Saturday, February 23, 2008

Another Definition of Quickie

Change can arrive with a bang or a whimper. The "bang" variety is usually heralded in all the newspapers, broadcast across the airwaves and receives at least some notoriety in the weekly news publications. A person would have to live under a rock not to have heard about that kind. But the "whimper" variety is much more stealthy as it subtly makes its way into our lives. Spotting these is much more fun.

Take for example, the new over-the-counter paternity test called Identigene that is now available from Sorenson Genomics. For only $29.99, any person questioning paternity can drive down to a Rite-Aid or other drug stores and purchase a kit. After two quick swabs, one of the purported Dad and one of the child, the kit is returned with an additional $119 lab fee. In short order--three to five days after receiving the kit--a result is returned and is apparently admissible in court. The $150 total fee is a steal compared to the $500 fee charged by the courts, and the results are private until shared, an obvious advantage in some circumstances.

Considering 4% of children are not related genetically to their fathers, many times without their knowledge, this simple test may find wide acceptance much like the over-the-counter pregnancy test, albeit without the instant gratification. The WSJ article that covered this medical innovation said that "inexpensive paternity testing could theoretically level the playing field for men involved in child-support cases. . . a 2006 study in New Hampshire found that nearly 30% of fathers paying child-support were not the biological parent of the child they were helping" (2-22-08, W11.) Now that got my attention. Maybe it's time father's rights advocates got a scientifically enlightened break here. Like they say, what's right is right.

But, the utility of this handy DNA kit does not stop there. It struck me that any inquiring mind could purchase an Identigene kit to test one DNA sample against another. In fact, the paper goes on to say: "a version of its product. . . encourages consumers to send in 'licked stamps, ear wax, fingernail clippings, socks and chewed gum or a used razor' to surreptitiously test another person." It's obvious to me that this would not only be useful for paternity, but for any DNA questions a person might have. The availability of this test could make detectives out of all of us, but turn us into dumpster divers in the process. Not a thrilling prospect, to be sure.

Get ready, though. This enlightening test is just the tip of the iceberg in the coming era of quickie, at home DNA tests that will be available in the future. There actually could be a time when we are inundated with just enough of this scientific information to be dangerous, but not enough to be truly useful.

However, on the News You Can Use front of useful information are two unusual job opportunities for men and women looking to expand their pocketbooks, but not necessarily their minds. I picked up a Star magazine yesterday to check out what Britney and Branjolina were up to this week when I noticed a small ad: "Celeb Sightings! Hot Gossip! Star WANTS THE SCOOP! 800-609-8312." Next to these flashy, hot pink words were none-to-subtle dollar signs.

Now, considering there were only a handful of stars or star-wannabes featured in the rag, I figured who was getting rich off of star sightings must be the stars themselves. Like, Britney called in on Paris who called in on Mary-Kate. You get the picture. It would be like playing that gossip game but with a money spigot. Hey, I figured, if they could play the game, so could someone else with the small investment of binoculars, a digital camera, cell phone and one of those across the room listening devices. If one made enough money, a through-the-wall listening device might come in handy as well as night-vision goggles and camera-equipped sunglasses. Adding the Identigene kit and clandestine dumpster-diving activities would expand the possibilities enormously. Think about it.

Speaking of expanding possibilities, ever wonder how trucks communicate when out of range of cell towers? No, I can hear you say, don't know and don't care, really. Well, I have to tell you in order to disclose the second unusual job opportunity. Seems that a man by the name of Jerry Knoblach (yes, that's his real name) owns a company called Space Data Corp. that send inexpensive balloons into the stratosphere. These inflatables carry a not-inexpensive payload of wireless equipment whereby truckers and others are able to communicate in otherwise dead zones. This obviously means a lot to the companies who use Mr. Knoblach's services, and they pay him royally for the privilege. Must be a good idea because has expressed an interest as well.

Two smaller groups have benefited from Space Data's entrepreneurial endeavors--and here's where the money-making opportunities lie. First are dairy or other farmers who are solicited to launch the balloons. These hardworking men and women are paid $50 a launch, which consists of simply filling a large balloon with hydrogen, attaching a wireless payload and releasing it--usually out of the back-side of the barn. End of story for them, and the checks arrive in the mail. Second are the even more intrepid souls who track down the $1500 wireless transmitters that have been separated
from the balloons electronically by the command center.

As we all know from childhood, even balloons come to an end. When that happens, the company sends a signal and the transmitters fall to earth assisted by tiny parachutes. Trouble is, they can fall anywhere, and they have--up trees, down cliffs and canyons, and in swamps--to name a few inconvenient spots. So far, Space Data Corp has been able to find their equipment by hiring twenty hobbyists across the country to locate the errant payloads at $100 a pop. Seems to me, I'd rather be the farmer filling the balloons for $50 each than the outdoors man spending a whole day tracking down a small widget for just twice that amount.

But either way, it certainly would be interesting and an opportunity to make some money in an unusual profession. So pass the word along to friends looking for work, and I'll keep my eyes and ears open for more of these jobs we didn't know existed. Over time, we might collect quite a catalog of them. Maybe enough to start a new business. . .

Of note: This latter opportunity was featured in a front page WSJ article "Floating a New Idea For Going Wireless, Parachute Included" 2-20-08. While the article featured the enterprising company, I thought the balloon launchers and trackers were even more enlightening and worth mentioning here.

Todays Weather Report: While it has remained below zero for over two weeks, today it got up into the 30's and felt like spring. My little maple twig under glass thinks so, too, and is starting to bud--a very welcome sight in what has been an otherwise long winter.

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