Wednesday, November 26, 2014

This Might Make You Toss Your Cookies

Of course, you already know there is no privacy left, either online or in three-dimensional life. But all this watching, tracking, data mining, and so on results in diminishment. Eli Pariser has already noted, in The Filter Bubble, that our experience on the Web is being reduced by the Cookie Cops, who read the cookies set on your computer and tattle tale what they find to the advertisers.

I was prompted to write this entry because of recent evidence of Cookie Cop activity. A week or so go, I was doing some research for my Sunday School class about the decline of Western Civilization--what caused it and how we can reverse it, and so on. In the process, our speaker mentioned that the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought Transcendental Meditation to the United States, where it had a profound impact. Naturally, I googled "transcendental meditation" to get  little more background information.

Now, every site I visit--Target, Home Depot, etc.--presents me with ads for Transcendental Meditation. Some are text ads and some are display. I should be used to it by now, but it still seems unsettling to find ads for something I searched on a month ago showing up on the most  unlikely sites, just because I was cookied with those ads. The ads are customized to  your searches, so everyone sees different ads on  the same Web site.

If civilization consists of shared experiences, cultural values and meaning, then we are in trouble as a civilization, because we share less and less in common as we are all treated to a customized life experience.



Monday, November 24, 2014

New Testament Greek and Literal Meanings

Looking at the New Testament in the Greek language original offers some fascinating translations or interpretations. A favorite reference book I use is Word Study Greek-English New Testament, edited by Paul McReynolds. Since I don't know classical, New Testament, or modern Greek, I'm either unbiased or dangerous, so be forewarned and see if my interpretations are logical.

Hebrews  11:1 is usually translated, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (NASB). Let's look at the Greek. The word translated faith is pistis, which can also be translated as trust. That in itself could make a sermon. Faith is trust. Have faith in God means have  trust in God. But let's go on. The word translated assurance in the NASB is alternately translated as substance in other versions. However, the Greek behind it is hypostasis which means, literally, standing below (hypo = below, stasis = standings). Thus, another word that fits hypostasis is foundation. That would make Hebrews 11:1a read, "Trust is the foundation of our hope."

Since Hebrews 11 is about faith, let's continue with the translation of 11:1a as, "Faith is the foundation of our hope." Then the remainder of 11:1. The Greek translated conviction or evidence is elegchos, meaning rebuke, reprove, expose. What literally says, "rebuking invisible things" means to give an answer for, or refute. It's like a response in a debate, a rebuttal. So, a clear translation of Hebrews 11:1b requires some rewording, but the usual word translated from elegchos should not be conviction or evidence, in my view. I would translate it this way:

Faith is the foundation of our hope, our confidence in the truth of things we can't yet see.

Faith provides the anchor of confident trust in God's truth when you can't see, know, or understand yet.




Sunday, November 23, 2014

Retail Business Ideas from Trester

As I mentioned earlier, my brother Trester suffered from schizophrenia all his adult life. A favorite pastime was to write on "headline cards" what was happening around him. In the process,  Trester would occasionally create some ideas (Here are a few more.

1. The popularity of dollar stores tells us that consumers are interested in low prices. So, at the dollar store you enjoy most, feature an aisle where everything is 25 cents, another aisle where everything is 50 cents, and of course, much of the store is $1 per item.

2. Start another chain called Dollar Plus, where some items are $2 or higher (up to $10).

3. Pain killer hand wash. Wash your hands and the pain will go away. The pain killer could be marketed as either a fashion accessory (hand cream) or as something that could save your life (squirt a short burst of  water or lemonade at your "enemy." Similar to Paint Ball but likely to be fore fun.

4. Start a magazine called "The Weekly Recap," that runs unedited news columns from prestigious newspapers and magazine, together with commentaries about new books and other products.

5. TV sitcom series, The Party, where teens or twenty somethings interact at a party, with focus on just two or three people from the party for each episode. The fact that all the characters are attending the same party forms a connecting bridge between episodes, as the opportunity to put characters from one clique into another for an episode further allows interconnections.                                                

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Illusion of Choice

So, you walk down the soft drink aisle at the supermarket and think that among the dozens of flavors and brands you have a robust and meaningful choice. Okay, find a diet cola without aspartame as the chemical sweetener. Oh, you can do it, but you'll be fortunate to locate more than one or two.

Similarly, try to find a regular soda not sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. In other words, sweetened with sugar.

I was at Ralph's just now and I got the hankering for root beer. I looked at all four brands (A&W, Barq's, Big K, and IBC. All four regular ones sweetened with high fructose corn syrup and all four diet sweetened with aspartame. If I recall correctly, Mug is the same story.

Wouldn't  you think that, just for competitive edge, one brand would have a sugar-sweetened root beer and a Splenda or stevia sweetened diet version? And while I'm at it, try to find a "less sweet" soda or a "less sweet" iced tea. In iced tea you get the full ten teaspoons per can or nothing (unsweetened). And, in fact, try to find unsweetened iced tea in more than a couple of brands. That major maker, Lipton, doesn't seem to make it. (Yeah, yeah, I know, consumer preference and all that. But how can consumers prefer something if they never have the choice?)

So, let's hear it for a modestly sugar sweetened root beer or cola or ginger ale.

And while I'm whining, what about more non-carbonated soft drinks? You realize that the phosphoric acid in soft drinks not only puts the bite on your tongue, but it dissolves your teeth, too. Ever see the teeth of a habitual soda swigger? Not a pretty sight.

The bottom line is that foot and drink manufacturers seem to be in a rut, using the same formulas and techniques to make what only appears to be a diversity of products. It reminds me of the old Taco Bell menu: Taco--ground taco meat in a taco shell. Bell Burger--ground taco meat on a hamburger bun. Something or other cup--ground taco meat in a cup.

Here's what will happen.

"Hey, Harry, we need to innovate to stay competitive."

"But Stan, we make ten different soft drinks: Yam Cola, Diet Yam Cola, Cherry Yam Cola, Cherry Diet Yam Cola, 10-Calorie Yam Cola, Organic Yam Cola, Zero Zero Yam Cola, Organic Diet Yam Cola, Organic Cherry Yam Cola--"

"But need something totally new."

"Double sweet Strawberry Yam Cola?"

"No, something like, "Lightly Sweet All Natural Lemonade--Made with Pure Sugar."

"Are you crazy?"

"Let's try it."

"Okay, but it will have to be sold at a premium price to enhance its unique, upscale appeal. I'm thinking four 10-ounce bottles for six dollars. That will give it real cachet."

[Six months later}

"Well, Stan, I hate to say I told you so, but the lemonade didn't sell. Your idea was no good. Don't ever ask us to go against the flow again."

Trester's Ideas: Restaurant Themes

It is said that genius and insanity live on the same street, next door to each other, in  fact. I don't know if that's true, but my brother, Trester suffered from schizophrenia for many years and in the process created many ideas that might be of use to the world. He wrote what he called "Headline Cards," notes on 3-by-5-inch cards. Most of these were imagined news headlines, such as "Whole Area Bombed Here Again." But occasionally, he wrote down some ideas for products, stores, foods, and so forth.

Here, then are a few ideas I've gleaned from his note cards. They might not be unique, but they might also be of use to stimulate further creative ideas. I've taken the core note and expanded it to clarify what I thought was his own idea and then added my own thoughts to it.

As a gift from my now-deceased brother, these ideas are in the public domain. To expand these ideas, I'm available as a consultant.

1. Ancient Days Restaurant. Create a theme restaurant with multiple rooms, each of which serves authentic food from historical eras and locations. For example, the 1,000 B.C. room would feature the breads, soups, and stews and barbecue eaten in, say the middle east at that time. The 1,000 AD room would feature robustly spiced mutton stews and so forth. More fun might include a Renaissance, and an Eighteenth Century room, and maybe a 300 B.C. China room. Period decor (clothing, farm tools, weapons, cooking utensils) would enhance the experience. Tabletop TVs could show short films discussing the historical period and tying menu selections to the history (thus encouraging people to try the dishes).

2. Soap for the world. Develop an anti-bacterial soap that is effective in cleaning, mild to the skin, and biodegrades easily and quickly. Market it as (1) good for you and (2) good for the world. For every bar (or 2 or 3 or 4) purchased, another bar will be donated to third and fourth world countries where a lack of hygiene is a cause of so many ailments.

3. Medicated Floor Cleaner. Develop a floor cleaner that contains, say, menthol and eucalyptus oils, so that a hospital or sick child's room can be cleaned with it, leaving the nose-clearing aroma in the room. Another angle on this is to combine an antiseptic or antibiotic chemical with a floor cleaner, so that two kinds of cleaning can be accomplished at once. A third possibility is  to combine an aromatic substance with the floor cleaner so that when floors are cleaned in third-world countries, a mosquito repellent will be laid down as well. (You might need to sponsor a "Concrete Floor Project" in tandem with this, for areas where floors are still dirt.)


Sunday, November 02, 2014

What Is It About the Scarcity Principle that We Find Irresistible?

I'm sure you're aware of the scarcity principle--how marketers make you think that unless you buy the item right now, you might not get it. Ever.

Examples are everywhere:
  • Act now while supplies last!
  • Limited time offer!
  • Limited to stock on hand.
  • Hurry! Sale ends soon!
  • One day only!
  • Quantities limited!
Then there is the ploy of the last chance ever. Some bookstores have a bin full of books labeled "Last Chance." Unless you buy now, you will never see these books again. Or, more dramatic is the "Going Out of Business" sale. Wow, better get in on the bargains before they are all gone. Related appeals to end-of-the-world scarcity:
  • Closeout sale!
  • Liquidation sale!
  • Everything must go!
Related is the limit-per-customer ploy. If we see an ad for something with the restriction of "one per customer," we think the price must be so low that other dealers or resellers would be pounding at the door to get as many as they could, were it not for the limit put on it. (But then you see an ad for an angle grinder that includes the note, "Limit 8." That doesn't have quite the same power of threat that "Limit 1" has.)

So my question is, why are we such suckers to the scarcity principle? "Closeout? I'd better buy a few right now before they're gone forever." And no doubt most of us have had the experience where we bought a product on  super sale, then returned to get several more, only to find them sold out. That seems to preprogram us for succumbing to the scarcity principle even more strongly.

Experience teaches us that "Supplies Limited" really means "the supplies are limited to the number ca can sell. Ever." And experience also teaches us that, when we don't get the sale item we wanted, something else becomes available that might even be better and cheaper.

The scarcity principle rushes some people into marriage. "If I don't marry him/her now, he/she will marry someone else and be gone forever." Read the slogans at the beginning of this blog entry and you'll see nearly everyone could apply to the marriage situation.

Takeaways:
1. Just because someone says it's scarce doesn't mean it is really scarce.
2. If  you are tempted by the scarcity marketing ploys, just think "alternatives," "substitutions," and "equivalents."

Saturday, November 01, 2014

We Cannot Assume that the Customer Is Not Making Assumptions

One of the sources of "sad humor" is that defensive obviousness that product manufacturers practice in an effort to prevent customers from getting angry because something they assumed about the product was incorrect. Or, it may be that in our litigious culture, manufacturers want to avoid being sued over some issue that any reasonable person would find laughable (hence the source of humor) but that someone out there somewhere could conceivably claim to have assumed about the product.

Example: An advertisement for a toolbox for $14.95 shows it in a picture filled with tools. The caption says, "Tools sold separately."

Example: A set of jack stands includes the instruction, "Raise vehicle to desired height using
an appropriate jack (sold separately)."

Example: A new 5-gallon propane bottle is sold for $28. On the label are the words: "Empty. Does not contain propane." Anyone lifting it or just reasoning from the price should know that, but someone might assume. . . .

Example: A small clock radio includes a sack of desiccant to keep the item dry during shipping and storage before sale. On the pack is a message: "Warning: Do Not Eat." Is that because otherwise, someone would think they were buying a clock radio and a snack?

Example: A razor comes with a protective plastic cap covering the blades. On the package is the note: "Remove protective cap before use." (Hmm. No wonder I wasn't getting a very close shave.)

Another, somewhat similar category are messages accompanying dynamic demonstrations of a product (often a car or truck) warning the viewer: "Do not attempt. Warranty void if product abused in this way." Our hopes are as deflated as the tires after that jump through the air when we read such a disclaimer. Here we were hoping to buy that car just so we could run it off lift ramps at high speed and fly over drainage channels and fallen causeways.

Disclaimer: This blog entry is not guaranteed to make you wiser or smarter or to help you get a high score on the GRE. No warranty is expressed or implied. Use at your own risk. Your mileage may vary. Knowledge sold separately. Wisdom not included.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Unintended Consequences and the Failure to Think Systematically

There seems to be too much shallow thinking in modern life. When a problem occurs, we throw a law at it or cobble up a solution with some instant bandaid. The problem is that we don't think down the road, and consider what unexpected events might be caused by the solution. This knee-jerk failure to consider the consequences can bring about more harm than good.

Example: A building owner wanted to save money and water, so he installed low flow toilets in every bathroom. Within days the sewers backed up and caused a mess. The owner neglected to think through the situation. Instead of thinking systematically--thinking of the waste system as a whole--he thought only of saving water. However, the sewer pipes were designed to handle high-flow toilets, making use of the water volume to move the waste along the pipes. When the flow was cut in half, the it was insufficient to move the waste along.

Example: Feeling sorry for single mothers, the state set up payments to them, based on the number of children they had and on the fact that they were the sole support for the kids. Unexpectedly, the new welfare system both discouraged marriage and encouraged illegitimacy. If the single mother got married, her support would be reduced or eliminated, creating a disincentive to marriage. And the more children the single mother had, the larger the payment she would receive, thus incentivizing illegitimacy.

Economist Thomas Sowell reminds us to ask, "And then what?" after every proposal. Think beyond what you intend and think about what others might interpret or how they might respond in a way you wouldn't dream of.

Example: After an airplane accident where an infant was torn from its mother's arms and slammed against a bulkhead by the force of the crash, a law was proposed that would require a parent to buy a seat for the infant and strap the child in a carrier in the extra seat. But then some economists did some figuring. They argued that enough mothers and fathers would be unable or unwilling to afford an extra seat and would choose to drive instead. As a result, there would be nine infant deaths in automobile accidents for every infant life saved by the required seating in the aircraft.

And then what? What else would happen? How could the crafty take advantage of this? Where would this lead? What might be some unintended consequences?

Remember that each law, practice, behavior, and so on is an integral part of a system will remind you to ask how the proposed change will affect the entire system, both upstream and downstream.

Example:
A creative type was hired to improve the look of an old corporate web site. The designer moved a bunch of pages around, organizing them much more logically. However, the links from page to page were almost all rendered inoperative.

Think down the road. Think systematically.