Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cork Boat

Listening to a new book on tape - Cork Boat by John Pollack. This is the story of one man's journey to build the first, well, cork boat. His goal was to make a watercraft made essentially of wine corks.

Now, we aren't talking about a cork raft, or a cork floatation device. We are talking about 165,000 indvidual corks put together to form a 2000lb boat.

At first I thought the story would be a kind of riomantic tale of how a boyhood dream came true. And it is. But the story is much more than that too.

First, there are the engineering challanges. How do you turn 100,000 indvidual small pieces into a solid boat? The solution was pretty remarkable: rubber band corks into disks, attach disks together end-to-end to form a logs, logs put together to form a boat. The process had to be able to scale. Additonally, each step needed to form a solid foundation for the next step could be built on. All of this had to be figured out, from the simplest grouping of 6 corks, to how the boat could be loaded on a trailer.

Second, there are the social challanges. This is a brute force effort. Every step of the eay involves people and lots of manual labor. How do you streamline the process as much as possible? How do you keep people motivated when they have an apparently impossible task? How do you meet crazy deadlines? How do you get media attention while having a $0 budget? These questions and lots more are all part of tackeling the cork boat project.

So, to my surprise and enjoyment the story is a rich and enjoyable one. Give it a listen and appreciate that challanges can be met head on, even when you have no idea how on earth you'll pull it off.

If you excuse me, I have to go assemble 160,000 bits into a useful software program.


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