97 posts categorized "Paul W. Smith" Feed

Civilization, As We Know It (by Paul W. Smith)

Destroyed city with phones

Civilization as we know it is all about an advanced state of culture, government, science and industry – the opposite of a savage, unrefined or uneducated condition.  It is presumed to include a plethora of modern comforts and conveniences made possible by science and technology.  After a week of backpacking in the wilderness, or a few hours without an Internet connection, most of us welcome a return to civilization. 

Pundits of diverse persuasion have used the potential end of CAWKI as a call to action.  Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi said the end would come if the GOP took control of the Senate, but she was wrong (at least so far).  A NASA study predicts the culprit will be a combination of resource depletion and unequal wealth allocation, and while that makes sense, it’s also a bit too early to confirm this as well.  Science writer Mark Gibbs suggests it may end with a cough, which in this era of superbugs doesn’t sound too far-fetched.  There is an endless supply of such threats to worry about, but before we can properly focus our anxiety, it helps to consider how we got to this point.

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Venus, Mars and the Frontal Lobe (by Paul W. Smith)

Lobes of Human Brain

Men and women are different.  Whether this is obvious or controversial depends on your point of view, but it’s just true.  Most of us can accept this based on personal observations.  One of my favorites is the Cocktail Party Test.  When two women meet at a party, the first question will nearly always be “Do you have any kids?”  For men, it will be something like “Did you see the Broncos game last night?”  There are plenty of other ways to separate men and women, but this one is bulletproof. 

By the time my wife and I passed our tenth wedding anniversary, I was starting to grasp some of those other ways.  This was around the time that John Gray’s bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus started its run to becoming a bestseller.   The national conversation turned to differences in thinking and communications styles that divide the sexes.  Many will be familiar.  Take personal care for example; women search for a hair product with protein, aloe extract, volumizers, vitamins, minerals and liquid keratin.  Men look for a bottle that says “shampoo.” 

For some reason, scientists weren’t willing to settle for cocktail parties and shampoo.  SPECT (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) is one of their many brain imaging technologies that can monitor blood flow and activity under various stimuli.  A recent study using this approach looked at 46,000 images of healthy men and women as well as some folks with an assortment of psychiatric conditions.  The researchers were surprised to find that men and women really are different. 

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Momma's Boy (by Paul W. Smith)

Man-inner-bicep-mom-tattoo-small

When I was growing up, you were a Momma’s Boy, a Man’s Man, or something in-between. Most of us belonged to the in-between group. Dare I say life is a bit more complicated these days?

There was a time not long ago when a female voice making an announcement on an airplane was assumed to be a flight attendant, a woman caring for you in a hospital was automatically a nurse, and a lady engineer was an oxymoron. In my lifetime, our culture has evolved to where female pilots, doctors and engineers are no longer notable, at least not for their gender.

While the whole gender identity issue is way above my pay-grade, the transition from the role models of my youth to a culture where humans and jobs are largely interchangeable is of great interest. This is particularly so in the STEM fields, where I have carved out my own career.

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The End of the Long Haul (by Paul W. Smith)

Goldfish and Phone

The “long haul” is a lot longer than it used to be.  Over the last century, average life expectancy has increased by 30 years (unless you live in Monaco where you get 9 more).  If you are life-planning for the long haul, your task is getting harder.

Common use of the term “long haul” began about 100 years ago and has grown since.  It originated with early sailors who were hauling goods over the open sea trade routes from Egypt to Alexandria.  Merchants trading along short hauls in the Mediterranean Sea got more paydays, but for lesser amounts.  If you were willing to take some risk and be patient, bigger returns were available from the long haul. 

Those old rules still apply.  People contemplating major life change, say from marriage, career or weight loss, will often tell themselves that they are in it for the long haul.  One night stands, job-hopping or crash dieting may produce swifter fulfillment, but the long haul pays off better overall.  Everybody knows that.

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You Are Here (by Paul W. Smith)

Babylonian World Map w Icon
The late comedian Myron Cohen told the story of a man who hid in the bedroom closet when his paramour’s husband arrived home unexpectedly.  When the husband opens the closet door and asks what he’s doing there, he replies “Everybody gotta be someplace.” 

This existential truth has engaged mankind from the beginning, as have its practical implications.  Hunting and gathering might lead you far and wide, but if you can’t find your way back to the secure confines of your cave, you might lose your place on the food chain.  Locational awareness is one of the most fundamental of evolutionary traits.  Not only does everybody gotta be someplace, but life is just better if you know where that someplace is. 

People have been trying to sort out exactly where they fit into the world for thousands of years.  One of the earliest maps, attributed to the Babylonians, was found on a clay tablet (about the size of a smartphone) that dates to around 600 B.C.  Although it clearly depicts Babylon, the Euphrates River and Assyria, it wasn’t much good for navigation.  Scholars believe the real purpose was more primal – to allow the owner to grasp the world at large along with his own place in it.  Even back then, “You are here” was a thing. 

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The New Juice (by Paul W. Smith)


Grapefruit w Voltmeter

 

No one is really sure why “juice” is a common slang term for electricity, but it’s a safe bet that it has no connection with the potential of grapefruit to generate current.  Juice was used as a metaphor for life-force as far back as the 17th century, but it’s since been adopted by gossip, venture capital, power (influence, electric) and steroids, to name a few.  If you’ve got juice, can raise juice, know the juice or are juicing you can claim a little piece of the life-force. 

We all know that the right music can bring the juice to practically anything.  Rock ‘n Roll was the soundtrack of my teenage years, which just happened to coincide with the Sixties.  In 1964, while my friends and I were captivated by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Young brothers - Malcolm, Angus, George and Alex - were busy pursuing musical interests and joining various bands of their own.  Bass player Alex, along with a few other musicians, started a London-based group named after Yoko Ono’s book “Grapefruit.”  In spite of the juicy name and support from folks like John Lennon and Brian Epstein, they enjoyed only modest, fleeting success. 

Musicians come and go, bands band and disband, and eventually Malcolm and Angus ended up playing together.  Their sister Margaret felt their band’s high-energy power performances were downright electric, and suggested the name “AC/DC”, after a plaque she had seen on a sewing machine.  The music had juice, and high-voltage electricity became the motif that powered them into the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame. 

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