108 posts categorized "Paul W. Smith" Feed

Beware the Lizard (by Paul W. Smith)

Geico Lizard with Brain

 "I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened."

– Mark Twain

A man driving his luxury car late at night becomes lost and slowly realizes that he is in a very bad part of town.  When his car breaks down, the tension mounts.  He is approached by a group of gang members, one of whom is brandishing a handgun.  The tow truck he has called arrives, but as its driver confronts the gunman, the outcome is unclear. 

This is the opening scene from the 1991 film “Grand Canyon.”  It sticks in my mind more than a quarter century later because of the artful way it resonates with the wide-ranging fears that engulf us.  Some of those cause the all-too-familiar knot in the stomach, while others we hardly notice.

If you’ve ever wondered why you’re afraid of so many things, don’t panic.  We are all hard-wired for fear courtesy of a small portion of the brain known as the amygdala.  Scientists blame this chunk of grey-matter for emotional responses like fear, anxiety and aggression.  If you are a caveman who fears a rustle in the bushes that could be a sabretooth tiger, this is a good thing.  When you are an office worker afraid to open an urgent email from your boss, not so much.

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Startup Dreams (by Paul W. Smith)

Straight Talk for Startups-Small
 Book Review:  Straight Talk for Startups by Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman

 I confess that I play air guitar in the shower and I fantasize about hitting the winning basket at the buzzer.  I suspect that I am not the only one who does this.  For most of us, such dreams leading to wealth and fame fade with the awareness of our meager guitar or basketball skills. 

The one dream that cannot be so easily dismissed is that of the entrepreneur; we all secretly believe that we can conjure the “Big Idea”, raise a pile of money, and ride the wave to Lamborghini-ville.  Straight Talk for Startups by Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman will improve the odds.

The book is both reality check and detailed manual.  While the exhaustive machinations of startup finance can be overwhelming for the casual reader, both novice and seasoned entrepreneurs will find a thorough and practical guide for circumnavigating the many threats that a new business will encounter.  The cover promotes “100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds…”, while the dedication celebrates the rule-breakers who “make this world a better and more interesting place.”  The resolution of this apparent contradiction?  You have to know the rules before deciding which ones you can afford to break.  Think of them more as “prime directives.”  Bend and break them if you must, but never forget them.

The 100 rules span the 5 main sections of the book.   Here are a few key thoughts.

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Mysteries (by Paul W. Smith)

Black Box with question mark

Mysteries abound where most we seek for answers.” – Ray Bradbury

There are good mysteries and bad mysteries.  If you are relaxing next to the pool with a best-selling mystery novel, that’s good.  If your doctor is baffled by your “mysterious” symptoms, that’s bad.    Puzzling mysteries can be challenging, frustrating, or even concerning.  Since the beginning of time, mankind has been intrigued by mysteries.  All the while, science has relentlessly pursued explanations, the purpose of which is to eliminate mysteries. 

Magic - the kind that’s performed by a magician - trades on our fascination with mysterious things – pulling a rabbit out of a hat or sawing an assistant in half.  One of my personal favorites is the up-close, sleight-of-hand magic that relies on technique and distraction.   In many cases, I know what the magician must have done, but he does it so well that it still has a pleasantly mysterious feel to it. 

Science fiction literature, another personal favorite, often creates mystery by flirting with the boundary between plausible fantasy and reality.  Prolific science fiction writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke is known for his Third Law, which says that “Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.”  Sir Arthur passed away in 2008, but his Third Law has never been more relevant.

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Tech "R" Us (by Paul W. Smith)

   Tech R Us Monkey

We humans like to measure things.  Companies like Survey Monkey (which collects 16 million answers daily) will take nearly any business contact you’ve had and convert it into a number.  Over the past week, they’ve hit me up for ratings on a hair salon, a cable provider and an auto parts store.  On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = Strongly Disagree and 10 = Strongly Agree, how do you feel about that? 

Some numbers mean more than others.  Back in the spring of 1896, Charles Dow was working as an editor at the Wall Street Journal and searching for a straightforward measure of stock market performance.  He and his buddy Edward Jones decided to pick a dozen stocks that they thought would best represent the market and publish an average share price.  The original twelve represented industries like tobacco, distilling, agriculture, utilities and coal.  The idea had legs; today there are 30 companies in the Dow, and it remains a closely watched measure of how our economy is doing. 

A dozen decades later the original dozen is gone from the list.  General Electric Corporation recently became the last to be dropped.  While there are no specific rules for inclusion in the Dow, it is generally assumed that the members should be large and well respected public companies.  This measure of our economy is meant to reflect what we feel is important and therefore spend our money on. 

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For Those Who Think Machines Think They Can Think (by Paul W. Smith)

IBM-Watson

Thinking has always been an ethereal thing.  It is the most private of human activities, and while the expression “I know what you’re thinking” is part of the lingua culturae, it is a bold-faced lie.  Notwithstanding crypto-keys and blockchains, the only truly protected storage place in the universe – at least for now – is the thought-swarm deep within our respective skulls.

Brains themselves are fascinating stuff, and no one is quite sure what’s in there.  This is important, since a vessel of chemicals and tissue generating a cluster of electrical activity is one thing, but that which we call consciousness is quite another.  Physicist/Neuroscientist Paul Nunez wrestled with this, building a foundation of scientific facts with which to construct some reasonable theories.  Science also warns us, he notes, that some things are fundamentally unknowable. 

Philosophers, who spend considerable time thinking about thinking, have had a lot to say about the subject.  One of the most influential philosophical works, Discourse on Method (1637) by René Descartes, not only gave us the Cartesian coordinates that we scientists have come to love, but also introduced the discipline of Methodic Doubt.   Doubting things methodically led René to the conclusion that he could not doubt his own existence since after all he was the one doing the doubting.  The coup de grâce for self-doubters was the legendary “Cogito, Ergo Sum”, aka “I Think Therefore I Am.”

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