Numlock News: January 24, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Seed Money

The Michael J. Fox Foundation operates considerably differently than a typical philanthropy. There’s no endowment — all the money is out the door and funding research immediately — and its goal isn’t long-term support for people with Parkinson’s, it’s a cure as soon as possible. Once bereft of research, in many ways thanks to the $800 million that flowed through the foundation and into research over the past 18 years, there have been serious advances. A new drug, Inbrija, is a major win for that unorthodox philanthropic strategy. Inbrija offers quick relief to Parkinson’s symptoms through an inhaler, similar to inhaler treatments for asthma sufferers. It’s not a cure, but still a win. The Fox Foundation seeded the company behind the drug with $1.3 million from 2011 to 2013, and by 2014 the company was bought by a larger biotech firm for $525 million and now there’s a drug about to hit the market.

Joe Nocera, Bloomberg

Awful Naming Decisions

The Milwaukee Brewers will no longer play in the aptly named Miller Park. MillerCoors committed $41.2 million for the rights in 1996 and has had the naming rights for the Brewer’s ballpark since the opening in 2001. Instead of having a park for a team named after beer makers named after a beer company that was just down the road, it’ll be named by American Family Insurance for 15 years starting in 2021. This makes sense, as something that at least used to be kind of fun being replaced by an extremely boring financial force is a fairly apt metaphor for the current state of professional baseball.

Associated Press

Esports

In the latest sign that esports are going too far, the developer behind Farming Simulator has announced a 10-tournament competitive tournament that will culminate at FarmCon 2020, with €250,000 (around $280,000) in prize money up for grabs. In case you were curious, Farming Simulator is exactly what it sounds like. The game of choice — Farming Simulator 19 — will get a competitive three versus three mode where players determine who is the best at pretending to farm. Esports purists should relax, this just means that the medium is maturing: if ESPN3 can reair sports like curling, climbing and the X Games with a straight face this coming Sunday, there’s room for a €250,000 digital farming competition.

Andrew Webster, The Verge

Cord Cutting

YouTube TV is the $40 per month over-the-top internet television service sold by Google. It launched in five cities in 2016 and has been open in the top 100 markets for about a year. That’s about 85 percent of households. Starting yesterday, the service became available in a further 95 markets, bringing it to 98 percent of U.S. households. There are only 15 remaining designated market areas out of 210 without the service. The holdup has come from the necessity to cut individual deals with each broadcaster to get distribution rights.

Todd Spangler, eVariety

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Youth Football

Florida, Texas and California produce the largest numbers of college and professional football players. While Florida and Texas have seen decreasing participation in high school football, California is ground zero for the decline of football in the U.S. During the 2009-10 season, California had 104,224 high school players at 1,029 schools. In the 2017-18 season, that fell to 94,286 players at 877 schools. The number of players in the Golden State has fallen about 3 percent every year. Meanwhile, participation in youth sports in California is at an all-time high, with boy’s soccer participation growing 19 percent over the past 10 years. It’s a major part of a national trend, with the average high school football team losing three players since 2016. It’s going to be weird when the most glamorous and enviable position on the high school football team is kicker.

Michael Weinreb, The Ringer

You Break It You Buy It

American concern about climate change is rising quickly: according to the latest edition of a poll from Yale and George Mason University, 29 percent say they’re very worried about climate change, an 8 percentage point increase since March 2018. Outright majorities think climate change will endanger the lives of their loved ones, with 56 percent saying it will harm their family. But the resources necessary to push back on the current rate of warming are still difficult to find: 70 percent would vote against a $10 monthly fee on their power bill, and 40 percent oppose a $1 monthly increase. It’s excellent to know that there’s a vast swathe of the country that couldn’t be bothered to part with an annual twelve dollars to possibly ensure the continuity of survivable conditions on this rock for their successors, but it’s certainly a fact those successors will remember after they’re dead.

Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Back Taxes

Last year a massive scandal overtook the Chinese film industry when it was leaked that widespread tax evasion was pervasive among contracts between production companies and stars. The revelation that the business operated on two sets of books — one for tax authorities, one for the actual business — resulted in an astronomical sum of $1.7 billion in back taxes being paid by stars and studios in the wake of the scandal, China’s state media reported Tuesday. That’s one-fifth of China’s total box office last year. The bills have seriously eaten into Chinese studio cash reserves, which many are dialing back to a more conservative production strategy as a result.

Patrick Brzeski, The Hollywood Reporter


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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Personality Testing ·  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 23, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Oscar nominations are out: Check out my coverage in the Numlock Awards Supplement for predictions, Oscar math and more!

Lies

In the latest ludicrous disgrace in food marketing, you should be prepared for a surge in “pig wings.” About 5 million to 7 million pounds of pig wings sell annually. I don’t feel like I really need to say this out loud, but here we are: pigs to some notoriety do not possess the capacity for flight, and thus are bereft of wing tissue. This has not stopped the flim-flam charlatans of the American food system from attempting to bamboozle our society into ordering small nuggets of sauced pork shanks as “pork wings.” Retail pork prices are down 17 percent since 2014, making these an attractive sales item for restaurants that don’t have integrity and also probably sell desiccated fried white meat as “boneless wings.” What’s next? What new depths of perfidy will the Pizza Hut and Hooters descend to just to move fried stuff? Why not call a french fry a “potato wing”? A jalapeno popper can be a “dragon wing” because apparently there are just no more rules in society anymore. Is funnel cake merely just “dough wings” now? Who gives a damn, let’s see what we can get away with. Fish and chips is now just “ocean wings with potato wings.” I dare you to call the cops on me.

Leslie Patton and Lydia Mulvany, Bloomberg

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa Effect is the well-documented effect of perception where an artwork’s eyes appear to follow the viewer as they move. It’s eminently weird, but also a real phenomenon, mainly because eyes are not perfect seeing machines, they’re just blobs that are mostly improvising as they go along and brains are even worse at that. But here’s the thing: according to new research, while the Mona Lisa Effect exists, it does not actually occur with the Mona Lisa itself. The study took 24 subjects and took 2,000 observations of them looking at the Mona Lisa from different angles and zooms. The angle of her gaze was estimated to be 15.4° to the right side regardless of test conditions, while it would need to be within 5° to 10° for the Mona Lisa Effect to actually happen.

Rhett Jones, Gizmodo

United Airlines? Screwing Up? No!

A banner produced by United Airlines was leaked, and claims that Apple is their largest global customer, spending $150 million annually with the airline, with $35 million sending Apple employees between San Francisco and Shanghai Pudong airports alone. That’s 50 business class seats per day. Big companies really hate having this kind of information leaked, but it’s honestly a fascinating look at the scale some of these global companies operate at.

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac

Shhh

Three sound engineers are working with four musicians playing four priceless string instruments from the Museo del Violino to make a database of all the possible sounds they can make. This requires the entire city of Cremona, Italy to hush up, as even street noise can interfere with the 32 ultra-sensitive microphones used to gather the hundreds of scales and arpeggios being recorded over the course of eight hour days, six days a week for more than a month. The reason for the frantic fiddling is that these 500-year-old instruments were made by Antonio Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, and it’s impossible to recreate their unique tones. They’re inevitably doomed to break down and the project would like to make it possible for future generations in a post-Stradivarius world to make music from what the project leaves behind. A similar project, I assume, is being held right here in Queens, where they stop running the subway at random times so engineers at the old Steinway piano factory can record the sounds of pricel— oh, that’s not the case? The subway just sucks? Got it.

Max Paradiso, The New York Times

Yarr

If you want to estimate the age of a gray whale, the best way to do so is to open up its carcass and count the number of scars on its ovaries. The second best way is to pull out its earwax plugs, dissect them and count the layers like tree rings. Neither of these options is a particularly thrilling experience for the whale. Still, until now that’s basically been the entire of menu of options for ascertaining whether a whale can, as the joke goes, walk into a bar. Modern research from Selina Agbayani at the University of British Columbia produced new estimates based on 903 records from the old commercial whaling days. Now we know a newborn whale is 4.6 meters long and weighs a tonne, then grows to 8.4 meters and 5.7 tonnes by 9.5 months, then 17 tonnes by 10 years and 19 tonnes by 15 years. At 40, males hit 19.8 tonnes and females hit 20.7 tonnes. The new understanding of this curve is mostly good news for whales, which can now get over their universal fear of oceanographers bearing Q-Tips.

Larry Pynn, Hakai Magazine

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This past Sunday edition was with Maggie Koerth-Baker about personality tests like the Big Five. We talk about how extroverts and introverts don’t exist and how personality testing can get scientific. 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.

How Does That Make You Feel?

In 2017, the world spent $2.2 billion on focus groups, or small sample-size, intense sessions where consumers are interviewed by researchers about their brand preferences and associations. The undisputed leader is the U.S., where $809 million is spent on focus groups. At their core, these are transactional exercises: you pay me $100, I absolutely say I’m interested in purchasing a vehicle in the next six months, you get your numbers and get to charge your client around $10,000 per session and everyone is happy about our conceptual brain session. Especially, of course, the “professional respondents” who try to book as many focus groups as possible, because $100 per shift seriously can pay off.

Joseph Stromberg, Vox

Drones

DJI makes consumer drones for the world, posting revenue of 18 billion yuan in 2017, 80 percent of which came from outside China. If you’ve experienced a delay in your flight because some goon was messing around with his new toy in restricted airspace, let’s just say there’s a good chance that chunk of crap was a DJI drone. They’re the industry leader, and incidentally just announced a sweeping corruption overhaul that led to 45 people in research and development and procurement being sacked. They’re investigating staff for inflating the cost of parts on a scale so large it led to 1 billion yuan losses ($147.03 million ) in 2018. So, just to be clear, it’s not clear that any human involved in the consumer drone production line is actually having a good time.

Josh Horwitz, Reuters

Five-Star Workplaces

The number of reviews of 8,500 companies on Glassdoor is suspiciously rising. In January of 2013, 17.4 percent of reviews were 5-stars. Those have risen steadily: 20.1 percent by Jan. 2015, 24.1 percent by Jan. 2017, and as of Nov. 2018, 29.4 percent of reviews were 5-stars. Part of the reason is employers can push employees towards leaving positive reviews in an attempt to manipulate scores ever higher. Indeed, the Journal’s analysis found over 400 companies posted unusually substantial single-month increases in reviews that can’t be explained by a particularly boozy office holiday party. As usual, never ever trust online ratings ever.

Rolfe Winkler and Andrea Fuller, The Wall Street Journal


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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Personality Testing ·  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 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

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! 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

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