103 posts categorized "Paul W. Smith" Feed

Innovation Is So Annoying (by Paul W. Smith)

Dog Face Net
Innovation is all the rage.  It will drive our economy, solve our problems, ease the burdens of everyday life, and make America great again.  The past is forgotten and the present is taken for granted, but the the future will be bright thanks to Innovation. 

The great ideas that comprise Innovation seem to arise from unexpected places and strange combinations.  Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance polymath, had both the restless mind of a scientist and the trained eye of an artist.  He spent countless hours studying the muscles of the human body and filled volumes with his detailed anatomical sketches.  His obsession with the muscles of the face informed the most famous smile ever painted.  Although few of his many brilliant engineering projects were ever completed, he at least rendered them in beautiful drawings worthy of framing.  History is not clear on the subject, but it is easy to imagine that the restless, creative mind of Leonardo was annoyed by the mundane details of building and testing his devices. 

Many centuries before Leonardo, another Italian luminary by the name of Archimedes was annoyed that his bathtub always overflowed onto the floor when he climbed in.  As legend has it, he was the first to give any serious thought to why that might be.  Rather than just start with less water and be done with it, he began thinking about how this annoyance could be used to measure the volume of any irregular object.  In retrospect, this was a brilliant Innovation.  The fact that he ran through the streets naked and dripping wet proclaiming his great idea was not so brilliant, and undoubtedly annoyed his neighbors.

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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)


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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