Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Spreadsheet of Old

At the bottom of a very, very old pile I came across a pad of paper which produced nostalgic memories. It was an all-purpose AmPad miniature spreadsheet, of the old-fashioned kind, thus neatly pre-ruled pages. Herewith an image of it. I call it a miniature because, on full-sized jobs of calculation, we used pads of much greater size. But they were essentially the same format you see here but made both wider and deeper.

The old spreadsheet—which also gave its name to the electronic kind—served exactly the same purposes. Ever notice that when you open a new page of Excel, for instance, one of the first tasks is to make the left-most column  wider—because that’s where the descriptive labels usually go? Well, in the old days the paper versions came that way. And, of course, both rows and columns were numbered. The electronic versions introduced column-marking using letters, which made it less confusing to reference a cell.

To be sure, working with the vast, physical, ancient spreadsheets was a bother. You had to have a calculator handy. And in the really early days those were not small and handy but big and bulky and almost too heavy to move.

Yes. Nostalgia. Most of it is of this flavor. Somehow the past appears in a rosy sort of light whereas the present is always in black and white. Until you recall what a major labor it was to revise a column already filled with numbers. All that erasing, all that cursing. Ah, the good-old-days.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It Ain’t Over Yet

The housing market started to plummet as soon as the 2005 was over—and then, measured in the value of business done, it plummeted like one of those cars falling off the collapsing bridge. Here is a chart from an earlier posting. In effect we’ve had a period of seven years and five months in which the housing market was dead in the water, and ship taking water on top of that. Obviously time enough had passed so that natural demand for housing would begin to build up sooner or later. And now we have reports that housing is up. Not surprisingly, these figures are over-hyped. Consumer confidence is also showing gains, although these are not dramatic—and have been fluctuating up and down. But suddenly everything is all right again?

Don’t think so. The housing market must be viewed narrowly—and pragmatically. Much as the automobile market. Those two categories are basic. Sooner or later people must buy a house, must replace the car. And these two areas will therefore respond to actual need. But when we look at the economy as a whole, it is still treading water. In the most recent monthly employment reports, all of the gains were in the Services sectors. Construction lost jobs, Manufacturing showed zero gains, Mining and Logging lost jobs too. The real economy is still stirring in uneasy sleep.

The upsurge of optimism is a function of unreasoning exaggeration. Our media does not simply report the news—with proper additions of the relevant context. It behaves, instead, like a megaphone with a mind of its own. The message is “Housing sales are picking up, home values are on the increase.” What we hear is something else: “Great news. America is confident again and the bonanza will soon resume.” But it isn’t over yet. The fat lady is still in the dressing room. It will be a while until she rolls on the stage and starts to sing.

Friday, May 10, 2013

In the 3-D Cul de Sac

A story in the Wall Street Journal informs me this morning that Amazon is developing a smartphone that will produce 3-D images on its screen. How will that look? Here from the story:

Using retina-tracking technology, images on the smartphone would seem to float above the screen like a hologram and appear three-dimensional at all angles.

Reminded me of my handful of experiences with 3-D attempts in the entertainment field going back into the 1950s. Each of these, from my perspective, was a total failure—introduced with a lot of hoopla but never taking hold. These foolish wastes of developmental money keep recurring at right regular intervals, but never bearing fruit.

On the same 2-D page where this story is, Aflac has an ad depicting, wouldn’t you know it, the Aflac duck. It looks perfectly three-dimensional to me, achieved by color shadings and a realistic perspective. What would I do if Aflac ducks were rising from my newspaper and seemingly floating in the air. Would shivers pass over my skin? Amazon, Amazon! Please! Don’t try so hard to amazon me.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Looking for Caffeine?

So what makes an energy drink energetic? The usual presumption is that it is caffeine. But if that is so, what is the best kind of beverage to drink to get that little boost? The answer, not surprisingly, is coffee! Herewith a selective listing of different beverages showing their caffeine content per fluid ounce:

Caffeine: mg per fluid ounce
As % of Brewed Coffee
Brewed Coffee
Red Bull
Instant Coffee
Instant Tea
Green Tea
Coke Classic

My source for this is (link). Gatorade, often considered the energy drink for athletes, is not on the list because it contains no caffeine at all. Gatorade is designed to replace the salts lost in sweating. Mate, sometimes spelled maté, is a tea derived from the Latin American herb called yerba mate. Not surprisingly, it is drunk down there as if it were, well, like coffee…

Happy To Be Blue

Lots of people this morning must have chuckled grimly reading—be it in the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times—that the not-yet-one-year-old and “revolutionary” Windows 8 will soon be replaced by Windows Blue. When Windows 8 was launched last October, I compared it New Coke. Are you old enough to remember that fiasco? Coca-Cola introduced a new formula for Coke, named by the public the New Coke. This took place on April 23, 1985. Less than three months later, on July 10, 1985, the company made an about-turn. It went back to the old, traditional formula again—in the face of an absolutely massive public resistance.

Well, it looks like it will take Microsoft a little longer to correct its own error, but the change is already on the way. Windows Blue will return with the “traditional” interface, albeit, with a little nostalgia for its own errors, a few of the “tiles” so beloved by users of mini-devices will still clutter up part of the opening screen. And while they’re at it, Microsoft might well fix the big problem it heaped on unlucky owners of certain printers—by providing properly working printer drivers on its Blue.

To be “blue” means to be “sad.” Well, in this case, if all goes well, I’ll be happy to be Blue.
Earlier posts on this subject: October 11, 2012, October 25, 2012, April 11, 2013.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Employment Update: April 2013

In March of 2013 the economy gained 202,000 jobs, not the 88,000 as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment data are usually revised. And March was revised upward by a quite significant amount. Now as for April, job gains last month were 165,000 (see BLS release). But, of course, they may also be revised in the June report. In any case, the news made everybody breathe easier. Herewith the updated chart. Please note that the March revision is highlighted in pink.

The next graphic show revisions of the actual data, by year, for 2007 through 2012 and for 2013, projected. The projection is based here on four months results. The patter looks good. If things continue as they have thus far, 2013 will outperform 2010 through 2012.

Herewith a tabulation of average job gains, or losses, per month for the 2007-2013 period:

Average job gain/loss per month in 000

The trend is favorable—if very slow. As of the April results, we have recovered 70.9 percent of total jobs lost in  2008 and 2009. We have 29.1 percent to go.

In April sectors showing small job losses were Mining (3,000), Construction (3,000), Information (9,000), and Government (11,000). Manufacturing neither added nor lost jobs in April. The biggest gainers among the rest Professional and Business Services (up 73,000),  Leisure and Hospitality (up 43,000), and Retail (up 29,300).