Numlock News: July 9, 2021 • Free Samples, Ingenuity, Black Widow

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Food

Each year, the average American family throws away $1,365 to $2,275 worth of food, and while certainly lots of that is milk that turned or spinach that is no longer corporeal after a week too long in the crisper, a lot of that waste is driven by expiration dates. However, the thing about expiration dates and “best by” dates is that they’re fundamentally invented estimates, and the requirements vary state by state. Some states say milk labels are good for 21 days after bottling, others 14 days, and some states don’t have rules at all and leave it up to manufacturers. A 2013 Harvard study found that a federal standardization of expiration dates would provide an economic value of $1.8 billion a year, with 398,000 tons of unnecessarily wasted food diverted into mouths.

Alissa Wilkinson, Vox

Ingenuity

The Ingenuity helicopter deployed by the Perseverance Mars rover has made its ninth flight so far, a daring 166.4 second jaunt that sent it flying at 5 meters per second, covering a distance of around 625 meters on the red planet. That’s a big increase from the 3-meter hover the copter managed on its first flight in mid-April. The flights, while a little riskier, have their advantages: the distance traveled in this past flight alone is more than the Spirit rover managed to travel over its initial 90-day mission, and allows Perseverance to get imagery of a region that’s impassable thanks to sandy ripples.

Eric Berger, Ars Technica

Religion

A new survey of 50,334 Americans over the course of 2020 tracked how religion in the United States has continued to change over recent years. According to the survey, 36 percent of those 18 to 29 years old considered themselves unaffiliated with a religion, substantially higher than the 23 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds who considered themselves as much in 2006, and the 10 percent who were unaffiliated in 1986. That’s also double the rate of religiously unaffiliated compared to those aged 50 to 64. Still, a majority — 54 percent — of those 18 to 29 are Christians, though that’s down from the 70 percent of all Americans.

Public Religion Research Institute

Back To School

According to Deloitte, spending on back to school will reach $32.5 billion this year, which would be up 17 percent from 2019 and up 16 percent from 2020. It would be the biggest back-to-school season in at least five years, with a proper physical return to school leading to a larger outlay than typical. Another forecast from Customer Growth Partners pegs the total growth at 16 percent as well, but with a 46 percent increase in sales of apparel and accessories.

Jordyn Holman and Gerald Porter Jr., Bloomberg

Black Widow

Black Widow could make $80 million this weekend at the North American box office this weekend, which would beat out the record set by F9 just two weeks ago for the best pandemic-era box office. Complicating that is that F9 bet it all on the box office, while Black Widow is getting the day-and-date treatment, coming out simultaneously on Disney+ for $30. All told, Disney’s reportedly hoping for a $120 million global opening.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Free Samples

After exiting the aisles, free samples are once again back on the menu. According to NPD Group Inc., free samples convert people into buyers at a rate 20 percent higher than when consumers aren’t allowed to get a little taste of the product before buying. That jumps to 30 percent when the product is a beauty product. While some are just tip-toeing back into free sampling — Walmart’s just serving pre-sealed samples, Sam’s Club is only doing it on the weekend, and Target’s allowing self-service only — there’s demand for it on both sides of the aisle so to speak, and given that food has not been a route for the spread of the virus, it’s time to dust off the Dixie cups and sharpen the toothpicks. Still, I will say that I was once a broke college student and “unsupervised free samples” may not be the winner these stores are looking for.

Anne D’Innocenzio, The Associated Press

Education

China’s hyper-competitive education system, in which students must succeed on the gaokao exam in order to obtain academic placements that will affect the course of their lives, has seen huge growth in third-party companies catering to parents trying to get their kids an edge. In 2020, China’s online educational market was estimated to be 260 billion yuan ($40 billion), and the overall tutoring market was estimated to be worth north of $100 billion. In March, the government cracked down on school tutoring, and the industry’s anticipating restrictions on tutoring for K-12 students. As a result, the after-school tutoring industry is projected by some to shrink 30 percent.

Nicole Jao, Quartz

This past Sunday, I spoke to John Jackson Miller, author and the mind behind the Comichron database. This week, he published the annual state of the comic industry report with ICV2. We spoke about what happened last year in the comic book business, why Blackstone bought a comic book appraiser, and why last year wasn’t the doom for smaller shops that many had feared. Check it out!

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