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“Some maladies are rich and precious, and only to be acquired by the right of inheritance or purchased with gold”*…

 

gout

 

Gout is a disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. Everyone has some uric acid in their blood, but when you get too much, it can form little crystals that get deposited around your body and cause various problems, most commonly joint pain. Some uric acid comes from chemicals found in certain foods (especially meat), so the first step for a gout patient is to change their diet. If that doesn’t work, they can take various chemicals that affect uric acid metabolism or prevent inflammation.

Gout is traditionally associated with kings, probably because they used to be the only people who ate enough meat to be affected. Veal, venison, duck, and beer are among the highest-risk foods; that list sounds a lot like a medieval king’s dinner menu. But as kings faded from view, gout started affecting a new class of movers and shakers. King George III had gout, but so did many of his American enemies, including Franklin, Jefferson, and Hancock (beginning a long line of gout-stricken US politicians, most recently Bernie Sanders). Lists of other famous historical gout sufferers are contradictory and sometimes based on flimsy evidence, but frequently mentioned names include Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Leonardo da Vinci, Martin Luther, John Milton, Isaac Newton, Ludwig von Beethoven, Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain.

Question: isn’t this just a list of every famous person ever? It sure seems that way, and even today gout seems to disproportionately strike the rich and powerful. In 1963, Dunn, Brooks, and Mausner published Social Class Gradient Of Serum Uric Acid Levels In Males, showing that in many different domains, the highest-ranking and most successful men had the highest uric acid (and so, presumably, the most gout). Executives have higher uric acid than blue-collar workers. College graduates have higher levels than dropouts. Good students have higher levels than bad students. Top professors have higher levels than mediocre professors. DB&M admitted rich people probably still eat more meat than poor people, but didn’t think this explained the magnitude or universality of the effect. They proposed a different theory: maybe uric acid makes you more successful.

Before we mock them, let’s take more of a look at why they might think that, and at the people who have tried to flesh out their theory over the years….

From the always-illuminating Scott Alexander (@slatestarcodex), a consideration of the case: “Give yourself gout for fame and profit.”

For the NIH’s backgrounder on gout, see here— the source of the image above.

* Nathaniel Hawthorne

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As we feed our ambition, we might spare a thought for Charles William “C. W.” Post; he died on this date in 1914.  Post began his career as a farm implement manufacturer in Illinois, but succumbed to stress, and had a nervous breakdown.  On recovering, he moved to Texas and began a second career as a real estate developer… but fell prey again to the pressures of his work and had another breakdown.  In 1891, he checked into the Battle Creek, Michigan the sanatorium of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (brother of cereal maker Will Keith Kellogg).

While there, Post dined on Kellogg recipes, several of which became the (stolen, some argue) seeds of his very successful third career.  Early in 1895, Post began manufacturing Postum, a grain product intended as a coffee substitute, very similar to one of Kellogg’s concoctions, Caramel Coffee Cereal.  The following year, he began to produce Grape-Nuts, which seemed very like Malted Nuts, another Kellogg item.  And soon thereafter he introduced Toasties, a dead ringer for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

Kellogg’s has, of course survived and prospered.  But Post’s “Postum Cereal Company” grew up to be General Foods.

220px-C.W._Post_LCCN2014696048_(cropped) source

 

 

Written by LW

May 9, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Now my eyes are turned from the South to the North”*…

 

Your correspondent is off for a week or so to time zones sufficiently distant that regular service will be suspended for about a week.  (R)D should return on or around March 15.  Meantime…

 

antarctica

One of the selections at “Hilarious Terrible Maps.”

[TotH to KE]

* Ernest Shackleton

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As we find our way, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that General Foods put the first nationally-branded individually-packaged frozen foods– “Birds Eye Frosted Foods”– on sale in 18 retail stores in Springfield, Mass. to test the market.  General Foods (recently renamed from the Postum Corporation) had acquired the frozen food business from Clarence Birdseye; inspired by seeing Canadians thawing and eating naturally frozen fish, Birdseye had invented the category in the early 1920s.  The initial Birds Eye line featured 26 items, including 18 cuts of frozen meat, spinach and peas, a variety of fruits and berries, blue point oysters, and fish fillets.

Clarence Birdseye and his handiwork

source

 

Written by LW

March 6, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again”*…

 

Madame Yale

Maude Mayberg, a.k.a. Madame Yale, in her “laboratory”

 

On an April afternoon in 1897, thousands of women packed the Boston Theatre to see the nation’s most beguiling female entrepreneur, a 45-year-old former homemaker whose talent for personal branding would rival that of any Instagram celebrity today. She called herself Madame Yale. Over the course of several hours and multiple outfit changes, she preached her “Religion of Beauty,” regaling the audience with tales of history’s most beautiful women, a group that included Helen of Troy, the Roman goddess Diana and, apparently, Madame Yale.

The sermon was her 11th public appearance in Boston in recent years, and it also covered the various lotions and potions—products that Yale just happened to sell—that she said had transformed her from a sallow, fat, exhausted woman into the beauty who stood on stage: her tall, hourglass figure draped at one point in cascading white silk, her blond ringlets falling around a rosy-cheeked, heart-shaped face. Applause thundered. The Boston Herald praised her “offer of Health and Beauty” in a country where “every woman wants to be well and well-looking.”

Madame Yale had been delivering “Beauty Talks” coast to coast since 1892, cannily promoting herself in ways that would be familiar to consumers in 2020. She was a true pioneer in what business gurus would call the wellness space—a roughly $4.5 trillion industry globally today—and that achievement alone should command attention. Curiously, though, she went from celebrated to infamous virtually overnight, and her story, largely overlooked by historians, is all the more captivating as a cautionary tale…

A century before today’s celebrity health gurus, an American businesswoman was a beauty with a brand: “Madame Yale Made a Fortune With the 19th Century’s Version of Goop.”

* Stephen King’s version of an age-old adage (in The Colorado Kid)

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As we contemplate comeliness, we might spare a thought for writer who explored our fascination with fascinating, Philip Kindred Dick; he died on this date in 1982.  A novelist, short story writer, essayist and philosopher, Dick published 44 novels and 121 short stories, nearly all in the Science Fiction genre.  While he was recognized only within his field in his lifetime, and lived near poverty for much of his adult life, twelve popular films and TV series have been based on his work since his death in 1982 (including Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, Paycheck, Next, Screamers, The Adjustment BureauImpostor, and the Netflix series The Man in the High Castle).  In 2005, Time magazine named Ubik one of the hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923; and in 2007, Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series.

 source

We might also note that it’s the birthday of Chris Martin, front man of the inexplicably-popular pop group Coldplay, and the “consciously uncoupled” ex of Gwyneth Paltrow, the heir to Madame Yale.

Chris_Martin-viva-cropped source

 

 

Written by LW

March 2, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There are old bikers and there are bold bikers, but there are no old, bold bikers”*…

 

film-the-wild-one-with-brando-on-a-bike-opening-scene

 

Harley knows what it’s future looks like with, perhaps by as soon as next year, more sales internationally than in the U.S., the continuation of a long-term trend. It’s desperately trying to prop up U.S. sales, but the LiveWire hasn’t been selling great, and its core demo is aging out. Revenue numbers for 2019 released today were also a lot worse than expected.

Let’s go to Reuters first off for some of the numbers:

Motorcycle revenue fell an annual 8.5% to $874.1 million in the December quarter, faster than a 3.4% fall predicted by analysts in a Refinitiv survey.

Its shares, after falling as much as 7%, pared losses to trade 2.5% lower at $33.96 on Tuesday afternoon…

Its bike sales in America last year were the lowest in at least 16 years. Falling sales in the past 12 quarters have forced the company to tighten the supply of its bikes to prevent price discount pressure and protect profit.

In 2019, the shipment volume of its bikes in the United States was the lowest in at least two decades. Global shipments were the lowest since 2010.

In a reflection of the demographic headwind, the motorcycle maker’s stock price has declined by 44% in the past five years. By comparison, the S&P 500 Index .SPX has gained 63%…

Most worryingly for Harley, they are posting falling sales numbers at a time when the economy is strong…

Tough times for an American icon: “Harley-Davidson’s Slow Decline Is Getting Hard To Watch.”

[TotH to RW]

[Image above, from The Wild One: source]

* Evel Knievel

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As we downshift, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that The Knights of Pythias– the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of the U.S. Congress– was formed in Washington, D.C.  There are over 2,000 Pythian lodges in the United States and around the world; it’s members have included William Jennings Bryan, Louis Armstrong, and Nelson Rockefeller.  During the “Golden Age of Fraternalism” in the early 1920s, the order had nearly a million members; its current count is around 50,000.

Knightsofpythias source

 

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine”*…

 

IP Badge

 

Article I Section 8 | Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides that “[The Congress shall have power] To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”  And so that family of protections/rights in the intangible things that we now know as “intellectual property” was enshrined at our nation’s birth.  But has that affordance gotten out of hand?  More specifically, is the concept of “intellectual property” itself a problem?

The grand term ‘intellectual property’ covers a lot of ground: the software that runs our lives, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. But also the credit-scoring algorithms that determine the contours of our futures, the chemical structure and manufacturing processes for life-saving pharmaceutical drugs, even the golden arches of McDonald’s and terms such as ‘Google’. All are supposedly ‘intellectual property’. We are urged, whether by stern warnings on the packaging of our Blu-ray discs or by sonorous pronouncements from media company CEOs, to cease and desist from making unwanted, illegal or improper uses of such ‘property’, not to be ‘pirates’, to show the proper respect for the rights of those who own these things. But what kind of property is this? And why do we refer to such a menagerie with one inclusive term?

The phrase ‘intellectual property’ was first used in a legal decision in 1845 and acquired formal heft in 1967 with the establishment of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialised agency of the United Nations that represents and protects the commercial interests of holders of copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets. The ubiquitous use of ‘intellectual property’ began in the digital era of production, reproduction and distribution of cultural and technical artifacts. As a new political economy appeared, so did a new commercial and legal rhetoric. ‘Intellectual property’, a central term in that new discourse, is a culturally damaging and easily weaponised notion. Its use should be resisted…

Samir Chopra (@EyeOnThePitch) argues that copyrights, patents and trademarks are all important, but the term ‘intellectual property’ is nonsensical and pernicious: “End intellectual property.”

[Image above: source]

* “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”                    — Thomas Jefferson

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As we share and share alike, we might recall that it was on this date in 1937 that Wallace Carothers, a chemist at DuPont, was granted U.S. Patent #2071250A for “Monocomponent artificial filaments or the like of synthetic polymers; [and the] Manufacture thereof from homopolycondensation products”– or as we know the product in question, nylon.

Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic thermoplastic polymer.  It’s first commercial use was in a nylon-bristled toothbrush in 1938, followed more famously by its use in women’s stockings or “nylons” which were shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and first sold commercially in 1940.  During World War II, almost all nylon production was diverted to the military for use in parachutes and parachute cord. But these wartime uses of nylon (and other DuPont-patented plastics) greatly increased the market for the new materials– and thus, for DuPont’s patents– in the post-war era.

220px-Wallace_Carothers,_in_the_lab

Carothers in his lab, stretching a sample of nylon fabric

source

 

Written by LW

February 16, 2020 at 1:01 am

“My favorite special skill on my resume is ‘excellent monkey noises'”*…

 

0123_resume

 

If you walk into any bookstore or library in the world, you’re going to see dozens, possibly even hundreds of books about how to write a good résumé, how to structure it in a way that maximizes what you do best. Many will tell you to keep things under a page if you’re not above a certain age range; others will tell you that there’s nothing worse for making a first impression than a misplaced comma or repeated word.

But one thing that you likely will not find is a book that explains how to make a résumé that dates before 1970 or so. (Probably the first book on the topic with any long-lasting authority is Richard Bolles’ long-running What Color is Your Parachute? series, a self-help book that discourages the use of spray-and-pray résumé tactics.) Most of them will date to 1980 or beyond, in fact.

While both the résumé and the curriculum vitae existed before then and were frequently asked for in want ads as early as the late 1940s in some professional fields, something appears to have changed in their role starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s—around the time when many service-oriented fields first gained prominence—in which the résumé, particularly in North America, turned into a de facto requirement when applying for most new jobs.

Companies started treating humans as resources around this time, and many workers traded in their blue collars for white ones. It was a big shift, and the résumé was in the middle of it.

Why the name change, though? There are a lot of reasons why “résumé” won out over “application letter,” but I think one of the biggest might come from the education field of the era. The U.S. Department of Education’s Education Resources Information Center launched in 1965, and early in its life, relied on the terminology “document resume” to refer to its bibliographic entries, which are similar to résumés for people. This information reached schools through documents produced by the Education Department, and my theory is that the influence of this material on educators might just have touched the business world, too.

The shifting nature of work also made the need for more personalized applications more necessary. A 1962 book, Analyzing the Application for Employment, noted the overly complex nature of fill-in-the-blank application forms, and that they would often take hours for prospective employees to fill out. In the book, author Irwin Smalheiser of Personnel Associates highlights an example of one such person stuck dealing with complex application processes:

One man we know, who perpetually seems to be looking for work, has devised a neat system for coping with the application blanks he encounters. He has taken the time to complete a detailed summary of his work history which he carries in his wallet. When he is asked to fill out the company application form, he simply copies the pertinent dates and names of the companies for which he worked.

In many ways, a résumé solves this problem. While some level of modification comes with the work of sending out a résumé, you often can reuse it again and again without having to repeat your work. Sure, job applications stuck around for lower-end jobs, like fast food, but the résumé stuck around nearly everywhere else.

In a slower world, it was the best tool we had for applying for a new job. The problem is, the world got faster—and the model began to show its flaws…

The résumé, a document that largely gained prominence in the past half-century, was once a key part of getting a job.  Soon, it might just disappear entirely.  From the always-illuminating Ernie Smith, “Throw It In The Pile.”

* Ciara Renee

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As we boil it down (and spice it up), we might recall that it was on this date in 1834 that President Andrew Jackson sent federal troops to intervene in a labor dispute for the first time in U.S. history.  Foreshadowing the notorious cases of federal military intervention in labor disputes during America’s Gilded Age, Jackson quashed labor unrest during the construction of the C&O Canal.

AJackson source

 

Written by LW

January 29, 2020 at 1:01 am

“There’s many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher”*…

 

bestseller

 

In November, Donald Trump Jr.’s Triggered hit number one on the New York Times bestsellers list—with an asterisk. Or more accurately, a dagger (†). This is the first time many people noticed this dagger and learned that it means the NYT believes the book has made it onto the list with the help of bulk purchases. It is, however, far from the first book to do this.

In fact, his father helped pioneer the practice among business people.

According to former Trump executive Jack O’Donnell in his 1991 book Trumped, the Trump organization purchased tens of thousands of copies of the Art of the Deal upon its release in 1987. They put copies of the book on pillows during turn-down service. He also pressured his executives to buy 4,000 or more copies of the book each.

Though Trump helped to bring the idea mainstream, he was following in some authors’ footsteps from a decade earlier. Some of the first books known to make the list with the help of bulk purchases were Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 Valley of the Dolls and Wayne Dyer’s 1976 Your Erroneous ZonesThe list started in 1931, so there are probably authors who used this method we’ll never know about.

For those unaware of how bestseller lists work, here’s a primer…

The business of literature: “A History of Buying Books onto the Best Seller List.”

[Image above: source]

* Flannery O’Connor

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As we rethink rankings, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that two masters of classic noir fiction, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, met for the first and only time.  The occasion was a Black Mask magazine dinner in Los Angeles, at which the two were among the ten pulp writers (plus an editor) attending.  In the event photo below, both are standing: Chandler is smoking a pipe; Hammett, the tallest, is farthest right.

Black Mask dinner source

 

Written by LW

January 11, 2020 at 1:01 am

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