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Numlock News: December 12, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Beauty

The global beauty market is worth $532 billion, and Glossier Inc. — the rare company that does almost the entirety of its business on the internet — is now poised to grab $100 million of that this year. The company began as a blog in 2010 and, $86 million in venture capital funding later, could be on the cusp of an international public offering. The beauty business is one of fierce competition and while rival retailer Ulta has seen upwards of 20 percent revenue growth in the past three years, anyone who’s making it happen in both the cutthroat worlds of cosmetics and Instagram marketing has to be doing something right.

Emily Chang and Kim Bhasin, Bloomberg

Paper Towels

The world spends about $12 billion on paper towels for home use annually, setting aside use in public bathrooms or offices. While many other countries use reusable washcloths or mops — you know, like chumps — the undisputed champs of single-use cleanup problems is unquestionably the United States. It’s not even close: the U.S. spent $5.7 billion on paper towels in 2017, with nearest runner-up France spending $0.635 billion. In 2017, the average American spent $17.50 on paper towels. As a millennial, I must ask what else are you supposed to use as a napkin?

Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic

IRS

Federal tax collectors have seen their budget to investigate tax cheats gutted and it’s having enormous effects on the government’s ability to collect revenues. While nobody wants to get audited, this is letting people who straight-up skip filing a return get off scot-free. Investigations of non-filers dropped from 2.4 million in 2011 to 362,000 last year. That reduction results in $3 billion in lost revenue every year. Collections from people who do file but don’t pay have also fallen, and those expire after 10 years if they’re not pursued. In 2010, $482 million in such tax debts lapsed. In 2017, that figure was $8.3 billion.

Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

Burnout

Researchers are abandoning academia earlier and earlier than ever. An analysis of scientific publishing careers — seeing when someone first appears in scientific literature and then when they stop — shows that people are rotating out of the publishing game earlier and earlier. In 1970, the half-life of a publishing career was about 35 years in astronomy and 30 years in ecology. In 1990, when robotics shows up on the scene, that had fallen to just under 25 years, just under 20 years, and in the case of robotics 15 years, respectively. Today more than half of researchers quit the field within five years in all cases. I have many theories as to why we’re seeing people leave astronomy, ecology and robotics so quickly — namely alien abductions, vicious predators with a taste for ecologists, and killbots — but, hey, maybe modeling the structure of the academic labor force after feudalism was a mistake you know?

Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post

Water

A Nestlé plan to increase the amount of Michigan water it pumps from the ground from 250 gallons per second to 400 gallons per second was met with widespread opposition from Michiganders. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality said initially it received 75 comments in support of the move and 90,945 formal public comments opposed. A Freedom of Information Act request asking to see the 75 comments actually prompted a revision: 18 were moved to other categories upon review and 13 of the remaining 57 positive comments were, in fact, duplicates. Nestlé’s request was granted in April.

Ken Klipperstein, TYT

Health Care

About 10 percent of the non-elderly population is uninsured in the United States. Many of those people are eligible for free health insurance from the ACA if they would only apply, but the current administration is not attempting the outreach that the Obama administration did. About 4.2 million uninsured people could get a bronze ACA plan in 2019 and, after the tax credits they’d be eligible for, would pay $0 in premiums. That means an estimated 27 percent of 15.9 million uninsured could shop on the marketplace and have a free bronze plan in 2019. So tell your friends, because the government has no plans to.

Rachel Fehr, Gary Claxton, Cynthia Cox, and Larry Levitt, Kaiser Family Foundation

Census

The census is attempting to make the block-level data it makes available to the public a little less accurate after an internal study realized that new data processing techniques may make it possible to identify specific people based off this data alone. This goes against the anonymity that underscores the mission of the bureau. For instance, data tables published after the 2010 census had nearly 8 billion numbers in all, or roughly 25 numbers for each resident, despite the fact only 10 questions are asked. The census has run hypothetical attacks on itself, essentially trying to figure out how much someone could reconstruct from the public data alone. They then compared those reconstructions to the actual, confidential private records. The result? Roughly 50 percent were an exact match and for 90 percent of people there was at most one mistake. So, now they’re going to get ahead of that in 2020 and fuss it up a bit before putting it all out there.

Mark Hansen, The New York Times

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Previous Sunday special editions: Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at walt@numlock.news. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at copy@numlock.news.

Numlock News: December 11, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Goss

While often maligned, the overwhelming majority of gossip is fairly innocuous. One study of British conversation found only 3 to 4 percent of the gossip sample was, in fact, malicious. I tend to believe that, even though I heard that the British were, like, totally just doing it to impress Scotland, who is obviously so over them and would never go for that kind of obvious stuff, especially after what happened in that ugly breakup between Britain and the European Union, which — you didn’t hear about that? Let me fill you in on all the drama. France is totally freaking out right now, I swear to god.

Christine Ro, BBC

You Win Or

A groundbreaking new analysis found that 14 percent of characters on the show Game of Thrones die within the first hour of appearing on screen, which is a hell of a way to send a message. The analysis — published in no less than the journal Injury Epidemiology — found that the median survival time on the show is 28 hours and 38 minutes of screen time. There are some factors that give people a higher likelihood of not being stabbed with the pointy end, such as being a highborn woman who keeps a low profile and switches allegiances when it comes to it.

Reidar P. Lystad and Benjamin T. Brown, Injury Epidemiolgy

Degrees of Success

For every 100 students who enroll full-time in college or university, 42 percent will graduate within four years and 18 percent more will graduate within six. This means that two out of every five college students get all the benefits of crippling debt with none of the gains of an actual degree. Indeed, of those 60 students of every hundred who graduate, 42 will leave with student loans and five will default on those loans by the age of 33. For the 40 who don’t graduate, 10 will default on those loans. Even more, 10 years down the line, 32 percent of the college grads end up in careers that didn’t require a college degree in the first place.

Douglas Belkin and Dylan Moriarty, The Wall Street Journal

Narc Apps

Many of your apps are selling you out, a New York Times investigation has found. The location data from 200 million mobile devices can lead to 14,000 new generated location data points in a single day — one woman whose movements were tracked found 8,600 location readings over four months, or roughly one every 21 minutes. Location targeted advertising is a $21 billion business, and at least 75 companies are voraciously interested in turning your location at any given moment into money. It may be a good time to figure out which seemingly innocuous apps you’ve allowed to access your location. For instance, the Times had no trouble finding New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s specific location tracking in data they purchased.

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, Natasha Singer, Michael H. Keller and Aaron Krolik, The New York Times

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Scooters

Vandals all across the country are hurling hundreds of rent-able scooters into nearby bodies of water, and I say we hear them out. As of September, L.A. alone had upwards of 17,000 scooters on its streets and San Diego had at least 13,000. In San Francisco, a company that tried to inflict the pestilence found that over 200 of their 650 scooters were stolen or damaged beyond repair. At some point, that’s kind of on the venture-funded dude who started a company that leaves free scooters on the sidewalk. One major issue is that the cheap scooters favored by the brands aren’t designed for heavy use and often break within two months, not long enough to recoup that initial investment.

Eliot Brown, Greg Bensinger and Katie Roof, The Wall Street Journal

Boosters

South Korea is the world’s fourth largest gaming market, and they are not messing around anymore with a scourge of “boosting” services that increase the rank of a gamer’s account in exchange for money. These boosters make it harder to build fair competitive systems and the National Assembly has listened to the masses tired of getting rekt by god-tier DPS players smurfing to graze easy wins, or so I’m told. Under the new law boosting is subject to a fine of up to 20 million won, which is about $17,800, or up to two years in jail. This will make it so players like me don’t have a video game experience where we constantly lose because of other players mucking with the system, but rather one where players like me lose because we’re clumsy and have awful hand eye coordination.

Sohn Ji-young, The Korea Herald

Water

An enormous $39 billion hedge fund in Boston — well, not in Boston — bought up more than three square miles of a California valley in 2012. That land is now $305 million worth of vineyards, valued three times higher than in 2013. The vineyards are in particularly well-watered parts of the arid California breadbasket and are effectively a strategic bet on owning agricultural areas with lots of groundwater moving forward. And while, yes, you do correctly recall that there was a James Bond movie where the super villain tried to buy all the water, we’re not at that inevitability yet. While the grape business is great for now, the potential could be enormous as California’s water difficulties get worse, which is good news for the investment fund that made this proactive purchase and also for the nationally admired educational facility they’re funded by, Harvard University.

Russell Gold, The Wall Street Journal


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Previous Sunday special editions: Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at walt@numlock.news. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at copy@numlock.news.

Numlock News: December 10, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Sharknado-Related Legal Drama

Tara Reid is suing the production company behind the six films of the Sharknado franchise for punitive damages of $100 million. Reid claims her contract includes a provision barring the use of her likeness in products related to gambling, tobacco and alcohol. Lo and behold, there is evidently Sharknado branded alcohol, slot machines and video gambling devices. Reid received $300,000 total to appear in the fifth and sixth entries in the franchise, a disaster story in which a tornado full of sharks strikes. I think we can all agree that it was only a matter of time before the producers were held accountable for their many crimes. Personally, thank god for the Sharknado lawsuit, I’ve been getting the vibe we’re nearing the endgame of the MoviePass saga and I’ve been on the hunt for a new obsession.

Gene Maddaus, Variety

Frauds

Last year, 70 percent of all frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission were perpetrated by phone, approximately 558,000 calls. For comparison, frauds that used email to bamboozle their targets accounted for a mere 9 percent. The average phone fraud victim lost $700 last year, for a total loss of $332 million.

Elizabeth Olson, The New York Times

Aquaman

Aquaman is killing it in China, grossing $93.6 million in its opening weekend. That’s the largest opening for a DC comic book adaptation to date, which is staggering. After decades of mockery — excision from Justice League adaptations, being smeared as a third-tier bargain bin superhero and being the only vigilante who makes Hawkeye look widely respected — Aquaman is doing 78 percent better than Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice did, which is a film that literally has both Batman and Superman in its title.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Primates

U.S. laboratories kept 76,000 research primates last year according to the United States Department of Agriculture, with many of the animals coming from China, the top supplier of macaques. A new complaint says 29 of the world’s largest airlines refuse to fly these research animals, even though the carriers will fly such animals if they’re pets or bound for zoos. On one hand, the airlines are attempting to avoid alienating customers who support animal rights. On the other, the disgraceful bias against flying monkeys perpetuated since their deplorable portrayal in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz must end.

Bruce Einhorn, Bloomberg

U.S. Support For The War In Yemen

Errors in accounting mean that the United States has subsidized Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ war in Yemen far more than originally believed. The U.S. has provided mid-air refueling for Saudi-led coalition aircraft since March 2015, but the coalition hasn’t actually paid for all the fuel, likely costing tens of millions of dollars. What’s more, there was never actually an official servicing agreement in force with Saudi Arabia. Since October 2014, 7.5 million gallons of aerial refueling has been provided to the UAE and at least 1 million to the Saudis.

Samuel Oakford and Ryan Goodman, The Atlantic

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Home Prices

As of September, housing prices in the U.S. were 53 percent higher than they were when the market bottomed out in 2012. A house that sold for $200,000 back then would fetch about $300,000 today, which is the third-largest boom since 1913. The second largest boom ran from 1942 to 1947, when real prices of existing homes rose 60 percent. The market cooled off toward the end there, but that’s not always how it ends: the largest boom ran from 1997 to 2006, when existing home prices rose 74 percent, and then the economy exploded. So this could be fun!

Robert J. Shiller, The New York Times

Banks

A new poll found that 47 percent of voters think there is not enough regulation of large banks, with another 40 percent saying that Wall Street was inadequately regulated. This will likely influence political messaging in 2020. In other news, the largest U.S. banks are now considering arguing that Congress accidentally ended the Volcker Rule, for all intents and purposes, by including a double negative in a recent legislative tweak. The rule was passed in the wake of the financial crisis and limited the ability for banks to trade for their own accounts.

Claire Williams, Morning Consult, and Brian Cheung, Yahoo Finance

Electric Car Fuel

States may need to put some serious work in on their electrical grids in order to make an electric car boom possible. If all passenger cars in Texas were electrified today, the state would need 110 terawatt-hours more of electricity per year, which is approximately the annual electricity consumption of 11 million homes and also a 30 percent increase over current consumption. California might require 50 percent more electricity if all cars went off gasoline, needing to generate an additional 120 terawatt-hours of electricity annually. Given the status of their existing grids, Texas could make that work, but California couldn’t without additional infrastructure projects.

F. Todd Davidson, Dave Tuttle, Joshua D. Rhodes and Kazunori Nagasawa, CityLab

Correction (Dec. 10, 2018): The Wizard of Oz came out in 1939, not 1929.


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Previous Sunday special editions: Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at walt@numlock.news. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at copy@numlock.news.

Numlock News: December 7, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Have a wonderful weekend!

A Pass With Which One Views Movies

MoviePass has reportedly sobered up and will roll out a new pricing plan, ending the party. The new model starts at $9.95 in inexpensive regions for a plan that allows subscribers to see three movies in a month, with restrictions. Then it jumps to $19.95 per month to see those three movies in IMAX or 3D and up to $24.95 to see movies without time restrictions. This is an attempt to rebrand from a company that appears to be burning down to one that appears to be burning down, but so it may be reborn, phoenix-like. Let’s see if they make it: they recently reported $6.2 million cash on hand, but saw losses of $137.2 million last quarter.

Brent Lang, Variety

Woman’s Place Is In The House

The incoming 116th Congress will include at minimum 105 Democratic women and 19 Republican women. That enormous disparity is also reflected in where women who contributed to congressional candidates gave their money: in the 2018 cycle, women gave more than $159 million to Democratic women running for Congress, compared to $19 million given by women to female Republicans. While women accounted for less than a third of Democrats running for congress, they received over half of all contributions from women.

Emma Newburger, CNBC

Debt Free

Judith Jones and Carolyn Kenyon raised $12,500 to buy up medical debts from creditors on the rate of a half-cent on the dollar. Then they forgave that debt, meaning that roughly 1,284 people in the red because of a medical procedure were discharged of the total $1.5 million they owed. The charity R.I.P. Medical Debt makes it particularly easy to forgive enormous and ridiculous amounts charged by the U.S. medical industry. Overall, 11 percent of Americans have had to turn to charity for relief from crushing medical debt.

Sharon Otterman, The New York Times

Press Releases From Press Released

The nominees for the Golden Globes have been announced! Vice, an Adam McKay film about Dick Cheney, got the most with 6 nominations. The Golden Globes are a process by which famous people are given elaborate paperweights by a group of 88 reporters whose work nobody reads. When it comes to the Oscar race, the Golden Globes are basically the film version of the Iowa Caucus: they don’t really mean all that much, the people who pick the winners are easily bribed with gift baskets or corn subsidies, and to win you have to spend an inordinate amount of time shaking hands with fanboys who — god willing — you will never have to see again.

Brooks Barnes, The New York Times

Fun announcement: It’s awards season! As anyone who followed my work at FiveThirtyEight knows, I’m a huge fan of predicting the Oscars. I’m continuing that coverage in The Numlock Awards Supplement, a popup newsletter that I’m writing for the season with Michael Domanico of the Not Her Again podcast. If you like the Academy Awards and the race to win them, check it out here!

Tipping

Despite every bone in my body wishing that restaurants would just phase out the unfair, cumbersome and problematic tradition of tipping and just pay their employees a good wage, the body of evidence shows that restaurants and their employees generally benefit from the process. A study analyzing Joe’s Crab Shack locations that went tip-free in 2015 found their ratings on Google and Yelp were 0.24 to 0.45 points lower than locations with tipping. Another study found that tipping — by deferring a portion of the cost of the meal off the menu price — makes consumers think food is less expensive. And in an industry where turnover is one and a half times higher than the private sector average already, a single restaurant rolling out an anomalous pay shift can make talented servers find easy work elsewhere.

Nikita Richardson, Grub Street

Drug Scarcity

The number of drugs that are scarce in the U.S. has risen from 55 in mid-2017 to 110 scarce pharmaceuticals as of September, according to the FDA. This has led to prices rising: a milliliter dose of Pitocin, which accelerates labor and helps women recover from childbirth, costs $3.60 wholesale today compared to $1.68 previously. Manufacturing sterile and injectable drugs is really hard and supply chain hiccups can make it hard to ensure a consistent stockpile of necessary medications.

Cynthia Koons and Riley Griffin, Bloomberg

Gaming

Revenues for console gaming are projected to grow 15.2 percent this year, as the ascendance of mobile gaming — a $60 billion, 2.1 billion user juggernaut — is not actually taking a bite out of the pie. This may be good for console companies. As cloud computing rises in popularity and potentially renders the Xbox, Nintendo and PlayStation consoles themselves obsolete, the durability of the business is going to be their potential livesavers.

Leo Lewis, The Financial Times

Dossiers On Kids

A new report from England’s children’s commissioner calculates that by the time a child turns 18, there will be 70,000 posts about them on the internet. On one hand, that is a staggering number that raises serious questions about the expectation of privacy for minors in an age when the panopticon is prepared to assimilate us all. On the other hand, I wish concerned politicians the very best of luck in convincing new parents to not share pictures of their babies on the internet. Still, it’s worth taking a pause before posting kids information — like name or date of birth — on places like Facebook. The bank Barclays estimates that parents posting stuff about their kids on the internet will account for two-thirds of identify fraud by 2030. It’s pretty easy to figure out a favorite book, the street a person grew up on, the name of every pet, a person’s schools or favorite teachers, a city of birth or preferred vacation spot or food when there’s an 18-year running Instagram recording of that info in real-time.

Chavie Lieber, Vox

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Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.


Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! 

Previous Sunday special editions: CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at walt@numlock.news. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at copy@numlock.news.

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