Numlock News: July 25, 2019 • Weed Edibles, Scooters, Bridge

By Walt Hickey

Dockless

Bird, Lime, and the other dockless scooter companies have unleashed an entire cavalry of untrained novice scooter riders on city sidewalks and bike lanes, successfully disrupting the transportation ecosystems of many municipalities. But when it comes to disruption, there are much older, far more powerful forces at play, businesses that can disrupt a thousand lives in the time it took a San Franciscan to put a GPS tracker on a scooter. I’m speaking, of course, of towing companies, one of which is mounting a fairly profitable campaign impounding scooters that were ditched on various people’s property in or around San Diego. After getting a call from a business owner and impounding the device, ScootScoop charges a fairly reasonable $30 per pick up and a further $2 per day impound fee. Bird at first played ball, paying $40,000 to cover towing fees on the 1,800 scooters impounded from July through November 2018. Since then things have gotten slightly more litigious, but in mid-July the company impounded their 10,360th scooter, so business is booming.

Amy Martyn, The Verge

Firefighters

The Department of the Interior — which wasn’t able to train firefighters in December and January of this year due to a government shutdown — has a firefighting staff of only 4,500, down from about 5,000 firefighters last year. Due in part to low unemployment and the demanding nature of the work, it’s hard to find willing firefighters to counter the wildfires that hit the Western U.S. annually. Though this can change rapidly, there have been 24,000 fires over 2.5 million acres this year, which is way down from the 35,000 fires over 3.5 million acres observed on average by this date over the past decade.

Maxine Speier, Pacific Standard

Quebec

Though Canada as a whole will legalize and regulate the sale of edible cannabis products, the government of Quebec is taking further steps to regulate the market, capping the per-package THC dose at 10 milligrams and the per-serving dose at 5 milligrams. More significantly, Quebec will forbid the sale of cannabis-infused candies, desserts and other confections owing to the fact that these are appealing to minors and also a great way to chow down on way too much cannabutter. Though not the original intent, it will also go a long way to preserve the historical integrity of the iconic pot brownie, namely that it tastes real bad, and also that baking them at home results in a confusing amount of butter that will just live in a Poland Spring bottle in your fridge for several weeks after.

Presse Canadienne, Montreal Gazette

Beans

A 42-ton truck loaded with 49,820 pounds of dry beans destroyed a historic bridge in North Dakota that was rated for 14 tons of gross weight. The estimate is that it’ll cost between $800,000 to $1 million to replace the bridge, which was built in 1906 and prior to being destroyed by a truck once spanned 56 feet over the Goose River. The driver received an $11,400 overload citation.

Phil Helsel, NBC News

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Anonymized

Researchers used a machine-learning model to estimate how easy it would be to identify people based on anonymized data. Given zip code, gender, and date of birth alone — just three records — an American can be correctly located in an anonymized database about 81 percent of the time. That varies a bit ZIP code to ZIP code, but the crux of the matter is that a lot of the data that is stripped of personally identifiable information is still plenty revealing for someone trying to match records to the people the data describes.

Charlotte Jee, MIT Technology Review

Carbon-Free

The cost of transitioning the U.S. electrical grid to an entirely-carbon-free system is pricey, but not as pricey as originally understood according to a new working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Once you factor in the savings from replacing fossil fuels, the cost of re-doing the grid to be carbon free is about $150 billion annually. But then when you factor in the reality that the U.S. energy generation grid is old as sin and in dire need of upgrade to begin with, that figure actually drops to just an additional $23 billion annually to replace outgoing capacity that already needed to be replaced with upgraded renewables.

Geoffrey Heal, NBER

500 for 500

Copart Inc, the last remaining company in the S&P 500 without a single woman serving on its board of directors, appointed Diane Morefield to its board this week. Right now, 11 percent of the S&P 500 companies have a single woman on their board, 36 percent have two, 33 percent have just three and 14 percent have four. Only 6 percent of companies have more than five women on their boards. While the vast majority of companies got with the times about 20 years ago — 86 percent of companies had a woman on their board in 2000 — that last 14 percent really dragged their feet.

Emily Chasan, Bloomberg


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