What would a hacker do?

14 Apr

Have you heard about Mick Ebeling?

He spoke at a TED gathering this month and told an amazing story about helping a well-known graffiti artist named Tempt. After being gripped by the nerve disease ALS, Tempt was left paralyzed, except for the use of his eyes.

Ebeling's son wearing a prototype of the Eyewriter

Tempt’s family wanted a way to communicate with him. Ebeling, who founded the Not Impossible Foundation, swooped in to help.

He wondered why the family didn’t just use one of those speech synthesizers Stephen Hawking uses. They said, “Unless you’re in the upper echelon and have amazing insurance, you can’t get that.”

So Ebeling put together a team of hackers and designers to build an alternate solution. They used simple tools — a cheap pair of sunglasses from Venice Beach, cooper wire, stuff from Radio Shack. They hacked open a camera and mounted it to an LED light.

The result was the Eyewriter, a device people can build themselves — Ebeling and team published the plans and offer the downloadable software for free.

It’s now as simple as this: If you’re paralyzed, you can communicate or draw using your eyes. There are no limitations, no insurance company or hospital that can say no. That’s an amazing breakthrough.

His story made me reflect on the edible school garden project I’ve been working on.

The goal of the garden project is to allow all children to be enriched by nature, and for all children to reconnect with real food, and to learn how to cook and like those foods. I’ve certainly encountered financial constraints. And there are bureaucratic barriers to contend with.

Nutritionist Becca Wright makes green smoothies with kids

But I’m inspired Ebeling’s hacker spirit. That’s the sort of thinking we all need more of. The type of thinking that makes you ask, “What’s the most creative — and cheapest — way to reach the goal? What would a hacker do?”

In a couple of weeks, our own hacker group — three NCSU undergrad design students — will be finished designing and constructing a mobile cooking station. Our school nutritionist can start taking it into classrooms for cooking sessions. (After installing garden beds for a couple of years, we finally have enough produce growing to sustain a cooking class.)

Cost for materials to build the cooking cart? Around $200. I’ve asked our school community for donations of used cooking equipment and have already heard from a lot of folks willing to throw in measuring cups, whisks and mixing bowls. With the $50 gift card we received from Target, we should be able to buy some knives.

So, to build and stock the cart, we’re making a one-time investment of 62 cents per student.

When we’re finished, we’ll post the plans online, so anyone can roll up their sleeves and build a cart for their own school — and maybe even come up with a cheaper way to do it.

It’s only a partial hack, but it’s pretty affordable and can be replicated. There are 16 other Durham schools that, like our school, receive a nutritionist’s services through DINE for LIFE. And a growing number of schools have their own gardens.

What I’d like to hear from you is, what’s your hack?

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