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“There is no business like show business. There is also no business like certified public accounting, but that doesn’t rhyme as well.”*…

 

Pacioli

Portrait of Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli, attributed to Jacopo de’ Barbari

 

Modern capitalism began among the European merchant families of the early Renaissance—the Fuggers of Augsburg, Medicis of Florence and, in Venice, one Antonio de Rompiasi, who in 1464 hired a tutor in mathematics for his three sons. Like any sensible teacher, young Luca Pacioli aimed to make his lessons memorable and clear. Good humanist that he was, 30 years later he gathered all the world’s knowledge of the subject into a single massive volume.

His “Summa de Arithmetica, Geometria, Proportioni et Proportionalita” was the 615-page work of a mature professor who had spent decades working across northern Italy. The book was revolutionary on more than one count. It integrated computation using Hindu-Arabic numerals with the logic of classic Greek geometry; it was written in the Italian of the marketplace rather than Latin; and it was circulated in large numbers thanks to the new technology of printing. Yet its greatest significance lay in a slim ‘how to’ chapter that described the double-entry accounting system used by Venetian merchants.

With examples from dealers in butter to lemons to silk, Pacioli set out the method for tracking income and expenditure and the calculation of net profit or loss, which for the first time allowed an immediate snapshot of a firm’s financial position. This slim section would facilitate the birth of the modern corporation.

“Without order there is chaos,” Pacioli observed in a breezy style that is still in vogue in business books today. His manual is stuffed with quotes from scripture and Dante and pithy advice such as “Don’t learn from ignoramuses who have more leaves than grapes.” He wrote the accounting chapter to help would-be traders in Venice, then the capital of the financial world, “sleep easily at night”. Without double-entry book-keeping, “their minds would keep them awake with worry”. He could not suspect that what might be called “Book-keeping for Dummies” would become the backbone of business for centuries.

Like many monumental works of 15th-century printing, Pacioli’s treatise has survived in its original form. Some 120 copies still exist, from an initial run of about 1,000. Now today’s moguls have a chance to own this first folio of finance. Christie’s, the auction house, is offering a first edition in its original vellum binding for sale in New York on June 12th. The starting price is $1m for what it unabashedly calls “the most influential work in the history of capitalism.”

Pacioli’s later life augments the glamour of the first printed use of ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ signs. Impressed by the book, Leonardo da Vinci convinced his patron Lodovico Sforza to hire Pacioli to teach at the court of Milan. Pacioli and Leonardo collaborated on the treatise “Divina Proportione,” which married maths with art through the study of perspective. Not one, but two Renaissance masters were thus responsible for the exquisite harmony of “The Last Supper”…

The 15th-century guide to book-keeping enabled the rise of modern corporations: “A revolutionary treatise goes on the block.”

* Craig Shaw Gardner

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As we count carefully, we might recall that it was on this date in 1902 that a US patent (#701,839) was issued to Americus F. Callahan of Chicago, Ill., which he called the outlook envelope– what we call the window envelope.

300px-USPatent701839-CallahanAmericus-WindowedEnvelope source

 

“I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.”*…

 

Defoe

During his long life, Daniel Defoe was confidant to a king and victim of the pillory.

 

A writer of astonishing productivity, Defoe is mainly known to modern audiences for such novels as Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders. But he was also arguably history’s greatest business writer, and his output includes probably the first English business manual, The Complete English Tradesman, from which, even today, you can learn a great deal about commerce, credit, and capitalism. It first appeared in 1726 — when Adam Smith was roughly 3 years old — and was reprinted in the colonies by no less a figure than Benjamin Franklin, himself a comparably entrepreneurial polymath and man of many faces. For a while it was a popular handbook for merchants on both sides of the Atlantic…

The author of Robinson Crusoe, who dealt with ups and downs as an entrepreneur, also penned one of history’s most useful business manuals: “Daniel Defoe’s hard-earned lessons on business and life.”

* Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband

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As we consider the source, we might spare a thought for LeRoy Robert Ripley; he died on this date in 1949.  A cartoonist, entrepreneur, and publisher, he created and parlayed Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, a successful panel series in daily newspapers into a radio series then a TV series, and into a string of museums, or Odditoriums as he billed them.

220px-Robert_Ripley source

 

 

“The great packing machine ground on remorselessly, without thinking of green fields; and the men and women and children who were part of it never saw any green thing, not even a flower”*…

 

beef

 

Cheap beef and a thriving centralised meatpacking industry were the consequence of emerging technologies such as the railroad and refrigeration coupled with the business acumen of a set of honest and hard-working men like… Philip Danforth Armour. According to critics, however, a capitalist cabal was exploiting technological change and government corruption to bankrupt traditional butchers, sell diseased meat and impoverish the worker.

Ultimately, both views were correct. The national market for fresh beef was the culmination of a technological revolution, but it was also the result of collusion and predatory pricing. The industrial slaughterhouse was a triumph of human ingenuity as well as a site of brutal labour exploitation. Industrial beef production, with all its troubling costs and undeniable benefits, reflected seemingly contradictory realities.

Beef production would also help drive far-reaching changes in US agriculture. Fresh-fruit distribution began with the rise of the meatpackers’ refrigerator cars, which they rented to fruit and vegetable growers. Production of wheat, perhaps the US’s greatest food crop, bore the meatpackers’ mark. In order to manage animal feed costs, Armour & Co and Swift & Co invested heavily in wheat futures and controlled some of the country’s largest grain elevators. In the early 20th century, an Armour & Co promotional map announced that “the greatness of the United States is founded on agriculture”, and depicted the agricultural products of each US state, many of which moved through Armour facilities.

Beef was a paradigmatic industry for the rise of modern industrial agriculture, or agribusiness. As much as a story of science or technology, modern agriculture is a compromise between the unpredictability of nature and the rationality of capital. This was a lurching, violent process that saw meatpackers displace the risks of blizzards, drought, disease and overproduction on to cattle ranchers. Today’s agricultural system works similarly. In poultry, processors like Perdue and Tyson use an elaborate system of contracts and required equipment and feed purchases to maximise their own profits while displacing risk on to contract farmers. This is true with crop production as well. As with 19th-century meatpacking, relatively small actors conduct the actual growing and production, while companies like Monsanto and Cargill control agricultural inputs and market access.

The transformations that remade beef production between the end of the American civil war in 1865 and the passage of the Federal Meat Inspection Act in 1906 stretched from the Great Plains to the kitchen table. Before the civil war, cattle raising was largely regional, and in most cases, the people who managed cattle out west were the same people who owned them. Then, in the 1870s and 80s, improved transport, bloody victories over the Plains Indians, and the American west’s integration into global capital markets sparked a ranching boom. Meanwhile, Chicago meatpackers pioneered centralised food processing. Using an innovative system of refrigerator cars and distribution centres, they began to distribute fresh beef nationwide. Millions of cattle were soon passing through Chicago’s slaughterhouses each year. By 1890, the Big Four meatpacking companies – Armour & Co, Swift & Co, Morris & Co and the GH Hammond Co – directly or indirectly controlled the majority of the nation’s beef and pork…

Exploitation and predatory pricing drove the transformation of the US meat industry – and created the model for modern agribusiness: “The price of plenty: how beef changed America.”

* Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

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As we muse on meat, we might recall that it was on this date in 1637 (or nearabouts, as closely as scholars can say) that Cardinal Richelieu introduced the first table knives (knives with rounded edges)–reputedly to cure dinner guests of the unsavory habit of picking their teeth with the knife-points of the daggers that were, until then, used to cut meat at the table (though some suspect that Richelieu was acting in self-preservation).  Indeed, years later, in 1669, King Louis XIV followed suit, forbidding pointed knives at his table; indeed, he extended the prohibition, banning pointed knives in the street in an attempt to reduce violence.

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Written by LW

May 14, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders. Many Outsiders unify themselves, realize themselves as poets or saints.”*…

 

 

Gertrude Morgan

Sister Gertrude Morgan in her Everlasting Gospel Revelation Mission; some of her work, hanging behind her.  New Orleans, Louisiana, 1974

 

In a new book, Walks to the Paradise Garden, author Jonathan Williams, editor Phillip March Jones, and photographer Roger Manley gather interviews and encounters with artists they met along their road trips through the American South in the 1970s. Some of the artists they spoke with, like Sister Gertrude Morgan, would eventually be discovered by the art-world establishment, while others they met—like former mechanic Vernon Lee Burwell—continued to labor in obscurity.

Along with a deep sense of religious wonder, there is a sense of urgency to the work featured in Walks to the Paradise Garden, a compulsion to make more and more of it until it covered the walls of their homes, crowded the hallways, and spilled onto the front lawn. As Williams writes in the introduction to the book, “We’re talking about a South that is both celestial and chthonian,” pertaining to both heaven and hell. “They are often one and the same.”…

Outsider artists and their work: “Finding Jesus on the Front Yard.”

* Colin Wilson, The Outsider

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As we see through different eyes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1886 that a different kind of “outsider” made its first appearance: Coca-Cola was first sold to the public at the soda fountain in Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia.  It was formulated by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton, who mixed it in a 30-gallon brass kettle hung over a backyard fire.  Pemberton’s recipe, which survived in use until 1905, was marketed as a “brain and nerve tonic,” and contained extracts of cocaine and (caffeine-rich) kola nut. The name, using two C’s from its ingredients, was suggested by his bookkeeper Frank Robinson, whose excellent penmanship provided the famous scripted  “Coca-Cola” logo.

Pemberton’s Palace

 

Written by LW

May 8, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”*…

 

Hand dryer

 

Public bathrooms offer three primary options to dry a pair of wet hands. First, there is the venerable crisp-pleated paper towel. Second, the old-style warm-air dryer: those indestructible metal carapaces that, through their snouts, breathe down upon our hands. And finally, the jet dryer sub-species of the sort Dyson makes, whose gale-force winds promise to shear away every drop of moisture rather than slowly evaporating it. In the quest to dominate the world’s restrooms, Campbell discovered, Dryer v Towel is a pitched contest of business strategy and public relations. “Expect to be lied to a lot,” Campbell told me. “It’s almost like the cola wars. You have Pepsi v Coke, and you have hand dryers v paper towels.”

The chief battleground for this duel is public hygiene. Science has tried and failed to come to a consensus about the hygienic superiority of one product over the other. Even so, the paper towel industry has funded or promoted a rash of studies claiming that hand dryers turn bathrooms into mosh pits of pathogens. These results almost always make news. Any sort of health scare is a gift to a journalist – an opportunity to write viral headlines such as “Hand dryers are blowing bacteria all over your hands” or “Hand dryers are germ-flinging bullshit”…

As an invention, the paper towel isn’t much older than the hand dryer; the Scott Paper Company, based in Philadelphia and now owned by the tissue giant Kimberly-Clark, developed the first restroom towel in 1907, while the Airdry Corporation, in New York, patented the earliest “drying apparatus” in 1922. For most of the 20th century, the towel was the more dominant product. Dryer companies, by and large, just made dryers; their budgets were small and their influence limited. The biggest manufacturers of paper towels were behemoths such as Kimberly-Clark or Georgia-Pacific, which also produced a vast range of other items. Their pockets were deeper, their leverage over customers greater.

Only after Dyson arrived and other dryer firms shook themselves awake did the contest acquire any edge at all. The numbers still weigh heavily in favour of Big Towel. In 2020, according to the market research firm Technavio, the world will buy roughly $4bn (£3bn) worth of multi-fold paper towels, of the kind most commonly seen in public bathrooms; the same year, hand dryer sales will jump to $856m, having grown 12% every year since 2014. Between 2012 and 2020, a Dyson spokesperson reckoned, hand dryers will have sucked $873m out of paper towel revenues. This is why, he argued, Big Towel launches such regular broadsides at hand dryers…

For a century, the humble paper towel has dominated public toilets. But a new generation of hand dryers has sparked a war: “Hand dryers v paper towels: the surprisingly dirty fight for the right to dry your hands.”

*  John Wesley

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As we pray for peace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1953 that the U. S Patent and Trademark Office issued patent number 2,636,176 to Howard C. Rossin for an overcoat for two people (or Siamese Twins).

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“All men know the use of the useful, but nobody knows the use of the useless!”*…

 

daniel-gebhart-de-koekkoek-a-guide-to-being-better-photography-itsnicethat-13

 

Chindōgu is the art of inventing seemingly practical but ultimately useless gadgets to enhance everyday life. Popularised in Japan in the 90s by its creator, Kenji Kawakami, it was originally just a comical section that appeared in his monthly magazine, Mail Order Life. From fans attached to your chopsticks that cool your food before you eat it, to a Pritt Stick of butter that allows for easy application onto your toast, chindōgu is the perfect balance between ingenuity and absurdity.

As such, it instantly grabbed the attention of Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek…

To date, there are over 1000 official chindōgu items in existence. Poetic and political in nature, they are comments on the state of consumerist culture and the materialism of modern life. They poke at fun at our reliance on technology and inability to carry out basic tasks like administering eye drops. Though humorous, chindōgu has a set of rules – a list of ten commandments, in fact – that must be adhered to. They are as follows: Chindōgu must be (almost) completely useless; must exist (they should be real, useable objects); must represent freedom of thought and action; must be understood by all (its function should not be obscure); must not be sold (they are not tradable commodities); must not be made purely for the sake of humour (it should also be an earnest attempt to solve a problem); must not be used as propaganda; must not be taboo (cheap sexual humour etc.); must not be patented; and must not be made with prejudice (they must be useable by everyone, young and old, rich and poor).

A perfect fit with the other tongue-in-cheek projects that make up his portfolio, including his Make Alpaca Great Again series… Daniel knew he had to find a way to shoot this phenomenon…

More at: “Daniel Gebhart de Koekkoek recreates the ingenious yet useless inventions of Chindōgu.”

* Zhuangzi, The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu

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As we investigate intention, we might recall that it was on this date in 1985 that the Coca-Cola Company, concerned that it had been loosing share to the sweeter offerings of competitors like Pepsi, introduced Coke II (or “New Coke, ” as it was widely known).  Consumer reaction was swift– and profoundly negative.  Three months later, Coke caved, reintroducing the original formula (rebranded as Coca-Cola Classic)– and enjoyed a boost in sales… leading some charitably to suggest that New Coke was just a ploy.  But the company maintained that it was absolutely for real…  and the episode has become a cautionary example of the dangers in tampering with an established product/brand.

New_Coke_can source

Happy Shakespeare’s Birthday!

 

 

Written by LW

April 23, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality”*…

 

People walk past the Egyptian Theatre along Main Street before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City

 

It is often said that art feeds the soul. But culture and the arts also fuel the economy directly: The arts contribute more than $800 billion a year to U.S. economic output, amounting to more than 4 percent of GDP.

That figure is based on detailed data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the Department of Commerce) and the National Endowment for the Arts, summarized in a report released earlier this month.The report tracks the aggregate performance of 35 key arts-and-culture fields, including broadcasting, movies, streaming, publishing, the performing arts, arts-related retail, and more…

chart

The contribution of culture and art to the U.S. economy is bigger than the economic output of Sweden or Switzerland; learn more at “The Economic Power of American Arts and Culture.”

* John Ruskin

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As we see to our souls, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

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Petrarch

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Written by LW

April 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

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