Numlock News: January 23, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Oscar nominations are out: Check out my coverage in the Numlock Awards Supplement for predictions, Oscar math and more!


In the latest ludicrous disgrace in food marketing, you should be prepared for a surge in “pig wings.” About 5 million to 7 million pounds of pig wings sell annually. I don’t feel like I really need to say this out loud, but here we are: pigs to some notoriety do not possess the capacity for flight, and thus are bereft of wing tissue. This has not stopped the flim-flam charlatans of the American food system from attempting to bamboozle our society into ordering small nuggets of sauced pork shanks as “pork wings.” Retail pork prices are down 17 percent since 2014, making these an attractive sales item for restaurants that don’t have integrity and also probably sell desiccated fried white meat as “boneless wings.” What’s next? What new depths of perfidy will the Pizza Hut and Hooters descend to just to move fried stuff? Why not call a french fry a “potato wing”? A jalapeno popper can be a “dragon wing” because apparently there are just no more rules in society anymore. Is funnel cake merely just “dough wings” now? Who gives a damn, let’s see what we can get away with. Fish and chips is now just “ocean wings with potato wings.” I dare you to call the cops on me.

Leslie Patton and Lydia Mulvany, Bloomberg

Mona Lisa

The Mona Lisa Effect is the well-documented effect of perception where an artwork’s eyes appear to follow the viewer as they move. It’s eminently weird, but also a real phenomenon, mainly because eyes are not perfect seeing machines, they’re just blobs that are mostly improvising as they go along and brains are even worse at that. But here’s the thing: according to new research, while the Mona Lisa Effect exists, it does not actually occur with the Mona Lisa itself. The study took 24 subjects and took 2,000 observations of them looking at the Mona Lisa from different angles and zooms. The angle of her gaze was estimated to be 15.4° to the right side regardless of test conditions, while it would need to be within 5° to 10° for the Mona Lisa Effect to actually happen.

Rhett Jones, Gizmodo

United Airlines? Screwing Up? No!

A banner produced by United Airlines was leaked, and claims that Apple is their largest global customer, spending $150 million annually with the airline, with $35 million sending Apple employees between San Francisco and Shanghai Pudong airports alone. That’s 50 business class seats per day. Big companies really hate having this kind of information leaked, but it’s honestly a fascinating look at the scale some of these global companies operate at.

Benjamin Mayo, 9to5Mac


Three sound engineers are working with four musicians playing four priceless string instruments from the Museo del Violino to make a database of all the possible sounds they can make. This requires the entire city of Cremona, Italy to hush up, as even street noise can interfere with the 32 ultra-sensitive microphones used to gather the hundreds of scales and arpeggios being recorded over the course of eight hour days, six days a week for more than a month. The reason for the frantic fiddling is that these 500-year-old instruments were made by Antonio Stradivari, Amati and Guarneri del Gesù, and it’s impossible to recreate their unique tones. They’re inevitably doomed to break down and the project would like to make it possible for future generations in a post-Stradivarius world to make music from what the project leaves behind. A similar project, I assume, is being held right here in Queens, where they stop running the subway at random times so engineers at the old Steinway piano factory can record the sounds of pricel— oh, that’s not the case? The subway just sucks? Got it.

Max Paradiso, The New York Times


If you want to estimate the age of a gray whale, the best way to do so is to open up its carcass and count the number of scars on its ovaries. The second best way is to pull out its earwax plugs, dissect them and count the layers like tree rings. Neither of these options is a particularly thrilling experience for the whale. Still, until now that’s basically been the entire of menu of options for ascertaining whether a whale can, as the joke goes, walk into a bar. Modern research from Selina Agbayani at the University of British Columbia produced new estimates based on 903 records from the old commercial whaling days. Now we know a newborn whale is 4.6 meters long and weighs a tonne, then grows to 8.4 meters and 5.7 tonnes by 9.5 months, then 17 tonnes by 10 years and 19 tonnes by 15 years. At 40, males hit 19.8 tonnes and females hit 20.7 tonnes. The new understanding of this curve is mostly good news for whales, which can now get over their universal fear of oceanographers bearing Q-Tips.

Larry Pynn, Hakai Magazine

This past Sunday edition was with Maggie Koerth-Baker about personality tests like the Big Five. We talk about how extroverts and introverts don’t exist and how personality testing can get scientific. Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

How Does That Make You Feel?

In 2017, the world spent $2.2 billion on focus groups, or small sample-size, intense sessions where consumers are interviewed by researchers about their brand preferences and associations. The undisputed leader is the U.S., where $809 million is spent on focus groups. At their core, these are transactional exercises: you pay me $100, I absolutely say I’m interested in purchasing a vehicle in the next six months, you get your numbers and get to charge your client around $10,000 per session and everyone is happy about our conceptual brain session. Especially, of course, the “professional respondents” who try to book as many focus groups as possible, because $100 per shift seriously can pay off.

Joseph Stromberg, Vox


DJI makes consumer drones for the world, posting revenue of 18 billion yuan in 2017, 80 percent of which came from outside China. If you’ve experienced a delay in your flight because some goon was messing around with his new toy in restricted airspace, let’s just say there’s a good chance that chunk of crap was a DJI drone. They’re the industry leader, and incidentally just announced a sweeping corruption overhaul that led to 45 people in research and development and procurement being sacked. They’re investigating staff for inflating the cost of parts on a scale so large it led to 1 billion yuan losses ($147.03 million ) in 2018. So, just to be clear, it’s not clear that any human involved in the consumer drone production line is actually having a good time.

Josh Horwitz, Reuters

Five-Star Workplaces

The number of reviews of 8,500 companies on Glassdoor is suspiciously rising. In January of 2013, 17.4 percent of reviews were 5-stars. Those have risen steadily: 20.1 percent by Jan. 2015, 24.1 percent by Jan. 2017, and as of Nov. 2018, 29.4 percent of reviews were 5-stars. Part of the reason is employers can push employees towards leaving positive reviews in an attempt to manipulate scores ever higher. Indeed, the Journal’s analysis found over 400 companies posted unusually substantial single-month increases in reviews that can’t be explained by a particularly boozy office holiday party. As usual, never ever trust online ratings ever.

Rolfe Winkler and Andrea Fuller, The Wall Street Journal

Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Personality Testing ·  China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  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