forgive the cheesy Musical analogy. And change in one’s physical scenery can also furnish a new take on life psychologically. Out with the old and in with the new, and all that good stuff. I really believe that.

5. Trust that things will be better once you make it to the other side. Like childbirth, if you really remembered all the gory details, you’d never move more than once in your life. And yet, most of us do it several times. So, yes, moving is painful but it also does come to an end. And when the clouds part, there’s a whole new world to explore.


For those of you who’d like to hear my latest thoughts on this unbelievably exciting British election, please head on over to

Image: Statue of Dr. Martin Luther King by zug55 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Are Computers Bad For Children?

Many parents have become hard-wired into thinking that computers are bad for children. But are they? New research suggests that it’s actually a mixed bag.

Yesterday, I was over on looking at this age-old, vexing parenting question in light of new research that tries to systematically estimate the effect of home computers on child and adolescent outcomes.

Have a look

Image: Macbook by Swansea Photographer via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Make A Move Easier

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I mentioned yesterday that we will soon be moving.

Did I mention how much I absolutely *hate* moving? If I had my fictitious wife, I think I’d put “orchestrate all moves” at the top of her list of duties.

Not everyone feels this way about moving. I think it’s a great example of something where there are just two kinds of people. One friend of mine, for instance, loves to move because it enables her to throw away all the things in her house that annoy her. My husband doesn’t actually mind it either. It gives him an excuse to re-allocate our many gadgets within an entirely new space. (Aha! So the Dustbuster really *can* fit on top of the television! Whaddya know?)

But for me, moving is the very embodiment of hell. So if, like me, you dread moving house, here are five tips to make the process easier:

1. Get boxes beforehand. Lots of them. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how many boxes you need to carry out even a small move. Fortunately, after all of my work on the PTA soliciting donations from various local businesses, most of the merchants in my neighborhood on a speed-dial relationship with me already. So I don’t foresee a problem obtaining boxes when I need them. But if that weren’t the case, I’d begin collecting now. Buying them from Mailboxes Etc. really adds up. Trust me!

2. Make a Change of Address List. Right now – while you’re thinking about it – sit down and make a list of every possible place that needs to know that you’re moving. Not just obvious places like your kids’ schools and your doctor’s office, but all of your frequent flyer programs, any utility companies who send you a paper bill, your grocery store if you have food delivered, and especially your local voting authority. There are way more than you think.

3. Declutter Now. I’m not a natural de-clutterer. I tend to favor putting things into neatly stacked piles, only to ignore them until said pile topples over under the weight of freshly sorted material. And particularly with this move we’re about to embark on, it looks like we’ll be moving into a considerably larger space. So it’s really tempting to just hang on to that PlayMobil Castle and all its attendant turrets, even though my son hasn’t played with it for years. But that would be a huge mistake. Because there are so many things – clothes, toys, kitchen aids – that we simply don’t use and must go buh-bye. (Unsure of what to toss? Here are 8 specific tips from the decluttering guru, Gretchen Rubin.)

4. Have someone else pack for you. Sadly, we can’t afford to pay someone to pack up for us this time round. But I have done that twice in my life and my husband often comments that those may well have been the two happiest days of my life. (Too bad all I owned at the time was a suitcase, a guitar and a futon, which did take a bit of zing out of the pleasure, it must be said.) But there is *nothing* like having a couple of people whisk into your house and pack up your belongings while you sit there sipping a cup of tea with your feet up.

5. Buy some Xanax. Really, just do it now. You’ll thank me later.


Speaking of moving, Aiden Donnelly Rowley had an interesting post over the weekend on Ivy League Insecurities about what it’s like to sell a house and that bitter-sweet feeling that accompanies the open house. Have a look…

Image: Packed Boxes Upstairs by Arthaye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Adulthood Quiz: What Can You Live Without?

Awhile back, I posted on five household items you can do without, as well as five household items you *can’t* do without. Both posts were inspired by the myriad tchotchkes that pepper our house, courtesy of my gadget-loving husband.

I got to thinking about this very issue once again this weekend on a somewhat grander scale when two things that had gone missing from my life unexpectedly reappeared.

The first was a dishwasher. As I noted when talking about why we all need a wife, my dishwasher died about six weeks ago. Ever since, I’ve been washing dishes for our four-person household by hand. On Friday, the new dishwasher finally arrived and I’ll say it here first:  God, do I love my new dishwasher. Yes, I could have managed just fine without one. But I literally feel *blessed* everytime I place a dish in its new home, rather than piling them up in the sink.

The second thing from a former life which reappeared over the weekend was – oddly enough – a health club. When I first moved to London, I wrote an essay for the Guardian Weekly about how the cost of living was so high in this city that my husband and were forced to become Green by default. It wasn’t so much that we embraced Green living as that we had no choice; overnight, certain things had just become prohibitively expensive. So we gave up those staples of middle-class American life: two cars…a tumble dryer… and our health club memberships. And both of us started exercising outdoors; he cycling and I running.

But this past weekend my son was invited to a birthday party at a health club. While the kids played, the adults got a free workout. I went nuts. I climbed a StairMaster, I used an elliptical trainer, I lifted some weights…heck, I even took a sauna. And I topped it all off with a lovely cappuccino in the adjoining cafe where – posh mama that I am…(not) – I purchased some long overdue yoga gear. In a word: spectacular.

But unlike my new dishwasher, I came away from the whole health club experience thinking that – much as I enjoyed being in a fancy gym for two hours – I’m not sure that it’s something I actually need in my life. I’m actually quite happy just going running. I like the feeling of freedom it affords. I like the odd assortment of people and animals that I encounter along the way (which in my hood’ runs the gamut from Helena Bonham Carter to wild foxes). I like the cold air waking me up as it hits my face. And most of all, I like that it doesn’t cost a penny (pence).

In short, I learned that I could live without a health club.

As we grow older, it’s worth reflecting now and again on what we need in our lives to make us happy and what we can do without.

How about you? What creature comforts could you let go of?


I was absolutely thrilled to get this shout out from the blog This Bird’s Day about my essay “Married to a Metrosexual” in the forthcoming Chicken Soup For The Soul: True Love. It made my day!

Image: day1DSC_0055.jpg by journojen via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Strategies For Dealing With Rodents

OK, so I think we’ve all been there.

Sooner or later, whether while living in near-squatter conditions when fresh out of university or just when you think you’ve finally settled into the semi-hygienic status of middle age, they invade. If you’re lucky, it’s just a few mice. If you’re unlucky – as I’ve been over the past week or so – it’s the other white meat. Either way, it sucks.

I remember once in graduate school when my roommates and I came home to find a dead squirrel on our kitchen floor. One of my roommates – a gentle, ecologically-minded Finn – burst into tears. She was terribly upset about the unfortunate fate of “the animal” and had to shield her eyes.  My other roommate – a more pragmatic young woman from Peru – grabbed the thing buy its tail and tossed it into the garbage. “Hey man, I’m from Peru,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “We eat this sh$% for dinner.”

Boy, do I wish I had her with me now…

About the only positive thing that’s come out of this harrowing experience is that it’s united me with numerous friends on Facebook suffering from similar infestations. At this point, I think we could form some kind of Pest Control support group and set up a Facebook page of our own. Lord knows the rats have already done something similar. (“Hey guys, c’mon over to the Mews tonight…great crumbs!”)

And so, for this week’s tips list, here are five ways to deal with rodents, born of experience together with a little help from my friends:

1. Traps. There are two options here. The first is the old-fashioned snap trap where a giant spring snaps down on their head. I must admit a certain partiality to this rather Draconian technique for catching – and killing – a mouse or rat. Or, if you’re a kinder, gentler soul, you can go for a humane trap that enables you to set these darlings free once they’re caught. Gotta admit, that last one lost me with its photo banner.

2. Pets. Some say cats are best because mice (at least) can’t stand the smell of them. Others say only a dog can deal with rats. Me? I hate pets. But I can see getting a hold of one of these babies – a rat-eating plant. Now that’s a pet I could live with.

3. Sirens. Who knew? Apparently, mice and rats can be repelled by powerful, ultra-sonic waves. No fuss. No muss. We just bought a few of these to give them a test-drive.

4. Poison. OK, I know it’s evil. But it works.  And I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching those tiny pellets go from green to white after they’d been nibbled.

5. Alcohol. As with so many things, alcohol is often your best strategy. I’d recommend taking a good, healthy swig of whatever suits you before you dive into that coat closet to look for bodies.

I was delighted that yesterday’s post in about the U.S. postal service was picked up by this blog of transportation professionals. I’m learning more about this issue by the moment!

Image: Rats by Yaatra via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: 5 Household Items You Can't Do Without

In last week’s tip list, I posted about 5 Household Items You Can Do Without.

When my husband read that post, he said: “You know, a lot of people might not find those odd.” To which I responded: “C’mon! A pickle picker? Really?” But I stand corrected. To date, the running count on (self-declared) pickle picker owners is three.


So this week, in a nod to my gadget-loving husband, I’m going to post about 5 Household items I’ve learned – courtesy of him – that you can’t do without…or at least can’t do without once you’ve had one yourself:

1. Recipe Holder – You know how whenever you’re making a recipe, you either can’t hold the page open, can’t see it from where you’re cooking and/or something splatters all over the cook book, rendering the recipe illegible? Search no more. Get one of these babies and you can just prop it up on a table while you cook.

2. Lap Desk – Don’t get too excited, folks. This is just a lap desk, not a lap dance. It’s a small, flat surface you can write on when you want to work somewhere other than a desk – e.g. your favorite chair, your bed, etc. Yes, I know. There’s such a thing called a book. But it’s often hard to locate a book that’s large enough to hold whatever it is you’re writing. And if you’re working on multiple sheets of paper at once – grading papers, for example, or cross-checking lists – this comes in really handy.

3. Vertical Chicken Roaster Here’s the one we own. For reasons that elude me (gravity??) chicken cooks better – i.e., is more juicy and succulent – when you cook it vertically. And who doesn’t like succulent chicken? (I’ve always thought it would be great to come up with a list of food descriptors that really turn people on and off. I’m a sucker for anything that’s “pan seared,” but loathe the term “drizzled.”)

4. Lever Model Corkscrews – Yes, these are expensive. But if you drink wine with any regularity, you will welcome this easy, one-stop method for removing the cork without leaving any of the bits inside. Added bonus: they make the deltoid-challenged among us feel like strongmen. Also make great wedding presents.

5. Roncilio Silvia Espresso Machine – Also pricey. But if you drink espresso/cappucino/latte and care about how it tastes, once you start using Ms. Silvia (as some friends affectionately refer to theirs), you’ll (a). never go back to Starbucks and (b). easily earn back the money you would have spent there in a month. True believers should add the Roncilio “Rocky” grinder to the mix.

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For more household gadgetry, check out burbiajuice.

And if you’re feeling angry, be sure to vent your frustration through this gadget (hat tip: freakonomics).

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Tips for Adulthood: 5 Household Items You Can Do Without

Courtesy of Flickr

Ok, so today’s post launches a new series I’m going to start on Wednesdays entitled: Tips for Adulthood.

Today’s list lies close to my heart as it draws from my very own home. In fact, everything I’m going to list is sitting within about 10 feet of me as I write this (except the foot warmer – see #5 below – which mercifully needs a U.S. electrical outlet to operate).

I’ve posted before about how my husband is a gadget freak. He loves coming home with all manner of things that ostensibly serve to make life easier. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. But the other day he had a real doozy. Having visited the local hardware store, he came home with a device – wait for it – extracting pickles from a pickle jar. (Cue: “Who Stole the Pickle from the Pickle Jar?”)

No, really, he did. It looks like a narrow plastic syringe for giving kids medicine, except that when you push it, four tiny metal pincer claws emerge to grab that elusive pickle. Nuff’ said.

Inspired by this dubious purchase (to be fair, it set us back only about one pound thirty), I herewith give you 5 Household Items You (really) Can Do Without:

1. A Pickle Picker (my term of art): See above. FYI: I just tried to find an image of said item and could only come up with “pickle wax remover” which sounds way more frightening…

2. An Avocado Slicer: In much the same vein, last summer he came back from a trip to the States with this bizarre item that slices avocados into slivers.  It’s basically a handle with a round hole on one end to remove the avocado pit and a set of blades on the other end for slicing. Here’s a picture of something similar. Sounds great, no? Try it. By the time you’ve cut your avocado in half, removed the pit and begun to slice away, you will have mushy green avocado everywhere. Promise.

3. A Tiny Blade for Cutting Newspaper Clippings. Because scissors are just so…large?

4. A Small Newspaper Holder: This one is harder to explain but more intuitively plausible as a helpful household device. It’s a lightweight metal stand designed to prop up your newspaper while you read so that you don’t have to hold the whole thing open. Instead, you just fold the part of the paper you’re reading and rest it comfortably on the stand. Which is great until…your story continues on page A14 and then you just need to pick the newspaper up again.

And, finally, the piece de resistance on today’s list:

5. A Footwarmer: My husband thinks he has poor circulation and so complains endlessly about his cold extremities. Years ago, he decided to remedy this problem by purchasing this small, noisy, incredibly un-green device that you fill with warm water and then soak your feet in (it kind of looked like this, but had water in it). I think it may have also had a massage function but my mind is fuzzy because I think we used it all of once before deciding (a). it was bulky (b). it used up too much energy and (c). why not just put your feet in a bath?

That’s all folks!

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Luxury or Necessity? The Freighted Symbolism of our New Rice Cooker

Among the many purchases we just made during our whirlwind trip back to the United States was a new rice cooker (here it is, if you’d like to take a peek…)

If you look closely, you’ll see that said cooker forms part of the “fuzzy logic” line of rice cooker/steamers/slow cookers by Sanyo. Call me crazy, but am I the only person who feels somewhat uncomfortable encountering fuzzy logic outside of the confines of a philosophy seminar?

Be that as it may, and perhaps because I’m a convenience freak, I think of a rice cooker as a staple of any kitchen (though, admittedly, I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to dump close to 180 dollars on this particular model, as we just did…make that my husband just did…but then again, he’s a gadget freak – don’t get me started on the “texture” button…he’s all over that).

But back to adulthood. I’m always fascinated by what people consider to be “necessary” vs. “luxury” expenditures (for a quick economics primer on these terms, see here). An old friend of ours who was just visiting, for example, confessed that his wife – a one-time caterer and still a superb cook – had only recently purchase a rice cooker, deeming this to be a somewhat frivolous kitchen expenditure when you could just, you know, boil the stuff. But she is also the one who endlessly harasses her husband to drop “one to two hundred grand” to overhaul their current kitchen – a figure they can’t even come close to matching so it’s really a moot point, but, hey, why dismiss a potential source of marital conflict over a technicality?

Similarly, my husband – the one who prefers his rice textured just so – recently declined my generous offer to a 30% off coupon at our local Gap, protesting, “But I already have one pair of everyday pants. I don’t need anymore than that…” Hey, I grew up in a house where we used a fork tyne to remove the top of one of our sauce pans for thirty years before questioning whether it might not be time to get a new one, so I’m hardly what you’d call a spendthrift. But it strikes me that one pair of “everyday pants” is pretty few indeed.

We are currently living through an era of proposed Treasury Department regulations restricting luxury expenditures and culturally pregnant movies about Shopaholics (for a great explanation of why this movie is so pertinent right now, read this article in Slate.) So I think it’s well worth asking: When the going gets rough, what do you really need and what can you do without?

I know that in our household, there’s a lot that’s up for debate. My husband will want to hang onto the organic home-delivered groceries; I’ll want to hang onto The New Yorker. But because we’re both grown ups (and want to keep our marriage going) we’ll inevitably have to make trade-offs and compromises.

How about you? Where do you draw this line?

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