Numlock News: December 4, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Too Much Tuna

Millennials are killing the canned tuna business, according to the poor schmuck tasked with marketing canned tuna. Canned tuna consumption dropped 42 percent in the past 30 years, which as a 28-year-old millennial I have to mention doesn’t feel like entirely my fault. The vice president of marketing and innovation for Starkist put on his straightest possible face and told The Wall Street Journal that his product was floundering because "a lot of millennials don't even own can openers," which I must applaud as an innovative theory. The notion that we don’t own can openers is ridiculous, what else would we use to open our many bills now that we’ve already killed Big Letter Opener? But more to the point — and I’m no fancy big-city canned fish executive, but do hear me out — just perhaps the years-long price fixing collusion scandal between the three firms that control the entire canned tuna business that resulted in tens of millions of dollars in fines for their anti-competitive and anti-consumer felony price gouging has a bit more to do with it? Or it could be the can opener theory, who am I to say.

Amelia Lucas, CNBC


MoviePass is a company that lets subscribers see several movies per month for a flat $10ish fee. Over the summer, MoviePass realized that in its quest for subscribers, it had accidentally pioneered an excellent way to turn a NASDAQ-listed company into a penny stock, one A Quiet Place screening at a time. But while I won’t be so bold as to say that MoviePass is once again on a path to prosperity, the remains of the firm have managed to reduce the bleeding. Last spring, the average MoviePass user was seeing 2.23 movies per month. Today, that’s down to 0.77 movies per month, which if you squint really hard looks like an — if not viable — at least not laughable business plan.

Jessica Rawden, CinemaBlend

So Do I Put It In The Blue Bin Or What

China will stop importing waste from other countries, a move which will be really rough for U.S. recycling plants already operating at capacity. They have announced 32 types of recyclables and scrap metal that will no longer be welcome, 16 of which — take your compressed automobile metals, for instance — are banned from import starting the end of the month, and the other 16 of which will be banned the end of next year. China has been a dumping ground for recyclable waste for decades now, and understandably is kind of over that business, but domestic recyclers are worried about a crisis in the making.

Brian Sozzi, Yahoo Finance

North Carolina’s 9th

A bipartisan state board of elections shocked the state by voting unanimously to delay certifying the results of the congressional election in North Carolina’s 9th District over credible claims of fraudulent activities and irregularities. They further voted 7-2 to hold a public hearing to investigate the claims, the gist of which is that several voters have sworn statements that people came to their doors and insisted they hand over their incomplete absentee ballots. In generally Democratic Bladen and Robeson counties, about 3,400 absentee ballots were not mailed back, which is 40 percent and 64 percent of all their absentee ballots, respectively. That’s really weird: the return rate is usually 80 or 90 percent. Coupled with the sworn statements, the board wants to get to the bottom of what happened in an election currently separated by 905 votes of about 280,000 cast.

Sasha Ingber, NPR

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In the absence of any truly serious policy move to combat climate change, researchers are doing preliminary studies of riskier, more audacious ways to stymie the rise in global temperatures. Man-made global warming has heated the planet by about 1 degree Celsius so far. Meanwhile, large volcanic events like the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo caused — in the short term — a reduction of Northern Hemisphere temperatures by 0.6 degrees Celsius. Now even contemplating a volcano-based solution to this man-made problem is ridiculous at this point, but having seen the documentary Armageddon I can appreciate the appeal of humanity having an ace up its sleeve. That’s motivating a $3 million preliminary test to make sure geoengineering wouldn’t have extreme and instantaneously negative effects by measuring how calcium carbonate behaves in the atmosphere.

Dylan Matthews, Vox

Stacked Rocks

Hikers, campers, and amateur photographers love stacking rocks on top of each other and taking a pretty picture for the internet. You know who distinctly does not love that? National park staffs who have to deal with the vandalism and the alarmed environmentalists who worry about the erosion and damage to ecosystems caused by the builders. In 2016 and 2017, volunteers in Acadia National Park destroyed approximately 3,500 rock stacks on two mountains alone. Take only pictures, leave only foot prints, and if you see an Instagram pic of stacked rocks, take heart in the fact that the poster can’t be in it because they look like a bug-bitten dehydrated Hobbit after hauling a bunch of rocks up a freakin’ mountain for #aesthetics.

Sophie Haigney, The New Yorker

Robocop, But TSA Instead of Detroit PD

A new DHS program gives foreign airports software that uses machine learning to identify potential bad guys. That sentence was weaponized in a government laboratory to give a small panic attack to anyone who knows how janky machine learning can truly be. The software uses inputs like ticket data, demographics and “origin airport, name, birthday, gender, and citizenship,” which is all the information I need to know to personally guarantee that is software is probably just super racist. Any kind of watchlist tends to overdo it out of an (understandable) deference towards caution, but in doing so makes it hard for any such list to be remotely useful: in 2014 the U.S. Terrorist Screening Database had about 680,000 entries, including 280,000 people who had no recognized terrorist group affiliation.

Sam Biddle, The Intercept

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