Numlock News: January 22, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Studio

Film studio Paramount is in a fairly dire position, having accumulated $900 million in losses from 2016 to 2018. It’s left out of effectively all major cinema trends that aren’t “pay Tom Cruise to do stuff near a camera.” It spun off a successful television business, it canned a horror producer who gets returns on investment that rival counterfeiting schemes, it’s the only major studio without a super hero franchise, and one time bosses said accurate if impolitic things about late-career Spielberg movies in print. A $700 million upgrade to its 29-soundstage lot has not materialized, and it’s releasing 13 movies next year which, compared to the 90 Netflix is cranking out, isn’t particularly impressive. This has prompted some talk of a Fox-style acquisition.

Amy Chozick and Brooks Barnes, The New York Times

Innovation

It’s time for yet another edition of our favorite game here at Numlock, “Yo, is this a pyramid scheme?” An Alberta woman is inviting people to submit a 350-word letter and pay an entrance fee of $25 in order to potentially win a house that was put on the market for $1.7 million. The house — a 5,000 square foot dwelling in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains — didn’t sell at that price, prompting the innovative move. On one hand, getting 68,000 people to pay you $1.7 million is pretty clever, but just to tap the breaks here I’m fairly certain this is actually just an illegal lottery with a homework assignment, right?

Stephanie Wiebe, CTV News

Water

The apparel industry uses an eye-popping amount of water, with one study estimating the industry consumes 79 billion cubic meters of water per year, which is roughly the amount of freshwater the Nile discharges annually. Most of that is in growing cotton, but the use of water in production — washing machines remove dye, sand, pumice and detritus from jeans — is promting some to overhaul the processes of making clothes. Saitex makes jeans for J. Crew, Target, Madewell, G-Star Raw, Edwin and more, and recently adapted water-saving and recycling mechanisms that slashes its $700,000 water bill in half.

Kim Bhasin and John Boudreau, Bloomberg

Gas

Mexico is in a fuel crisis following an explosion at the site of an illegally-tapped pipeline that killed at least 73 people on Friday, and the president has controversially closed pipelines to reduce theft. The Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said it detected 12,500 pipeline taps in 2018 and estimated the value of the stolen gas was $3 billion. It’s reported that money from illegal gasoline taps is common if not a necessity in seriously impoverished rural areas, and bribery to compel officials and police from enforcing make it normalized.

Dave Gershgorn, Quartz

The Next Greek Yogurt

One of the most cutthroat businesses in the supermarket is the yogurt aisle, with Danone, Chobani and General Mills accounting for 70 percent of the $8.7 billion in sales and each angling to find the next Greek yogurt. Americans didn’t eat a meaningful amount of Greek yogurt in 2007, but now it accounts for half of American sales. This means that everyone’s hunting for the next big thing, so they’re throwing yogurt on the wall to see what sticks: now supermarkets stock 300 to 350 different yogurt products. The costs of missing out are enormous: Yoplait lost out to Chobani in 2016 as the most popular brand, and today has 15.6 percent of the market to Chobani’s 20.6 percent. Danone’s Activia and Oikos combine to 32.5 percent. Americans eat 14 pounds of yogurt per year.

Juliette Michel, Agence France-Presse

Screeners

Fun fact, basically everyone in the entertainment business gets loads of free movies and television shows ahead of awards season because production companies want awards voters to see their stuff. This can border on ridiculous: three years ago Netflix sent out a 20-pound DVD shipment to Emmy voters, which insiders estimate cost $4 million. There are 25,000 members and a typical studio with multiple titles can regularly cost at minimum $1 million. The Television Academy — which runs the Emmy Awards and charges $200 per episode per peer group (there are 29 peer groups) up to $2,000 per episode — has just announced a plan to roll out a screener site that will allow voters to simply watch the shows online. This will cut back on postage and manufacturing and possibly aid studios in gathering data on what voters watch. It’s not all positive, though, as it’ll make it way harder to justify your profession to your parents simply by having a bunch of swag on your coffee table.

Michael Schneider, Variety

Fuel Cells

As car manufacturers try to move away from gas-powered vehicles, some are investing in hydrogen fuel cell technology rather than the headline-grabbing battery tech. Those may become financially viable soon as well: while the first fuel cell vehicles needed 100 grams of platinum — about $3,000 worth — today they only need about 10 grams to make the 0.01 millimeter thin membrane. For Toyota, this could mean hydrogen cars with Corolla pricing in the medium future.

Bertel Schmidt, The Drive

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

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  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

Numlock News: January 18, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! We’re off Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, see you Tuesday!

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas has had a historical culture of clubs, casinos and high-end establishments giving a kickback to cab drivers who haul customers there. The process began in the 1950s and became widely used by the 1980s, and in 2011 a federal judge dismissed a case alleging that the kickbacks from strip clubs to taxi drivers constituted racketeering. The point of the payoff is when some traveler says, “take me to a casino,” taxi guys will go to the places that help them out. High-end places would pay $80 per head, and with the growth of rideshare a new generation of drivers is wising up to the idea that large strip clubs will throw $50 per drop-off their way in a quid-pro-quo. The growth of Uber and Lyft could pose some relief to the clubs; one operator said his club pays 55 percent of its revenue to kickbacks.

Ryan Joseph, CityLab

Collection #1

A set of email addresses and passwords compiled from many individual data breaches from thousands of sources made its way to a popular cloud service, and the collection is sobering: 12,000 separate files with 87 gigabytes of data, a 2,692,818,238 row database of email addresses and passwords, with 772,904,991 email addresses and 21,222,975 unique passwords in the list. Many of these are likely old combinations, but the set is strikingly pervasive and of the 2.2 million people who use a free notification service regarding if their data was involved in a breach, about 768,000 were affected. But with 21 million passwords affected, that means that all the good ones are basically taken off the map forever now. Farewell, “p@ssword,” “admin,” “abc123,” and “420blaze.” It was an honor.

Troy Hunt

Hostess Clubs

A grimy tradition still defines the way business is done in Japan, with more than 63,902 hostess clubs as of 2017 doing business and catering to businessmen attempting to party with colleagues after work. The practice of adjourning to sexually-charged bars with employees and coworkers on a regular basis has caused severe problems for women in the workplaces of Japan, and in other countries as well: South Korea also estimates it has 13,316 sex brokers in the country, with 57 percent operating as hostess bars.

Lulu Yilun Chen, Kurumi Mori, and Sam Kim, Bloomberg

I Volunteer As Tribute

The Kutztown Police Department put out a public call for three volunteers willing to come in and serve the cause of justice by drinking hard liquor past the point of inebriation so officers can learn how to administer sobriety tests. Public service of this nature inspired a sense of fervent duty for hundreds of volunteers, many of whom have been training their whole lives for such a chance to step up and do their part to make the world a better place.

The Associated Press

They Know What??

A new study from the Pew Research Center found that 74 percent of Americans did not know that Facebook keeps a personalized list of traits and interests and then uses that dossier to sell ads. When shown those lists, 59 percent of people said that they were accurate, and half (51 percent) said they were uncomfortable with the existence of such a list. For what it’s worth, there are still some severe accuracy issues: of the respondents who had been assigned to a cultural affinity group — African American, Hispanic or Asian American — a full 39 percent said the social network sorted them wrong. And a strong congratulations to the 11 percent of respondents who managed to so completely throw the scent off to the point that Facebook did not think they actually had any categorizations.

Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox

The Kids Are Not Right

A new frequent survey from Pew has found that Gen Z — those individuals born after 1996 — tend to have political beliefs and cultural attitudes consistent with the millennials that preceded them, but even more interesting is that millennials are basically in ideological lockstep with their successors rather than getting more conservative with age as some previous generations did. All told, 70 percent of Gen Z and 64 percent of millennials said the government should do more to solve problems, compared to 49 percent of Boomers. This was even true of Gen Z Republicans: 52 percent said the government should be doing more to solve problems, contrast that with 23 percent of Boomer Republicans.

Kim Parker, Nikki Graf and Ruth Igielnik, Pew Research Center

Football Is Not Insurable

According to Outside the Lines, the NFL no longer has general liability insurance covering head trauma. Insuring the punishing sport has always been hard — only one carrier is willing to cover workers comp for teams — but the insurance industry’s aversion to getting in the messy business of insuring children who play football is fundamentally changing the viability of the sport at the amateur level: Pop Warner, which oversees 225,000 youth players, was dropped by AIG who refused to provide coverage unless neurological damage was excluded. Some schools are doing away with football as it becomes uninsurable: Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona cut the sport at four schools after teams consisting of 358 players accounted for a third of insurance costs for 200,000 students. The large insurers are skittish to have skin in the game after events like the long tail of asbestos, which after a half-century of litigation is a $1.8 billion annual payout from the insurance industry to those affected. That means insuring the game goes to powerful boutique firms. Specifically, the one run by Cindy Broschart, the woman who insures the NFL and is seemingly one of the most powerful people in professional sports.

Steve Fainaru Mark Fainaru-Wada, ESPN

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

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  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

Numlock News: January 17, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Unemployed Robots

The Henn na Hotel in Japan opened to wide amounts of publicity in 2015 as a facility staffed entirely by robots. It turns out they were a bit too ahead of the curve here and have just discovered that no, a Roomba is not one bow tie away from being a concierge. Of the 243 robots it utilized to staff the hotel, it has since culled half of them. One in-room assistant bot was less “Alexa” and more “Furby” on the intellectual yardstick, and two robot luggage carriers are out of the job after only being capable of reaching a quarter of the rooms in the hotel.

Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal

Seattle

Seattle has — for the third year in a row — the most cranes of any city in America, with 59 construction cranes across the skyline. That’s down slightly from 65 six months ago, but still way more than the runner-up, Los Angeles, which has 44 active cranes. Seattle’s gotten pretty improvisational infrastructure-wise lately and recently unleashed “viadoom” on commuters when it permanently shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct ahead of the opening of a new tunnel into the city. This still means a few weeks of major traffic, a fact I’m aware of because about a dozen readers from Seattle made sure I knew New York was not the only city currently flirting with assorted transit doomsday scenarios.

Mike Rosenberg, Seattle Times

Free TV

Basic cable is free — with a one-time purchase of an inexpensive antenna anyone can typically get network television. This is still dawning on a generation raised on subscription services, but according to Nielsen people are coming around on the bargain: the number of households that use a digital antenna has jumped almost 50 percent in the past eight years to hit 16 million homes. All told, 14 percent of households are watching over-the-air television. These can be split into two groups: one, about 6.6 million homes, is comprised of older viewers (median age of 55) from households with smaller median incomes, and the other, about 9.4 million homes, is younger (median age 36), more affluent and also has a subscription to a streaming service. One time my grown friends did not know how to watch The Bachelor, so I just had Amazon ship cheap antennas to their apartments, and now I have people to text about Colton’s journey, so everyone won.

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch

lo-fi hip hop radio - beats to panic/starve to

Several ways that Spotify pays out funds to artists puts smaller musicians in the position of losing out money based on the success of others. It’s not so simple as when you listen to an artist, they get your streaming money: essentially, the subscription money is dumped into a pool and then allocated based on aggregate play counts. So if one person has a massive month, yes they make money, but they do so at the expense of every other artist on the platform. The average user streams 25 hours of content per month, but if you stream less than that basically you’re generating less money for the artists you listen to most frequently. Right now, the top 0.4 tracks get 10 percent of royalty revenue. Moving from the pay-per-stream model to a pay-per-user model would mean those tracks get 5.6 percent of revenue. The pay-per-user model is the one where the artist share of my monthly payment would go to those I listen to most, so basically My Chemical Romance, The Mountain Goats, and that guy who wrote the YURI!!! On ICE theme song.

Victor Luckerson, The Ringer

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Atom Smasher

Cern, the particle research center in Geneva that operates the Large Hadron Collider that finally observed the Higgs Boson, is pitching — you guessed it — an even larger particle accelerator. The £20 billion proposed successor to the LHC would be up and running and smashing away at those atoms by 2050. The future circular collider — termed by the finest minds in particle physics as the FCC, or, uh, Future Circular Collider — would involve a new tunnel under Cern 100 kilometers in diameter (compared to the paltry 27 kilometer LHC) with ten times the power of the current system. Stage one would be to collide electrons with positrons, then in stage two they would collide protons with electrons, stage three would be the real goal of colliding protons with protons, and presumably stage four would be to propose an even bigger hadron collider.

Pallab Ghosh, BBC

Everyone Loves A Landlord

Adam Neumann is the CEO of WeWork, a real estate startup recently valued at $47 billion. Their core business involves leasing large spaces from buildings in techie cities and then renting and managing office space within those buildings to other companies. But, as if getting into the lucrative business of being landlord subletters wasn’t enough, it turns out Neumann has been running a lucrative side hustle buying stakes in buildings and then leasing those back to WeWork, creating an instantaneous payday worth millions. From 2016 to 2017, WeWork said it paid $12 million in rent to buildings owned in part by officers of the company and would pay out $110 million over the course of life of the leases.

Eliot Brown, The Wall Street Journal

Shiver Me Timbers

River piracy is a rare event where a river stops existing because conditions at the source of the body of water divert the flow to a different river. This happened in May of 2016, when the Slims River dried up because the Kaskawulsh Glacier retreated so substantially that its meltwater instead broke east rather than towards the Slims. Now all that’s left is the Slims mudflat, and research published in Nature Geoscience points the finger definitively to climate change, calculating a mere 0.5 percent chance that the piracy would have occurred naturally without the glacial retreat.

Eva Holland, Pacific Standard


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

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  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

Numlock News: January 16, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Debt

The flurry of media consolidation has been touted as the established industry’s response to newcomers like Netflix as the streaming service spends a fortune on content. But even though Netflix is $10.4 billion in the hole — 6.2 times its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization — that’s nothing compared to the conglomerates that have been throwing around billions to stave it off. Disney is in $54.0 billion of debt — 2.7 times earnings — after gobbling up Fox, Comcast is $114.7 billion in the hole after splurging on Sky, and AT&T (which bought Time Warner for $85 billion, shortly after it bought DirecTV for $49 billion) is the king here, owing $183 billion and earning the dubious title of most-indebted non-financial services company in the world.

Cynthia Littleton and Brett Lang, Variety

Brexit

Britain narrowly voted affirmatively on the general, if vague, concept of not being in the E.U. anymore. This slight affinity for a binding resolution to do an inescapably nuanced and debatable thing has guaranteed a generation of gridlock, as best seen yesterday when Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiated Brexit deal collapsed in parliament, 432 votes against to 202 votes for. On March 29, Britain is scheduled to exit the E.U., but the terms of how to continue to exchange goods and services with the bloc is not settled. The 230-vote loss by the government absolutely wipes out the previous record of 166 vote defeat in 1924.

William James, Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper, Reuters

Are We The Baddies?

The smash-hit video game Red Dead Redemption 2 features the historical Pinkerton National Detective Agency as antagonist forces for its protagonist in 10 of its 106 missions. This is historically bona fide: the private detective agency has a long history, but Pinkerton Consultancy & Investigation, the modern risk management incarnation owned by Securitas AB, has sent the publisher Rockstar Games a cease and desist implying that there is an implied link between Pinkerton and Securitas. Rockstar counters that the First Amendment protects the use and its inclusion of Pinkertons is an accurate portrayal of Nineteenth Century America. Word of advice: the best way to make sure you’re not a bad guy in a video game in 100 years is to not kill a bunch of steel workers in the third-most violent labor dispute in American history.

Emily Gera, Variety

Catch

The NFL has made its rules defining what exactly a catch is fairly philosophically, changing them over the past several years and attempting to re-define what exactly is and isn’t a catch. This has made football really hard to understand, but also made it so every self-proclaimed expert on the rules is basically making it up on the fly. A survey of Americans found that 38.4 percent claimed to understand the NFL catch rule. Their bluff was called essentially immediately, and it turns out that only 3.5 percent of Americans can identify all three things required for a play to be a catch, and that only one out of every 18 people who claimed to understand the catch rule got it and made no errors. So if someone tries to lecture you this weekend on a controversial call, they are almost certainly full of crap and do not actually know what they are talking about.

Tyler Lauletta and Walt Hickey, Business Insider

Glenn Close But No Cigar

A survey of Americans found that lots of Americans misremember Oscar history, thinking that actors or actresses who do not have an Oscar actually do. Actresses people were most likely to mistakenly believe as Oscar winners were Glenn Close (49 percent incorrectly say she won one) and Sigourney Weaver (47 percent), a fact that Glenn Close will do her best to remind Academy voters as the key plank of her Oscar pitch this year. The performers most likely to be mistaken for Oscar winners are Harrison Ford (53 percent), Matt Damon (53 percent) and Johnny Depp (52 percent). Damon has one for writing Good Will Hunting, Ford’s performance in Witness lost to William Hurt in ‘86, and it’s tough to give Depp an Oscar when we all know the makeup department is doing most of the acting.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

40 Day In The Desert Cleanse

Fasting diets — where people eat whatever they want, but intermittently forego food for a day or so a couple of times a month — are all the rage, and there’s evidence they’re worth trying. One 2017 study of 100 people found that the group that fasted lost about 7 pounds on average. The issue is that the fasting group also had a much higher dropout rate: 25 percent compared to 10 percent in the regular diet group. So if you can bear it, it’s possibly worth trying, but if it’s not for you you’re not alone.

Julia Belluz, Vox

Elder Care

Japan is aging more rapidly than the rest of the world, and the government projects that the cost of healthcare for the elderly will hit $298 billion in 2025. In the U.S., people over 65 are projected to outnumber those under 18 by 2035. Japanese startups, funded by large companies looking for inevitable growth businesses, are increasingly focused on healthcare: of the 92 worth over $1 billion, 25 are focused on healthcare.

Suryatapa Bhattacharya, The Wall Street Journal

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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.

Correction: A previous version of today’s newsletter has been edited to fix typos.


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

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  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

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