Hot Summer Tech for a Shoestring Budget

The (I-wish-it-were-actually) hot days of summer are upon us and it’s time to look at some exciting technologies that suit both the season and our vacation-influenced shoestring budgets.

One handy little doo-dad that can be had for hardly a chink out of that dwindling wad of dollars in your wallet is the hatchet. There are many uses for the hatchet, from felling saplings, to constructing a crude survival shelter in inclement weather, to awkwardly banging nails.

What’s more, in situations of extreme boredom or drunkenness, just find a nice big tree and – look out! – that hatchet can be used in a really thrilling tossing game.

The name of this lovely device that some folks refer to as a “baby axe,” is derived from the French word hachette.

Such an etymological link might lead you to believe that the hatchet itself was actually invented by the same ingenuitive culture that brought the world poutine. In fact, the hatchet has been around since long before both language and gravy graced our tongues.

Archaeologists have found evidence that crude hatchets fashioned from stone and sticks existed millennia ago.

But nowadays there’s no need for such prehistoric contrivances. Just head down to Home Hardware where you can pick up a Chinese hearth-forged solid steel unit, its handle lovingly wrapped in soft faux-leather. On the way back to your vehicle don’t forget to stop at the chip truck in the parking lot to snag a box of french fries smothered in melting cheese curds and gravy.

If the hatchet strikes you as a tad too large and limited in purpose, an excellent alternative is the classic pocket knife.

This wonderfully concealable tool will whet everyone’s appetite for whittling. But wait: a model with a corkscrew will also offer wondrous opportunities to wet your whistle with many a bottle of wine.

The most well-known of this class of device is the famous red Swiss Army Knife (which oddly – again – connotes cheese), but like the hatchet, it has a much longer history than that.

The pocket knife actually dates back to the pre-Roman era. The earliest example we have is of the bone-handle variety from around 600 BC. It was found in the region of Europe now known as Austria. (FWIW, back then it was called Hallstatt and is reportedly the home of cheese soup.)

Mass production of the pocket knife didn’t begin until around 1700 in Sheffield, England, when a dandy unit called the Fuller’s Penny Knife caught the imaginations of peasants throughout the kingdom.

These days, a lovely Chinese plastic-and-cheap-metal-alloy model can be yours for only slightly more than a penny at a local dollar store.

But whether you choose a hatchet or a pocket knife, the utility of these tremendous technologies is limited in the grand scheme. It’s summer. You want to get out, go somewhere, do something.

So what about a canoe?

Not only is this one of the oldest forms of technology known to humankind, it’s also the very symbol of summer in Canada.

We owe it all to the Pesse canoe, a dugout unit dating back to about 5300 BC, which was discovered in the Netherlands (Not a locale known for its cheese, unfortunately).

Of course, the original inhabitants of our own lands were masters of the canoe. They perfected the technology to such a degree that invaders wouldn’t have been able to subjugate the continent without “borrowing” it; sort of like how Google bums from Apple’s intellectual property stores to pillage the mobile device landscape.

It’s telling, then, that we get the word canoe from the Spanish canoa.

But don’t let that sordid bit of history sully your enjoyment of this tremendously useful item.

Today a canoe is a deep, meaningful cultural icon. It’s all about getting away from the wife/husband to be out on the water and pretend to enjoy yourself with a fishing line in the water while you stare vacantly at some distant shore, wondering how your life ever turned out this way.

Or it’s great to hide under in a rainstorm when you’re lost in the woods after a Deliverance-inspired portage.

The best use for a canoe, though, is tied to the roof of your SUV. From that lofty, dry perch it will lend your vehicular character a distinguished air of outdoorsyness.

Yes, the good times and personal image enhancement qualities offered by the time-honoured technology of a canoe cannot be ignored.

But beware: canoes can be pretty expensive if you buy them new. Instead, spot out your neighbours’ backyards for one and steal it. Chances are, he’s probably regretting the purchase anyway and hoping the thing would just disappear.

(One more piece of advice: don’t forget to grab the paddles, too. You don’t want to head up the creek only to become a cheesy cliche.)

Of course, if you’re headed into the great outdoors with your newly-acquired canoe (along with a pocket knife, hatchet, and block of cheese) you must protect yourself from the hazardous elements you’ll encounter.

That’s where humankind’s greatest technological achievement comes in: sunscreen.

Not to be confused with suntan lotion or tanning oil, sunscreen is a marvellous invention designed to counteract the environmental impacts of other feats of human ingenuity that have resulted in the erosion of our atmosphere’s natural protective qualities.

Because we now enjoy rapid fossil-fuel fuelled transportation (and used to coif with aerosol) more of the sun’s harmful radiation than ever pours down on us, threatening to cook us up like so many extra-buttery kernels of microwave popcorn.

Thank goodness, then, for those creamy blends of PABA, parasol, octocrylene and titanium dioxide. Now we can drive about pointlessly in our pick up trucks and ATVs with sunscreen to protect us from the guilt of the sun’s UV-enhanced rays.

So there you have it. A selection of summer-enhancing technologies that won’t break the bank. In closing, I’d just ask you keep one thing in mind when considering the full utility of these options: William Tell used an arrow, not a hatchet, in his trick.

And, oh yeah, it was an apple on his son’s head, not cheese.

Have a great, techie summer!

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 5, 2013.