Monday, March 16, 2009

All dreamers are not created equal

I learned, over a bowl of Kashi ‘U’, that dreamers are not valued based on the quality of the dream. We’re valued based on the number of people who think our dream is cool. Inequitable? I think so. But at present it is our reality. And as a dreamer, I ask, “Wouldn’t we be better off if we valued contribution over pop-culture bling?”

Why are Rock-stars and Supermodels more revered than innovators who cure disease, create industries and let you clap lights on and off? True, a great guitar riff with tuneful lyrics is entertaining. But is it really that much better than inventions like light bulbs and LEDs, the Leathermen Wave or discoveries like penicillin. Why aren’t there Inventor Groupies? It just feels like the populous response is disproportionate. Why do we cheer the rock-stars and only gawk at the inventors?

Recently, I got a glimpse of an answer from a TV show. I was sitting, on my couch, with my bowl of 7 whole grain flakes and black currants. I was too many steps from the remote so I watched what was on. The show? A “reality” show called, “Make Me a Supermodel”.

I understand the appeal of being a Supermodel. Money, fame and exotic locations make it a fun romp. But I also get the feeling that I am missing something. With all the great causes in this wonderful world, why set your sites on being a Supermodel?

This particular episode, shown on the Bravo Network, centered about “the runway”. Hopefuls ‘walk’ the catwalk while judges critique. A critique of walking, really? I thought it was silly too, but I watched. I wanted to know if I’d been doing it wrong all these years.

A montage of striking people ‘walked’ across my TV with varying degrees of style and grace. And strangely, I too could see who ‘walked’ better. Some looked natural, some stilted and others confident. Apparently, there is some science/art behind all the walking. But then I think, “what does it matter?”

So Supermodel, what difference do you make? Do you change the world in any positive way or does only your world benefit? Do you make any contribution by ‘walking’ better than I can?

Am I missing something? How many of us have ever been helped by a Supermodel? Few, that I know of.

Most of us have, however, been helped by inventors. Invention is about contribution. Innovators create things that make a difference. People feel the impact. And that’s why I believe Inventors are better than Supermodels.

I’m not saying modeling is an evil pursuit or that seeking to achieve Supermodel status is appalling. What I am saying is people should dream up new products while they fantasize about being a Supermodel or Rock-star.
Few people become Supermodels but everyone can invent. Today, more than ever, America needs more inventors. And the truth is inventors need cheering fans. Let’s work to make inventing as glamorous as ‘walking’.

I suggest you consider starting a robot competition at your local school like my friend Scott did. He’s no robot genius, he simply used SumoBots from The kids build their own robots and the battles begin.

Or bring your skills to your schools. I show school children how to invent. One of my inventions is the ColorCutter® Cutter Which means I have an arsenal of felt tip marker parts in my shop. Each year I bring marker parts and ink to classes and teach doe-eyed children to make markers.

Then everyone makes one, even the teacher. I hear children say, “It works!”, “ ‘I’ made this”, “I want to invent stuff” along with hoots and giggles. They leave with a feeling of accomplishment, a working marker and knowledge. More fun than walking the catwalk? Maybe. More substantial, useful and realistic, definitely.

We’ll all benefit by teaching the skill of inventing much more than if we focus on teaching how to look cool while you walk. IMHO…

Perry Kaye

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Philanthropic-Invention (Superman does not take Visa)

Invention is not always about money. For many of us inventing is primarily the quest for discovery and advancement. Fun seeking also plays a major roll. No, it’s not always about profit. Because attempting to monetize every inventive product is silly. Superman does not require a Visa Card before he’ll rescue you.

And right now, the World needs an ocean of Super-men/women (i.e. heroes) who help first and worry about money later. How do we inspire philanthropic inventaholics?

I often wonder about this. And recently I had an opportunity to discover my own answer. I think I may even have become an inventaholic-hero. Maybe, “hero”, is a bit strong. And this tale is not epic by any measure. But I do feel I’ve made a contribution to at least one person. And maybe through this article I'll help more people. Some by inspiring inventaholic philanthropy and others by giving them back the ability to draw/write again (explained just below, read on). The answer seems to be in the understanding that creative people have a responsibility to create, at least some of the time, for the common good.

My story begins with a diagnosis. A family friend was having medical problems and no one knew why. After a long and hellish series of cars, planes and waiting-rooms she heard the words “Ehlers-Daniels syndrome” ( I’ll spare you all the details and tell you in a nutshell that EDS screws with your body’s collagen production. Effectively, it turns your tendons from rubber-bands into limp spaghetti.

As you can imagine anyone with EDS has a horrid time performing everyday tasks. Is there a cure? No. And, unfortunately, most drug companies focus only on the high-profit drugs. If too few people need help, drug companies don't care. Time and again we see companies placing profits first and people second. But it does not need to be like this. We (budding heroes) can make a difference.

I was over my friend’s house when I discovered she could get around reasonable well, with a $20,000 wheelchair, but could not use a pencil. I was shocked. How could anyone be deprived of the ability to write a note or draw a doodle? I sunk in my chain.

Then I realized she needed help. I determined the task of writing/drawing can be broken down into two parts. To draw you must 1) hold the writing instrument in a correct orientation and also 2) move it along a set path. If you can’t do both you simply create meaningless scribbles.

Many people, whose challenges affect their dexterity, can’t orient and hold the pen well. But if they can move a wheelchair joystick, they might be able to guide a positioned-pen along an intended path.
The next day, I went into the nearest phone-booth (my bedroom closet) and put on my Super Hero Suit (free t-shirt from Makers Faire San Mateo 2008 and ripped jeans).

Then I sped off to my West-side Laboratory (Wal-Mart). Where I bought a cheap ballpoint-pen with an advantageously tapered barrel and a spatula with a thick handle. Since I don’t have X-ray vision or super human strength I too must purchase for my Bat-belt at Wal-Mart, Sears, Home Depot, Lowes and Radio Shack. Just like you.

In my shop I procured a lock-nut sized to fit the pen. Its I.D. is such that it screws onto the barrel just below the midsection of the pen.

The spatula was then clamped to my drill-press’ table and drilled.
The clamps are arranged so spatula is held in the same orientation it will be in when used. Here the drill-bit is coincident with the final location of the pen.

The pen is inserted into the hole from the bottom. The nut keeps if from sliding all the way through the handle. Here you see how it is used.

To make the PenRight more user friendly teflon tape is added allowing it slide better and also to protect work surfaces. Foam is added, using spray adhesive, to make it more comfortable to use.

Shortly after the pen is delivered I get a phone call and a heartfelt thank you. For the first time, in a long time, my friend can again wright and draw. I straightened my mask, get into my supercar and drive to buy a celebratory Mocha Frapachino. A hero? Maybe for just the day. A great feeling of contribution? Absolutely.

One more note. The ball point acts as a bearing and allows the pen to flow smoothly. The spatula acts as a spring allowing the user to engage or disengage the pen simply by applying or removing slight pressure.