Numlock News: January 17, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Unemployed Robots

The Henn na Hotel in Japan opened to wide amounts of publicity in 2015 as a facility staffed entirely by robots. It turns out they were a bit too ahead of the curve here and have just discovered that no, a Roomba is not one bow tie away from being a concierge. Of the 243 robots it utilized to staff the hotel, it has since culled half of them. One in-room assistant bot was less “Alexa” and more “Furby” on the intellectual yardstick, and two robot luggage carriers are out of the job after only being capable of reaching a quarter of the rooms in the hotel.

Alastair Gale and Takashi Mochizuki, The Wall Street Journal


Seattle has — for the third year in a row — the most cranes of any city in America, with 59 construction cranes across the skyline. That’s down slightly from 65 six months ago, but still way more than the runner-up, Los Angeles, which has 44 active cranes. Seattle’s gotten pretty improvisational infrastructure-wise lately and recently unleashed “viadoom” on commuters when it permanently shut down the Alaskan Way Viaduct ahead of the opening of a new tunnel into the city. This still means a few weeks of major traffic, a fact I’m aware of because about a dozen readers from Seattle made sure I knew New York was not the only city currently flirting with assorted transit doomsday scenarios.

Mike Rosenberg, Seattle Times

Free TV

Basic cable is free — with a one-time purchase of an inexpensive antenna anyone can typically get network television. This is still dawning on a generation raised on subscription services, but according to Nielsen people are coming around on the bargain: the number of households that use a digital antenna has jumped almost 50 percent in the past eight years to hit 16 million homes. All told, 14 percent of households are watching over-the-air television. These can be split into two groups: one, about 6.6 million homes, is comprised of older viewers (median age of 55) from households with smaller median incomes, and the other, about 9.4 million homes, is younger (median age 36), more affluent and also has a subscription to a streaming service. One time my grown friends did not know how to watch The Bachelor, so I just had Amazon ship cheap antennas to their apartments, and now I have people to text about Colton’s journey, so everyone won.

Sarah Perez, TechCrunch

lo-fi hip hop radio - beats to panic/starve to

Several ways that Spotify pays out funds to artists puts smaller musicians in the position of losing out money based on the success of others. It’s not so simple as when you listen to an artist, they get your streaming money: essentially, the subscription money is dumped into a pool and then allocated based on aggregate play counts. So if one person has a massive month, yes they make money, but they do so at the expense of every other artist on the platform. The average user streams 25 hours of content per month, but if you stream less than that basically you’re generating less money for the artists you listen to most frequently. Right now, the top 0.4 tracks get 10 percent of royalty revenue. Moving from the pay-per-stream model to a pay-per-user model would mean those tracks get 5.6 percent of revenue. The pay-per-user model is the one where the artist share of my monthly payment would go to those I listen to most, so basically My Chemical Romance, The Mountain Goats, and that guy who wrote the YURI!!! On ICE theme song.

Victor Luckerson, The Ringer

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Atom Smasher

Cern, the particle research center in Geneva that operates the Large Hadron Collider that finally observed the Higgs Boson, is pitching — you guessed it — an even larger particle accelerator. The £20 billion proposed successor to the LHC would be up and running and smashing away at those atoms by 2050. The future circular collider — termed by the finest minds in particle physics as the FCC, or, uh, Future Circular Collider — would involve a new tunnel under Cern 100 kilometers in diameter (compared to the paltry 27 kilometer LHC) with ten times the power of the current system. Stage one would be to collide electrons with positrons, then in stage two they would collide protons with electrons, stage three would be the real goal of colliding protons with protons, and presumably stage four would be to propose an even bigger hadron collider.

Pallab Ghosh, BBC

Everyone Loves A Landlord

Adam Neumann is the CEO of WeWork, a real estate startup recently valued at $47 billion. Their core business involves leasing large spaces from buildings in techie cities and then renting and managing office space within those buildings to other companies. But, as if getting into the lucrative business of being landlord subletters wasn’t enough, it turns out Neumann has been running a lucrative side hustle buying stakes in buildings and then leasing those back to WeWork, creating an instantaneous payday worth millions. From 2016 to 2017, WeWork said it paid $12 million in rent to buildings owned in part by officers of the company and would pay out $110 million over the course of life of the leases.

Eliot Brown, The Wall Street Journal

Shiver Me Timbers

River piracy is a rare event where a river stops existing because conditions at the source of the body of water divert the flow to a different river. This happened in May of 2016, when the Slims River dried up because the Kaskawulsh Glacier retreated so substantially that its meltwater instead broke east rather than towards the Slims. Now all that’s left is the Slims mudflat, and research published in Nature Geoscience points the finger definitively to climate change, calculating a mere 0.5 percent chance that the piracy would have occurred naturally without the glacial retreat.

Eva Holland, Pacific Standard

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