Photo by Jason Henry
A short and fun interview between Steven Levy and Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie and the Aeropress.
So I recently ventured to the small suite towards the back of a tiny industrial complex near 101 in Palo Alto, the home of the Aerobie company and its unsung master maker, Alan Adler. At 75, he is still at it, the canonical independent inventor, digging in file drawers for blueprints, shuffling to a storage space to locate an early version of his long-flying disk, lining up AeroPress prototypes like the iconic illustration of Darwin’s vision of the evolution of man. Across the room is his granddaughter, who does his PR. If the Maker Movement needs someone to put on its postage stamp, Adler would be perfect.
Levy & Adler:
You didn’t go to college?
No, but but I taught college. I taught at Stanford for many years. I taught a course in sensors and also mentored mechanical engineering students and I still lecture there.
I certainly had the ability [as a student] but I didn’t always have the discipline to do all the work. I recall one incident in plane geometry class where I submitted a very unusual proof and the teacher asked me to do the proof on the blackboard for the rest of the class, which I did. And she looked sort of stunned. I realized afterward that she thought that my father must have done that proof, which he couldn’t do actually. My grades were about average. I was eager to get out and earn a living and be on my own.
Beth and I took off on Saturday morning for a hike to and from Alamere Falls via the Palomarin trail. This walk is one of our favorites, meandering through a range of terrains, passing a few small lakes, and then descending down to a beautiful, secluded beach where the falls crash into the ocean. A magical place.
The drive to the trailhead was remarkably quick. When we arrived, we were greeted by a surprising sight: a line of cars stretching back around a half mile from the trailhead. Beth and I have done the hike probably a dozen times in total between us, but had never encountered that volume of traffic in the parking lot or on the trail. Made some sense: it was a beautiful, warm, even hot Saturday morning. Everyone was out.
I’ve been a bit conflicted about what I saw on the trail. Getting people outdoors is a good way to get them to think about open space preservation and may spark some environmentalism. That said, I was dismayed by the amount of trash I saw on the trail, ranging from toilet paper to Clif Bar wrappers to empty bottles. Beyond litter, there was a remarkable lack of trail etiquette - a fair amount of wandering off trail, loud music and shouting, flower picking, and a seeming lack of awareness of one’s surroundings. This all sounds a bit curmudgeonly — perhaps it is — but I think it points toward a renewed need for some “trail manners” literature, discussion, and signage. A small thing, but an important one as social media and the internet continue to highlight the outstanding outdoor opportunities in the Bay Area.
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