Numlock Sunday: Ernie Smith on the Swift end of a music record

By Walt Hickey

Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.

This week, I spoke to Ernie Smith who writes the Tedium and Midrange newsletters. A week ago he had a great story, ‘A Chart-Record Feast 🎶’ in Midrange. Here's what I wrote about it:

Last week saw two milestones on the music charts. The first is that “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift reached the number one spot on Billboard’s Hot 100, and at 10 minutes and 13 seconds became the longest song to ever top the list. It displaces “American Pie,” the Don McLean hit that topped the charts 49 years ago, and beat it by over a minute. Both songs tell a story about a popular performer that was admired by the singer in their youth, and the disappointments endured by the singer following the ten years they’ve been on their own. The other milestone was The Weeknd’s “Blinding Light” becoming the most popular song in the history of the chart after staying in the Hot 100 for 90 weeks and the top 40 for 86 of those weeks, beating out Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”

I really love Ernie’s newsletters, Tedium at this point is iconic and is a brilliant weekly dive into the kind of topics nobody else is writing about, and Midrange is on the newer side and has been a great read into quicker but nonetheless fascinating topics. This story in particular is a great example of what I love about Smith’s work, an incisive, neat look into a piece of history that’s delightful and relevant right now.

Smith can be found at Tedium, at Midrange, and on Twitter at @ShortFormErnie.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Ernie, you are the author of Midrange and Tedium, two of my favorite newsletters. It is great to have you on. Thanks for taking the time.

Yeah, absolutely. Great chatting with you.

You had a really great story in Midrange just this past week, about how two huge records fell in the music industry. Do you want to talk a little bit about the Billboard charts and maybe what got you interested in them to begin with, and then we can get to the records?


Yeah, absolutely. Basically, I've always been fascinated by the Billboard charts. I actually, way back in the day, this is aging me considerably, I ran into this guy who had basically invented his own chart on Usenet, back in the late nineties. I was already interested in the ebbs and flows of music. I focused on the alternative rock charts at the time, because I was a teenager, but I think that in general, what I've found really fascinating about charts is just how in many ways they can behave strangely.

They tell the zeitgeist, but they also have opportunities for manipulation a little bit, just in terms of how a song might see success. When Apple started selling music in 99-cent form, songs that wouldn't have become popular just based on radio play started showing up in the Hot 100, for example. It’s been really interesting to see the evolution of the charts, the Billboard charts in particular, through that mindset and given that how these two records were basically set.

Yeah. The charts are interesting, because they're both reflections of popularity of culture, but also the techniques by which one is able to manipulate what culture is, right? Let's start off with The Weeknd. The Weeknd has shattered a record that has lasted, actually a really incredibly long time. Can you talk a little bit about what that is and how he pulled it off?


The Weeknd came out with his song, “Blinding Lights,” and what happened with that song is it managed to have a decent chart rating at the very top of the charts, but it stayed in the charts for a really long time, in the Hot 100 for 90 weeks, and then the top 40 of that for 86 weeks. And as a result of that, it basically just became the greatest song in the Billboard Top 100 history, topping out Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” which had the benefit in his day of having two separate chart runs.


It basically went all the way from the bottom of the charts to number one twice, which is why it was the most popular song of all time. The Weeknd managed to do that. There were obviously differences between how The Weeknd did it, which, first of all, is he had the advantage of people streaming, people watching the videos on YouTube, which if you combine all the videos of that song, it adds up to more than a billion views.

Geez.


Obviously a lot to work with chart-wise, but it's fascinating from the perspective of, here's this record that feels like in the prior era, it would've been unbreakable, and The Weeknd's just breaking it.

Yeah. It also felt like it was getting boosts from different places at different times. Obviously it starts off with a very big streaming thing, then he's got the Super Bowl. But it just feels like, I don't drive, but whenever I'm listening to radio or adult contemporary, this song is on it. It really seems to have dominated the radio charts in a way that other songs might not necessarily accomplish.


Yeah, I think that's a really good point, I think that it's one of those things where the song had a lot of longevity. I think in some ways, it feels very retro, it feels like it has something that ties it, not to just the current moment, but something more historic, which I think gives it a broad appeal. But also, at the same time, I think that it benefited from the fact that The Weeknd got a ton of opportunities to promote it. The VMAs, the Super Bowl — it became a lasting chart success based on the fact that it wasn't just limited to one thing. And if you look at the rest of the Top 10 historically

Yeah. This is a really fun list.


Yeah, it's all songs that you would think would be up there. Like, Santana and Rob Thomas doing “Smooth”; “The Macarena”; just basically this list of every song you feel like you've heard a hundred million times, just showing up in this Top 10 list.

It's like the first 20 minutes, or the last 20 minutes, of a wedding playlist.


That's exactly how I would describe it. It seems like the kind of thing that a DJ who's trying to get something that the 80-year-olds and the eight-year-olds would be familiar with, is kind of plenty.


It's so good. I want to talk about the record that feels genuinely unbeatable, that you wrote about. It's this popular musician, named Taylor Swift. And what did Taylor do this time?

So Taylor Swift, she obviously has been rerecording her albums. One of the things that she managed to rerecord and rerelease is “All Too Well,” which showed up in a shorter version on the original version of the album “Red.” But then she recorded a much longer version, which had been rumored for quite some time, but basically it was full Jim Steinman mode, where it keeps going. The resulting record is more than 10 minutes long. It's 10 minutes, 13 seconds, I believe. Don McLean had recorded “American Pie” back in the early ‘70s, and that was closer to eight and a half to nine minutes long. That had been number one as the longest song to ever top the charts for 49 years, until Taylor Swift topped it, and had her 10-minute song top the charts, just the other week.

It's really fascinating because that seems like — the one thing that I'll say is that “Blinding Lights,” it’s great that that song hit that record, but I just feel like there are distinctions between how songs are measured today, where if you look at the Top 10 list of most popular songs ever, roughly about half of them are from the past decade. You can imagine that, in five years, somebody will top The Weeknd, versus a record where Taylor Swift basically managed to record a 10-minute song and have it be popular enough that it could top the charts? It seems unbeatable to me.


The thing is, it's not the longest song to ever be on the Hot 100 period. It's actually the second-longest. There was a Tool song that appeared in the chart, at the very bottom. I think it hit number 93 in the Hot 100. You can't imagine Tool ever topping the charts, complex rock, but it was popular enough that it hit 10 minutes, 21 seconds, I believe. It's long, but it's not like it would appeal to a wide audience, like a Taylor Swift song that she could perform on SNL.

It's incredible because it also seems like it's a complete inversion of everything that we've come to understand about what the Billboard charts currently reward. We've seen artists shrink down the length of time on their song so that they can get more streams in a given album listening session. It just seems like in rejecting the direct way that people have seen success lately, they were actually able to get a different kind of success.


There's actually a really interesting example from a few years back, where Post Malone actually released a version of one of his songs on YouTube, where it was basically just the chorus repeated three times. It helped push forward the success of the song so that it topped the charts, and because all you had to do to listen to the chorus is just watch this video. It made for very good listening in a very light way, I guess you would say.

But basically, the thing that's really interesting about Taylor Swift is, she had the fan base. I don't think an artist who was new, just coming out, could record a 10-minute song and have it become popular enough to top the charts. But I do think that it reflects the shape of music during this era, which is that it's more directly inputted by strings, versus where Don McLean had to hope that the radio stations were willing to play his eight-and-a-half-minute song, enough that it could conceivably top the charts, as well as hope that enough people would buy copies of the single to have that happen. It's really fascinating to think about how much Taylor Swift had to get past for this to even have a shot to appear on the Hot 100 period, let alone top the charts.


I think that's a good place to wrap up on. But let's talk a little bit about Midrange and Tedium. Again, Tedium, if folks are unfamiliar, is really, really wonderful. It is one of my favorites. You've been at it for what? Seven years or so?

Yep. Seven years on January 1st. I have a tendency to start things on January 1st. It's very easy to remember the date.

Amazing. Yeah, so Tedium is phenomenal. That's a longer form where you investigate a cool piece of either culture, or history, or science. I've been a fan of that for a while. But just this past year, you launched a new, smaller, more condensed day-to-day called Midrange. Do you want to tell folks a little bit about that?


Midrange! The thing that's really fascinating about my writing over the years is that when I started blogging, I actually wrote this site called ShortFormBlog. It was big on Tumblr, which obviously is something that still happens in 2021, I guess. But I think that I had basically built up a reputation for a lot of really short things, and basically posting 15 or 20 times a day. And then I stopped doing that, and I came up with this concept of Tedium, which is basically the exact opposite of that in every way, in that I take one thing and just go long on it and write everything that you can think about writing about socks, or some random historic thing that nobody's thought about in 20 years. I've covered a lot of things over the years and I do it twice a week. It's been quite the process of learning, and I could probably tell you a lot of boring stories at parties and such as a result.

But as far as Midrange goes, I basically started it on a lark. I had realized that I put myself in this spot where I was writing such long things that basically had to be massive and overly thought out and heavily researched. And I think that, as a writer, it has a tendency of making you get a little flabby, as far as your word counts and just you're not as focused as you write. I started Midrange as an experiment to see, if I gave myself a tight deadline and just a prompt — I said, "Okay, you got to finish this in 20 minutes, half an hour, and just see where it leads you" — what it could do as far as improving the weaknesses I see in my own writing, and also just how I can approach things from a storytelling perspective, given that I literally have a timer going off and there's going to be a loud alarm once I'm done.

Amazing. Well, I'm so glad that it's been working out. It's been really great to read. I've enjoyed it a lot. Hey, thanks again for coming on. I guess just to get the plugs all in one place, where can folks find you?


I have two places where you can look: tedium.co is where you can find the Tedium newsletter; Midrange is at midrange.tedium.co. And if you want to follow me on Twitter, I am @shortformernie. I post a lot of really stupid stuff and hopefully you'll enjoy it.


If you have anything you’d like to see in this Sunday special, shoot me an email. Comment below! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for supporting Numlock.

Thank you so much for becoming a paid subscriber!

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

Numlock News: December 3, 2021 • True Crime, Pangolins, Broncos

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Repaid

In the 1840s, a cache of Nez Perce artifacts were obtained by a minister and eventually entered the possession of the Ohio Historical Society. In the 1970s, the tribe learned about the existence of the objects, and came to an agreement with the Ohio group that they’d be loaned back for display for 20 years. In the early 1990s, the Historical Society requested either their return or the market value for the artifacts, which was judged to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. After a national appeal, the Nez Perce raised together the $608,100 in 1996 with just two days to go before their deadline. Decades later, this year the Ohio History Connection — the successor organization to the OHS — has returned the $608,100, seeking to right a historical wrong.

Caroline Goldstein, ArtNet

True Crime

Data from Netflix’s top 10 U.S. television series reveals that the streaming service seems to have had diminishing returns with their true crime television shows. While the year started strong — both Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer and Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel were in the top 10 for 20 days, and Murder Among the Mormons hung out in the top 10 for 12 days — it’s been hit-and-miss since. Just five of the subsequent 18 true crime titles remained in the top 10 for 10 days or more, and nine of them never made the top 10 for a single day. The sole exceptions were Cocaine Cowboys: The Kings of Miami, which lasted two weeks in the top 10, and Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, which debuted to number one and hung for 12 days in the top 10, thus proving that crime truly doesn’t pay, unless it’s operating a dangerous and terrible zoo very badly, or selling drugs, or operating a terrible zoo while clearly under the influence of drugs, in which case yes it absolutely pays.

Kevin Tran, Variety

Pangolins

Prague’s zoo really wanted a pair of giant pandas, but Beijing declined. In stepped Taipei, which may lack pandas but is keen on offering unique endangered animals of its own, the pangolin, or spiny anteater. Prague’s zoo will get two pangolins, the latest in zoological diplomacy out of Taiwan. Since 2006, the Taipei Zoo has lent six pangolins, to Germany and to Japan. The diplomacy will also come off as a bargain for the Czechs: China charges zoos as much as $1 million per year per panda in conservation fees, while the pangolins come on the house. The pair being sent to Prague are the most robust among then, named Cough Drop and Precious Fruit.

Chao Deng, The Wall Street Journal

Globex Corporation

An analysis of 5.9 million crime predictions from a company called PredPol — predictions that informed policing in multiple cities across the country, affecting something like one out of every 33 Americans from 2018 to 2021 — found that the recommendations appear to be lousy with racial bias, persistently recommending increased patrols in neighborhoods with higher percentages of Black and Latino residents, with some neighborhoods seeing multiple crime predictions per day. Even when crime predictions targeted a majority-White neighborhood in the Northridge area of Los Angeles, it clustered those forecasts on the Latino blocks. The most-targeted neighborhoods were 28 percent more Black, 16 percent more Latino, and 17 percent less White than the overall jurisdiction. The efficacy of these programs is suspect, as there’s no vetting if the predictions actually bear out, or any report when a crime prediction software leads to charges. Critics allege the software is little more than “bias by proxy,” offering a justification to overpolice certain areas with a vague algorithmic justification.

Aaron Sankin, Dhruv Mehrotra, Gizmodo and Surya Mattu, and Annie Gilbertson, The Markup

Lead

Newark has replaced 21,000 pre-1953 lead service lines in less than three years, and has also distributed 40,000 water filters. The city wants to renew their citizens’ faith in their taps and also carry out surveillance for where else they need to ameliorate the lead. To that end, they’ve sent out 14,000 test kits to households six months after the pipes were changed, seeing 10,000 of them returned. In nearly 94 percent of the cases, the sample came back completely lead-free, and when the test results exceed the 5 parts per billion that merits remediation they’ve sent a team out to run more tests. It’s set the city back $800,000, but it’s also become a trend: Denver is kicking off a 15-year project to replace its lead pipes, and it’ll be using the same playbook.

Doyinsola Oladipo, CityLab

Project Arcturus

The Denver Broncos are eyeing a sale, with the team’s ownership interviewing bankers and a number of different groups are reportedly being vetted. The Broncos are currently owned by the estate of the deceased Pat Bowlen, who didn’t pick which of his seven kids he wanted to replace him as the main decision-maker for Denver — kids who each have an 11 percent stake and don’t agree on who should control the team. His brother owns the rest, in a non-voting stake. Given the tenuous situation, understandably a team spokesperson has said that, despite the meetings with the exact kind of bankers you meet with when you want to sell your football team, the team is not for sale. It’s the perfect opportunity for a billionaire that wants to buy local popularity, or the energy magnate slash megalomaniacal villain seeking to reward a former employee who desires the Dallas Cowboys. If they are sold, it’d be for a likely record price: just two teams (the Bills and the Panthers) have been sold in the past nine years, and the Broncos are valued at $3.8 billion, ranked 11th in the league.

Scott Soshnick and Eben Novy-Williams, Sportico

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

NOAA Fisheries announced it will explore whether the Atlantic humpback dolphin needs federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, as initial reviews indicated the population now numbers fewer than 3,000. The full study to come will last around 12 months, as the agency attempts to determine how bad the situation is for the mammal, which lives in the shallow waters off the coast of Africa and has been decimated by the fishing industry, where they’re unintentionally caught in gillnets.

Michael Doyle, E&E News

Last Sunday in the paid subscriber edition I spoke to Jordyn Holman, who wrote Good Luck Finding Deals This Year With All the Supply Chain Chaos for Bloomberg. Jordyn and I spoke on Black Friday, and talked all about how this year was unique, how the event has been evolving, and why one day tells us so much about the state of retail in America. Jordyn’s work is excellent, and she can be found at Bloomberg, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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.


The 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.

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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: PEDs in Hollywood · Machiavelli for Women · Weather Supercomputers · TKer · Sumo Wrestling · Giant clams · Instagram · Remote Work · Latinos · Vapes · Smoke · Jeopardy! · Mangoes · BBLs · Summer Box Office · Time Use · Shampoo Bars · Wikipedia ·

Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics · Local News ·
Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety · Climate Codes · Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: December 2, 2021 • Dinosaurs, Tortas, Passports

By Walt Hickey

Soccer Fans

FIFA, a global money vacuum that occasionally organizes soccer games, has proposed to increase the frequency of the World Cup from once every four years to once every two. They’ve faced resistance in many parts of the world, specifically in places that actually enjoy soccer and have a popular, well-developed domestic or continental league. For instance, 61 percent of Germans — the home of the Bundesliga — oppose increasing the World Cup’s frequency, compared to just 28 percent who support, a skew observed in the Premier League’s United Kingdom (48 percent oppose, 37 percent support) and Ligue 1’s France (49 percent oppose and 36 percent support) and Serie A’s Italy (43 percent support and 42 percent oppose). Now typically the development of a policy that manages to unite Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom would ordinarily be grounds for a Nobel Prize, but the FIFA proposal has some support in some extremely likely corners. Those corners happen to include the United States, where 61 percent of respondents backed the expansion and just 22 percent oppose, because this is a country operating on the dual principles of “yes, we would absolutely prefer more televised sports” and “no, we are not interested in learning about the nuances of European politics.” If it passes, it will likely halve the amount of time that the U.S. Men’s National Team spends between futile and ineffective rebuilds.

Alex Silverman, Morning Consult

Clean the Closet

All signs point to a national wardrobe revival, with Americans assessing the states of their closets and finding them tired. A November survey of 4,200 people found that three-quarters of respondents had a closet full of things they will never wear again, and a paltry 15 percent said they liked their wardrobe as is. An online thrift store called thredUP reported that the number of requests for clean-out kits — bags in which to load unwanted garments — was up 67 percent from July to September compared to the same period of 2020. And secondhand retailers are reporting an onslaught of supply, with Current Boutique in D.C. saying it’s got 22,000 articles of clothing in September and October, the most ever received over a two-month period and higher than the 15,000 from the same months of 2020 and 19,000 of 2019. Perhaps it’s the pandemic, or perhaps the clothes instinctively sense it’s approaching 10 years since Macklemore’s Thrift Shop” came out and all of the tags popped in 2012 must now return home to spawn.

Anne Marie Chaker, The Wall Street Journal

Dinosaur

A new species of dinosaur has been described in the journal Nature. The creature — named stegouros, not a typo — is a dog-sized creature related to the armored ankylosaur, which lived 72 million to 75 million years ago and has a bird-like snout. Its most distinctive feature is the flat, slashing, almost broadsword-like tail, which paleontologists say, “It just looks crazy” (that is a literal quote from a paleontologist). I think we all see what’s going on here: paleontology is going through the same phase that Pokémon did in approximately generation four, which, having exhausted the obvious — a seal named Seel, a snake named backward snake, a mime named Mr. Mime — just kind of went hog wild with design and was like “a long-dead sword?” or “I don’t know, a dinosaur that has a tool of medieval combat?” and slightly lost the plot. At press time, it was unclear if this stegouros was a shiny.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

Street Food

In 2018 the government of Mexico estimated that 1.6 million people were employed by street food establishments and that those tiny little individually-run kitchens encompassed about half of the businesses in Mexico. While they’re often well-established — they take digital payments and they’re represented on major delivery platforms — they’re virtually absent from Google Maps. Baruch Sanginés, a data analyst, has embarked on a project to get those stands and independent carts onto the platform, cementing a presence for them and helping with business. Those trucks and carts and companies see a surge in foot traffic after getting onto Google Maps.

Leo Schwartz, Rest of World

Trees

A new study published in Science analyzed city slicker trees and compared them to their country cousins. Looking at satellite data from 85 U.S. cities from 2001 to 2014, it turns out that the urban trees turn green earlier in the spring compared to rural trees, an effect believed to result from the hotter temperatures in cities compared to unpopulated areas in the same climate, and also the additional lights that dot the urban landscape. The study found that the urban trees grew leaves and turned green an average of six days earlier than rural trees. That could be an issue for the trees in the big city: bud too early and you’re susceptible to frost, and bloom too early and the insects that evolved to pollinate you maybe don’t show up in time to do the job.

Michael Levitt, NPR

Passports

Through September 30 of this year, 110,000 Indian nationals surrendered their passports, the most in five years. Since 2006 the number of Overseas Citizens of India cards issued by the foreign ministry of India has risen considerably, with an estimated six million OCI holders around the world. India doesn’t offer dual citizenship despite having such a large group of expatriates, and recent policies from the government wanted to reduce the number of citizens who feel the need to leave the country to earn a desired living. That said, that hasn’t been successful: from 2017 to 2021, over 600,000 Indians have renounced citizenship. Besides the lack of a dual option, the reluctance to hold on to citizenship may also be fueled in part by the comparative weakness of India’s passport, with an Indian passport holder able to access 58 countries without a prior visa, the 90th best in the world.

Manavi Kapur, Quartz

Professionals

Degrees for professionals — dentists, chiropractors, veterinarians — are among the most financially draining, and leave the students with outsized debts compared to the rest of American higher ed, which is truly saying something. About 76 percent of professional programs leave students with higher debt loads than they earn two years later, a figure that’s 22 percent when looking at master’s programs and 11 percent among bachelor’s programs. NYU educated about 10 percent of the dentists in America, and tells current students to anticipate spending $572,000 for the four-year program. From students who graduated from there in 2015 and 2016, the median debt was $349,000 and the median income two years after graduation was only $82,000.

Rebecca Smith and Andrea Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

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.


The 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.

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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: PEDs in Hollywood · Machiavelli for Women · Weather Supercomputers · TKer · Sumo Wrestling · Giant clams · Instagram · Remote Work · Latinos · Vapes · Smoke · Jeopardy! · Mangoes · BBLs · Summer Box Office · Time Use · Shampoo Bars · Wikipedia ·

Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics · Local News ·
Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety · Climate Codes · Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: December 1, 2021 • Sloths, Antarctica, Raiders

By Walt Hickey

Fees

Westpac, an Australian bank, will pay 113 million Australian dollars (81 million USD) and $57 million (USD) in compensation to customers as part of a series of investigations into the business practices of the bank — chiefly, that the bank charged $7 million in fees to 11,000 customers over a 10-year period. Normally that’s just good bank operation, but in this case the problem was that all 11,000 of those customers were dead, and the fees were related to financial advice services that were obviously not rendered. Westpac last year made headlines when it paid a $930 million fine related to a breach in money laundering laws.

BBC News

Sloths

Costa Rica has urbanized rapidly, with the population growing five-fold from 1950 to 2000, and with 70 percent of the population living in cities as of 2016. Cities have sprawled, forests have been, well, deforested, and developed areas have seen increased interactions with animals on roadways. The specific animals in question are sloths, which to some notoriety cross streets with slightly less alacrity than other mammals. That’s one reason the Sloth Conservation Foundation has built over 130 stringed ropes above roads that they can crawl across in around three minutes, rather than the interminable amount of time they’d otherwise spend dragging themselves across the street. This is a cheap fix — about $200 per sloth rope — that keeps the sloths safe and the traffic moving.

Sarah Holder, CityLab

Sneakers

eBay has bought Sneaker Con, a company that verifies the provenance of collectable sneakers. The online auction site first started working with Sneaker Con in 2020, and since then 1.55 million sneakers sold on the platform have been vetted by the company. When certain sneakers sell for north of $100, the shoes are routed through Sneaker Con, which investigates the provenance and authenticates them before shipping them ahead to the buyer. The volume of work is only going to get larger, with 1.9 million sneakers available on eBay every day.

Emma Roth, The Verge

Raiders

The Thanksgiving game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders averaged 37.84 million viewers on CBS, up 23 percent over last year and the single largest tune-in for an NFL regular season game since the Thanksgiving Cowboys-Dolphins game in 1993. Viewers watched a bunch more television this year than last year, with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade to 25 million between live air and an afternoon replay, the early NFL game up 14 percent over last year, and a Major League Soccer game logging 1.85 million viewers on Fox, the single most-watched English language MLS match since 2004 and approximately six times the viewership of the league average tune-in.

Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter

Ice

The Beyond EPICA project is drilling an ice core in Antarctica with the goal of getting a three kilometer-deep ice core that will help get a record of Earth’s climate going back 1.5 million years. The initial project — the EPICA project — helped the researchers develop a climate temperature record that extended back 800,000 years. The site is on the East Antarctic plateau around 1,000 kilometers from the coast, a site with an altitude of 3,223 meters above sea level where temperatures rarely get above -35 C. That remoteness is key, as the little air bubbles trapped in the ice over the millennia form an important time capsule of the atmospheric conditions of the time they were frozen. They’re especially interested in the period between 900,000 and 1.2 million years ago, when the period over which the climate changes naturally unexpectedly changed from a 41,000-year cycle to a 100,000-year cycle. Best of luck to the group, and the mysterious, shape-shifting alien who recently joined their number.

Jonathan Amos, BBC News

Batteries

The price of batteries fell 6 percent in 2021 to $132 per kilowatt-hour, down from $140 per kilowatt-hour in 2020. That’s a bit of a disappointment, as last year BloombergNEF projected that it’d fall 9 percent over the course of the year. That $8 per kilowatt-hour fall is substantially less than the $21 decline the previous year, the $24 the year prior to that, and $41 annual decline the year before that. Still, battery prices have made serious strides in the past decade, down from $946 per kilowatt-hour in 2011 to the considerably lower prices seen today.

James Frith, Bloomberg

Hizzonner Speaks

Every year, researchers out of Boston University survey the mayors of the largest U.S. cities to gauge what’s grinding municipalities. This year’s survey of 126 mayors found that, despite incessant worries about shifts to remote work and people moving to the suburbs affecting cities, those aren’t actually serious concerns. Only 2 percent of mayors cited a concern about remote work changing their city, and just 7 percent were worried about outmigration. What’s really worrying them is the mental drain on their citizens: 52 percent cited mental health and trauma as the pandemic long-term consequence they were most worried about, and 37 percent cited the toll on students.

Linda Poon, CityLab

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.


The 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.

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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: PEDs in Hollywood · Machiavelli for Women · Weather Supercomputers · TKer · Sumo Wrestling · Giant clams · Instagram · Remote Work · Latinos · Vapes · Smoke · Jeopardy! · Mangoes · BBLs · Summer Box Office · Time Use · Shampoo Bars · Wikipedia ·

Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics · Local News ·
Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety · Climate Codes · Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: November 30, 2021 • Huckleberries, Human Error, Nanocameras

By Walt Hickey

Huckleberries

Huckleberries are delicious, tart berries that are gathered from public lands in the American West. Demand is up, but supplies are down, and prices have doubled to $17 per pound in the past two years. Peak season is a few weeks of summer, and it’s a frenzy to supply the commercial huckleberry market of around 3 million pounds annually. The overall value of that market is $50 million, which is a blessing as well as a curse for the many small, independent jam producers in the region who are seeing sales soar, but the supply get a little more tenuous. It’s a historically highly competitive market for pickers, who are also competing with bears, which needless to say makes things extremely interesting.

Anna-Louise Jackson, Bloomberg

Operation HAECHI-II

Interpol announced they’d arrested 1,003 people in connection with online scams like money laundering, online gambling and romance scams in a sweeping 20 country crackdown. They intercepted some $27 million in illicit funds, in the process closing 1,660 open cases and blocking 2,350 bank accounts linked to the alleged scammers. The stings were truly global, with countries on multiple continents participating, and Interpol was able to post notices on mobile apps infected with malware they managed to interdict. The operation ran from June to September of this year.

Tim Starks, CyberScoop

Unenforced

A new analysis of emissions data from the EPA found over 1,000 hot spots in the United States of toxic air pollution. Given that there’s clear evidence of companies releasing waste into the air that has long-term deleterious side effects, it should be a cut-and-dried case for the talented and wide-ranging forces of the EPA to crack down on the obvious ones; unfortunately, those forces don’t actually exist, and people downwind of toxic emissions are pretty much high and dry unless there’s a monitor installed. And good luck with that: the EPA spends just $5 million per year on monitoring, managing to run a paltry 26 monitoring stations across the country. Without a monitor reading in the red, there’s no requirement to investigate nearby polluters.

Lisa Song, ProPublica

Job Market

This year 1.4 million people took the guokao in China on Sunday, a civil service exam the results of which will place the next generation of junior government workers. These are highly desirable jobs: in fact, given that the government is hiring for just 31,200 positions, you’re talking around 46 people competing for each gig. The most popular post — a postal service job in Tibet that doesn’t require a degree or experience — has attracted 20,000 applicants. About two-thirds of the jobs are set to go to fresh graduates, a demographic that’s been hurting economically. The unemployment rate for people aged 19 to 24 in China is 14.2 percent, significantly higher than the 4.2 percent jobless rate among those aged 25 to 29.

Jane Li, Quartz

Fly

The Transportation Security Administration screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, which was the single highest number of travelers in the pandemic era. Over the entire 10-day Thanksgiving period, 20.9 million passengers were screened at U.S. airports. That’s good for around 89 percent of the pre-pandemic air travel numbers, signaling a substantial rebound. Overall, flights were rather smooth and there weren’t the kind of cascading cancellations and delays that’s plagued the aviation business over the course of the recovery, thanks mostly to favorable weather all weekend and efforts by airlines to add staff and flights.

David Shepardson, Reuters

“Human Error”

It’s a commonly cited statistic in the United States that 94 percent of car crashes are the result of human error, a description which takes blame that could be distributed to weather conditions, vehicle design and road design, and instead heaps it all onto the last individual to make an error, the driver. Researchers with a more international view tend to view that as not just naive, but a view that limits what kind of safety improvements can be made to existing infrastructure; if 94 percent is driver error, how can you out-design that? While U.S. road fatalities are up over 10 percent in the past decade, as vehicles gain mass and get larger and deadlier without commensurate changes to roads, the European Union’s seen traffic deaths decline 36 percent from 2010 to 2020. They did it not by blaming drivers for making the final bad decision, but by pushing car makers to design vehicles that are less deadly for pedestrians and cyclists, and by actively improving problematic stretches of road to reduce accidents.

David Zipper, The Atlantic

Camera

In a breakthrough that absolutely will have no foreseeable negative consequences, researchers at Princeton and the University of Washington have designed a camera the size of a coarse grain of salt that can produce color images on par with a vastly larger camera a half-million times its size. The new optical system is a metasurface half a millimeter across with 1.6 million cylinder posts that each have the width of a virus and serve as optical antennae. The paper, published in Nature Communications, offers suggested uses in medical robotics and minimally-invasive endoscopies, but as an avid reader of cyberpunk and a reporter who attended Transmetropolitan J-school, I can’t help but fear that an endoscopy is somehow not the most invasive possible use of this kind of tech.

Molly Sharlach, Princeton University

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.


The 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.

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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: PEDs in Hollywood · Machiavelli for Women · Weather Supercomputers · TKer · Sumo Wrestling · Giant clams · Instagram · Remote Work · Latinos · Vapes · Smoke · Jeopardy! · Mangoes · BBLs · Summer Box Office · Time Use · Shampoo Bars · Wikipedia ·

Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics · Local News ·
Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety · Climate Codes · Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Loading more posts…