Jane Macdougall: The Bookless Club and the technology of kettles

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Have you ever wanted a pot of water that was precisely, oh, let’s say, 76 degrees Celsius?

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Or maybe you wanted water that was just a smidge off the boil, at, say, 94 degrees Celsius? Perhaps you have a specific use for lukewarm water? Not from the tap, mind you: kettle lukewarm. So, say somewhere around 43 degrees Celsius.

No. I didn’t think so.

But that’s what kettles do today.

You program them. What’s it going to be? Tepid? Bath-water warm? A vigorous, yet not roiling, boil? The days of being bossed around by your kettle are over. You decide. You.

I figure I have heated about a swimming pool worth of water in my lifetime and I have yet to require anything but one temperature. That temperature is best described as a rolling boil. One hundred degrees Celsius. Gone are the days of two dictatorial settings: on or off. Now you have choices, and life is vastly improved. Perhaps it’s only me, but I find it annoying programming the temperature each time I want to dunk a tea bag into a mug, but there you have it. Progress. Options. Advances. Or as I call them: technological overreaches.

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There must be some annual event where kettle manufacturers convene to discuss how to make the lowly kettle more alluring. At one of these recent KettleCons, the subject of visuals must have come up. Kettles just weren’t sexy enough. The newest thing in kettles now is that they’re all naked. You can watch the water boil. If that’s not enough, your kettle can now put on a light show. My new kettle is a total entertainment complex. Accompanying each increment in temperature, interior lights change colour inside the kettle. It goes from a cool turquoise to frothing carmine red within a few minutes. Crimson is the indicator that we’ve gone as far as we can go. A lava-like display announces the boiling point. It’s the opposite of the watched kettle that never boils.

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I fear it’s only a matter of time before someone adds flash pots and NASDAQ updates to the toaster.

Electric toothbrushes are not new. The earliest prototypes date back to 1937. The Swiss began manufacturing an electric toothbrush — the Broxodent — in 1954. By 1959, electric toothbrushes were available in North America and cavities and plaque vanished from the dental landscape. Okay, no that didn’t happen, but there’s a case to be made for the electric toothbrush. There’s a charitable British organization named Cochrane that debunks health-care claims. Their evidence-based work sheds a lot of light on so-called health-care interventions. The folks at the Cochrane ruled that an electric toothbrush could be a useful aid in reducing plaque and gingival inflammation. But that was back in 2014. Back before Oral-B introduced a bluetooth-enabled $100 electric toothbrush. Yes, your toothbrush can now send data to your smartphone with a full report on your dental technique. It can tell you if you’re using too much pressure, not enough pressure, rushing the job, left-side dominant or right-side dominant. It knows when you brushed, and if you missed a session. And it probably knows if someone used your toothbrush to clean around the faucets while you were watching the kettle.

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The prevailing scholarship on the electric toothbrush is that they do a fine job … but, barring disability or youthful disregard, so could you if you just put your mind to it. Technological overreach strikes again.

My washing machine has eleventy-five settings that I never use. My Google home assistant argues with me. My dishwasher does the same lousy job a truculent teenager would do. I think I’m just going to go for a drive and run the 2/90 air-conditioning. That’s where I roll down two windows and go 90 kph. Old-school AC.

No overreach there.

Jane Macdougall is a freelance writer and former National Post columnist who lives in Vancouver. She will be writing on The Bookless Club every Saturday online and in The Vancouver Sun. For more of what Jane’s up to, check out her website, janemacdougall.com

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This week’s question for readers:

Is technology complicating your domestic life, or improving it?

Send your answers by email text, not an attachment, in 100 words or less, along with your full name to Jane at thebooklessclub@gmail.com . We will print some next week in this space.


Responses to last week’s question for readers:

Love to entertain friends and family, or is it a chore? What are your tips for making the event manageable?

NOTE: Due to the high demand for the rum cake recipe from last week’s column, I’ve posted it on my website

• The secret to hassle-free entertaining? A husband who can cook and set a table.

Larry Donen


• We are fortunate to have a lanai (patio) very suitable for entertaining six to eight people. Due to the pandemic, we did no indoor entertaining, but this summer we discovered the perfect way to feed guests: finger food. Fancy little potatoes. Cherry tomatoes. Strips of peppers. Devilled eggs. And sweet and sour ribs, huli huli chicken wings, and kielbasa (already cut up) on the barbecue. Guests helped themselves, nothing got really cold, the food was all there, and there were only plates to wash up. No cutlery to spread viruses. Perfect.

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Irene Slater


• One word for almost stress-free entertaining: potluck. Our SWorD (Single Widowed or Divorced) group started out having full-on sit-down dinners. The hostess would set the main course or theme, and we would build on that, as we continue to do. Now, many have moved to smaller homes and a larger sit-down meal is not feasible. So, we have moved on to appie and dessert nights instead. Everyone provides something, so no one carries all the weight. People are happy to comply and love the variety. If you aren’t up to the task, there’s always something store-bought in a pinch (frozen Yorkshire puddings are really quite good).

I concur with not vacuuming before a visit, and be sure to turn the lights down and light candles. But be sure the bathroom is shiny and clean.

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Folk congregate to enjoy each others’ company, not to judge someone’s housekeeping.

Sharon Tokar


• My fiancé and I are hosting three couples tonight — two are cousins and their spouses, and the third, a nephew and wife. Preparations started yesterday but the fretting started a week ago. I’m going to insist my fiancé read your article. She was up until 2 a.m. this morning making a tiramisu cake.

I have reminded her several times that this is family and no one notices if the house is not dusted. But they do notice if you run out of wine. We have lots of wine.

Michael Provenzano


• Before the pandemic hit, my wife and I came up with a pre- or post-Christmas party — a cookie exchange and beer tasting. We supplied appies and a few exotic beers. We encouraged attendees to bring cookies and some strange brew to share with others. It was a hit.

Matthew Jordan

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