5 Things To Be Thankful For

“This continent, an open palm spread frank before the sky.”

—James Agee, American novelist, born November 27, 1909

Counting Our Blessings

0 La Paix embrassant lAbondance - P.P Rubens - Yale center for British Art
  1. Peace. After Veterans Day, I read Barbara Tuchman’s classic account of the origins and first month of World War I, The Guns of August. I’m very thankful for peace. I wish everyone in the world lived in peace.
  2. Freedom. We have the right and the ability to say and do pretty much anything we damn well please. We may often wish some of our fellow citizens could be restrained from expressing the awful things they think, but that’s the price. Right now our liberties are under serious threat from governments and corporations taking advantage of technology to infringe on them. It’s an arms race, and we’d better hope that the Internet really does route around obstacles.
  3. Diversity. We were in Springfield yesterday. We got to the excellent Panjabi Tadka Restaurant and found it closed. No problem: we just went on over to Pho Saigon Restaurant and had some wonderful Vietnamese food. We are rich because we have new friends and neighbors from all over the world who bring with them new foods, ideas, entrepreneurial energy, words, art, music…
  4. Medicine. My partner, the Crazy Orchid Lady, is having some problems with cardiac arrhythmia, so I’ve been learning a bit about remarkable range of heart problems that can be fixed in in a few minutes with relatively safe, non-invasive procedures. By the way, the COL’s electro cardiologist attended medical school in Mumbai.
  5. Electricity. Think of how you feel after a few hours without power as a thought experiment. Now try to imagine:
    1. Living in a less developed country where there isn’t reliable electric service. Now you have electricity, now you don’t.
    2. Living in the past before there was any electrical power available.
    3. Living through a major failure of the contemporary electrical grid.

Today and Tomorrow in #westernma

Today you’d better be getting ready for Thanksgiving!


Google “deep learning” Tech: There’s More than One Way to Scan a Cat

Bad Idea Machine lolcat“…a front-page New York Times article revealed that after Google fed its ”DistBelief” technology with millions of YouTube videos, the software had learned to recognize the key features of cats….Google’s deep-learning tech works in a hierarchical way, so the bottom-most layer of the neural network can detect changes in color in an image’s pixels, and then the layer above may be able to use that to recognize certain types of edges. After adding successive analysis layers, different branches of the system can develop detection methods for faces, rocking chairs, computers, and so on.

“What stunned Quoc V. Le is that the software has learned to pick out features in things like paper shredders that people can’t easily spot – you’ve seen one shredder, you’ve seen them all, practically. But not so for Google’s monster.”

If this doesn’t terrify you… Google’s computers OUTWIT their humans

The Last Word

“All the lessons of history in four sentences: Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad with power. The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small. The bee fertilizes the flower it robs. When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

—Charles A. Beard, American historian, born November 27, 1874

Dead Men Don’t Cash Royalty Checks

“Everyone, left to his own devices, forms an idea about what goes on in language which is very far from the truth.”

—Ferdinand de Saussure, Swiss linguist, born November 26, 1857

ArbitraritaetSaussure was a key figure in modern linguistics and semiotics (the science of signs, sign processes, and communication). This stuff gets very technical very quickly, but the notion that signs (words in the simplest case) have an arbitrary, socially-determined relation with what they signify (things in the simplest case) has been a fruitful one since Saussure proposed it. Semiotics and Deconstructionism were all the rage when I was a pretentious young francophile punk, so I was pleased to find Ferdinand de Saussure among my birthday quotes. Pretty pithy thought, too.

Continue reading “Dead Men Don’t Cash Royalty Checks”

Less People, More Connections

“If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon Creation, I should have recommended something simpler.”

—Alfonso X, Spanish royalty, born November 23, 1221

How Hard Should We Try to Understand the Future?

157px-Flickr - USCapitol - Car of History Clock 1

I once asked a former Fortune 500 CEO why his peers were so indifferent to credible, dire warnings about the future. He reminded me that for most businesses anything beyond the next five years is the far future, which management can afford to ignore. Besides, they believe in their ability to deal with problems as they arise, push them off onto somebody else, or have moved on to other positions. Heigh-ho!

This isn’t stupid: it’s rational to pay attention only to problems you can do something about right now, or at the appropriate time. But it seems worth spending at least some time thinking about what’s coming. Dwight David Eisenhower said that “Plans are nothing; planning is everything,” worth thinking about as the future becomes the present, as it regularly does, and at an accelerating pace.

The realities of demographic change are not well understood. We’re used to thinking in terms of a population explosion, a concept approximately contemporary with double-knit leisure suits and disco. What’s coming is the opposite: declining population is a reality in a number of advanced economies (Japan, notably) already, and will be happening everywhere by the middle of the century on current trends. It will affect societies from top to bottom. No one knows how to think about how to have a growing economy in a world with declining populations. We’re about to find out. One possible hope is discussed in today’s Reading How to Keep the Economy Growing When Our Population Is Not. Research shows that richer social connections increase the ability of groups to find solutions to problems and exchange information. A more connected world, even with lower populations, could harness the creativity of its members better to continue to innovate and create.

Tomorrow in #westernma

12:00-2:00PM Northampton Don’t Eat Lunch Alone


More Problems with Fewer People

“Zero population growth is a period in future human history that is both hoped-for and feared. If we don’t get to that point, the world 180px-Nullstein Plauecould literally become overrun with humans, straining already taxed resources like fresh water and farmland to the breaking point. But with zero population growth, the global economy—heavily reliant on a young and expanding workforce—could collapse. No matter what we hope, according to projections by the United Nations, it’s likely that within the next century, the global population will level off or even shrink….

“There’s another, more fundamental problem that zero or negative population growth poses, though—the transfer of knowledge. We know that when people come together, they tend to create new technologies, skills, and knowledge. Cities are hubs of innovation, universities are great factories of scholarship, and even smaller groups can inspire people to create wonderful things. Perhaps more importantly, the number and strength of our connections are vital for passing knowledge on to others, two recent studies suggest. Without those connections, our society could fall rapidly behind. Fortunately, the research also suggests a way to escape the declining population trap.”

How to Keep the Economy Growing When Our Population Is Not

The Last Word

“We are built to make mistakes, coded for error.”

—Lewis Thomas, American scientist, born November 25, 1913

Stardust Memories

“Never play anything that don’t sound right. You might not make any money, but at least you won’t get hostile with yourself.”

—Hoagy Carmichael, American composer, born November 22, 1899

469px-Hoagy Carmichael circa 1953

Hoagy Carmichael’s advice holds true outside of the music business. One of the worst things about the glacially slow pace of our transition to post-scarcity economics is that our political economy needs to employ millions of people in jobs that are so truly useless, or even harmful by any humane standard of value, that people have no option except to “get hostile” with themselves. Thus the pandemic of unhappiness and depression so characteristic of late modernity. Today’s Reading, On The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, explains the whole mess very well. (Oddly, Ian Fleming apparently felt that James Bond should look a little like Hoagy Carmichael.)

Continue reading “Stardust Memories”

There is No Money on Star Trek

“I decided that if the police couldn’t catch the gangsters, I’d create a fellow who could.”

—Chester Gould, American cartoonist, born November 20, 1900

DickTracy2wRChester Gould’s “fellow who could” was Dick Tracy, the square-jawed tough-guy detective familiar to generations of funny paper readers. Tracy’s wrist-watch radio prefigured the miniaturized communications gear we all know, and the wearable tech that’s coming soon to a body near you. The other characters in the strip had cool names, too: Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s girlfriend; villains Flattop Jones, Mumbles, and Big Boy; and the Plenty family: B.O., “Gravel Gertie,” and the bee-you-teeful Sparkle.

Continue reading “There is No Money on Star Trek”

Chasing After an Automobile

“I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.”

—Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, French artist, born November 18, 1787

lincolndaguerreotypeDaguerre invented one of the earliest successful photographic processes, the Daguerreotype. The drawback of the process was that it produced a unique image, that was not reproducible, unlike the contemporary invention of Henry Fox Talbot in England. Nevertheless, millions of Daguerreotypes were made. Many Daguerrotypes still exist, mostly portraits, the medium’s most popular and common subject matter.

Our friend Fran Fahey of Fran’s Fine Editing, who runs the Tuesday morning G.R.I.S.T. group in Easthampton was kind enough to correct us: We had G.R.I.S.T. on wrong alternate Tuesdays. We apologize for any confusion.

Nice of the editors of Harrisburg Patriot-News to apologize for their predecessors’ famous dissing of the Gettysburg Address. I remember from school that in general, Edward Everett’s blockbuster address was considered the great speech of the day at the time. Everett himself was “deeply impressed” by Lincoln’s speech, and wrote appreciatively to him about it: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

A more optimistic view of the renewed growth of jobs in personal service than I am able to take, my idea of “artisanal service” aside. Industrial jobs are obviously no bed of roses, but a widespread return to the tortuous dialectics of master and servant in an ostensibly democratic society seems pretty awful to me.

I love today’s Last Word: the founder of Honda Motors reminiscing about his first encounter with the astonishing automobile.

Today and Tomorrow in #westernma

8:30-10:00AM Northampton Art of Consulting Workshop
9:00-10:00AM Easthampton G.R.I.S.T. – Get Real Individual Support Today
11:45AM-1:30PM Springfield Affiliated Chambers of Springfield Pastries, Politics and Policy at Lunch
6:00-8:00PM Springfield Business Planning and Cash Flow
8:00PM Amherst UMass Amherst Entrepreneurship Initiative Social
8:45-11:45AM Holyoke River Valley Investors
3:00-4:00PM North Adams How to Secure a Business Loan
5:00-7:00PM North Amherst Amherst Chamber After 5


“We write today in reconsideration of ‘The Gettysburg Address,’ delivered by then-President Abraham Lincoln in the midst of the greatest conflict seen on American soil. Our predecessors, perhaps under the influence of partisanship, or of strong drink, as was common in the profession at the time, called President Lincoln’s words ‘silly remarks,’ deserving ‘a veil of oblivion,’ apparently believing it an indifferent and altogether ordinary message, unremarkable in eloquence and uninspiring in its brevity.”

Retraction For Our 1863 Editorial Calling Gettysburg Address ‘Silly Remarks’: Editorial

19thCenturyMaids“Working with and for people is not inherently degrading. Teachers and doctors work with people and are rightly respected for what they do. Hair stylists and chefs can be awesomely talented and some will end up extremely wealthy.

“Moreover, the new service economy is not going to be a revival of the old feudal system. There may well be nannies and butlers in the future, but they will be much better compensated and much more in demand than even the most loyal of the Downton Abbey crowd. A nanny who is learning to be a nutritionist and a gourmet cook has a much brighter future than Lady Mary’s lady’s maid.”

People Thought the Industrial Revolution Was Servile Too

The Last Word

“I could not understand how it could move under its own power. And when it had driven past me, without even thinking why I found myself chasing it down the road, as hard as I could run.”

—Soichiro Honda, Japanese businessman, born November 17, 1906

TUESDAY November 19  
8:30–10:00AM Northampton Art of Consulting Workshop
9:00–10:00AM Easthampton G.R.I.S.T. – Get Real Individual Support Today

Economics 101 at Paragus IT

“People who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.”

—Peter Drucker, American businessman, born November 19, 1909

Nice piece from BBC News: The circus animals that helped Britain in World War One.

Continue reading “Economics 101 at Paragus IT”

Stars and Monkeys

“I wasn’t a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie.”

—Veronica Lake, American actress, born November 14, 1919

194px-Veronica Lake stillThe paradoxes and contradictions of the star system and celebrity culture exact an enormous human cost on everyone. Non-celebrities who buy into its mythologies pay the price in endless dissatisfaction exploited by ruthless advertisers and lives distorted or wrecked by emulation of the stars with whom they’re on a pathetic first-name basis. As for the gods and goddesses of our ignoble myths, they don’t seem to enjoy their divinity as much as you might expect. I’m sure Dante could have found a choice spot in Hell for the people who make and live off this system.

Continue reading “Stars and Monkeys”

InCommN and The Lean Launchpad

“It really is a nice theory. The only defect I think it has is probably common to all philosophical theories. It’s wrong.”

—Saul Kripke, American philosopher, born November 13, 1940

320px-Land surveyor

We’ve been participating in Paul Silva’s Lean Launchpad class at Click Workspace this fall. Lean Launchpad is a rigorous, proven methodology for startup businesses developed by tech entrepreneur Steve Blank. The fundamental insight of LL is that startups are different from established businesses. Startups must above all be dedicated to learning. They need to formulate hypotheses about our markets and products and most importantly, “get out of the building” and test them by talking to real-live customers and partners. It’s been a lot of hard work and a lot of fun, and the teams in the program have come a long way over the course of the last couple of months. Contact Click Workspace to learn more about the next Lean Launchpad class starting February 2014.

On the subject of Lean Launchpad, InCommN wants to talk as many real-live potential customers as we can. (There’s a class contest with a prize of a bottle of wine for the team with the most interviews which we’d really like to win next week, so please help us out!) We’ve built a brief survey to test our current hypothesis which we invite you to participate in. Here’s what we’re testing right now:

  1. Businesses need advice and connections to grow, get out of trouble, or prepare for a successful exit.
  2. Businesses are not satisfied with the advice and connections on offer.

The survey takes about twenty minutes, and everybody we’ve talked to had fun doing it (buying them coffee may have helped in some cases). If you’d like to participate please contact Rick Feldman, Daniel Lieberman, or Rick Plaut. All information is confidential, of course. We can meet you for coffee (like I said, we’re buying), or we can do it by phone.

Go read about how Valley Girl uptalk (“A manner of speaking in which declarative sentences are uttered with a rising intonation as though they were questions. () may have gotten started in California. If you have time, listen to the interview Woodie Guthrie did with Alan Lomax about his early life in Oklahoma. Also, I had never seen uptalk, annoying as it is, described as the “moronic interrogative” before.

Today and Tomorrow in #westernma

7:15-8:00AM Holyoke Chicopee Chamber November Salute Breakfast
3:30-5:00PM Berkshire TBA Free Information for Small Businesses to Start and Grow
4:00-7:00PM Pittsfield Berkshire Chamber 2013 Business-to-Business Showcase
5:00-7:00PM Springfield November 2013 Springfield Chamber After 5
5:00-7:00PM Southwick Westnet
5:15-7:30PM Springfield Valley Venture Mentors
THURSDAY 11/14  
9:30AM-12:30PM Amherst Business Plan Basics
12:00-1:30PM Northampton Click Workspace Brown Bag Luncheon
12:00-2:00PM Holyoke Don’t Eat Lunch Alone
5:00PM Northampton Northampton Area Young Professionals November Networking Social


258px-Woody Guthrie

Woodie Guthrie and Valley Girls?
“…American ”uptalk“, stereotypically associated with Californian ”Valley Girls“ in the 1980s, might in fact have originated with the characteristically rising intonational patterns of northern England, Scotland, and Ireland, by way of the Scots-Irish immigrants who migrated to California in the 1930s Dust Bowl exodus….”
Okie Uptalk

The Last Word

“Nothing like a little judicious levity.”

—Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish writer, born November 13, 1850


“We were hunter-gatherers of information, and we moved from that to becoming farmers and cultivators of information.”

—J.P. Rangaswami, Indian businessman, born November 12, 1957

Ten World-Changing Consequences of World War I

If you get to know me, you’ll discover eventually that I never get tired of talking about World War I.

  1. smoking 1The word “souvenir” (French for a keepsake or memento) enters the English language.
  2. The United States decisively enters its career as a Great Power.
  3. The Bolshevik Revolution ushers in the long nightmare of Soviet Communism.
  4. Poison Gas. See The Day the War Stopped.
  5. Tanks. The memory of the stalemate on the Western Front leads to the development of new tactics emphasizing armor and mobility (blitzkrieg). Some of the greatest battles of World War II saw thousands of tanks deployed.
  6. Air Warfare. See 5. The First War saw the rise of tactical airpower, and some tentative exploration of strategic air warfare, which will reach its dreadful apotheosis in the Second War.
  7. Prohibition in the United States, leading to the rise of Organized Crime. You’d think they might have learned something before they started the War On Drugs, which has not done much for American democracy, especially in the civil liberties area.
  8. Hollywood domination of the world film industry. There were strong, creative film industries in Scandinavia, German, England, France, and Italy before the First War. The American film industry emerged as the 800 pound gorilla, and has never relinquished its lead.
  9. The Spanish Flu pandemic. It infected 500 million people across the world, and killed 50 to 100 million of them (3 to 5 percent of the world’s population). Beating out the war, which “only” killed about 17 million (10 million military and 7 million civilians).
  10. Mass Propaganda which developed into Mass Advertising in the 1920s. Go read about Sigmund Freud’s clever nephew, Edward Bernays, who worked for the Committee on Public Information in the Wilson Administration during the war, and was immensely influential in Public Relations and Advertising well into the 20th century. Continue reading “Souvenirs”