Numlock News: September 18, 2019 • Ozone Layer, James Cameron, Kombucha

By Walt Hickey

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Fermentation

In a disturbing yet inevitable synthesis of two supremely trendy product developments, hard kombucha has emerged as lightning in a bottle by combining the popular earthy nonalcoholic probiotic with the increasingly loved spiked seltzers, coalescing into a frankenbeverage. It conveys to onlookers, “sure, I may be watching my pounds, but I both like to party and also definitely have a strong opinion about Jill Stein one way or another.” The 4.5 percent alcohol by volume boozy ‘bucha saw sales rise 126 percent over the 52-week period ending August 10, to $11.6 million. That’s a tiny sliver of the $1 billion hard seltzer market, but still fairly huge for an alcohol industry where drinks that encourage wellness historically peaked at the celery stick inside a Bloody Mary.

John Kell, Fortune

Challenger Deep

James Cameron, the guy who made Avatar, the good Terminator movies and Titanic, has spent his money exploring the world, especially the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench. He’s also now in a spat with another rich guy, who piloted a submarine to the deepest place on earth, over claims that said other guy, Victor Vescovo, went deeper than he did. In April, Vescovo claimed to go 35,853 feet down in a dive, which he claimed was 52 feet deeper than Cameron. The filmmaker contends that distinction is silly, that they both went to the same seafloor, and the difference comes down to margins of error in measurement, like an Everest climber who went to the same summit as another one but claimed they went higher because that’s what their altimeter said. The overall estimated depth of the trench itself varies by about 500 feet. A 2014 study put such measurements with a margin of error of plus or minus 164 feet, and Vescovo’s own team said the margin of error was plus or minus 70 feet, so I feel like the Abyss guy makes a pretty valid point here. I look forward to future stories of this caliber, like M. Night Shyamalan getting in a massive kerfuffle with a professional Rubik’s cube solver.

William J. Broad, The New York Times

Ozone

This time in 2017, the area of ozone thinning above Antarctica stretched about 20 million square kilometers as part of the ozone hole’s annual springtime swelling. But this year, the hole is in better shape than before. It has been healing continuously since the 1987 Montreal Protocol that set its recovery into motion. According to the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, the ozone hole is just 5 million square kilometers right now, on track to be the smallest hole observed in 30 years. The ozone layer is expected to mount a full recovery in something like 40 years, so a smaller disturbance this time around is encouraging.

George Dvorsky, Gizmodo

Get On Your Feet

Annual revenue for the fitness center industry was up 7.8 percent in 2018 to $32.3 billion. Visits to fitness centers are up 42 percent since 2008, when there were 45.5 million members of health clubs. Today that figure is 62.5 million. Were money ever to get tighter, it’s the luxury brands — the SoulCycles and Barry’s Boot Camps of the world — that stand to feel the burn, as the average monthly fee for a boutique studio user was $92 in 2017 compared to just $52 for members of a more conventional health club. That could have broader rippling effects in the economy, especially for landlords who have sought out those smaller, pricier boutiques as tenants while the rest of retail is enduring one of the more brutal eras of brick-and-mortar. Personally, I like to stay well ahead of the trends, so I’ve already gone ahead and given up on my boutique fitness memberships way before the economy makes everyone else.

Sarah Halzack, Bloomberg

Coral

Following a number of disasters, man-made and otherwise, in the 1980s and 1990s, Jamaica lost 85 percent of its coral reefs. This had an immediate impact on its fishing economy, as reefs are where the fish are: though 2 percent of the ocean floor is full of coral, the structures sustain a quarter of all marine species. The reefs are where fish reproduce, evade danger and feed, so the death of all that coral meant fish catches around Jamaica dropped to a sixth of the levels seen in the 1950s. Now, after a sustained effort, the reefs are on the mend, as a group of “coral gardeners” have worked to restore the reefs in more than a dozen sanctuaries and coral nurseries.

Christina Larson, The Associated Press

Christmastime Is Inexplicably Here

Holiday retail sales are projected to rise somewhere between 4.5 percent and 5 percent to $1.1 trillion, according to a projection from a person who apparently is unaware it’s September and that they need to calm down immediately because literally none of us are ready for this information. E-commerce sales are projected to rise 14 percent to 18 percent to as much as $149 billion, and according to retail industry analysts “it’s not even Halloween yet, Derek, why are you bringing this up I literally just sent the kid back to school.” The $1.1 trillion in projected spending has grown steadily from the $829 billion spent in 2011.

Donald Moore, Bloomberg

De Nile

Ethiopia is nearing the completion of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River, which will ultimately cost $4 billion to $6.4 billion and will produce 15 billion kilowatt hours of electricity, thrice the Hoover Dam’s output. That’s bound to be huge, but one issue is that the Nile is an extremely important river for several countries and Ethiopian-Egyptian relations have grown testy over the dam. In the 15 year period it’ll take to fill the reservoir, flows from the Nile into Egypt could drop 25 percent, causing tensions that will only be exacerbated by climate change. By the 2080s, negative shocks to the water supply could see 200 million deprived of water in the region, and the river’s damming could hurt Egyptian agriculture.

Zoë Schlanger, Quartz

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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Chris Ingraham ·  Invasive Species ·  The Rat Spill ·  The Sterling Affairs ·  Snakebites ·  Bees ·  Deep Fakes ·  Artificial Intelligence ·  Marijuana ·  Mussels ·  100% Renewable Grid ·  Drive Thru Dreams ·  Department Stores & Champion ·  Baltimore Crab Shacks ·  Kylie Jenner ·  Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·

Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  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: September 17, 2019 • Vanilla, Vinyl, Shipwrecks

By Walt Hickey

Ontario

In the past year, the government of Ontario managed to lose $42 million selling marijuana, a business known predominantly for how absolutely simple it is to turn a moderate profit. The Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation was the provincial Crown corporation in charge of wholesale pot distribution and reported revenues of $64 million on the year ending March 31, 2019, with expenses of $106 million over the period. The roll out of the legal weed — Canada legalized adult marijuana use in October of last year — was said by Ontario’s finance minister to require significant up front costs. Nevertheless, after just one year on the job the CEO of the company resigned, perhaps after realizing the nature of his position did not come with the traditional benefit of playing an hour of Mario Kart 64 with his customers.

The Canadian Press

Coming Soon

IN A WORLD where most cinemas screen five to eight trailers ahead of the feature, a new survey finds 59 percent of Americans said the ideal number of pre-show trailers is one to three. Many audiences are dissatisfied with seeing the phalanx of promotional material just before the beginning of a film. Just 21 percent of respondents to the Morning Consult poll were in favor of watching four to six trailers, and just 2 percent are maniacs like myself content to watch seven to nine. AMC has 20 minutes of pre-show, Regal’s are 15 to 20 minutes and Cinemark keep it to 15 minutes. Trailers are fine, if anything what could stand a trim is the basic promotional content telling people about their proximity to popcorn, or inexplicably pitching The Opera, or reminding the weary moviegoer about the existence of Coca-Cola in the event they have since forgotten about it.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Vanilla

For years, the price of vanilla was about $50 per kilogram, but beginning in 2015 the price began to rise, and for the past four years vanilla has cost somewhere between $400 and $600 per kilogram. Storms have destroyed lots of vines and demand for vanilla from enormous multinationals like Unilever, Mars and Archer Daniels Midland has remained high. This has been big for Madagascar, which grows 80 percent of the world’s vanilla, and it’s meant that lots of farmers are unexpectedly getting extremely rich in what has been among the 10 poorest countries in the world.

Wendell Steavenson, NPR

Reputation

Juul, a subsidiary of a powerful tobacco conglomerate that makes one of the most addictive substances on earth taste like candy and puts it within reach of children, has taken a bit of a ding to their reputation. Since July 2018, according to Morning Consult’s Brand Intelligence ongoing survey, Juul’s net favorability has fallen by 22 points. Among the 6,355 responses collected in the 30 days preceding September 12, 33 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of the vapemonger, compared to just 10 percent who were then fans. Among adults aged 18 to 21, Juul’s net favorability is -27 percentage points, ahead of the national trend. This has made Juul the second-least popular brand out of the 2,000 tracked by Morning Consult.

Yusra Murad, Morning Consult

Analog

Rumors of the demise of analog have been largely overstated. Sure, the usage of physical media has taken a dive as digital competitors gain a large share of the mainstream marketplace, but literally vinyl album sales are up 12.9 percent to $224 million — and 6 percent when it comes to units sold, to 8.6 million vinyl albums sold — in the first half of 2019, compared to the same period last year. Paper’s also doing alright. Hardcover book sales were up 6.9 percent in 2018, paperback sales were up 1.1 percent and eBook sales dipped 3.6 percent. Even the number of magazines is rising: the number of print magazines rose from 7,176 to 7,218 that year thanks to the formation of new ‘zines.

Leonid Bershidsky, Bloomberg

Women in Film

Annually, one of my favorite reports to track is the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s analysis of the thousands of speaking characters in the top-grossing 100 films of the year. It’s thorough, comprehensive, and highly illuminating, if often disappointing to read, with little progress typically seen year to year when it comes to increasing inclusion. Still, their preliminary analysis of the top 100 films of 2019 is highly encouraging: based on the projections, at minimum 12 films will have a female director, which is more than twice the level of 2018 and higher than any year measured since 1980.

Stacy L. Smith, The Washington Post

This Corrosion

There are over 8,000 shipwrecks around the world in various states of corrosion that still contain toxic oil that could be released into the environment to a devastating effect. Based on estimates of ships that were sunk during the Second World War, wrecks in the South Pacific alone contain anywhere from 500 million to 4.5 billion liters of oil, at minimum 12 times the amount dumped by the Exxon Valdez. Researchers and divers are attempting to triage the wrecks, analyzing naval refueling and cargo records and reports from the vessels’ destruction to determine the most dangerous oceanic time bombs. They’ve cut a list of 3,000 such ships in the South Pacific to 50 high-risk wrecks for which time is critical even if money is slim.

Chloe Williams, Hakai Magazine

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The very best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Chris Ingraham ·  Invasive Species ·  The Rat Spill ·  The Sterling Affairs ·  Snakebites ·  Bees ·  Deep Fakes ·  Artificial Intelligence ·  Marijuana ·  Mussels ·  100% Renewable Grid ·  Drive Thru Dreams ·  Department Stores & Champion ·  Baltimore Crab Shacks ·  Kylie Jenner ·  Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·

Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  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: September 16, 2019 • Hustlers, MoviePass, Hybrid Biological Microrobots

By Walt Hickey

The Hustle

Hustlers made $33.2 million across 3,250 theaters this weekend at the box office, which is good for second place behind It: Chapter Two but also a huge gain on the $25 million it was expected to make. The film stars Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu as strippers who carry out a heist, and is the best opening for each of the women at the helm and a huge win for a studio that spent $20 million to make it. The turnout was particularly buoyed by women: 67 percent of the opening weekend audience were women. Another new release wasn’t so fortunate: The Goldfinch endured the sixth-worst start of all time for a wide-release movie launching in 2,500 to 3,000 cinemas, making only $2.6 million. That film cost $45 million.

Pamela McClintock and Mia Galuppo, The Hollywood Reporter

Home of the Rams

Once again, high college tuition is going to indirectly fund sports, but this time it’s a little different. Social Finance Inc., the financial tech startup that focuses on online lending to refinance student loans, agreed to pay $30 million per year for the next 20 years to be the name of the new Los Angeles stadium of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. SoFi’s marketing budget surpasses $200 million annually, and I’m beginning to get a sense that student debt may be a bit of a problem in America, given those kinds of cash reserves. Think about this for a second: there are several thousand Americans for whom an incidental result of their decision to pursue higher education is SoFi being able to buy naming rights during the two decades they’re paying those loans off. The stadium will be at the centerpiece of the 2028 Olympics and the 2022 Super Bowl. It’s a great match: much like the student loan debt-crushed customers of their new sponsor, the Los Angeles Rams recently moved back into their original home because of a money issue.

Scott Soshnick, Bloomberg

MoviePass

If you’re wondering why I’ve been listening to Candle in the Wind on repeat for three days, the bad news has finally come: MoviePass, a paid subscription service for movies that mutated into a beautiful wealth transfer from investors to broke cinephiles and then imploded, was formally shut down by Helios and Matheson Analytics, the Daedalus that created the closest thing to an Icarus story since ancient times. The heyday of MoviePass was 2018, when the box office was up 7 percent to $11.9 billion. Their CEO — who was absolutely a real man with a business plan, and in no way a couple of tweakers crowbaring open a stolen ATM — claimed the company was responsible for 6 percent of all ticket sales in the first half of 2018, a boast that in retrospect sounds like a diagnosis. I used MoviePass to see the movie Tag, wherein one character allows himself to lose a game in order to fundamentally reshape the future of an entire friendship. In this analogy, the many new theater-owned film subscription services are the triumphant friends, and MoviePass is Jeremy Renner.

Andrew Gruttadaro, The Ringer

Crap

A solid gold toilet estimated to be worth about $1.25 million was stolen, and British police have arrested a 66-year-old man in connection with the theft. The lost loo is an art installation titled America, which ouch but I hear you, and was a plumbed-in, shall we say, fully operational battle station at Blenheim Palace. A group of thieves is believed to have rolled up in two vehicles, broke in, and left by 4:50 a.m. Security may have been a bit lax given the overall worth of the commode, but I do understand the reluctance to have security cameras on the work at all times.

Jenny Gathright, NPR

Fantastic Voyage

Researchers are working to combine living microbes with payloads to make hybrid biological microrobots that could one day deliver pharmaceuticals or target specific tissues of interest. Experimentation has developed such bots that can be steered with magnetic fields, light and chemical properties. One microbot made already is basically E. coli hooked up to red blood cells that have been flushed out and then filled with desired cargo. E. coli is a speedster, able to traverse 15 times its body length in a second, though technically in terms of “miles per hour,” the fastest they’ve clocked an E. coli is a half-mile per year, or 0.000057 miles per hour.

Tom Siegfried, Knowable Magazine

Frequent Flyer Miles

A Chicago man was indicted last week after being accused of fraudulently obtaining 42 million Delta SkyBonus points, which accrue to businesses when their employees fly Delta, valued by the airline at $1.75 million. Prosecutors said that the managing partner of Vega Travel created a SkyBonus account for a fertility clinic and then used that account number for travelers who had no connection to that group whatsoever. The man has been charged with 12 counts of wire fraud.

David Slotnick, Insider, Department of Justice

Retail

Publicly traded U.S. retailers have announced closures of 8,558 store locations, and openings of just 3,446 so far this year alone. That’s a nightmarish churn rate. As in the totality of 2018, during what even then was a retailpocalypse, there were 5,844 store closures and 3,258 openings. Coresight Research estimated that the total store closures in 2019 could hit 12,000. Interestingly, when considering the entire retail space of both publicly traded and privately held companies, lots of the pain is consolidated in just a fraction of brands: for each company closing locations, there are 5.2 that are opening new locations.

Christopher Rugaber, The Associated Press

Yesterday’s Sunday edition with Chris Ingraham, author of If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now, was really fun, be sure to check it out. 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.

The very best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Invasive Species ·  The Rat Spill ·  The Sterling Affairs ·  Snakebites ·  Bees ·  Deep Fakes ·  Artificial Intelligence ·  Marijuana ·  Mussels ·  100% Renewable Grid ·  Drive Thru Dreams ·  Department Stores & Champion ·  Baltimore Crab Shacks ·  Kylie Jenner ·  Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·

Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  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 Sunday: Chris Ingraham, author of If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now

By Walt Hickey

Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.

This week, I spoke to Chris Ingraham, a Washington Post reporter who covers data stories about the economy and the world. Chris wrote a great book called If You Lived Here You'd Be Home By Now: Why We Traded the Commuting Life for a Little House on the Prairie.

The book is wonderful and tells a personal story as well as an economic one about price anxieties and skyrocketing costs slamming young families. Also, I’ve included several tweets from Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar in here because I find this smaller saga within Chris’ broader story deeply hilarious.

The book is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

The book came out last week, it tells your story of how you ended up moving from the DC suburbs to rural Minnesota. It's amazing, could you go into the circumstances with which you discovered your newfound home?

So it's August in DC, and you know how it is, in August there's nothing going on. And everyone's pitching crazy at you to your editors because you can get them to green light crazy shit that they wouldn't do the rest of the year, because, you know, there's no real news to report on.

I stumbled on this report, this really cool data set, the USDA's Natural Amenities Index. It was put together in 1999, and what they did is they ranked every single county in the United States on more or less natural beauty. They looked at things like the weather and the climate, winter temperature, summer temperature, the landscape, things like typography and the presence of water like shorelines and lakes. They kind of mashed all these things together to figure out which places in America are the most naturally beautiful, which places have the most natural amenities.

In writing about that I called out — as you often do with the kind of ranking posts — the number one place, which I think Ventura County, California was the most naturally beautiful place to live according to USDA. But the place that came out dead last was this county in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota called Red Lake County.

And of course, I've never even been to Minnesota. I'd never heard of this place, so I want to call them out and I'm trying to Google them to get some kind of information that I can include in the story, but there's nothing. The only thing I found is their county website, and it's a classic small town, middle of nowhere county website where they have a calendar that's two years old and it just seemed like nothing was going on. The way they presented themselves to the world — when the fathers of Red Lake county sat down and decided what they were — they put together a section of fun facts. This is what you need to know about us. And the number one thing in the fun facts was that Red Lake county is the only county in the United States that is surrounded by just two adjacent counties.

Oh my god.

It's bizzare! And if that is all these guys got going for them, man, what it must be like to live there. So I include this throwaway line, about the absolute worst place to live in America is Red Lake County, Minnesota. And that was kind of the end of it. For about five minutes, until I publish the story. And then people from Minnesota, and particularly from northwest Minnesota, just started ragging me mercilessly on social media and via email. The Minnesota senators got in on it. Amy Klobuchar harassed me for a good half a day on Facebook posting photos of beautiful places in northwest Minnesota.

It was wild. So I ended up visiting the place actually a few days after that, on the invite of a local businessman. Then I'm like, okay, sure, I'm going to go visit this hick town, expecting it's going to be like Hillbilly Elegy or something, everything kind of run down and depressing. And I get there, and I actually ended up loving the place. I'm from a smallish town in the northeast, but this midwestern town — I hadn't spent any time in the Midwest before this — it was a great place. The people were very warm and friendly. One of the things that just struck me so much is that, you know, like any small town, they're very clearly dealing with their challenges. It was shrinking population, shrinking tax base, businesses leaving. But they weren't letting the challenges get the best of them. You could tell that they were rising up and they were meeting these challenges. They were still progressively trying to make their area a better place to be.

That really struck me because in places in upstate New York, where I'm from, you see a lot of places where that is not happening, or where you can tell that economic conditions have really gotten the better of communities. There's places that are really struggling and it wasn't like that here. After I got back, I did this follow up story. During the time, my wife and I — we had just had twins, so we had two year old twins — were starting to feel all the kind of crunches of city life. Our house was too small, we needed more space, I needed a shorter commute. I was commuting three hours a day every single day from Baltimore down to DC and I needed more time for the kids. But we couldn't see a way out. If we move closer to the city, you put houses out of reach. You can move farther away, but then I'm commuting even more. There is nothing to do. And so eventually my mom was who suggested, "Why don't you move out to that nice little place in Minnesota that you like so much?" And I was like, "that's really funny."

But you know, we kind of started thinking about it. And once one of those ideas takes place, it's hard to get rid of it. And so we started running numbers and I'm working out cost of living and broadband and schools, and then eventually we got ourselves to a place where we convinced ourselves it would've been fiscally irresponsible of us not to move to Red Lake county and four years later, here we are.

You're a reporter who uses data in so much of your work, and the book is kind of chock full of some cool stuff. There was this stat that the average American worker spends 9.3 days a year commuting. And in 2015, you personally spent 31.3, which is a figure that would certainly make me consider moving to Minnesota.

Literally an entire month, day and night, of the year I was spending commuting. One twelth of my life. One twelth of my time on earth was spent doing the activity that I absolutely hated the most out of anything. What a way to live. And the thing is, there are millions and millions of people who are doing that right now.

In the acknowledgements section of the book, the first person who you thank is not your agent, it is not your wife, it is not your editor. It is the USDA economist David McGranahan who in 1999 made that amenities index. Have you gotten in touch?

No, I haven't. I spoke briefly to some folks in the USDA shortly after the original story came out. It helped me realize that — this is for a normal person an obvious insight, for like people like you and me who work with data everyday and who have the tendency to put a lot of weight into data, this is something really helpful — but it just really drove home the limitations of data.

That kind of falls into two buckets, right? First, there's everything that this data is not supposed to tell you by definition. A collection of natural amenities data is not gonna tell you anything about the people who live there or what those people were like, or what the social situation is like.

But then just going beyond that, there's even the limitations of the data themselves. One of the funny things is, one of the reasons people in Red Lake Falls were so pissed off about that story is because Red Lake Falls is really a beautiful place. There are two rivers that meet right in town here, you have all these really picturesque bluffs and cliffs and things like that. Now the funny thing is, in the natural amenities index, counties got credit for having lakes or shorelines. But as I found out later, rivers were excluded from the calculation. So Red Lake Falls got no credit on the one thing that really makes it stand out within northwest Minnesota. There are both big ways and small ways that this is really instructive in the limitations of both what data is not meant to tell you and that of what it misses just as a result of human decisions.

Grand Canyon? Humongous hunk of crap. Seems like that's a pretty significant oversight.

You were very honest with yourself through the process, using some of the craft you do in your day to day. And I love this graphic that you had in the end where there was like a year by the numbers and you had a blood pressure decrease. Can you go into a little bit of how this experience reflected back on you, your health, your family and all that?

In DC, my house was a real challenge actually. I was on antidepressants and blood pressure medications, which I'm still on now, but it's a lesser thing, but I was dealing with those and that was from the stress of big city living. I was drinking a shit load to cope with these stresses. City life can makes us do all these kind of not so healthy behaviors. Since coming out here — I don't want to paint this as like a cure all for health or mental problems because moving to Minnesota is not going to fix a chemical imbalance in your brain — but in terms of very concrete things that I noticed, absolutely blood pressure dropping. Not being crammed onto a train with hundreds of other commuters for 15 hours a week really does wonders for your stress levels. At least for me, personally. I feel the sense of space out here and just having fewer people it's just so easy to get around and do things. If I'm in the middle of making dinner and I need to go to the store to get an ingredient that I forgot I can go and it will literally take five minutes cause it's so easy to get to town. Whereas, where we were in Maryland, a trip to the grocery store was an hour-long affair, at least, cause you hit traffic the whole way and everything.

So it's been great in terms of just helping me relax and feel more at peace. It's really nice because I'm still working at the Washington Post. I'm still kind of plugged into like the daily news and all the madness of it, but it is really nice to be able to shut down my laptop at the end of the day and just like go outside and see a big sky above me and all this green space in the yard and all the nature around me and just kind of step away from it. It was great.

I like how you really connected to your work, a housing crisis is going on in major cities and it seems like this is just such an interesting kind of guinea pig style "make a go of it" that is in so many ways telling a story about the broader economy by writing this, which is kind of cool.

The housing situation is just so crazy. We were looking at bigger places in Baltimore and single family homes around where we were for like $500,000, $750,000 and up. I'm like, what do people who live in Baltimore do that they're making this much money? Are they all investment bankers or are they just leveraging the hell out of themselves and taking money out or shortchanging their futures and their retirement to keep up to the standard of living here. You look at a lot of the problems in metro areas that we have like you have crumbling infrastructure that are not being reinvested in, you've got these commutes, you’ve got this insane cost of living and then you turn around and look at the problems that rural areas have — shrinking tax bases, shrinking populations, economic issues — you know, those are all reflections of the same thing. It's too great of a flow of people in one direction, flowing from small towns in rural areas to cities. If you were able to take a substantial portion of people in cities and relocate them to small towns in rural areas, it would both ease economic pressures happening in the cities and help bolster the fortunes of small towns. So how do you do that at scale? I have no idea. The one thing I can say from survey data is that if given their druthers, a lot of people would do this: 80 percent of people live in metro areas, but over half of them say that their ideal living arrangement is in a small town or a rural area. So there's a lot of pent up demand for this, but doing it in any meaningful way across the economy, well, I'm not sure how you'd do that.

You found this town by essentially writing it up in the Post, you've since moved there, you've bought a home, you’ve continued to grow your family. I understand now that you are in a romantic relationship with a local elected official. How do you respond to these allegations?

That's one of the funny things! Red Lake Falls needed a city council person. When we came out here, I kept my job and Brianna stopped working. She was working for the federal government and her job wasn't portable and she wanted to be with the kids for a while in their early years. That's just so crucial for so many different reasons, but she wanted to stay involved. So she's done a lot of volunteer stuff, she's on the board of an arts council and she's really active in the community up here. And there was a city council opening. And so she ended up running for the seat. She ran unopposed. And now she's on the city council! It's a crazy thing. I wrote this stupid line in this story four years ago and as a result of that we're here now and Brianna is making decisions that affect the future trajectory of that very place. It is wild to think about how that has worked out. Real Butterfly effect stuff there.

Where can people find the book? Any last advice for city slickers?

You can find the book anywhere. It's published by Harper Collins and at Amazon or your local book seller. Requesting it at your local library is always a big help. For city folks, I've heard from a lot of people who are in the same place as we were a few years ago, my advice to them is just sit down with your employer and then talk about if telework would be an option. You might be surprised that they might be more receptive to that than you might think, particularly if you're a valued employee and they like the work that you do. I don't want to be prescriptive. I don't want to say that everybody should do this, but I suspect that there are a lot of people who have wanted to do something like this and they may find that if they pursue it, they might find out that they actually can.


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Numlock News: September 13, 2019 • Day-Glo, Movie Runtimes, Skeletons

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! This weekend’s Sunday edition will be with my friend Christopher Ingraham, a Washington Post writer who’s just written a great new book called If You Lived Here You’d Be Home By Now about the time he insulted a Minnesota county so badly he decided to move there. Should be a fun one.

Vacuum PAC

An analysis of 68.7 million campaign finance records has found a distressing spike in the number of Political Action Committees with deceptive names that make them sound like charities that help sick children, first responders or youth. The difference? There’s a cap on how much money charities can pay themselves and their administrators, but the PACs direct an unseemly amount of money to vendors and telemarketers to make more money. There are 61 such PACs today, which through telemarketing or other systems raised $349.3 million since 2001, but rather than donate it they turned around and spent $344.3 million of that on fundraising like telemarketing or direct mail.

Sarah Kleiner and Chris Zubak-Skees, The Center for Public Integrity

Runtimes

In 2009, the top 10 movies of the summer had an average run time of 116 minutes, a figure that swelled this past summer to 125 minutes. Part of that is filmmakers trying to give audiences what they want as they fork over more for movies, but it’s also partly studios attempting to placate filmmakers rather than lock the doors of the editing bay until they emerge sweaty, broken, and with a picture less than two hours in length. Movies with longer runtimes — based on the simple math of hours in a day and screens in a cinema — get fewer screenings, and once a movie is more than 140 minutes it likely costs a film one showtime per screen per day. This may be why Martin Scorsese went to Netflix for his forthcoming three and a half hour film The Irishman.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Day-Glo

In the 1950s and 1960s, some modern artists were drawn to Day-Glo paints, which are fluorescent in daylight thanks to photo-physics that create incredibly vibrant colors. Used widely throughout the Second World War, the pigments are up to four times brighter than traditional pigments, but there’s a cost: the initial paints, developed in the 1930s, fade quickly, and look terrible when they fade, and as a result iconic paintings that used such pigments like Frank Stella’s Bampur, James Rosenquist’s F-111 and Andy Warhol’s Flowers will disappear if the original shades cannot be replicated. This presents a ticking time bomb for art restoration pros, who are teaming up with advanced lab technology to try to save the works.

Sonja Sharp, Los Angeles Times

The Flood

This past spring saw major flooding across 11 states affecting 14 million people, with 49 United States Geological Survey gauges measuring more water this year than at any time in the past 20 years. This is having a pronounced effect even months later, with ripples for farmers and the economies of the regions, but all that agricultural runoff and chemical fertilizers are causing a dead zone — one with too little oxygen to support fish and marine life — the size of New Hampshire, 8,717 square miles.

Sarah Almukhtar, Blacki Migliozzi, John Schwartz and Josh Williams, The New York Times

Feel It In My Bones

The science is in, people, and skeletons literally make you scared. They are biologically spook-inducing. A new study finds that bones play a role in reacting to stressors, with the skeleton releasing osteocalcin in reaction to a danger, which in turn shuts down the rest-and-digest nervous system functions and allows the rest of the body to get on with the whole fight or flight jam. They determined this by scaring the hell out of rats and finding that osteocalcin levels spiked right after something freaked them out, rising 50 percent after they were restrained, 150 percent after getting shocked on their feet, and in humans after they had to do a speech in public or get stressfully cross-examined. When they were exposed to the smell of fox urine, the mice’s bones reacted instantly with osteocalcin, and the humans presumably said, “gross, dude, what?”

Ed Cara, Gizmodo, Cell Metabolism

Hearing Aids

The global market for hearing aids is expected to hit $12 billion annually over the next six years, in part thanks to aging Boomers fueling a rise in usage, but also because the hearing aid industry is functionally an oligopoly. There are only six companies that actually manufacture hearing aids, and their pricing (high) and imitation of one another (also high) meant that as a group in the 2000s all of them phased out analog hearing aids and pushed digital hearing aids. A quarter of hearing aid users are not satisfied with the sound produced by their devices, and given that they cost $2,500 for a single device (and most users need two) that’s a high level of product dissatisfaction for such a pricey product. Despite being preferred, none of the six companies that control the business are breaking ranks to introduce the older analogs.

David Polansky, Slate

Ships

Despite efficiency gains, the global shipping fleet is seeing carbon emissions rise from 770 million tons in 2013 to 870 million tons in 2018. Today, just 0.3 percent of the operational global fleet uses alternative fuels: 0.15 percent run on battery power, 0.14 percent run on liquid natural gas and 0.01 percent on methanol. The other 99.7 percent are on carbon fuels like oil or coal. Among ships on order, it’s still all about carbon products — 93.95 percent — and just 3.07 percent used battery, 2.73 percent liquid natural gas, and 0.25 LPG, methanol and hydrogen. Lots see a future in ammonia, with development over the next several years seeking to parlay that carbon-neutral chemical into a viable engine fuel, though at this time no current marine engine is able to burn it.

Anna Shiryaevskaya, Bloomberg

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Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Invasive Species ·  The Rat Spill ·  The Sterling Affairs ·  Snakebites ·  Bees ·  Deep Fakes ·  Artificial Intelligence ·  Marijuana ·  Mussels ·  100% Renewable Grid ·  Drive Thru Dreams ·  Department Stores & Champion ·  Baltimore Crab Shacks ·  Kylie Jenner ·  Amber Fossils ·  Self-Improvement ·

Box Office Forecasting ·  Crazy/Genius ·  Scrubbers ·  Saving the World ·  Summer Movies ·  No One Man Should Have All That Power ·  Film Incentives ·  Stadiums & Casinos ·  Late Night ·  65 is the new 50 ·  Scooternomics ·  Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  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

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