• What is inflation?

     Napkin Finance on Inflation. Here is the VIDEO

    Inflation is a worry discussed in many business news stories about the Fed and interest rates. But what exactly is inflation, and why might it be bad? "Inflation is the increase in the general prices of goods and services. It is measured as an annual percentage increase. A healthy economy aims for a 2% inflation rate" (from the text at the link below). 

    Inflation goes up if there is an increase in the amount of money in circulation, or in disposable income. Also, if a raw material (like a precious metal used in mobile phone production) has a price increase, it will cause a price increase in the product and have a further "domino effect." The central bank of any country can also manipulate interest rates for other reasons, and influence the inflation rate in the process. 

    As of the end of June 2017, the annual inflation rate in the U.S. was 1.6%. To put this in context, "the inflation rate in the United States averaged 3.28% from 1914 until 2017."

    Source: "Inflation," Napkin Finance, November 11, 2016.

    Follow up:

    • Why is inflation often considered to be bad? What mitigates any bad effects of inflation?
    • Define (use the links): creeping Inflation, deflation, hyperinflation, and stagflation. Comment on which may be better or worse for middle class individuals or small businesses.



  • Adobe Flash is phasing itself out by 2020

     c|net news

    More than one stand-up comic has asked something like, "How many of you have recently had to update Adobe Flash on your laptop?....Really? Have they still not gotten all of the bugs out of it yet?" The reminders to update Adobe Flash are famously annoying. But Adobe Flash--once a requirement for watching streaming media on your PC--is no longer state-of-the-art. The updates are lame attempts to try to keep up. 

    According to the Marketplace podcast linked below, "... technology advanced. HTML5, an advanced version of HTML, took over as a more efficient and safe model. Flash has holes that make it vulnerable to cyber attacks. And sites built with Flash generally take longer to load."

    These factors and others contributed to Adobe's decision to no longer support the Flash product after 2020. Meanwhile, it is being phased out of browsers and compatibility with operating systems.

    Source: "Goodbye, Flash," by Ben Johnson and Kristin Schwab with Lindsey Turentine, Marketplace: American Public Media, July 27, 2017.

    Follow up

    • What factors not mentioned above, but included in the podcast, contributed to the demise of Adobe Flash?
    • Are there any other programs or operating systems which have updates that are annoying rather than useful? Which ones? What are the issues? How might the industry address the issues?


  • International Monetary Fund downgrades the U.S. economy

     image from The Tap Blog

    The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has changed its estimates of U.S. economic growth as measured by the gross domestic product (GDP). The estimates have declined. As of April, 2017, the IMF estimated 2.3% growth this year, and 2.5% next year. Now, in July, the IMF is saying 2.1% Meanwhile, the Trump administration has based its plans on growth of 3%. 

    Looking at the percentage amounts is not alarming. However, if a news outlet chose to make this sound more scandalous, they could choose another way of accurately presenting this information: by calculating the percentage change in the estimate, and quoting that. (The percentage change calculation is the difference in the two levels divided by the amount of the first level.) The following statements accurately represent the same information using this different way of framing the situation: 

    • The IMF has decreased its estimate of U.S. economic growth in 2017 by 8.7%.  [ 2.3 - 2.1 = .2; .2 divided by 2.3 = 8.7% ]
    • The IMF has also decreased its estimate of U.S. economic growth in 2018 by 16%.  [ 2.5 - 2.1 = .4; .4 divided by 2.5 = 16% ]

    It remains to be seen what the actual GDP of the U.S. is for this year and next. Nevertheless, being mindful of the way that meaning can be manipulated by presentation is an important skill to master whenever information is presented. 

    photo of first edition of this text

    Source: "The IMF downgrades the U.S. economy, and that's bad news for the Trump administration," by Sabri Ben-Achour, Marketplace: American Public Media, June 24, 2017.

    Follow up

    • What is the IMF and why is it important?
    • What is the GDP? How is it different from the GNP? Define both, then compare and contrast. 
    • Read the book, "How to Lie with Statistics," by Darrell Huff.


  • How to Conquer Procrastination

    "Master Procrastinator" Tim Urban TEDTalk

    Procrastination sometimes feels good in the moment, but it can cause problems for oneself and for others in the long run. It can really make you look bad--as well as annoy others--at work. We all do it at least sometimes. And there are myriad reasons for it. But procrastination can become a habit--separated from any underlying reasons or causes. So sometimes using techniques that are related to habit-changing techniques can help.

    New York Times columnist Tim Herrera wrote about procrastination in his newsletter Smarter Living a few weeks ago. He received a lot of helpful hints from readers with various perspectives on how they tackle procrastination themselves. He shared some of those tips in a follow-up column:

    • Susan Engelking writes “I Will Feel Great About Today If I...” on a notepad. It is not a to-do list--it is a reminder to feel great if only that one thing gets done.
    • Rhianna Rivas uses the "Seven Minute Rule"--if it can be done in seven minutes, it goes to the top of the list. 
    • Sahil Gupta uses the Pomodoro Technique--25 minutes on task; 5 minutes on planned break. (It is named for the tomato-shaped kitchen timer)
    • Buddy Diener had "If not now, when?" TATTOOED on his arm. 
    • Connie Fletcher does things for her "future Connie" self. 

    I have to trick myself all the time to get things done by any self-imposed deadline:

    • When grading long, problem-filled Accounting exams (or essay-filled Accounting Ethics exams) I line up a row of M&M candies to reward myself after each one. 
    • My favorite breakfast place is more than 10,000 steps round-trip, up and down several minor hills. So before starting the lazy part of Sunday, my husband and I walk to and from breakfast, working on the NYT Spelling Bee puzzle using a voice recorder for our answers. The reward is built in. 
    • I adopted a husky dog, knowing that they are relentless about needing their exercise and--like all dogs--can tell time. I have to get things done BEFORE it is time to go to the dog park, because I will be howled at and bothered relentlessly when Sesi senses that my time to work is UP... 

    Source: "Your Best Tips For Beating Procrastination," by Tim Herrera, New York Times, July 23, 2017.

    Follow up

    • Read "How to Get Things Done,"Herrera's previous column. Discuss the initial strategies that inspired these additional hints.
    • Talk about the ways in which you procrastinate, and how you force yourself to do things you need to do.  Have you ever gotten into trouble at school or work because of procrastination? What happened, and what were the consequences, if any? 
    • Tim Urban's TED Talk (above) touches on the effect of procrastination on a person's whole life. He uses a Life Calendar to gain perspective. Consider trying to look at the big picture for yourself. 

  • How to change your mind

    Although there are many pejorative terms for a person who changes their mind (wishy-washy, flip-flopper--sometimes even prevaricator), re-thinking an issue can actually be a brave thing to do.  Sometimes research can change one's mind--the podcast cites a study measuring emergency room use by the uninsured and by poor people who had Medicaid insurance. The result was the opposite of the hypothesis.

    Sometimes other people's reasoning can help a person change their viewpoint. Kal Turnbull started the Reddit site Change My View. The site has over 300,000 members, has been active for four years, and has been the subject of several academic studies. Turnbull set up several rules for the site, since he did not want the comments to degenerate into rants and rages. Here are the rules (items in quotes are from the podcast, but the website delineates these rules as well): 

    • You have to state the view, and state the reasoning behind the viewpoint.
    • You must personally hold the view as your own...and be open to changing it.
    • Your post title must adequately state your view and the topic you are addressing.
    • "No metaposts...In other words, fourth rule of Change My View, do not talk about Change My View on Change My View." 
    • "Only post if you're willing to have a conversation with those who reply to you and are available to start doing so within three hours of posting." (no "hit and runs")
    • "Don't be rude or hostile to other users."
    • Don't just agree with a previous post...in other words, you actually have to disagree (without violating the previous rule).
    • Award a Greek letter delta (change symbol) to an individual post if it has changed your mind. 
    • No deltas are awarded for wittiness--just mind-changing. 
    • A leaderboard is maintained to keep track of those with the most deltas. 

    The unique thing about this site is that its rules shift status away from sarcasm, humor, or ganging-up--and onto convincing logic. Status has to have substance. 

    The podcast also addresses another individual who changed his mind about copyright law--after raising $19 million for a Digital Rights Management software company. 

    Source: "Episode 780: On Second Thought," by Jacob Goldstein and Kenny Malone, NPR: Planet Money, July 17, 2017. [transcript]

    Follow up

    • What have you changed your mind about? Did you have difficulty explaining your shift in perspective to others? Try to think of a personal situation and a work situation.
    • Visit the Reddit Change My View site. Comment on one or more of the discussions. 
    • What is "confirmation bias"? How can it thwart or hinder a change of opinion?
    • Comment on Doctorow's shift in thinking about copyright law (the podcasts's third example).


  • Using frequent flier miles vs. paying cash

     chart from thrillist.com 

    Airline frequent flyer miles are a currency that is always undergoing a process of devaluation. While a traveler is busy saving up miles for a big trip...the number of miles that it will take to fly for free is almost always going up. Frequent flyers often rack up miles while traveling for employers--who may or may not require employees to use their miles toward future business trips. Those with a high number of miles should always use the miles whenever possible, because of the way they lose value over time. 

    Mark Orlowski of the Sustainable Endowments Institute is a frequent flyer with some advice for those with smaller balances in their frequent flyer accounts: "...generally speaking, if you can get at least about two pennies per point in value from redeeming your miles instead of paying cash, I would encourage you to consider redeeming your miles unless you're saving them for a very special trip."

    However, as you may see from the chart above (and on other charts at that link), the value of frequent flyer miles is often far less. 

    It is also interesting to note how companies account for frequent flyer miles. According to Brian J. Franklin at frontiertutoring.com

    "Major U.S. airlines employ one of two methods to account for the liabilities they incur when issuing mileage credits to traveling passengers. The Deferred Revenue Method recognizes a liability for the fair value of the outstanding mileage credits (with “fair value” defined under International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) as “the amount for which the award credits could be sold separately”). The Incremental Cost Method recognizes a liability for the marginal cost of providing air transportation to eligible award passengers (i.e. the cost of taxes, fuel, food, etc. to fly one additional passenger on a seat that otherwise would have been empty—generally a nominal amount)."

    Source: "When you should use your miles and when you should pay cash," by Sabri Ben-Achour, Marketplace: American Public Media, July 19, 2017.

    Follow up:

    • What are other ways to use frequent flyer miles, other than paying cash? [Check out links in print article]
    • Check out the various cost-per-mile charts at the thrillist link. What additional conclusions can you infer?


  • Wearing shorts to the office and other sartorial dilemmas

     Shorts advice for men

    It is summer, and the weather is hotter than ever in many places. Does that mean that a person working in an office can wear shorts to work without committing a social and career faux pas? Hmmm...

    Print and online journalism during a recent Fashion Week featured male runway models clad in suits that consisted of short pants rather than slacks. These outfits looked much like the formal wear for male members of the British Royal Family who are under 10 years of age. I could also imagine news anchors getting away with this type of work-wear fashion statement. Their legs are hidden behind those impressive desks! Nevertheless, the idea of shorts at work was addressed in a recent Marketplace segment.

    Alison Green, an office expert at AskaManager.org, fielded this and other clothing-appropriateness questions for Marketplace listeners. Her answer regarding shorts was: "... probably not. Even if your office is business casual, you can't really wear shorts in a professional environment."

    Source: "Are Shorts Now Office-Appropriate? Let's ask a Manager," by Lizzie O'Leary, Marketplace: American Public Media, July 14, 2017. 

    Follow up

    • What is the most outrageous outfit or clothing item that you have worn to the office? (consider political attire as well) How was it received by your peers? By your superiors?
    • How do you feel about flip flops and sandals in the office? What does the dress code (formal or informal) at your school or place of business say about those shoe types at work?
    • Do an internet search for women's culottes. Are these appropriate work wear? Why or why not?


  • Businesses (some businesses) celebrate World Emoji Day

     Emojipedia's 2017 new emoji

    We're a little late, but the fourth World Emoji Day was celebrated earlier this week--on July 17, 2017. To celebrate, Apple's Tim Cook tweeted a preview of upcoming emoji additions to Apple software. But does an emoji really belong in a  business communication? 

    According to a recent survey by Cotap, Inc., 78% of respondents had used emoji in a professional setting. The "happy face" was the emoji of choice for 64% of those surveyed. I've found that the "thumbs up" emoji to signify agreement or solidify an appointment usually enhances rather than detracts from the tone of both business and personal communications. 

    There are, however, business netiquette issues that may arise with emoji use:

    • Some businesses may forbid emoji use as part of company policy.
    • There may be some cultural illiteracy: Recipients might not know the meaning of an emoji, and may be offended if they misunderstand the meaning.
    • Since the survey found that only 61% of individuals approved of emoji use at work...that means that 39% do not approve. This may affect how your communication is received. 

    Individuals often either love or hate emoji use. I'm with the "love emoji" group. I frequently use emoji to write whole texts for my adult children to decipher. Alas, however, I have also been known to use the Comic Sans Serif font, so my opinion on matters of visual tone in business communications probably cannot be trusted...  

    Source: "Even your manager thinks it's OK to use emoji at work," by Jana Kasperkevic, Marketplace: American Public Media, July 17, 2017.

    Follow up

    • How do people at your place of business feel about emoji use?  Are certain emoji on the "allowed" list? Is there a written or unwritten policy? What is your opinion?
    • If you are an emoji user, browse through the Apple emoji palette in the video above. Which do you think you will use? What emoji design do you wish was available on your mobile device, that is not currently available? 
    • While we are talking about addenda to business communications, do you think that textspeak acronyms are appropriate? For example: LOL for Laugh Out Loud...or BTW for By the Way. How do these compare to "standard" business acronyms like FYI and YTD? What is suitable and NSFW
    • BTW, how do you feel about the Comic Sans Serif font


  • "Middle-out" compression not just a Pied Piper dream

    R&D investment 3/3

     file provided in case you really want to know how data compression works...

    Life does imitate art...if you consider the TV series "Silicon Valley" art. The technological breakthrough made at the end of Season 1 by the fictional company Pied Piper was "middle-out" compression, which allowed data to be more compressed without loss of integrity than ever before. 

    Now Lepton, an image compressor, has been developed by Dropbox: "Lepton reduces the file size of JPEG-encoded images (and that’s most of them) by as much as 22 percent, yet without losing a single bit of the original. How is this possible? Middle-out."

    Those words sound familiar to viewers of Silicon Valley. But it is not surprising that there has been real-life progress in this arena. Compression increases speed (which most users want). But compression often means sacrificing detail (for an example, try enlarging a picture that has been saved and sent as a "small" file). Programs that retain detail for audio, video or photo files would feel a perceived market need. 

    The video above demonstrates how data compression applies to the field of gene-mapping. The mass-monetizing of individual genome information is in its infancy (e.g. 23andMe)

    Of course, the fictionalized world is one step ahead of middle out compression (Silicon Valley, Season 4).

    Source: "Dropbox's Lepton lossless image compression really uses a 'middle-out' algorithm," by Devin Coldewey, Techcrunch, July 14, 2016.

    Follow up:

    • Read this blog on Quora. What other real-life companies are making progress with respect to data compression, and how are they doing it?
    • Will Dropbox go public? What do the folks at Forbes think?  If it does, will you invest? Explain your position


  • Green energy and a drama involving shady finances

    R&D Opportunities, part 2/3

     trailer from Nordic Noir & Beyond: Follow the Money

    Investment in research and development to fulfill a need or solve a problem is one way to strike it rich while actually producing a product. The inspiration for today's blog comes from a (fictional) Nordic Noir TV series. In its English-language version it is called "Follow the Money," but the show in Danish is "Bedrag," which translates as "Deception."

    The 10-part first season tells the story of a fictional Danish company called Energreen (not to be confused with real life companies that also use this name). Its primary business seems to be ocean-based installations of wind energy, but it appears to be branching out into solar energy. Their solar investments are timed to take advantage of insider information relating to a government contract...but in fact constitute a profit-taking financial move to push up the price of solar stock in the short term.

    Other shady matters (drawing the attention of law enforcement) include:

    • Individual Energreen traders (with the knowledge of senior officers) are selling futures contracts based on non-existent products and promised German subsidies. 
    • An energy transport project (whose chief engineer knows is far from being market ready) is faked for a demo to investors from Abu Dhabi--who buy 20% of the company as a result.
    • Factory assets of an entrepreneurial subsidiary have actually been sold and leased back by an unscrupulous CFO...who seems to be losing his psychiatric tolerance for criminality.
    • The various financial misrepresentations and vaporware which form the basis of an imminent IPO have both legal and ethical ramifications.

    It is the transportation of energy without loss of power that is the R&D problem that relates to real-life needs and investment opportunities. But the greed and ethical compromises of the story make it an entertaining way to get a perspective on business problems of all kinds--financing, personnel management, managerial obligations, the interface with politics, motivation, and stresses related to "getting ahead."  

    Source: "Follow the Money" created by Jeppe Gjervig Gram, Jannik Tai Mosholt, and Anders Frithiof August, produced by Danish Radio, original European release January 1, 2016. 

    Follow up

    • Find at least 2 real-life energy companies that are working on what is called "superconducting" in the TV series: transporting green energy without loss of power. [Suggestion] [Another suggestion] How are they doing? What is the timeline?
    • View Episode 1.5 and describe the company history of the factory entrepreneur who is visited by Energreen legal head Claudia with bad news. What additional news is revealed? What happens to the company? Was this company's experience parallel to that of American entrepreneurial companies who are bought by larger international firms? 
    • Discuss all of the business ethics violations that you observe in this first season of Follow the Money.

  • R&D opportunities part 1/3: Investing in air conditioning technology

    image from Rockford Register Star blogs

    What global warming contributor is going to get worse and why?

    Air conditioning becomes increasingly important as the world gets warmer (whether or not you believe the warming is cyclical in nature or caused by humans). Scientists correlate greenhouse gas levels with warming global temperatures. They also note the following about the compounds that are currently required for refrigeration and air conditioning:

    "Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, account for about 1 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but they can be thousands of times as potent than carbon dioxide and may account for up to 19 percent of emissions by 2050 if their manufacture continues unchecked."

    In addition, as third world economies blossom (in Africa, Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East), the demand for air conditioning and refrigeration is growing. Therefore...whoever solves the problem of sustainable refrigerants that do not cause global warming will be RICH. They will command a market that is large and growing. Population increases, temperature increases, and demand for a/c as a necessity rather than a luxury all point to a big reward for whoever solves the science of sustainable refrigerants. 

    Source: "If you fix this, you fix a big piece of the climate puzzle," by Lisa Friedman, New York Times, July 13, 2017. (Note: you have to make a choice in the initial quiz question to open the article.)

    Follow up

    • Did you guess correctly which of the four choices were the most significant with respect to climate change? If not, what did you choose and why? Discuss all four choices and how they effect the health of the planet. 
    • What is the history of the control of refrigerants? What is the current status in international law?


  • Appellate court rules in favor of Oxford comma in labor dispute

    image from knowyourmeme.com; image by Eric Edelman 2011

    As an illustration in a previous blog about the value of intangible or small-market assets (May 2017), I mentioned the Oxford Comma. Its use is illustrated above and defined at the link. Its business importance became apparent in a recent lawsuit involving the Oakhurst dairy drivers in Maine, where state contract law said that overtime did not have to be paid for: 

    The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

    1. Agricultural produce;
    2. Meat and fish product; and
    3. Perishable foods

    The key point here is that there is no comma after shipment and before the word "or" in the series of activities. The company interpreted the list as ending with the final activity being the "distribution" of the listed items, so they thought that the drivers were excluded from the requirement to pay overtime.

    The drivers' union and the appellate court disagreed. They read the list as ending with the activity "packing" (...for shipment OR distribution of...). So anyone doing the separate activity of shipping would be paid overtime. My guess is that English teachers across the land would also agree that the parallel construction of the list of activities, which all end in "ing," would further suggest the interpretation that the last activity was "packing." 

    This omitted comma may seem like a small item, but the cost was $10 million in overtime owed to the drivers. 

    Source: "Take That, AP Style! Court of Law Rules the Oxford Comma Necessary," by Kelly Gurnett, The Write Life, April 10, 2017.

    Follow up:

    • Find or create other examples of misinterpretations that could result from the elimination of this serial comma.
    • Proofread your papers and consider erring on the side of caution and including the comma in any possibly ambiguous series.

  • Recent bipartisan study finds that businesses are dying off and the implications are significant

    graphic is from the "Dynamism in Retreat" EIG paper

    "...For the first time on record in 2009, after the Great Recession, we saw the birth rate of firms, the startup rate, cross below the death rate of firms. That had never happened before, even in a single year, and it happened for three consecutive years in 2009, 2010 and 2011. And the hole that we dug was deep enough such that in 2014, which is the latest year the data is available, we had fewer total firms in the economy than we had in 2007, even though the economy itself has grown by more than a trillion in GDP." said John Lettieri of the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) commenting on a recent study. The study measured "dynamism" in business, which includes:

    • the number of business start-ups
    • how many people move across state lines for economic opportunities
    • job switching by workers

    Contrary to commonly held beliefs, the United States is not experiencing historically high job turnover or a bump in entrepreneurial activity. The following chart (also from EIG) illustrates more clearly the point that Lettieri was making in the quote above:

    An effect of this stagnation in business liveliness is that "The country has entered a new period of incumbents, in which markets are concentrated, competition is weak, and profits are sky high." (EIG). In the words of John Lettieri:

    "That's a big deal, because the downstream impact of a missing generation of what we roughly estimate is a million missing firms that should have been born during that period is really profound when you think about the labor market implications, the competition implications within industries, the wage growth implications."


    Follow up:

    • What does the EIG report say specifically about five metropolitan hubs (New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas) vis a vis the rest of the country, with respect to business growth and other dynamism factors? Discuss the ramifications of these findings. Include the effect on employment. 
    • What can be done? (according to the sources, as well as your own opinion)


  • Ninth grade commencement speech from SCOTUS Chief conveys career wisdom

     Cardigan Mountain School commencement address via YouTube

    Chief Justice John Roberts was the commencement speaker at his son's ninth grade graduation from Cardigan Mountain School this past May. His speech followed some of the conventions of commencement addresses, but differed in one significant way.

    First, the ways in which the speech was the same included perspective, advice, planned humor, and quotations from others. The perspective he offered was to recognize and reign in the privileged situation in which the boarding school graduates found themselves. One thing he advised students to do was to write a real (on paper!) note to someone once a week. He made at least two jokes. He cited Bob Dylan at length.

    The unusual wish he had for the graduates was "bad luck," or to find themselves in situations in which they would be treated unfairly. Maybe including something unusual is also a convention of commencement speeches. 

    Most of us in our working or personal lives have at least a few "opportunities" to speak in public. Reading and listening to this straightforward speech given by the Chief Justice can serve as an example of how to communicate with dignity...as well as offer substantive information.

    Source: "'I wish you bad luck.' Read Supreme Court Justice John Roberts' Unconventional Commencement Speech to his Son's Graduating Class," by Katie Reilly, Time Magazine, July 5, 2017.

    Follow up:

    • Why did Chief Justice Roberts wish the students "bad luck"? How has bad luck figured positively in your own life?
    • Why did Chief Justice Roberts advise students to write a snail-mail type note each week? What is your experience with writing and receiving personal mail? 
    • Summarize the other advice Justice Roberts had for the graduates.


  • Buzz Aldrin reacts without filtering his disapproval during speech about space


     Buzz Aldrin listening to Trump talk about space

    Buzz Aldrin is a former NASA astronaut and engineer. He was one of the first men to land on the moon. I admit, I have not listened to the soundtrack that accompanies the video above, but I am guessing that Aldrin disagrees vehemently with what the speaker has to say about an arena in Aldrin's area of expertise. 

    Because of Aldrin's positional authority as an astronaut, he has the standing and knowledge to express an opinion, though he may not have chosen a conventional avenue to do so. The popularity of the video may indicate that many are feeling Aldrin's pain, and are taking his side. 

    The situation would be very different, however, if a probationary employee was exhibiting the body language we can observe in the video. What if you were a manager and a subordinate in your department was reacting similarly to Aldrin while listening to a speaker from your company's senior management? What might be your reaction? 

    Business etiquette and diplomacy have unwritten rules about how to behave in formal public appearances. The parameters address:

    • what to wear and what not to wear
    • heckling, talking, sarcastic laughter; when to remain silent
    • use of mobile devices, cameras, and recording equipment
    • eye-rolling and other exaggerated facial reactions

    The principle underlying these rules is respect for others. Not everyone holds that these rules are important, but it is better to know what is expected so that one can choose whether or not to comply, rather that to behave inappropriately out of ignorance. 

    Source: "Buzz Aldrin's Face..." via YouTube, July 2, 2017.

    Follow up

    • How and when, if you were a manager, would you address the behavior of a subordinate acting similarly to Aldrin at a company event?
    • Do you think that business etiquette and diplomacy have eroded over the past year or so? Why or why not?
    • How do you feel about Aldrin's reactions in this situation? Should he apologize? Explain. 

  • Oreo product development

    Oreo blueberry pie cookies; image from article linked below

    I don't think that anyone in Oreo product development has heard the adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Admittedly, this opinion comes from a fan of the original Oreo cookie, which can be taken apart and customized by individual customers without messing with the flavor and colors. Previous cookie variations have included the Double Stuf (extra filling) and Thin Oreos. But Oreo now has more than 20 varieties. Some cookies are golden rather than chocolate, but the flavor variations inside show considerable creativity.

    Oreo fireworks cookie; image by Tony Cenicola for NYT

    The two-toned filling variations take advantage of consumer tendencies to pull apart the cookie before eating it. 

     The Jelly Donut Oreo from the NYT article

    Seasonal Oreo cookies have even extended to the loved (and hated) springtime Peeps:

    image from Walmart via People magazine

    I wonder if any of the variations will live up to the Oreo ad line "Milk's favorite cookie."

    [note: "Oreo" and "Peeps" are trademarked names]

    Source: "Oreo finds a sweet spot between novelty and nostalgia. But how does it taste?" by Tejal Rao, New York Times, July 3, 2017. 

    Follow up

    • Research and list at least 20 Oreo varieties.  If you have tried any of them, share your thoughts.
    • What are the advantages and possible disadvantages of creating variations on a "classic" food product?


  • New York Uber drivers cheated out of millions: doing the math

     an Uber receipt in New York State

    As you may be able to see in the receipt above, New York State sales tax is charged on Uber rides...but the amount is taken out of the driver's pay, rather than paid as an add-on tax by the customer. Most of us understand the concept of this add-on tax. When we buy a piece of clothing for $80, we pay an additional amount on top of that in sales tax. When we rent a car, sales and other taxes are added on and paid by the consumer.

    It is possible that Uber could have created a contract where the driver was clearly supposed to be paying state sales tax for the customer. However, because Uber clearly delineates state taxes as an add-on, customer paid item in other states, this was not the arrangement Uber had mad with its drivers. Here is a receipt from Nevada:

    The state tax amount is listed as a "3% Transportation Recovery Charge."

    When trips start in New York and end in another state, no NY state sales tax is due under state law. But the base fare is not reduced when no tax is due, which indicates that the tax is NOT, in fact, included in the base fare.  

    This issue is currently in litigation. Uber did not comment for the NYT article, but I would like to know why they are not settling this case straightaway.

    Source: "How Uber's Tax Calculation May Have Cost Drivers Hundreds of Millions," by Noam Scheiber, with Kimberley McGee, New York Times, July 4, 2017. 

    Follow up

    • If you had resistance to looking at the detail of the calculations in this article, ask yourself why.  As an intellectual exercise, try this as an entry point to understanding. Look at the receipt posted above. How is the $19.16 calculated? If you need a hint, try adding together the three numbers in grey below it. Use a calculator to arrive at the $12.19 net amount. I hope that was not too painful. Study the other examples in the article until the calculations become transparent.
    • By the way, what is the Black Car Fund?  
    • Are you working as an employee? If so, do you dissect your paycheck, checking to see if your hours--including overtime, sick pay and holiday pay--are correctly calculated?  If not, give it a try. Also calculate your social security (FICA) tax percentage, and the percent withheld for both federal and state income tax. Just a reality check. 
    • Are you an Uber or Lyft driver? Or do you use these services? What kinds of receipts do you review on a regular basis?  If you have taken an actual taxi, photograph the meter at the beginning and end of your trip, as well as the rate schedule posted in the cab. Re-calculate your fare once you get to your destination. 


  • Intern at Planet Money 2017

        Gary Vaynerchuk gives advice to interns (not from Planet Money)

    Again, this year, National Public Radio's Planet Money podcast is offering an internship. It is a paid, 40-hour per week position in New York City. An applicant must either be a current student, or someone who graduated after September 11th, 2016. These additional qualifications are also needed:

    • "Excellent writing, researching and analytical skills"
    • "Ability to work independently, quickly and accurately, while under deadline pressure"
    • "Web skills including knowledge of basic blogging software"
    • "A natural interest in engaging audiences on social media"
    • "Being easy to work with, even on tight deadlines"

     The deadline to apply is July 16, 2017.   More details can be found at NPR Jobs.

    Source: "Come Intern At Planet Money," NPR: Planet Money, June 30, 2017.

    Follow up

    • What advice is presented in the video above? What do you agree and disagree with?
    • Do you qualify for this position? What examples might you give of being easy to work with.
    • Research how much the Planet Money internship pays. Is that a competitive and fair amount?
    • What are YOU doing this summer? How do your short term plans fit into your long term plans?