Numlock News: December 20, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Cheap Tunnels

Elon Musk showed reporters a Tesla-in-a-tunnel that his company, The Boring Company, had drilled. The car ride was bumpy and unpleasant and the concept of making new tunnels in order to allow for automatic automobile traffic is dubious at best. But there is a solid innovation here that’s gotten lost in the richly deserved scoffing, namely that the 12-foot wide, 1.14 mile-long tunnel cost $10 million per mile to dig. That excludes R&D and equipment, and it’s not clear if it factors in property acquisition or labor, but that number is actually stunningly good. Even at $50 million per mile, Musk’s product would be cheaper than the $240 million per mile of the D.C. Silver Line or the $490 million per mile of the Boston Green Line extension or the $600 million per mile of the Seattle U-Link or the $920 million per mile of the SF Central Subway. And if the worst case scenario is some rich guy spends way too much money subsidizing the creation of a public good, well, you all do know how fond I am of MoviePass.

Laura Bliss, CityLab

Child Care

American businesses lose $4.4 billion per year as a result of child care issues keeping their employees from coming to work. Some companies, like Best Buy, have realized that actually helping their employees take care of their kids while they work is a pretty terrific way to reduce that problem. A survey found 72 percent of parents have had a work day affected because child care fell through. Best Buy is now offering a backup child-care benefit that covers up to 10 hours of childcare for a $10 per day employee copay.

Rachel Seigel, The Washington Post

Brother From Another Mother

DNA testing has become so common that customer service hotlines operated by the genealogy companies are now fielding calls from concerned customers who learned something a little too exciting on their routine sequencing. The unit to measure genetic linkage is called a centimorgan; siblings share 2,600 centimorgans of DNA while half siblings share 1,800. So when customers call up inquiring, say, “why does my brother share only 1,800 centimorgans” or “should my son share more than 0 centimorgans with me?” and other questions previously left to the family courts or the Maury show, representatives are now trained on how to be empathetic for someone whose entire sense of self was upended with a cheek swab.

Kristen V Brown, Bloomberg

Broken Trains

An entire chunk of the New York City subway fleet was neutered in the ‘90s to reduce their ability to move faster than 33 miles per hour. After the 1995 Williamsburg Bridge crash, the MTA permanently disabled every train’s ability to enter “Express” mode, which allows top speeds of 55 miles per hour. New trains have the express feature automatically, but still 2,800 trains, or 42 percent of the fleet, are capped. This, plus the 13 percent of signal timers that don’t work properly, have conspired to make operators mistrust the very system that tells them where to go, and thus remain slow out of caution. I wonder if “I was in an R42 this morning, not an R160” will fly as an excuse for running late. Someone try it and report back.

Aaron Gordon, Curbed

Not Uber

Lyft has about 28 percent of the U.S. rideshare market. While Uber has concentrated on expanding globally and trying to save its shattered reputation among drivers and passengers, its main rival has been gobbling up marketshare with the unique branding strategy of not being Uber and being a pleasant experience to interact with. That 28 percent is twice their share in early 2016, so something is working.

Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg

Jocks Trusting Nerds

The NFL is undergoing an analytics renaissance, with all the teams sharing player position data and using it to tweak the game. It’s already having an effect: a key idea in baseball analytics was that no team should give up outs, say, by sacrifice bunting, as there is a finite amount of outs for each team in each game and thus, they should not give away a resource that valuable. That logic made its way to football in the form of “stop punting all the time.” Given teams average between 10 to 13 drives, they’re trying to extend those at considerable risk. The fourth down conversion rate stands at 60 percent, but teams with rates above 70 percent tend to be really good — five of six are playoff locks — and the Chiefs convert 90.9 percent of fourth downs.

Kevin Clark, The Ringer


Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment in 2019 ended with about 8.5 million people getting insured through the exchanges on, slightly down from 8.8 million people. Those are strikingly resilient numbers for a program that went essentially unadvertised by an administration whose goals have been to undermine Obamacare., Max Nisen

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Previous Sunday special editions: 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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