Numlock News: April 10, 2020 • Baguettes, Ransom, Judge Judy

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend. As a special treat, everyone gets this Sunday’s special edition with my friend Sarah Frier!

Judgement Day

It will be one of the most important decisions of Judge Judy’s career, but she’s not going to be the one making it: Rebel Entertainment, which gets 5 percent of the net profits of the hit show Judge Judy, is suing CBS subsidiary Big Ticket Entertainment over what it argues are inflated production costs that eat into its share. Judy Sheindlin makes $47 million per year for her role holding court, and Rebel — the successor to the talent agency that originally designed Judge Judy — says that shouldn’t be deducted as a production cost. This case is winding all the way to the top — no, not The People’s Court — but rather a final fight between the companies at a California appeals court. The implications of the case on the entertainment industry as a whole are considerable, so it’s not over until, based on my understanding of the judicial system, they bring in the dancing lobsters.

Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter

Ransom

On New Year’s Eve, foreign-exchange kiosk company Travelex had their computer networks infiltrated and shut down by a computer virus. The company paid the hackers the ransom of $2.3 million (in the form of 285 bitcoin) freeing up their systems, but perpetuating a serious problem in cybersecurity where hackers are able to make a brisk business by holding critical computer systems hostage for ransom. The company began to reinstate operations in January and was back by February, just in time for the total collapse of the very international travel that necessitates exchanging foreign currency. Tough 2020.

Anna Isaac, Caitlin Ostroff and Bradley Hope, The Wall Street Journal

Fliers

On Tuesday, the Transportation Security Administration screened 97,130 people, down 95 percent from a year ago. That count isn’t an estimate of passengers — that’d be an overcount, given that pilots, flight attendants and people who work within the security perimeter get screened too — but it’s a number from an entirely different era of flight altogether. The TSA is a modern invention — and the reason why any movie involving an airport from the 1990s is deeply weird — so we don’t have screening numbers that go far enough back to contextualize that number, but the last time the country averaged 97,000 passengers per day was in 1954. That being said, I bet it still takes an hour to get through security at JFK.

David Koenig, The Associated Press

Memory

Back in 2015, a memory researcher published a study on false memories and found that about 70 percent of volunteers could be made to recall false memories of having committed a crime as a preteen. This was accomplished by looping the volunteer’s parents in, who aided them with a true emotional experience the volunteers had and then the researchers were able to induce new, false memories based on that. Anyway that’s wild, but this is even wilder: in a new study published this week, new volunteers were asked to watch recorded accounts of that first experiment, and asked to determine if a given memory being recalled was true or false. They did barely better than chance. There was a 55 percent accuracy for correctly identifying false memories of a crime. This is, naturally, concerning, though not as concerning perhaps as the time I personally tackled Pope John Paul II in elementary school.

Ed Cara, Gizmodo

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Digest

Plastics are notoriously hard to break down, but researchers in France have engineered an enzyme that can break down polyethylene terephthalate (the plastic used in soda bottles) into precursor compounds that can also be reused. Using shredded drink bottles, the original enzyme can digest about half of the PET in 20 hours, but by reconfiguring the conditions they were able to do much better than that, up to 95 percent digested in 10 hours, turning 1,000 kilograms of PET waste into 863 kilograms of raw materials. If the protein can be made for $25 per kilogram, the cost of the process will be just 4 percent of the price you can get for the results of the reaction.

John Timmer, Ars Technica

Liberté, égalité, boulangerie

In France, the bakeries have been deemed essential. France has 30,000 independent bakeries, and even in trying times, baguettes are still essential at most meals. The French consume an estimated 10 billion baguettes per year, and that’s a number that won’t budge a centimeter if the government has anything to say about it: not only are the boulangers open, they’re even allowed to stay open seven days a week. Typically, French labor law requires businesses to close one day a week to give employees rest. Anecdotally, sales are the same as ever, though people are buying more in bulk.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR

Rent

In March, 81 percent of 13 million housing units had paid their rent by the fifth of the month. In April, with many reeling from the economic reverberations of the coronavirus shut-downs, that figure fell to 69 percent of renters who were paid up by the fifth of the month. It’s not just individual renters: 2,600 commercial real estate borrowers have contacted mortgage servicers about debt relief on $49 billion in loans, and about 75 percent of those were from hotels and retail real estate.

Patrick Clark, Bloomberg

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