100 posts categorized "Paul W. Smith" Feed

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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The Technology of Abolishing Jobs (by Paul W. Smith)

Donald Trump Job Creation

“I will be the greatest jobs President that God ever created.”

 @POTUS Donald Trump campaigned with this and won, partially due to the job-loss-induced frustration in places like the Rust Belt.  Building a border wall and introducing import tariffs will help some, but they won’t fix the problem.  Technology is the real villain, and many of the jobs lost over the past generation are gone forever.

 What really happened to the disappearing jobs?  A study from Ball State University revealed that only 13% of lost manufacturing jobs could be blamed on foreign trade, while the remaining 87% were due to technology. At least for the near future, they don’t see it getting any better. 

Service/knowledge jobs have also been disappearing.  Some loss is due to computers, which have increased the productivity of these workers several-fold.  If your call to tech support goes through a series of number pushes on your phone to finally get a live person, you have experienced one example of this first-hand. Many of us frequently interact with ATM’s and Self-Checkout lines – two more examples of technology improving business productivity.    Apple’s Siri can now take dictation for many documents and messages.  Google’s translation program is fast and accurate.  Massive Open Online Courses are disrupting the business of higher education.   Automated online ordering is rapidly demolishing the brick-and-mortar business model. The perp-list is long and it’s growing.

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The Smell Test (by Paul W. Smith)

Dog Nose Smell Test 2

If you’ve ever owned a pair of Adadas shoes or worn a Rollex watch, you probably grasp the appeal of fake stuff.  The Chinese are well-known for their addiction to fake stuff, although no one is really sure why.  It might be simple economics (fake stuff is cheaper), or it could be the lack of effective laws to combat faking.  Whether to impress or save money - or both - fake stuff is big in China as well as the rest of the world. 

The people who make fake stuff also grasp this, and they have parlayed that understanding into a $461 billion industry.  When it comes to shoes or handbags, it is a substantial economic threat that erodes innovation and dilutes brands.  When extended to pharmaceuticals or children’s toys, it can be dangerous. 

The Internet hasn’t made this any simpler.  Start searching for a new camera online, and you will quickly find a wide range of prices for what seems to be the same model.  Closer inspection might show that some of the good deals are actually grey market items, which can have more shades than Christian’s ties but are typically legal (though unauthorized by the original manufacturer.)  Most serious photographers are smart enough to avoid the remarkably good deal on a Nikkon. 

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Placebo Power (by Paul W. Smith)


There are certain philosophical questions that may never be answered, at least not to the satisfaction of a pragmatic engineer like me.  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?  Why is there something rather than nothing?  What is the sound of one hand clapping? And of course, the ever popular – What is the meaning of life?  

Although any one of these could keep a person’s brain tied up in knots for a very long time, I’d like to add one more to the list - Is a placebo still a placebo when you know it’s a placebo and it still works? 

When the word placebo enters the conversation, most of us think of a drug trial.  Some of the folks in the trial will get the actual drug being tested, and others will receive the placebo - a presumably worthless decoy.  If an inactive, nondescript pill can’t outperform a soon-to-be outrageously expensive miracle drug, there’s a problem in Big Pharma Land

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