Numlock News: January 21, 2020 • Marine Highway, Studio Ghibli, Tires

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Did Little

Dolittle, a film that stars most of the famous people on the planet, including arguably the most successful movie star of the past decade, bombed at the box office this weekend, with the Robert Downey Jr. movie making just $29.5 million over the course of the four-day frame. For perspective, the $21.9 million Dolittle made over the proper weekend, without the extra holiday, is less than the opening of Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Dolittle in 1998, even without adjusting for inflation. Though the movie made $30.3 million overseas, it’s still an enormous longshot to recoup its $175 million budget, which is an absolutely insane amount of money to spend on a movie involving those acting decisions.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Machine Making Machine

ASML Holding NV is one of the most important companies you’ve never heard of. Inside any electronic device you own are semiconductors. Those semiconductors are made by a special machine. ASML makes those machines. If technology is a gold rush, ASML manufactures tools to build pickaxes. Based in the Netherlands, it’s one of the top three tech companies in Europe and supplies to companies like Intel, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor. The big advance they have that nobody else does is that ASML has mastered “extreme ultraviolet lithography,” which is the tech that’s going to make the next generation of chips. China imports semiconductors to the tune of $200 billion per year, but greatly wants to be able to make them in-house, and one Chinese company — believed to be Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp — wants to buy and import one of ASML's $150 million EUV semiconductor machines. Under U.S. pressure, the Dutch have blocked the export of that machine to China, setting the stage for a high-stakes diplomatic negotiation.

Alex Webb, Bloomberg


A 50-year experiment in Cocos Lagoon in Guam has been called a failure, as an enormous pile of tires dumped in the lagoon has failed to become a reef and is, in fact, just a big pile of filthy trash. Beginning in 1969, two artificial habitats were put into the lagoon, one made of 350 tires and the other made of 2,482 tires. The project was discontinued in 1973, and now the government has finally received a grant to clean up the tires. Also, heads up, they forgot where the smaller tire pile is and will have to locate it, they checked twice.

Jasmine Stole Weiss, Pacific Daily News


Several months ago, Warner Media announced a coup, that their forthcoming HBO Max streaming service had secured the rights to the Studio Ghibli library of iconic Japanese animated films. It looked like Netflix had lost out on a library once believed to be unobtainable, given the studio’s reticence to make their works available for streaming. Turns out they had eyes on a less flashy but substantively bigger prize: streaming rights for the movies in all the countries that are not Japan, the U.S. and Canada, which I’ll have you know is most of them. Netflix scored the rights to 21 Ghibli features, which will be streamed in Japanese with subs — as God intended — as soon as February. It’ll also be the first time that the films will be translated into several new languages, with 28 subtitle tracks and 20 language dubs. This underscores a little-discussed advantage of Netflix, which is they’re now mainly focused overseas having secured a domestic foothold.

Hailey Waller, Bloomberg and Patrick Frater, Variety


Shorts are bets that a company’s stock will lose value, and when a company does have investors betting against them, normally it’s only about 3 percent to 8 percent of their company’s stock at any given time being shorted. Tesla, the electric car manufacturer started by Elon Musk, is not normal. At the start of 2020, more than 20 percent of Tesla’s stock was being shorted, and as of mid-January it’s the most shorted stock on the U.S. market. Those skeptical of Tesla see some headwinds — the company has been somewhat inconsistent when it comes to making the desired number of cars, and green vehicles have benefited from subsidies that will expire — but also have had to take some serious financial hits in the course of their bets, as since 2016 Tesla short sellers are down $11.1 billion, $2.6 billion which was incurred in the first two weeks of 2020.

Camila Domonoske, NPR

Cool It

In 1869, a doctor analyzed a million temperature readings from 25,000 patients to determine that the human body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Everyone basically knows this statistic. This statistic is also wrong, but it is not necessarily Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich’s fault. A new study tracked temperature measurement records since that initial study, aggregating 677,423 temperatures from 189,338 people over 157 years, all to find out the average human body temperature is now 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit. My personal suspicion — Wunderlich accidently included the Heat Miser in his sample, thus skewing the average — is almost certainly wrong, but the researchers’ working idea is that temperature is a proxy for metabolic rate, which may have slowly changed for any number of societal reasons like weight gain or higher lifespans.

Jo Craven McGinty, The Wall Street Journal


The Alaska Marine Highway System is a fleet of ferries created in 1963 that connects the state, running along 3,500 miles of coastline from Bellingham, Washington to Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian archipelago, connecting 35 cities and communities. The issue is that while governments can get away with underfunding highways — it’s not great but it happens constantly and they don’t go anywhere — underfunding the AMHS functionally eliminates it. In 2019, Alaska’s governor proposed a 75 percent funding cut, slashing the state’s contribution from $86 million to $21.8 million, which would shut it down from October to the end of June. They backed down then — they still only coughed in $48 million — but in late 2019, officials cut service to small communities and eliminated some routes, leading some affected to worry about the future of their communities. The AMHS Reform Initiative calculated that every dollar of state money budgeted to the AMHS generated $2.30 in economic activity.

Marc Fawcett-Atkinson, High Country News

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