Archive for July, 2012

That’s COOL!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

There has been two videos I have seen recently where saying “That’s COOL” is a natural response. The first one is about a 9 year old boy who decides to build his own arcade out of cardboard boxes from his father’s auto supply store.

The second one is about a father who builds a 12ft. high roller coaster in the back yard for his son.

Compared to what you would find at a carnival or a fun-park there is nothing very impressive with what we see in these two videos.  The COOL factor for me rests in the intent, the approach, the stick-to-it-activeness, the problem-solving, the resourcefulness and most importantly the joy experienced through the process. If you go to the website for Caine’s Arcade you will be blown away by what this young boy’s initiative triggered in people.

Watch these videos and see if you can hold yourself back from saying “That IS COOL“.

The Mother of Invention

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

The author of this proverbial saying isn’t known for sure. It was used in England, although at that point in Latin rather than English, by the 16th century. Most of my references to working with hands have been about activities that are done by choice such as becoming a skilled tradesman or deciding to take up gardening or building model railways. Other hands-on endeavors are because the people involved have an important need.

I came across three articles recently that bring this point home. ‘Backyard ingenuity’ helps cystic fibrosis sufferers is a story about Marten DeVlieger who has cystic fibrosis – an incurable condition that clogs the lungs and digestive system. To survive, in addition to dozens of pills, he needs someone to pat his back for 30 minutes up to three times a day. By the time he turned 16, Mr. DeVlieger was tired of relying on his parents and had dreams of flying a helicopter but his thrice daily ritual is an impediment. He came up with a concept: a chest device that would mimic the traditional manual technique for loosening up mucus. He began scouring a nearby garbage dump for parts, playing with sewing-machine motors, off-centred weights, electrical currents and vibration. The heavy steel contraption he first invented nearly knocked him on the ground and covered his torso with bruises. So he switched to aluminum, and, four prototypes later, had a system that worked. The story gets even better but let’s move on to the second article.

India’s frugal revolution is all about the jugaad system of developing makeshift but workable solutions from limited resources. Jugaad essentially conveys a way of life, a worldview that embodies the quality of making do with what you have to meet your needs.  A good example they give is about an Indian villager who constructs a makeshift vehicle to transport his livestock and goods by rigging a wooden cart with an irrigation hand pump that serves as an engine. That’s jugaad.

The third article is somewhat related to the second and it is all about Reverse Innovation.

Now that was delicious!

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

One of the documentaries that I am trying to develop will focus on the science of the hand, looking at the hand-brain connection. Part of that story will involve the research of Dr. Kelly Lambert who wanted to understand why epidemiological research has suggested our generation is up to 10 times more likely to experience depression than our grandparents, even though their times were physically tougher. There were many parts to the research but I would like to quote her on one of the experiments;

“Putting the effort-driven reward idea to the test in the laboratory, my students and I designed a study in which one group of rats was trained to dig for froot loop rewards each day (worker rats) whereas a second group was given their froot loop rewards regardless of their effort (trust fund rats). After six weeks, each animal was presented with an unsolvable problem (unbeknownst to the rats) and the worker rats persisted for nearly twice as long as the trust fund rats. The “effort-driven reward” training appeared to have immunized the worker rats against the “learned helplessness” often associated with depression. Also interesting, when we tested for the presence of a brain neuropeptide (Neuropeptide Y) that is associated with resilience, the worker rats had more than their trust fund counterparts.”

It turns out that resilience is not the only trait developed from doing effort-based activities. Jonah Lehrer, a contributing editor at Wired, wrote in his blog a post called “Why Making Dinner Is a Good Idea”. A test was done where mice, in order to get some sugary (polycose) water, had to press a lever. As the number of times required to press the lever increased (up to 15), the water somehow became tastier. The scientists measured these preferences in part by analyzing the rate and duration of “licking bursts”. The speculative conclusion was that the association of effort and deliciousness would have been an adaptive association back when calories were scarce, and we’d sometimes have to work hard to end up with a rather disgusting dinner.

Both studies seem to point to extra activity in the areas of the brain associated with our sense of well-being. In simple terms when your striatum is excited, life is good. Inversely, obese people tend to have reduced activation in the striatum after sipping an ice cream treat, which leads to increased consumption. In other words, they kept on consuming the milkshake in a manic search for satisfaction.