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Commentary & Analysis

Around the Web: Small Business Optimism – Action Towels – What’s an Ad Worth? – Dumbing Phones – Cheese of the Pharaohs – This Week in Printing History

The latest NFIB Small Business Optimism Index. Towels made of recycled bottles. Stopping “stalking ads.” Making phones just a little less smart. The world’s oldest cheese. Modern American prints from 1920-1948. All that and more in WhatTheyThink's weekly miscellany.

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: August 17, 2018

Small Business Optimism

The latest NFIB report shows small business strength, and they say:

The Small Business Optimism Index marked its second highest level in the survey’s 45-year history at 107.9, rising to within 0.1 point of the July 1983 record-high of 108. The July 2018 report also set new records in terms of owners reporting job creation plans and those with job openings. A seasonally-adjusted net 23 percent are planning to create new jobs, up three points from June. Thirty-seven percent of all owners reported job openings they could not fill in the current period, a one-point increase from June.

Government data do a poor job of reporting the current state of small business because they focus on the reports of larger businesses in their data collection and use historical estimates for small business. When there is a sea change in activity levels, those models don’t reflect the new levels. Real data about small business are not available to government data collection until months later when they replace the estimates as part of data revisions. While printing industry total volume was a function of big publishers and big marketers, their role has diminished because of new media. We are in a new phase where small business plays a more important role in printing industry volume, with specialty applications tied to digital printing. The NFIB data series may be more relevant to those small and medium printers in assessing industry direction than macroeconomic data like GDP.

The free report is here.

Saving the World One Towel at a Time

A high school Environmental Science teacher invented the Evolve Adventure Towelseeking to inspire his students to actions that will improve the world. Each towel is Sand-Repellent, Light-Weight, Quick-Dry, Anti-Microbial and Made From 20 Recycled Plastic Bottles. Check out his Kickstarter campaign, and chip in to help as well!

What’s an Ad Worth?

Bryan Menegus, Gizmodo contributor, asks, “What am I worth to an advertiser?” 

319. That’s the number of discrete advertisements, both online and off, served to me over the course of one Tuesday in July. I know because I counted each and every one.
Why catalog the informational noise that, in many cases, our brains have quite literally trained themselves to ignore? Hidden in plain sight, ad money is the invisible force that subsidizes many of the services we depend on—especially online, where keeping up with friends, reading the news, or streaming music is ostensibly “free.” I wanted to to find out exactly what my eyeballs are worth.

You can click through for his calculations and explanations, but ultimately, he came up with $2.69. So for $3, he could technically pay to never see an ad again.

Stalking Heads

Speaking of online advertising, we have all had the experience of making one naive search for a product and then spending the next several days being stalked around the web by a pair of shoes, or bookshelves, or whatever. (Sometimes we get to thinking that we need to search for a better class of product.) Is there a way we can stop the stalking? Avirtual restraining order, perhaps?

The New York Times offers some potential solutions:

  • Periodically, clear your cookies. Ad trackers will have a tougher time following you around if you delete your cookies on each of your devices. Apple, Google and Microsoft have published instructions on how to clear data for their browsers Safari, Chrome and Edge. (Click the links for instructions.)
  • Reset your advertising ID. In addition to cookies, Android and Apple phones use a so-called advertising ID to help marketers track you. You can reset it whenever you want. On Android devices, you can find the reset button in the ads menu inside the Google settings app, and on iPhones, you can find the reset button inside the settings app in the privacy menu, under advertising.
  • Periodically purge your Google ad history. Google offers the My Activity tool, myactivity.google.com, where you can take a deep look at the data that Google has stored about you, including the history of ads you have loaded, and choose the data you want to delete.
  • If possible, hide the annoying ad. On some web ads, like those served by Google and Facebook, there is a tiny button in the top-right corner that you can click on to hide the ad.

No Such Thing as a Ghoti

Ask anyone who has ever had to do it, and they will tell you that English is an extremely difficult language to learn. Not only is there, as Steve Martin would say, “a different word for everything,” the fact remains that there is little or no consistency in how letter combinations are pronounced. There is the famous example of how “ghoti” can be pronounced as “fish”:

The "gh" is pronounced like the "f" sound in "tough," the "o" is the "i" sound in "women," "ti" is the "sh" sound in "fiction."

But what would English sound like if it were phonetically consistent? Via Boing Boing, Aaron Alon made a video to demonstrate.

Dumbing Down Phones

Do you miss the days when a phone could, you know, make calls, and nothing else? Some people do—or they have become so addicted to their smartphones that it is interfering with their quality of life. As a result, there is an emerging market for a non-smartphone, or at least one that is not so smart. Says the BBC:

The iPhone’s constant buzzing and notifications are the reasons people pick them up so often, he says. “The iPhone is much more an agent in itself, because it continuously attracts your attention.”
A cycle of dependence can form simply by responding to these stimuli again and again. Because the MP-01 and Light Phone are virtually incapable of displaying any notifications other than an incoming call or text, owners will naturally be less prone to touching them, he says.
This doesn’t necessarily mean the rush of dopamine we get when receiving notifications will go away, however. Peter Bloch, a former professor of marketing from the University of Missouri, says products like cell phones can be “non-functionally oriented”. This means that although they serve little to no practical purpose – like a work of art or, in this case, a nearly useless rectangle of the future – just looking at them can bring a significant emotional payoff.

What Wine Goes with Antiquity?

Scientists have found what they believe to be the oldest cheese ever found. No, not buried in the back of a single guy’s refrigerator, but rather in an Egyptian tomb. Says Science Daily

The tomb of Ptahmes, mayor of Memphis in Egypt during the 13th century BC, was initially unearthed in 1885. After being lost under drifting sands, it was rediscovered in 2010, and archeologists found broken jars at the site a few years later. One jar contained a solidified whitish mass, as well as canvas fabric that might have covered the jar or been used to preserve its contents. Enrico Greco and colleagues wanted to analyze the whitish substance to determine its identity.

It was of course a very ancient cheese. But don’t get out the crackers just yet:

Other peptides in the food sample suggest it was contaminated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes brucellosis. This potentially deadly disease spreads from animals to people, typically from eating unpasteurized dairy products. If the team's preliminary analysis is confirmed, the sample would represent the earliest reported biomolecular evidence of the disease.

So, basically, like most other items in a single guy’s refrigerator.

Another Fine Mesh

Says Science Daily:

Scientists have succeeded in developing a wearable and implantable device, that measures electrophysiological signals and applies electrical and thermal stimulations. It provides information on muscle and cardiac dysfunctions, and thus could be implemented for pain relief, rehabilitation, and prosthetic motor control. Being the first soft implant able to record the cardiac activity in multiple points of a swine heart, it is expected that this prototype will contribute to the research and production of future bioelectronics.

And we are closer than ever to probing the mysteries of the swine heart.

Hear Them Roar

If you are in the San Diego area, be sure to check out an exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art: Modern American prints from 1920-1948, “a striking group of prints [that] showcase some of America’s finest artists from the ‘Roaring Twenties’ right through to the Second World War.”

This Week in Printing, Publishing, and Media History

August 13, 1888: Scottish engineer and inventor of the television, John Logie Baird, born.

August 13, 1899: Director Alfred Hitchcock born. (So that explains why the birds were whooping it up on Monday.)

August 14, 1457: Publication of the Mainz Psalter, the first book to feature a printed date of publication and printed colophon.

August 14, 1888: An audio recording of English composer Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord,” one of the first recordings of music ever made, is played during a press conference introducing Thomas Edison’s phonograph in London. (Now available on iTunes.)

August 14, 1945: American actor, comedian, musician, producer, and screenwriter Steve Martin born.

August 14, 1950: The greatest cartoonist ever, Gary Larson (The Far Side), born. (That explains why the cows were whooping it up on Tuesday.)

August 15, 1965: The Beatles play to nearly 60,000 fans at Shea Stadium in New York City, an event later regarded as the birth of stadium rock. This would lead to...

August 15, 1969: The Woodstock Music & Art Fair opens in upstate New York.

August 16, 1930: The first color sound cartoon, called Fiddlesticks, is made by Ub Iwerks.

August 16, 1954: The first issue of Sports Illustrated is published.

August 17, 1908: Fantasmagorie, the first animated cartoon, created by Émile Cohl, is shown in Paris, France.

August 17, 1945: George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm is first published.

August 18, 1958: Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita is published in the United States.

August 19, 1921: Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry born.

What caught your eye this week?

 

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