Friday, September 28, 2007

Such is the modern way...

I would be remiss if I didn't mention my recent life changes - this doesn't come under the category of "travels" but it has certainly been an adventure, and it will have a huge impact on future travels. One year ago this week I took a leave of absence from my medical device development work at - we had just completed a radical new product for the market, everything was looking up, but there can be a period in the process where you have to wait for the customer to do his job of introducing it to the public (and then allowing the product to sell itself, based on its merits). Great time to take a needed break (new product development is hell at the end) and management was extremely fond of not having to pay me. I went to Guatemala, learned Spanish, practiced stoving (its not intuitive it turns out - see my technical blog for details), and even taught sewing classes (yet another blog, of mine, and an odd story - I don't really know how to sew!).

The very day before I returned I found that it was felt that more "technology" was no longer needed in the organization - and it has not had any more since then either. Young companies without a product on the market officially don't have a demonstrable worth (real worth is based on present and projected sales) so any promised sales are worth a fortune. Vapore now has a product ( and it is a beautiful one meeting all customer specifications and then some. but stock in Vapore is now worthless - if only because the company no longer has technical vision or leadership.

Kick ass, then just before rewards are due... - get used to it mate. The product won a 2006 R&D 100 award, once I later wrote the application ( - one of the one hundred best new technology products of 2007. So I have somewhat sworn off corporate culture until the right new company comes along and consult on global manufacturing - too many experiences with no appreciation for the technical people, who tend to deliver the innovation. The SF Bay area is filled with the coolest technical jobs possible - environmental, solar electric, high tech materials, more biotech, and such - when you need work.

"Travel with a purpose" was I goal I set back in Laos, when I found adventure tourism - as hard as I tried to live close to the local people and to travel as slowly as possible - to be somewhat hollow. Its not that the people in underdeveloped nations needed my help - hell, they seem to be the happiest people I know, just without many choices - but, as a scientist, there were things that I could perhaps do to make their lives a little richer (or more secure, or something), AND those accomplishments would be enriching rewards for me. Even humanitarianism is selfish business! I'm a good scientist, I like to travel, working with new friends is a great thing, and wouldn't it be great to work outdoors all the time?

The rest of the story is that I think I now aspire to be a "technical humanitarian" (apparently a new phrase for the language), and particularly I chose stoving (the process of designing for and introducing improved cook stoves to the 2-3 billion people who live now with smoky and inefficient ones) and try to make advances by experimenting, writing (, networking, and such. And Engineers Without Borders (EWB - is a decent way to get exposed to all kinds of other technical humanitarianism goals - clean water, decent housing, good health, food security, renewable energy, etc. - I helped start the Appropriate Technology Design Team so that we could take in new projects that could survive on their own sooner (

Eventually I'll be able to tell if this change helped (and be a little less bitter - this post will then self destruct and disappear)... party on Garth!

After all, how bad can it be? Now I do get to work in more interesting places, on projects that are just as technical (but perhaps not as challenging - but the anthropology/cultural change aspect is turning out to be hell), help people, work outside, possibly assist in stimulating significant change, I enjoy working with the people who have some of the same life interests that I do, and so on. But no stock options are offered.


Anonymous scott said...

Good post canche. Keep blogging, it gives me reason to live!

6:01 AM  
Blogger 2Dogs&aBaby said...

Way to go, boss!

8:01 PM  

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