Since college I've had a practice of tithing my time. Its origins weren't particularly noble - mostly I was feeling guilty about my position as a middle class white male at a good school. My upbringing encouraged paying a tithe. It didn't make much sense to me. A wealthy person wouldn't suffer if they game a tenth of their income away while a poor person might be ruined. Money to an organization didn't make sense - particularly if it was seen as a bribe. Donating time was the great equalizer. How many CEO's donate four or six hours to some cause every week? How many churches would be able to accept the drop in funding?
Initially I found work in a soup kitchen. It was mind numblingly boring. I quit after a few minutes feeling that it was a failed experiment and a bit guilty. Then a friend asked for help with the instrumentation on his experiment. Learning about what he was doing and making my myself useful turned out to be fun. I felt I was getting more out of the deal than he was. It was grad school and I was completely hosed for time. Well - mostly - this was a vacation from my own work. For about a semester I'd spend about an hour a day helping and learning. The next semester came with a few smaller opportunities. I found myself hinting that I'd be willing to help out.
At Bell Labs there were tithing opportunities outside of science. The place had people from many walks of life - including musicians and artists. These were people - seriously talented people - who wanted to dip their toes in projects, but needed collaboration. The amount of learning went up dramatically. Tithing grew to about ten percent of my waking hours and external projects like working with a startup Black Women's fashion magazine came along. Long lasting threads were being generated. I found myself beginning to identify and connect widely separated fields bringing my background and abilities along for the ride.
Some threads tangled and led me to territories I hadn't imagined. A wild piece of serendipity occurred when someone from the fashion world told me there was someone I had to meet. Colleen was spending a bit of time in NYC looking for ideas, so we got together to see if any crazy projects presented themselves. If you were to look at our backgrounds, other than a sense we needed to do something about global warming, there was little overlap - something that proved to be a feature. At the time she was a pro beach volleyball player and I was in need of a project far from the norm. We got together and talked and listened and talked.
Dots began to connect, but like sausage making the process was messy and required quite a bit of effort. Threads began to emerge. I'll just mention one that came from observation.
She happens to be very tall - about five and a half standard deviations taller than the average woman and nearly three and a half more the average man. Interacting with man-made objects, particularly those that are mass produced, can be frustrating. The design world usually focus on the five to ninety five percent range. Colleen is at the 99.9998 percentile when it comes to height.
In physics you learn to focus on what appears to be broken - what doesn't match the models people have been working with. Colleen clearly isn't broken - the problem is with the products.
There were a few quick fixes. She had come up with many on her own. Jeans weren't long enough, so when a pair wears out you cut the bottom foot or so from each leg and use them to extend the legs of normal jeans. Others proved a bit more difficult and part of the problem is recognizing there is a design issue rather than just adapting. She loves to cook, but watching her wince with back pain after about 15 minutes of prep work was enough to spark a simple idea. Anthropometric studies suggested a work surface 49" from the ground. The standard American kitchen counter is 36", so the trick was a sturdy little 13" tall table with a high quality cutting surface.
It worked so well that a small company got involved in making them. She recorded and edited a YouTube promotion with her mother operating a Flip camera (remember that?). The outtakes video shows off her sense of humor.
There were several other modified products ideas that were basically appropriately sized or positioned, but the big game was apparel. Finding anything that remotely fits is a challenge. Made to measure is the best path to success, but it isn't cheap. This rekindled an interest in apparel design and manufacture - an interest that is still alive as disruption seems very likely.
She has been working on finding a path that will let her travel and write more - perhaps enough to make a living. A part on a five episode reality show that highlights very tall women presented itself and she jumped at it. The first episode of My Giant Life aired earlier this week on TLC and turned out to be more respectful of the women than these shows can be.1 It is an opportunity for her to become a bit more well known and have a better chance with some of her ideas. She's looking for her own set of points to connect and her own threads to weave.
The first episode shows a special bike that Trek made for her in recognition of her environmental efforts along with the cutting board and how she has hacked her 400 sq ft garden apartment to make use of the vertical space. When you can easily put your palm on the ceiling, high spaces become attractive. On the other hand a five foot tall refrigerator isn't very back friendly. At least she is no longer just adapts - she observes and is filing away ideas.
Connecting the dots and using these experiences to weave threads through time is a path to creativity and adaptation. The current focus of schools on STEM and the elimination of so many other subjects, particularly for the poor, strikes me as short sighted and perhaps dangerous. I was delighted when Horace Dediu's wife wrote and pointed out Finland takes a very broad approach. They're creating a very adaptable workforce.
My college education was far too narrow. In grad school I learned a bit more about my craft after several years of intense focus, effective rendering me more narrow. Somehow I lucked out with curiosity beyond my field and have been able to build a continuing education that is a little broader. Many of you do this and much more brilliantly.
Tell your stories and inspire others...
1 It still had many annoying issues, but ... television. Height is over sensationalized with camera angles at times and is the main driver of the plots, but that's what the series is about. At least everyone is treated well so far and perhaps some people may realized how they treat those who are different needs to be changed.
The series will be available on iTunes. Episode 1 is free and on their server for streaming and download.
Great with freshly picked blueberries and more than ok with frozen. The other ingredients need to be fresh.
Blueberry Ice Cream
° 2 large pasteurized eggs
° 1.25 c white sugar (if the berries are extra sweet, cut the sugar a bit)
° 2 c blueberries - or flash frozen from last season
° juice of 1/2 lemon
° 2 c heavy cream
° 1 c whole milk
° toss blueberries, lemon juice, 1/2 c sugar in a small bowl, cover and refrigerate for a few hours tossing every half hour or so
° wisk eggs until fluffy, wisk in the sugar a bit at a time and then blend in the cream and milk
° mash the berry mix by hand and mix with dairy mixture
° churn freeze and season if you can stand the wait - I usually just eat it immediately!