Archive | December, 2012

Modern Times and Canine Wetsuits

8 Dec

Approximately three times a week, I take our three largest dogs for a walk on the beach near where I live. I try to do this in fair or foul weather. The two larger dogs have no trouble enduring cold and rain, but the smallest of the three, Petunia, sometimes gets cold.

The other day, when I took them for their walk, we put a wool sweater on Petunia. That worked fairly well. However, she happened to wonder too far into the water and got it wet. It still kept her somewhat warm, but it could not have been as warm as it would otherwise have been.

Then I had this epiphany. What if we could make her a vest, similar to her sweater, but out of the same material that is used to make wetsuits. I have a neoprene case for my computer tablet that is sufficiently soft, and yet is water proof. I realized that if we made Petunia a wetsuit out of similar material, she could get as wet as she pleased and, just like scuba divers, she would stay warm.

The problem would be sewing the suit. My mother is a good seamstress, but her sewing machine probably couldn’t handle the thick neoprene. I mentioned this idea to my niece, who was visiting that day, and she suggested that I look on the Internet to see what I could find.

At first the search did not go well. I found one place that used to make dog wetsuits, but had quit. Then I found several places that made dog flotation suits, They were all much heavier than what I had in mind. Finally, I found a place in California called Surf ‘n Sea that made custom wetsuits for people and, as a side venture, also made them for dogs.

Petunia Wetsuit

I downloaded their measurement chart and took measurements on our dog. The next day I talked with a nice woman named Hilary Bernhard who explained exactly how to do the measurements and took my credit card information. One week later, we had a marvelous little neoprene vest for our dog.

Now, let us go back perhaps thirty years before the Internet was prevalent and begin with my original inspiration. I could not have hoped to find a place that actually made dog wetsuits. I might even have had trouble finding the neoprene. I would have had to look up fabric stores in the Yellow Pages and call around until I found one that sold neoprene. They would have thought I was nuts when I told them what I wanted it for, but for a possibly exorbitant fee they would have sold it to me. Then, I would have had to find someone with the proper equipment who was willing to sew the suit.

I might have thought to patent my idea. However, if I had done this, there might not have been any way to market it. After all, where and how was I to advertise wetsuits for dogs? Besides, they would have been so difficult and expensive to make, I could not have hoped to profit from my invention. Moreover, the patent would probably have proven impossible to defend. After all, it was really just a vest for a dog made out of neoprene. Anyone could make an identical vest and give it another name…maybe doggy swimwear.

But the important implication in this story has nothing to do with beaches, dogs, wetsuits, or patents. It has to do with the Internet and the fact that I was able to do what I did. The world is vast and the Internet has made it possible to access all that vastness firsthand. The little shop, Surf ‘n Sea, is only about the size of a gas station. The Internet not only told me of them, but also told me of their willingness and expertise to make the obscure item I had only just imagined.

I have had similar experiences before. One time a friend of mine and I were speculating about how materials that are used by movie prop makers to imitate human body parts could be used to make elaborate sex dolls. Suddenly, it occurred to us that someone might already be doing this. We checked online, and found exactly what we had imagined. A place in California called Real Doll has been making realistic sex dolls using Hollywood techniques since 1996.

Real Doll

So this brings up an interesting question. With 7 billion people in the world and the Internet expanding, will a time come when anything you can imagine, given that it is at least plausible, is available and accessible somewhere in the world?

Businesses, especially small businesses, are realizing that any product that is in demand by even a tiny percentage of the world’s population has a good chance of selling. After all, 0.0001% of 7 billion people is still 7000 people. A business like Surf ‘n Sea would have difficulty meeting the demands of 7000 people all wanting doggy wetsuits.

I would never have thought of the idea of a dog wetsuit if I had not been walking a small dog along the beach. But a place like Surf ‘n Sea that constantly deals with people who spend a lot of time in or near the water is likely to think of it. Similarly, a place that sells equipment to miners might think of some unusual modification for a hardhat or headlamp. A place that sells to loggers might think of some unusual tool that would be handy in the woods. Naturally, I cannot name such a tool. I would only think of it when I ran into the need for it and only if I happened to imagine the solution.

All of this raises an even more compelling question. What is the creative task of a person in the modern world? Is it to constantly be on the lookout for new ideas that may have a niche market? If the person in question is lucky enough to have a rare inspiration and has the resources available to develop, patent, manufacture, and market such an item, sure. But for the average person who will never have a chance to pursue such a dream, there is another consideration.

Exploration used to mean travelling to a distant land. Now it means scouring the Internet to find solutions to problems you realize you have and solutions to problems you may never have imagined you have. There is a vast new continent out there bursting with inventions and creative solutions to problems. That continent is growing every minute. Every time someone invents something or solves another problem, the continent grows. As the continent grows, it opens the door to more invention and creative solutions.

The vastness of the Internet has opened a new dimension of human exploration. Creativity no longer means merely thinking of solutions to problems, but finding some path through the vastness of the Internet to solutions and inventions that are, in a sense, lying around waiting to be picked up.

The wetsuit I found for Petunia will probably never make me rich. But it is a gold nugget I found along the way that will make my life easier, more rewarding, and more efficient. The little bit of trouble it saves me will lift a burden and free me up to find creative solutions to other problems. Maybe someday, after a nice unburdened walk on the beach with our three largest dogs, I will be in a state of mind to invent something like a dog wetsuit that I can take to market.

If nothing else, it will give me something to write about in my next blog.