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What are you using right now that a Hollywood actress helped create?

Hedy Lamarr envisioned using Wi-Fi today with her cell phone
Explanation

Does one really need a University degree to make a mark or live their lives? Let’s challenge the perspective that a university degree is essential. For those who went to university, listening to professors with limited work experience discussing theories instead of the real world can sometimes feel irksome, a big waste of money. That being said, we’d still prefer our doctors to be degree-certified, since rules are hardly ever universal. If we were to come across a naturally gifted, self-taught doctor, who knows? We may just put our faith in them.  To underscore our point, we’ll be citing examples of ordinary celebrities without a degree. You be the judge of whether their lack of education inhibited their ability to outshine a majority of educated engineers or scientists in path-breaking accomplishments. In the end, it’s worth acknowledging that even the educated elite, us included, can learn from those without degrees. After all, changing the world isn’t an exclusive privilege of the academically certified.

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Hedy Lamar and George Antheil Wi-Fi piano harmonics AI

“The brains of people are more interesting than the looks...”

The devastation of World War II left an indelible mark on the globe, but one area managed to navigate the turmoil, comparatively unscathed – North America, at least in terms of domestic destruction. The US became a haven for many seeking refuge from the horrors of war and its associated injustices. Among the most notable figures to seek solace on American soil was celebrated physicist, Albert Einstein. However, there was another, less-acclaimed figure that carved a unique path in America. This was the Hollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr. 

Before the outbreak of war, Hedy was already a renowned actress in Austria and Germany, credited with a momentous achievement in cinema – shooting the world’s first nude scene and her Hollywood career already started by then as well. The war came knocking on her doorstep and Hedy volunteered to build a communication system for the military. Depending on the source, Hedy had met Adolf Hitler about 6 years before the war when she was married to an Austrian munitions supplier and had some idea about what was to come, including Hitler’s plans for a comm system. However, this theory can’t be completely validated.  She fled from her then-husband in horror of his work to move to the United States soon after.

So the army pin-up girl, Hedy worked alongside her Hollywood neighbor Piano maestro George Antheil, both of whom realized that the harmonics of the Piano itself could make a great communication system.  So they created and patented an encrypted transmission system based on these harmonics for the military. Their patent came complete with detailed schematics and designs that any Engineer would be proud of, despite neither of them holding a university degree. While the technological infrastructure of the era was not advanced enough to allow them to fully realize their vision, their contributions remained invaluable. The 1960s brought about the emergence of the necessary tech, and their patent became a cornerstone for modern spread spectrum communication, including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, albeit not the direct precursor. The astounding invention that we know today as Wi-Fi was born from this genius combination. Alas, it was only a decade ago that the general public was made aware of their contribution as Hedy was inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame, two decades after her death. Before that, this knowledge was not widely circulated.

Hedy Lamarr, George Antheil

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Julia Child envisioned as a spy by AI

“... my first recipe was a shark repellant”

You may not be familiar with the life of Julia Child, but if you have even a passing interest in celebrity chefs, it’s a name that will ring a bell. This is because Julia’s influence goes way beyond just her lifetime. She arguably set the benchmark for celebrity chefs, shaping the trajectory for those who followed in her footsteps.

In her youth, Julia Child was a copywriter for an upscale furnishing company with a degree in history. When World War II broke out she had a strong desire to help the war effort. She landed a job for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which was a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where she quickly moved up the ladder and held several important positions, including working as a research assistant to the director of the OSS. One of the projects she was involved in was the development of a shark repellent. The repellent was intended to prevent sharks from detonating underwater explosives intended for enemy submarines. Think about it, what does a history degree teach you about researching chemical compounds and chemical mixtures and then creating recipes with those materials? Any industrial process used to create a process chemical, drug, vaccine, or food in a tank or ‘oven’ is called a recipe just as it would be in a kitchen.

After the War, she moved to Paris with her husband whom she met while an OSS agent, where she developed a love affair with French cuisine and attended Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. In 1961 she published her first cookbook for the American public ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’. After that, she became the leading authority for French cooking for North American markets while also having her own TV show. That is an impressive feat for someone who never had what people traditionally considered good looks.

Have you spotted the pattern here? Her university education had little relevance to her significant life achievements. Her World War II feats were accomplished not in her studied field, but instead, on-duty in a completely different realm. Likewise, her celebrity status wasn’t from some prestigious university; it grew from her time spent in a trade school, fancy as it may be.

Julia Child, Mastering the art of French cooking

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Jessica Alba from dark angel envisioned by AI

"Enough people have to get sick or die from a certain ingredient or chemical before it's pulled from the marketplace"

Let’s set the stage with Jessica Alba, a Hollywood actress hailed as a bonafide starlet ever since her breakout role in the short-lived sci-fi series ‘Dark Angel’. Not one of directorial genius, David Cameron’s best work – despite having made his mark with colossal blockbusters like Avatar, Titanic, and Terminator. Her screen presence and performances have spanned nearly four decades, captivating audiences worldwide. However, this isn’t about her acting career (with many highlights and some duds just like everyone else, we’ll admit) or her unimaginable on screen charm.  There’s another facet to Jessica that elicits admiration – her prowess as an inventor and entrepreneur, a prowess born from necessity and careful observation.

Her company is called  ‘The Honest Company’.  The honesty comes from the transparent safe ingredients that go into her products. Jessica may not now hold the majority share of the company, yet she holds a proud title as its founder. Yes, the company’s value wobbled due to stiff competition and the impact of the pandemic, but it still records staggering online sales, running into hundreds of millions annually. All this, while delivering safe non-toxic baby products to millions! 

Let’s take a stroll back to 2008. Jessica, pregnant, was taken by surprise when she developed a rash and hives from the mere act of pre-washing baby shower gifts. But, her sensitivity wasn’t new; she remembered experiencing similar reactions during her childhood. This spurred an important series of questions: If she was having this reaction, could her unborn child react similarly, perhaps even worse? If these products caused harmful effects, why were they still allowed on the shelves? 

Channeling her concern into action, Jessica went on to investigate. She found nefarious substances hidden within these products, remnants of loose regulations traced back to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. This Act, shockingly, allowed the very chemicals that caused her reaction, and potentially worse reactions in others, to prominently figure in household products without thorough testing. Even more shocking, when she sought safer alternatives, she was met with a barren landscape as there was nothing on the market. 

Jessica didn’t stop there. She took on the mantle, absorbed herself in years of research on safe chemical compounds, and came up with her products. She helped bring these ingredients together with experts, culminating in the creation of ‘Honest Diapers’ tailored for children with sensitive skin. The beauty of it all? She didn’t restrict these safer alternatives to the affluent alone; she priced them competitively with popular consumer brands, making them accessible to all. Jessica Alba, once again reminds us that people without a University education can indeed make a difference, far beyond the realm of their initial fame.

Jessica Alba, The Honest Company

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Howard Buffett on his farm as envisioned by AI

"When you feel yourself drawn to do or try something, don't overthink it"

Growing up, my parents were inspirational on many occasions, as they served as prime examples of resourcefulness and ingenuity. Their life before immigrating to Canada was steeped in farming often during times of war. This vocation is anything but ordinary. Farmers are a different breed, rough and tough, cleverly crafting out-of-the-box solutions to the myriad of challenges they face using whatever technology they can get their hands on.  This is a world where frugality is valued, a culture of handling issues directly, whether it involves building a structure, repairing agricultural machinery, or resolving plumbing complications with readily available resources. To me, that’s the definition of an engineer. They instilled in me the importance of sustainable farming and the respectful treatment of animals. 

This brings us to Howard Buffett, the next intriguing character in our story. He is the son of Warren Buffett, widely considered the epitome of financial wizards, as he is always in the running for the world’s richest person. Despite his wealth, Warren is also known for frugality and refusing to live excessively.  Howard though, holds a far different title – a farmer. Maybe he’s a chip off the old block, considering his dad was frugal with no desire for grandiosity, only the simple. Farming though demands excessive hard work and ingenuity, while Warren seems against both as a means to success, simply relying on analytical skills to find the shortest and least complicated route. Hence, that’s where their philosophies differ, even if both philosophies are valid and are needed in this world.

Critics, may label Howard as uneducated due to his lack of a university degree, his insight and practical observations have led him to employment in a very impactful realm that determines the food we eat. Howard has developed a unique method known as ‘conservation agriculture.’ This method aims to sustain soil health without heavy reliance on fertilizers and pesticides, showing significant promise.  Yes, Howard undoubtedly benefited from investment guidance over meals, a luxury most of us can’t afford. But let’s not deviate from the fact that, at his core, Howard Buffett remains an unpretentious, educated-in-his-own-right farmer whose innovative ideas are transforming his chosen field. Howard grows Corn and soybeans, on his farm in Decatur, Illinois, and uses his knowledge and wealth to fund the Howard G. Buffett Foundation which promotes sustainable agricultural techniques.

Howard Buffett, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conservation Agriculture

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Harvard envisioned by AI

We understand that the next four examples are rare, or are they? Most of us know that the co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, and the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs don’t have a University degree. Even Elon Musk is self-taught, as is Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. Presenting a comprehensive profile of these icons exceeds the capability of this article, considering the countless biographies already published. Their unique lives are as well-known as an open book, familiar to most. The proponents of the you must get a degree crowd always claim that these are rare examples, but think about it. Most immigrants and refugees seeking a better life don’t always have a degree or even a high school degree. Are many not successful at getting a better life despite probably not even having the language skills necessary but just the will? You don’t need billions for a better life, do you? You don’t even need people like me telling your story over and over again to the masses.

In the grand scheme of life, Charles Darwin’s theories of Evolution and Sexual Selection both hinge on the idea of survival. While most species inherently strive for survival or a lasting impact via reproduction and leaving a genetic legacy for future generations, this doesn’t mean it’s an absolute law. Rather, it’s a theory – a close approximation to fact, but not an indisputable one. From a broader perspective, survival also pertains to making a positive impact on someone else’s life whether big or small. It could be your offspring, a loved one, or a stranger. This impact is your legacy that contributes to the survival and evolution of humanity. No one needs a University degree or education for that, and that’s the biggest measure of someone’s success. 

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg

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The Hollywood Reporter(Jessica Alba), Forbes(Jessica Alba), Lifestlyes(Howard Buffett), PBS(Julia Child), Intel.gov (Julia Child), Google Arts & Culture (Hedy Lamarr), Leaders.com (Hedy Lamarr)

All images are AI-generated using Fotor and are not meant to describe the subject matter they portray factually, but figuratively.

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