By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
Ocean City, New Jersey has unleashed a vicious crew of mercenaries onto the boardwalk to hem in its pesky seagull problem. At the small price of $2,100 a day through Labor Day, East Coast Falcons is providing four hawks, two falcons and one owl to scare off gulls that hound beachgoers. This summer the situation grew dire, when the gulls — absent a predator — grew ever bolder in their assaults on the good people of Ocean City. The program began in early August, when the municipal government of a seaside town realized they could not in good conscience forget the hard-fought lessons of Jaws or Jaws II and instead took a pro-active approach toward wildlife management. Naturally in this analogy, the shark is a group of seagulls who like french fries, and Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss are respectively a hawk, a falcon and an owl.
A contest held by the Boston Public School district and won by an MIT lab has helped optimize the busing system in a school district with 25,000 students in 220 schools. In 2017, the school was paying $2,000 per student per year in transportation costs, the highest in the country, because Boston isn’t so much a planned city as an improvisational art piece that uses asphalt and zoning codes as a medium. The MIT Operations Research Center designed a model to optimize the bussing system for each student for the 2017-18 school year. They were able to eliminate 50 busses, reduce the fleet 8 percent, drive 1 million fewer miles, cut 20,000 pounds of daily emissions, and save $5 million. They also added shorter walk times for younger students, minimized stops and didn’t make rides longer. It may go down as the single greatest moment in Town-Gown relations in the history of academia.
We’ve got some late breaking merger news hot off the presses: the two largest ostrich processors in the world, Klein Karoo International Ltd. and Mosstrich Ltd., have been approved by the South African government to merge and become an effective monopoly on ostrich meat, leather and feathers in the world. The background is that South Africa’s Competition Tribunal initially blocked the merger, owing to the fact that the combination of companies would have a combined market share of 94 percent. They operate just four remaining ostrich abattoirs, as demand for the meat has collapsed, with the 340,000 ostriches slaughtered in 2002 down to a paltry 123,000 in 2018. The bottom falling out of the market prompted the merger, and the firms argued their case, saying the lack of consolidation would render both of them unable to soar, and economically flightless. The deal has been made, though, with the companies agreeing to favorable terms with farmers, to supply the local market and they must offer 40 percent of the feathers to South Africans every year.
The Federal Communications Commission lodged hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against a number of broadcasters for the use of a sound effect. It’s illegal to improperly use the screeching, belting tones of the emergency alert system, a legal idiosyncrasy that did not make it into a number of sound designer’s studios. Jimmy Kimmel Live! agreed to pay $395,000, AMC agreed to pay $104,000 over its use on an episode of The Walking Dead, and KDAY and KDEY-FM used it in a morning show promotion 139 times and will pay a $67,000 fine. Just to show they’re not messing around, they also slammed Animal Planet’s Lone Star Law with a $68,000 penalty, after that show accidentally captured a real wireless alert when filming Texas game wardens during Hurricane Harvey.
The Swiss energy startup Energy Vault secured a $110 million investment from the SoftBank Vision Fund, a massive sum for a two-year-old company with merely a proof-of-concept, albeit a promising one. When we think of energy storage, batteries come to mind, but they’re expensive and contain rare chemicals. Energy Vault wants to store energy, but basically in the form of potential energy: when there is excess solar or wind power, that energy is diverted to a crane that lifts 35 metric ton blocks of concrete into a tower around itself. Later, when the system needs that energy, the blocks are lowered by the crane, driving a turbine using gravitational energy in the process. A one-tenth scale prototype has been built for $2 million, and this investment will help build two full-scale prototypes. Think of it as similar to a classic Swiss gravity-powered cuckoo clock, only one that hypothetically could fundamentally alter the future of our society.
Kansas and Missouri have completed a truce over the Kansas City metropolitan area. For the past decade, the states have given out an estimated $335 million in giveaways to companies in vain attempts to persuade them to move from one side of town to the other, all for the purposes of wooing business and potential tax benefits from one state to the other. This enormous investment has resulted in functionally a wash, with Kansas only coming out 1,200 jobs ahead for all the trouble. But Tuesday, a long-rumored truce was signed. Tax incentives are limited in the four Missouri counties and three Kansas counties that constitute the metro area.
In the past month, 25.5 million U.S. households bought books, and a quarter of those households used a feature offered by Amazon where they can borrow 10 items at a time from a catalog of ebooks. Another program offers a much wider selection for $9.99 and, in general, Amazon may have its eyes on global domination, but hasn’t yet lost its original aspiration, which is the domination of the book business. Amazon Publishing is up to 1,100 titles per year, with sales difficult to estimate due to the secretive nature of their business, but that’s still only a bit shy of the 1,500 to 2,000 titles a larger publishing house would put out.
This past Sunday, for the paid subscribers, I spoke all about that armada of trucks full of bees criss-crossing the country with Andrew P. Collins of Jalopnik. It’s a wild story — one that’s covered in a forthcoming film called The Pollinators — check it out and consider becoming a paid supporter today. Heads, up the next few sundays have some truly cool interviews coming up and I’m really excited for you to see them!
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