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Short Takes

Philanthropist Finds an Inventive Way to Fill Educational Gaps

December 27, 1987

He grew up on a ranch in rural Oklahoma, and went to a high school where they didn't have a chemistry lab, or much of anything else. "When I was working my way through college," Donn Sigerson recalls, "I began to think I'd enjoy the academic life. I said to myself, 'I'm either going to be a professor or a millionaire, whichever comes first.' "

The big bucks won. Sigerson found he had "a talent for inventing," especially in the automotive field, where "I'd see how they did it and draw a sketch showing how they could do it a little better." In time, he "sold out for a good sum to ITT. Here I had all this loot and--well, I guess I've gone back to teaching. . . ."

That he has, in spades. After four years of perfecting the process, the Sigerson Foundation of Los Angeles now turns out educational tapes for universities and high schools, free of charge, in 65 separate disciplines--engineering and medicine to Slavic languages and music. The latest is a series of three prototype tapes made by USC professors to prepare high school students who haven't had the benefit of chemistry lab to enter college on a competitive level.

"I'd never seen a lab before I got to college," the philanthropist recalls. "Now we're helping send the lab to the schools. It's exciting, the teaching tool of the future"--thanks to a man who had his cake and shares it too.

Montecito Man Bent on Making the World NOT SAFE to Live

Ever alert, Dale Lowdermilk of Montecito remains on simmer. Lowdermilk, founder of NOT SAFE, has dedicated his spare time to protecting the populace from its protectors. NOT SAFE is the National Organization Taunting Safety and Fairness Everywhere. Its goal is pricking pins in idiotic laws, mainly by proposing egregious addenda to the statutes, neutering them in the process.

"California is probably the nation's leader in stupid laws," says Lowdermilk, zeroing in on Alameda County for pungent example. "Alameda has expanded the graffiti law to include shoe polish," he says. "Nobody under 18 can buy it. Another county law is the cruising ordinance. If you're under 18 and out after 10, and you go by the same point more than once in an hour, you can be thrown in jail."

Lowdermilk's moving targets are endless and legend. He is, for instances, against "killer bras" and for "warning labels on bananas," but a particular peeve is the speed statute, which he couples with a campaign for "insect rights." "Lower the limit to 15 m.p.h.," he says, "to prevent needless slaughter of bugs."

Air-travel safety would be enhanced immeasurably, he reasons, if planes were required to taxi to their destination. Ban the sale of white sheets and you eradicate the Ku Klux Klan. Mitigate the damage from auto collisions by filling bumpers with oatmeal (at the same time assuring a food supply in case of emergency).

Lowdermilk, an air-traffic controller when not railing (which, he confirms, explains a lot), claims close to 1,000 members for NOT SAFE, which nevertheless never holds a meeting, for fear of exchanging flu germs.

You never can be safe enough, avers Lowdermilk, who signs his letters, "Cautiously, Dale."

Students Design the Shape of Things to Come for Secretaries

They've been working for 14 weeks on "Futuristic Secretarial Workstations," and they've come up with a lot more than a change in furniture.

Eight product-design students, under the aegis of Xerox and the tutelage of instructor Jeff Hands, tackled the project at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. They concluded that while future work stations will be more comfortable and efficient, the first thing to go is the word secretary. In the year 2000, the students postulate, those indispensable functionaries will be known as information managers (IMs).

"Even now," Hands says, "because of the amount of office equipment they use, not to mention the dollars invested in them, secretaries should be recognized as paraprofessionals, entry-level management."

In keeping with their status, the design students would provide IMs with typing key pads integrated into the desk tops; undulating keyboards; hand-held "scanner wands" for instant reproduction of hard copy; large, curved document-display screens showing up to six pages at a time; voice-activated "intelligent" telephones (sort of a secretary's secretary, responding instantly to "Get me Mr. Jones"); and a host of improvements in dividing walls, affording both privacy and accessibility.

Miss Brown may still be taking a letter in 2000, but she'll be doing it with panache.

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