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The raving thoughts of a misanthropic academic

February 21, 2012

Innovation in America: The TiGr Lock Story

I've been staying up inordinately late the past couple of nights, devouring the Suzanne Collins series The Hunger Games Trilogy. I think my approximate bedtime each night has been between 3:30am and 4:15am. I understand that moderation is the appropriate virtue that I should be seeking to develop - particularly with Lent beginning tomorrow. Still, there's something very satisfying about greedily reading a book into the wee, small hours of the morning.

After realizing that my long blinks were becoming increasingly longer, I decided to hit the sack. But a final check of my Email suddenly left me wide awake. Extricating myself from the vice-like snuggle of our pooch, I padded down the hallway as not to wake my wife. I fired up the computer, and in the dead of night I logged on to an obscure website called http://tigrlock.com/.

The TiGr Lock is a kickstarter project that I have been following for almost nine months. The vision of a father/son duo, their goal was to create and market a bicycle lock that hit the holy trifecta of cycling - a bike lock that is secure, light weight, and aesthetically pleasing. Anyone who has cycled will immediately understand how such a lock has the potential to change the game in terms of bicycle security.

The problem is that most bike locks on the market tend to be large and cumbersome - think massive chains, and weighty U-Locks. Needless to say, such prophylactic devices are hardly very convenient when riding around on a road bike that is engineered to be light weight and relatively minimalist in stye.

There's also the unfortunate matter that bicycle security devices, in general, aren't terribly reliable. Security cables can be cut, and the ever popular U-Lock can be easily picked. As the market stands today, locking up a bike is more about theft deterrence than actual security.

Enter the TiGr Lock.

In preliminary testing, the TiGr Lock outperformed the typical U-lock in a series of three tests, using common bike theft tools: a tungsten-carbide handsaw, an angle grinder, and a (massive) pair of bolt cutters. And aside from its security benefits, the lock itself weighs about 1.5lbs  (or 24oz as the manufacturers cleverly note). The video below shows a side-by-side demonstration of the tests.

Aside from the potential to revolutionize bicycle security, one of the things I find most exciting about this project is the way in which the TiGr Lock story so closely mirrors the adventures and misadventures of countless entrepreneurs. The scrappy idea began in the workshop of its father/son inventors John and Bob Loughlin. Realizing they were on to something, the two inventors first sought outside investment capital from grassroots supporters to get the project off the ground. In a matter of weeks, supporters funded the TiGr Lock Kickstarter program at roughly 300%.

Sensing the lock's obvious momentum, the next step for the team was to follow their Kickstarter program by doing live product testing using complimentary product samples for the same supporters who originally backed the project. After mailing sample locks to supporters of a certain donation level, they obtained device feedback over a period of several months. In the meantime, the team formed its own LLC, and sought patent and trademark protection from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Finally, last night, the TiGr Lock website went live, offering customers the company's first product run. Assuming the launch is a success, the rest may well be history. Already, the TiGr Lock story has been featured in a number of major publications including the Wall St. Journal, Forbes, and USA Today. Let it not be said that innovation in America is dead.

After my clandestine rendezvous in our home office and another hour of reconnaissance, I quickly ordered my own TiGr Lock before slipping back into bed. Seeing as I neglected to inform my wife of the purchase, the $200 question will be how long I can keep a secret...

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February 8, 2012

The View From the Top of the World

Some eleven years ago, Vanity Fair contributor Bryan Burrough wrote a lengthy, if not macabre, article about the disappearance of a pair of mountaineers who were attempting to become the first individuals to summit Mt. Everest.

The two were an odd pair. The leader of the 1924 expedition was renown British mountaineer George Mallory, who was making his third and final attempt to reach the top of the world. His partner was an accomplished, yet comparative neophyte climber named Andrew "Sandy" Irvine. The trek up Everest was Irvine's first.

As the duo braced for the final push, ascending the mountain's infamous "second step," fellow mountaineer Noel Odell spotted the two in the distance:

From what Odell could see, they had barely 900 feet to go before they reached the summit. Then a veil of high white clouds dropped across the mountaintop, obscuring Odell's view, and the two men disappeared.

Forever.

[Link]

The fate of the two men, and their success was a complete mystery, left shrouded in Everest's icy mist until May 1, 1999, when a gaggle of American climbers found the proverbial needle in the haystack on Everest's icy slopes, and discovered the body of George Mallory. Whether Mallory and Irvine actually reached the summit remains unclear.

Burrough's tale is, of course, gripping. He describes Mallory and Irvine's ascent through the "death zone" of Mt. Everest, and explains the remarkable odds faced by climbers who challenge the angry mountain.

Since Everest was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953, roughly 219 people have perished in their attempt to follow suit. The death of Francys (Fran) Arsentiev is a particularly harrowing account. Arsentiev was an American climber who was discovered alive though ailing on the mountain by a group of climbers. After assessing Arsentiev's condition, and the weather conditions on Everest, the group left her to die as they made their ascent.

The accounts and documentaries on the difficulties of summiting Mt. Everest, leave me utterly entranced by the human need to accomplish. We homo sapiens seem to have something hard wired in us that cuts across cultures, and prompts us to test our limits. In the Arsentiev story, climbers saw the risks that awaited them, yet left her to pursue their climb anyway. A more callous interpretation of the story is that the climbers' need to reach the summit trumped their concern for human life, sentencing Arsentiev to death - though the matter is admittedly much more complex. As for Mallory and Irvine, climbing in 1924, they were attempting the impossible. Everest had never been climbed. Their gear consisted of woolen jackets and hobnail boots. The odds of success had them doomed from the start. And yet, they climbed. Some theories even have Mallory actually summiting before his death - a full 29 years before Sir Edmund Hillary.

Mallory reputedly said he wanted to climb Everest simply, "because it's there." Whether the quotation is true or not, it aptly sums up a great deal about the life we live. Why did mankind go to the Moon? What prompted our scientific advances in medicine? What made Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak create the Apple I and Apple II computers? What makes an otherwise sane person pursue a doctorate (in any field)? What makes a group of disgruntled taxpayers think they can defeat the most powerful nation on Earth? Why do we set New Year's resolutions, run marathons, smoke cigars, play video games, or create works of art, literature, and music?

In the end, all of our creative and aspirational undertakings amount to some variation of Mallory's "because it's there."

I doubt that I will ever climb Mt. Everest, but knowing Mallory's story leaves me with the inkling there's something fundamentally human about the view from the top of the world. It's in our DNA. It's the feeling everyone gets when we conquer our respective mountains - literally, or figuratively; wherever, and whatever they may be.

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Organic, free-range thought courtesy of your average, coffee-addicted, American Indian, academic. Program Manager @IGPatUA.


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