Posted by: Nancy | May 13, 2011

“Profound Idealism”

This is just a collection of items that interested me, perhaps with just a bit of a thread woven through … exploring and making…


Item No. 1: The April issue of Wired magazine was all about making stuff, and it featured a great interview with Limor Fried, who’s described as a “maker’s maker.” The part I liked best is in boldface below — I think she’s dead on; I think “making” is part of the entrepreneurial approach and can help us reimagine our economy.

Interviewer Chris Anderson asks about the maker movement:

“But how big is this really? Is it just a glorified hobby, or are we in fact looking at something that’s going to be an industrial model for the country and the world?

Limor Fried: Yes, it is a hobby, but in the same way that ham radio was a hobby — people were just experimenting with packet radio. But that led to Wi-Fi and cell phones. It’s a precursor, the same way that people making computers in the ’60s and ’70s in their garages affects computing now.

Chris Anderson: What does this mean for manufacturing in the US? If the small batch, the prototype, the niche, the flexible all become part of the design industry, which is here in the US, does the mass, the commodity go abroad?

Limor Fried: Yes. It doesn’t take much skill to operate a pick-and-place machine or an injection molder. That’s why we need to have more of the design and creative and engineering stuff, which does take skill, here in the US. I think the maker movement is incubating that very well, because maker stuff is all about designing and making prototypes. We might make the first 10 in-house, ahead of a 10,000-unit first run. I can do that with a small team of people and then have a factory abroad manufacture the rest. And that’s really fantastic. I don’t have to buy a factory to make what I want.”

Especially relevant as the Kansas City Maker Faire approaches! See you June 24-25.


Item No. 2: Technology Review, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, asks: Can Hobbyists and Hackers Transform Biotechnology?

Whoa … garage shop biotech? It turns out there’s a rising tide of do-it-yourself biohackers who work on genetic engineering and bioresearch in makeshift home labs, using a $500 PCR Xerox. (Another reason I was so disappointed in the PCR Nobel laureate’s recent talk — see my last post — but I’ll let that go.) “Biopunk,” a new non-fiction book by Marcus Wohlsen, describes the movement. From the article:

“Wohlson discovers that biohackers, like the open-source programmers and software hackers who came before, are united by a profound idealism. They believe in the power of individuals as opposed to corporate interests, in the wisdom of crowds as opposed to the single-mindedness of experts, and in the incentive to do good for the world as opposed to the need to turn a profit.

“Suspicious of scientific elitism and inspired by the success of open-source computing, the bio DIYers believe that individuals have a fundamental right to biological information, that spreading the tools of biotech to the masses will accelerate the pace of progress, and that the fruits of the biosciences should be delivered into the hands of the people who need them the most. “


Item No. 3:  One of the most exquisite websites I’ve ever seen is the Essential Vermeer.  It’s a beautiful archive of Vermeer’s works with interactive hotspots in the paintings that provide an incredibly detailed history of the item and its importance to Vermeer.

The snippet at the top is from this site, a fragment of  The Astronomer. I think of it as “The Explorer.” (That’s my excuse for including it at the top here.)

I imagine this astronomer with that same deep spark of passion for exploration — just like the examples in science and technology and engineering. I think I love profound idealism…

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