Question Everything

One of the things that I like the most about my job is that I get to talk to some interesting people as sources for my stories. This week I want to tell you about two of them who couldn’t be more different.

In an article today in Internet Evolution, I had the opportunity to talk to an 83-year old man from Washington State who has eight patents and continues to invent new things. After filing his own patents, he realized how much effort he was putting into that process and now does everything out in the open and is quite proud of that. His latest idea was to figure out a way to cut the cost of the plastic feedstock for 3D printers by a factor of ten, which is a big deal if you want to produce a lot of objects from these cool tools.

As he is telling me his stories, I realize that I am feeling rather envious. I mean, the closest I have ever come to the US Patent Office was when I trademarked “Web Informant” many years ago, and only because another publisher was infringing on the name (they went out of business, so much for them).

My brother has several patents, for which I am also envious, but more proud. (And if you search the patent database, you will find a curious patent under my name that is from someone else).

But I digress. What was interesting about my octogenarian source was how he keeps thinking up new ideas, and how young he sounds. I hope I am still able to type, let alone think up new ideas, when I am his age.

Contrast this to another gentleman that I spoke to this week who is in the top ten Kaggle data scientists. Kaggle is an interesting site that produces data analysis contests. You win some money if your algorithm bests everyone else, and anyone can enter. My source had entered more contests than anyone else — more than 30 — and yet his educational background is in the humanities. He has economics degrees and an MBA, which I never thought of as a technical degree. But he thinks like a hacker, and uses the Kaggle contests to sharpen his mind and give himself what he called a post-graduate education in data science to stay current in the field. Even though he is near the top of the Kaggle heap, his total winnings don’t amount to much — that isn’t his motivation at all.

And here I thought I was doing well with the daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles. I doubt that I could enter, let alone come near winning, any of the Kaggle contests.

What both of these guys have in common is an insatiable curiosity for the unknown, to be constantly learning something new, and figuring out how the world works. As the tag line for the Science channel goes, Question Everything. That is something we have in common, and why I love my job.

5 thoughts on “Question Everything

  1. Great story! I have a 103-year-old great aunt who still finds delight in everyday things. She credits her longevity and (relatively) sharp brain to doing crossword puzzles. I had a 102-year-old great aunt who bought her first laptop at 100 years old because it was time to learn something new. These older people can teach us a lot about learning at any age. One of the best pieces of advice they gave me was to be friends with people of all ages because you learn so much. Besides, at 100+, most of your same-age friends are doing crossword puzzles in the sky. Thanks for an insightful, motivational piece.

  2. Nice piece, David! As I age into what my Mother used to call “Her Declining Years” I appreciate every opportunity to stretch myself I seize — I have always said that the jobs I have enjoyed most in life are those where, as I went into the office in the morning, I thought, “I probably don’t know how to do much of what I will face today – but I guess I’d better learn quickly!”
    GRANT

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