Inventing Scotch Tape

Design

As we conclude another holiday season, one of the unsung heros of the gift giving process is the lowly roll of tape. This magical invention that we probably all take for granted actually came to be via a skunk works project from a rookie engineer at 3M named Richard Drew.

After being hired on at 3M, he was given the ultra exciting task of testing out different types of sandpaper and the various grains that could be used on the sandpaper. Yes, exciting work. Eventually he was sent out to local auto shops to see how the sandpaper products were being used and observed that the auto body workers were running into some very frustrating situations. You see, back then, two tone paint jobs on cars were very popular back then however the method of applying the paint on them was archaic and in turn, drove the auto body workers crazy!

For auto workers, [two tone paint jobs were] a total pain in the ass: To achieve this effect, they had to mask off parts of the car with butcher paper, newspapers, homemade glue, and heavy-duty surgical adhesive tape. When the tape was removed, it would often take with it chips of the freshly-coated paint. A vicious cycle would ensue of taping, painting, re-taping, and re-painting.

When Drew walked into the shop that day, he was greeted with the “choicest profanity” he’d ever heard: strong adhesive tape had, once again, botched the auto workers’ paint job. Instead of seizing the opportunity to sell the disgruntled workers sandpaper to remove paint, Drew had a completely unrelated revelation: what if he could design a superior, less aggressive tape — a tape that didn’t ruin paint jobs?

Drew took his knowledge of how 3M applied sand grains to paper to in turn figure out how to apply non-stick adhesive to paper so it did not leave any residue on the surface. Once he figured it out, he created the machinery to produce it by purchasing supplies in increments of $99 so not to get flagged by his leaders since he was only allotted $100 budget for supplies.

Not only did Drew create Scotch (aka Masking) tape, but he then went on to create clear Scotch tape. Today, those products still represent about 20% of 3M’s revenue.

Road To Nowhere

Funny

Back in the 1980’s, there was a big push to switch the US to the metric system (an initiative I vaguely remember). Way down in southern Arizona, the politicos back then took the initiative to switch over Highway 19 south of Tuscon to the metric system in anticipation of the country’s full conversion. Yes, we’re all still waiting for the country to switch over and 30+ years on, this stretch of highway is the only road in the US that is measured with the metric system.

That made sense in 1980, when I-19’s signs first went up and when U.S. was near the peak of its flirtation with the metric system. Five years earlier, President Ford had signed the Metric Conversion Act, declaring the metric system “the preferred system of weights and measures for United States trade and commerce” and establishing United States Metric Board to guide the conversion. Schoolchildren dutifully learned their kilograms and centimeters.

But the Metric Conversion Act was only voluntary, and there was far too much inertia to change every single label in the country voluntarily. Reagan disbanded the Metric Board in 1982. Instead of leading the charge into brave new metric system, Arizona’s highway is a reminder of a failed experiment.

Ironically, Arizona is now trying to switch the road back to miles however it is stuck in political red tape. Ah, progress!

via Factually Gizmodo

Densely Populated

Culture

An interesting infographic that shows how big a city would be need to be to house the world’s population, if that city was as densely populated as NYC, San Francisco, Paris, etc. According to the infographic, Paris is a more densely populated city than NYC, which kind of surprised me.

On a more practical note, managing the logistics of transportation and traffic for 6.9 billion people in one city is probably a challenge that would explode a few minds.

via Swiss Miss

Start It Up

Business

If you are a podcast listener, here is one to add to your listening queue.

At one point in the not too distant past, Alex Blumburg was a producer at NPR and was intimately involved in argueably the two best programs on the NPR show list – This American Life and Planet Money (Six years on, the TAL podcast that Blumberg and Ira Glass produced – “The Giant Pool of Money” – about the 2008 financial crisis still resonates with me).

Blumburg recently left NPR to venture into the great blue yonder of starting a business – only he’s producing a podcast series that is documenting his successes, failures, and challenges along the way as he tries to build his company and business.

So if you are in a start up, thinking about starting up a business, or just need some new programming to listen to on your commute to and from your cubicle job, take a listen to the Start Up podcast. The RSS feed of the podcast is here and you can just copy and paste the URL into any Podcast player (I’m a big fan of Marco Arment’s Overcast in the iTunes Store)

Start Up.

Amateur In Name Alone

Sports

Today, the NCAA board voted to allow the ‘big five’ power conferences (SEC, ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10) to have more autonomy to set their own rules and regulations – basically opening the door for them to allow players to be paid and covered by insurance, to set the rules on hours dedicated to the sport of choice and the number of coaches on staff. In short, the NCAA provided the most powerful conferences with even more power and competitive advantage, and have thus have left all other schools and conferences in the dust.

I’m actually OK with the college players receiving compensation above and beyond the scholarship benefits they already receive. The rules that the NCAA has in place are amazingly outdated and onerous to the point that a plain bagel is considered a snack (and thus ok for a student athlete to eat if someone gives it to them) yet adding cream cheese to that same bagel turns it into a meal, and thus would be an NCAA violation if a student athlete accepted that as a ‘gift’ from someone.

However, the bigger concern is that this ruling has basically separated the top 5 ‘power’ conferences from the rest of the universities who play intercollegiate sports. And from that perspective, this is a pretty troubling result. It is troubling because all of these schools have been seduced by the dollars that these ‘amateur’ sports drive. Bill Snyder, the long time and well respected coach of Kansas State, took it one step further by saying everyone (his school included) has ‘sold out’ to TV at the expense of education:

“It’s no longer about education,” Snyder said. “We’ve sold out to the cameras over there, and TV has made its way, and I don’t fault TV. I don’t fault whoever broadcasts games. They have to make a living and that’s what they do, but athletics — that’s it. It’s sold out.”

“Everybody is building Taj Mahals,” Snyder said, “and I think it sends the message — and young people today I think are more susceptible to the downside of that message, and that it’s not about education. We’re saying it is, but it’s really about the glitz and the glitter, and I think sometimes values get distorted that way. I hate to think a young guy would make a decision about where he’s going to get an education based on what a building looks like.”

The importance and entertainment value of intercollegiate sports is very important to a college campus/student environment. As a Syracuse alum, some of my best memories of college centered around the basketball team, the football team (Kids, ask your parents about Floyd Little, Jim Brown, Joe Morris, Larry Csonka, Don MacPherson, and Donovan McNabb), and having a venue like the Carrier Dome on campus. To this day, going to see SU’s hoops team play is a great way to re-connect with friends from college. Yet, when these few ‘power conferences’ are given the keys to the kingdom by NCAA leadership and are driving a complete upheaval with all of this conference re-alignment, we really need to take as step back and ask “What the hell is going on here?”. That is what I would have expected the NCAA ‘leadership’ to do, but instead they have given the fox the keys to the hen house.

In the ACC today, seven of the conference’s 15 teams are former Big East teams and now the Big East conference – and the great regional rivalries – has ceased to exist as we know it. How does this make any sense? Tell me how a Syracuse – Florida State game has more relevance to their respective student bodies compared to, say, a Syracuse – UConn game or a Syracuse – Boston College game? Where each of those three schools are within a 4-5 hour drive of each other? Where students at those schools are probably far more likely to directly or indirectly know an alum from the other institutions? Isn’t part of the fun (remember when playing sports was fun!) of sports is busting on your buddy when your team beat his?

College sports has been big business for a long, long time. And the value to the campus culture beyond the sporting arena is clear. I don’t think that can be argued. Yet, the path that collegiate sports has taken to get to this point is nothing short of a shame and as Bill Snyder said in the above referenced article, “we’ve lost sight of what college athletics is all about”.

Dial Up Still Covers AOL’s Bills

Internet

While AOL beat Wall Street estimates this past quarter, it was also revealed that it still has multiple millions people still paying $20 a month for Internet access. How is this possible in 2014?

But as always, the most amazing thing about AOL’s business is the thing that drives AOL’s business: Millions of people, who started paying the company a monthly fee for Internet access more than a decade ago, who continue to pay the company a monthly fee for Internet access, even though they likely aren’t getting Internet access from AOL anymore.

via Re/code

The Luckiest Man

Sports

This week marks the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous “Luckiest Man On the Face of the Earth” speech when he was honored at Yankee Stadium near the end of his legendary career.

Here is a cool video where the first basemen from all the MLB teams recite his speech and then Derek Jeter concludes it:

The full transcript is below:

“Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

“Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I’m lucky.

“When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift – that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.

“So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

— Lou Gehrig

Speech transcript via Lou Gehrig’s website