Sunday, February 14, 2010


Disappointment with Progress : electronic kitchen timers

Affordable, battery powered electronic timers suitable for use in the kitchen have been around for about forty years, I reckon. Is their becoming stupider and less useful a leading indicater of anything? One should hope not.

Between thirty and forty years ago, we acquired a kitchen timer that was wonderful: digital, small, capable of tracking three timespans simultaneously (and they didn't have to have common start times or common finish times). It stopped functionning so long ago, though, that I can't remember how one knew which of the times had elapsed (a blinking triangle at the bottom of the display, IIRC); however, I recall it as helpful, not obnoxious, and I was sorry to see it "die" so young.

Subsequently, we tried other "similar" timers, but found them so inferior that we used the microwave oven's timer  instead. Our microwave oven --a low-priced model, not a top-of-the-line one-- acquired in the 1985-88 period, had a digital control timer which could also serve as a timer, without using its oven. I don't recall whether that was only when it wasn't cooking, or whether the timer was an auxiliary function available (one track, but better than none) at all times, but I think it was the latter.  It, like the timer it helped replace (as well as cooking and warming stuff) had been sensibly programmed to ring only five times when "time was up."  It lasted quite a while, and had provided very good value-for-money over its years of use. Unfortunately, the maker went out of business. When it went, we had to find another timer.

Over the past ten years, I've tried more than one, all in the "affordable" range, from Ikea or Target or similar retailers. And they all now track only one thing (maybe that's all the majority of purchasers ever used), unlike the Pyrex one from over thirty years ago, and they all, and this is the really questionable "progress",
  • beep not five times, but sixty (a full minute) when time is up;
  • start over timing the same duration if not properly stopped.
I suppose there might be a savings in building devices that are only programmable by minute (not sure, though), but that is a poor explanation because these timers can do things for other than a full minute (or multiple thereof) such as beep only a few times (2 or 3) at five-minute and ten-minute warning beeps: someone decided they should beep for a full minute, then restart timing, if not interrupted. Not progress, in my opinion.

"Time is money" and I'm willing to spend a fair price for a better timer, but I don't know how much I should discount for my time and effort to find it and beat a path to its builder's door. Let's not kid ourselves about how much a kitchen timer is worth : how much better do they get if one pays more? How much more time can they help one save? Haven't we already spent more time than it can be worth to find a better timer?  The potential builders probably have similar (if second-degree) reasoning, and don't see how they can profit from building a better timer people have given up trying to find. Better timers, per se, may not be likely as long as potential producers figure an iPhone app will beat them, and a Carrefour or Walmart or Metro will make market entry prohibitively costly.

Progress in kitchen timers, if people are to continue cooking at home and want them, might be one like the one I had thirty years ago (but longer-lasting); or three like the ones available today, but all capable of stopping beeping when yelled at, even from another room: considerate, voice-deactivated, or both.Identificateurs Technorati : , , , , , ,

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