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Making Something From Nothing

April 12, 2014


(Dad served in the Navy in WWII)


Growing up my dad had a machine shop in the basement.


Lathe, drill press, high speed saws, cutters, benders, hand tools, lots of things in tool cases.


He was an engineer most of his life traveling the world at the dawn of the age of air travel. Maybe not dawn. Maybe more like 7:15am ish, the late-morning/after-breakfast time of the air transportation marvel. He became inspired and influenced by the cultures and noticed needs that went unmet.


He met my mother who was 20 years younger, and wooed her into romance about the time he went off on his own to launch his business. She was a nurse going back for her master's.


They were both starting new lives with little money. It was the early 70s and Dad invented some tools for the wire industry. Ceramic wire is used for extremes, often highly sensitive applications like sensors in machines. His products helped makers make stuff from the hard wire, a small but growing market, a small hidden secret , a tiny spark he found during his travels abroad.


By the late 1970s they moved to the house where I was born. The basement was a makeshift office/manufacturing space. Dad worked in the downstairs, refining the products for his company now growing.


We had very little money for extraneous things. Technically, I am told, we could have applied for and received public aid (but never did). They grew vegetables and bought from coops, getting by on clever hacks and a thoughtful budget.


We three siblings were lost in our dreams and didn't know money was slight. Our childhood was idyllic. We grew up on the end of the street in a small rural town, now a Suburb. We were surrounded by 3 acres of land we owned, dense deciduous woods with a pond, a stream just beyond. Past that: hundreds of acres. The backyard of kids' dreams - that's where we became makers.


We had a sailboat they'd acquired from a friend. A humble luxury, which was a key factor in our own future trend. Instead of Disneyland vacations we sailed around Lake Michigan every summer. We learned how to navigate with charts and compass, managing the sails and rigging, finding new adventures in every port. It was small boat living. On the water things look and feel different. The colors more vivid and mysterious, the weather less forgiving and activities more of a commitment. It stimulates every sense. Priceless life experience through reflective consideration.


My siblings and I were explorers and observers of these many worlds: our backyard forest and the different ports on both sides of this big glacier puddle. We looked at the architecture and designs of homes and buildings shore-side: Lighthouses, lifeguard towers, metal railings, docks, tugboats and vacation houses. Mom and Dad pointed out the details.


We used Dad's tools for precision construction of our own inventions on our land and the boat. We copied designs and invented new things from all the influences.


We built rafts to float, multi-level tree forts, skateboard ramps, classic cars/their engines, lasers and electronics. We'd help our parents build new machines and try different ideas. Shapes, connections, bolt heads, we paid attention to details. I read architecture books and drew plans on paper, then Dad would help machine it into something more than vapor.


We got schooled in materials and measurements hands-on. If done properly things achieved a sense beyond magic.


Mom's career took off. Dad's business grew serving worldwide customers. We ended up okay financially, but more importantly we learned about building something from nothing.


Things sometimes look bleak and uncertain. But when you reach down inside and start creating, small things can become amazing. That spark that lights a fire into a blaze. I like to think it can't be explained, but the dots connect when I remember how we were raised.


This business is small and it's not yet successful. We keep going on faith and our own history of making. Making things people want and knowing small things can get bigger. It's always uncertain, but we think the success is in working.


It's the mystery of our world, how the sparks live within. A lot of work has gone on, and there's a lot more to go. But we think we've got a big idea with the Extō. We're putting all the skills we learned and the influences we've earned onto something we all need: a great solution for electricity.


Everything starts small, as we are right now. So if you have an idea, don't wait, you can start. Just plant it and water it and have faith in the future. From nothing comes something, and we're all in between. "It's not what you have done but what you will do" that matters. It's the line we repeat when we hit a tough spot. When we go over or under or around it we grow. And when it branches and blooms and yields we'll know: it was all worth it.

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