At some point early on at the Remodeling Show in Baltimore (Oct. 10-12) I was struck by the fact I was surrounded by technology, most of it working only part of the time, if at all. Wi-Fi was not to be had on the show floor, at least not reliably. Now, to be honest, I wasn’t all that concerned because I have neither a smartphone nor a laptop.
Then there were the booth personnel, relentlessly thumbing their smartphones. I used to think these were really important people with a lot of urgent messages – until one of them offered to find his company's PR contact for me and engaged in that very same interminable thumbing behavior. It was then I finally realized most of those people intently staring at their smartphones were just looking for stuff they had lost.
I also realized there is still a digital divide – the haves and the have nots when it comes to technology. I felt sorry for the folks with a modest booth and not enough money in the budget to rent one of those gizmos that reads visitor badges. They were at once apologetic, embarrassed and frustrated when a prospect showed up without a business card and insisted his or her name badge be read.
However, I observed these same low-tech exhibitors were friendly, engaging and eager to talk, while others more endowed with tech gadgets were downright rude. What's with that? Is there a correlation between technology and rudeness? It's something to think about.
Anyway, perhaps that's why I was attracted to the minority of exhibitors with low-tech products that were quietly ingenious and were designed to solve a very specific problem and perform a specialized task. And, refreshingly, not one of them plugged in, ran on batteries or relied on a spotty Wi-Fi connection.
For example, I didn't know blue jean insulation (as well as similar types) is difficult to cut cleanly – unless it's compressed. Bullet Tools of Hayden, Idaho, has device that addresses just that problem. The Magnum Shut-N-Cut compresses the insulation, holds it place, and has a slot for a specially designed insulation knife to slice cleanly through the compressed insulation. The company also has a tool that looks like an oversized pizza cutter but slices instead through rigid foam board – without the need for an electric motor.
Angel Guard Products, Worcester, Mass., has a tool for ripping up decks – without ripping up existing joists. Minimal damage is done to the existing decking material, so it may reused, the company says. It’s a manually operated device with no discernible moving parts.
Another deck tool, the BoWrench from Cepco Tool Co. is a self-locking device to bend deck boards into alignment and hold them in place, hands-free, while they are fastened. The tool also may be used as a tongue-and-groove joining tool. Again, no power cord required.
Training Tomorrow's Remodelers
Also of note at the show, I bumped into Ken Skowronksi of KS Remodelers in Milwaukee, who was there representing not his remodeling company but the National Remodeling Foundation, an organization that, among other things, promotes the education of young people who might otherwise not be aware of opportunities in the remodeling industry – addressing a pressing problem of where new workers are going to come from once veteran craftsmen hang up their hammers. I hadn't known about this group, but Ken told me about the program, gave me some brochures – and didn't scan my badge. Nevertheless, useful information was passed without the aid technology other than a printing press – or perhaps a laser printer or maybe a lowly inkjet model.
Finally, I stopped by the booth of the Baltimore convention and tourism people to ask if they knew where to obtain a box or two of Berger's cookies. Berger's is a Baltimore area bakery whose cookies I had sampled on a previous visit to Baltimore. The person manning the booth, who looked like she had great grandchildren – if not great, great grandchildren – and had lived in Baltimore forever, disappointingly was not familiar with the local bakery. Nevertheless, she diligently looked it up in a phone book – the kind printed on paper – and provided me with a phone number. Then she went back to working a crossword puzzle – with paper and pencil.