SMBs, The CFPB And Burning Man Sizzles So Hard It Fizzles


SMBs: No seasonal affective disorder here.  As summer fades to fall, might SMBs continue to see some upswing in fortunes? Data from several firms — including ADP, Paychex and Reliant Funding — have reports in place that show sanguine upside for SMBs. Employment is robust as measured by some firms, as the private sector added 237,000 jobs in August, with three months in the bag of solid hiring.  Wage growth has hit a three percent milestone. Optimism is relatively positive among SMBs, too.  Reliant Funding found through a survey that 63 percent are optimistic about the future and three quarters of those surveyed stated that business is steadily growing.

Pet sales and Amazon:  We love Fido, and so does Amazon. Online sales of pet-related products are up 40 percent across the eCommerce giant. Two data points show the allure of four legged friends and online buying:  As many as 36 percent of Petco and PetSmart users are using Amazon, too, to buy pet supplies.

Exercise-geared wearables and contactless payments:  Not one, but two offerings this week:  Fitbit and Garmin.  Though smartbands slipped in the second quarter, smartwatches were up, boding well for the two firms just mentioned — and for contactless payments, too. The smartwatches were up 60 percent year over year, buoyed by fitness and fashion enthusiasts, as estimated by IDC.


CFPB: The financial industry watchdog just had a case tossed against Global Payments and three other payment processing firms because of uncooperative witnesses and staff members resisting depositions. This may be a leg up for critics who charge that the CFPB has overstepped at least some of its regulatory bounds.

The gift no one wants: Retail gift cards are a relatively easy hack, with brute force tactics available to find out card digits and drain them of cash.  That’s according to one researcher who has found some patterns across the cards, with programs able to find out those patterns and “open” the cards to manipulation (and being used fraudulently). One minute there’s a balance — and then, poof, it’s gone.

Chaebols: Samsung’s head has been sentenced and sent to prison in a bribery case. The read across the world is that the old ways of doing business in South Korea — via chaebol, where the elite of the business world enjoy some shelter from examinations of corruption and graft — may be ending.  South Korean authorities are continuing to pursue other executives at the company, which indicates that greater scrutiny lies in the offing for the way powerful families operate powerful companies.


Fizzle Of The Week: Burning Man

Obviously, the real fizzle of the week is going to be Mother Nature.  It is hard to compete with the still-unfolding tragedy in Southern Texas this week for spectacularly destructive horrors the physical world is capable of producing. Houston, over the course of a few days, has received more rain than Seattle does during its raining season annually — and widespread flooding has left thousands stranded, property destroyed and a multiple-billion-dollar clean-up project soon to follow, should the waters ever recede.

In the scale of fizzles, mother nature’s attempt at washing Houston off the map was probably never going to be beatable this week.

But we have to hand it to Burning Man, which surely made a superlative effort.

While Houston had floods, Burning Man had fire — which one would expect from the name alone. But this year, more than the man burned at Burning Man.

A lightning strike Sunday caused a massive fire that forced officials to close the main artery between Reno, Nevada, and the Burning Man festival for several hours before it could be re-opened yesterday morning.

The wildfire, dubbed the Tohakum 2 Fire, charred around 30,000 acres and was one of five lightning strike fires that the Gerlach Fire Department and national incident management teams were still battling today.

"Two days ago a lightning strike in the Tohakum Peak area grew and it jumped the road yesterday," Rich Walsh, a Gerlach fire protection officer, told ABC News.

The blaze started 70 miles northeast of Reno and was fueled by lush grass, then intensified by strong winds and dry air conditions.

The good news is that the fire isn't close to Burning Man yet, according to the Bureau of Land Management's John Gaffney.

Gaffney noted that the fire would have to burn for a while to reach the Black Rock Desert, but that he still considers it a "major safety concern."

Just one of many “major safety concerns” popping up this year at Burning Man, as it turns out — they’ve also had a small problem with the dust storms. Dust storms are not an unheard of event on the playa — it does take place in a desert in August, after all — but this year, the storms have been unusually persistent and intense.  The front gate of Burning Man had to be closed down for a while as the storm made it simply too dangerous to enter.

And, note live reports from the ground, the dust storms by themselves might be more tolerable were it not also record-breakingly hot outside.

Forecasts predict this could be the hottest iteration of the event ever. Temperatures will be in the upper 90s until the weekend, when they’re expected to hit 102 degrees. And this is an unusual event — according to local experts, the last time there was a multi-day heat wave in the region was in 1949. The only time temperatures topped 100 degrees during a festival day was on Aug. 30, 2007.

So, to recap:

Burning Man this year is best described by the words “infernal heat,” “constant dust storms” and “slowly encroaching wildfire.”

The obvious question — did anything sizzle, other than the attendees?

Well, to be fair: as always, there were art installations, zany outfits and concept cars — albeit ones that were harder to see due to the dust.  There are also, on-the-ground reports indicate, lots and lots of hallucinogenic drugs on hand, which seem to be helping people mind the heat less.

And, as always, people find non-narcotic ways to enjoy themselves while camping in the desert.

Some particularly impressive Google burners found a way to ship themselves 10 live lobsters in the desert to eat — well, technically 8 live lobsters, since 2 of them didn’t survive the trip.

Those lobsters came care of Lobster207, a company based in Maine, that shipped out a 10-pound box of lobsters to the group of Google burners on Friday.  The lobsters, according to  David  Sullivan of Lobster207, cost $139.58 to ship to California — Sunnyvale, to be specific.

The Googlers had to drive the lobster the rest of the way there.

“I would guess by talking to the guys from Google that they thought it was a really cool idea to say, ‘Hey we got Maine lobsters all the way from the east coast from the cold waters of Maine out here to the desert,’” Sullivan said.

And, according to reports in the Financial Times, San Francisco is sizzling this week — at least, if you are the sort of person who doesn't much like competing with tech-bros for seats in local restaurants.

“I consider myself too ginger and too asthmatic to spend days coughing up sand under the blazing sun. Instead, I see Burning Man as the week I can walk into any restaurant in San Francisco and instantly get a table. (I’d also be able to whizz down the usually clogged highway to Silicon Valley, if there were anyone in the offices to meet.),” The FT’s Hannah Kuchler wrote.

But for those on the Playa this week, hoping to see and be seen — well, it seems the weather just doesn’t want to be chill and play along.

It likely won’t be the end of Burning Man as we know it — but when the only sizzling people are talking about from one of the biggest “cool kids” events of the year is a reference to an actual fire, well, that’s a fizzle in our book if there ever was one.



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