Numlock News: June 19, 2020 • Earthquakes, Fireworks, Royals

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Royals

As part of a temporary rule put in place to cut costs, Major League Baseball teams could offer a maximum bonus of $20,000 to new undrafted minor league players they sign into their farm system. As a result, teams have had to compete on intangibles, things like a good work environment or loyalty to their employees. One team in particular was effective at this, the Kansas City Royals, who have signed five undrafted players in the top 500 draft prospect rankings according to Baseball America. No other team has signed more than three. The reason for their success? While lots of other teams said they were loyal to their minor leaguers, those teams by and large also released tons of players the minute the going got tough, and then got cheap on the ones they kept around. Only the Royals and the Minnesota Twins said they would keep every prospect, and they’re being rewarded for it, because $20,000 looks a lot nicer from a team that didn’t can half of your teammates the instant the situation got sticky.

Jared Diamond, The Wall Street Journal

We Are Riders On A Mission

According to Rollerblade, which manufactures roller skates, sales of roller skates are up more than 300 percent over normal levels, and May was their largest shipping month in the United States in 20 years. A summer where urbanites may reconsider packing into a cab or a train for a reasonably short trip, or just one in which a suburban block will have to be a source of entertainment rather than a camp, means that it’s time for the great comeback of Rollerblades we all sensed was on the horizon. Sales of Rollerblades peaked in 1998, but as mere Heelys won’t suffice in this era, the blades are back my friends. You guys keep following the trends, you’ve got to skate where the puck is going to be: I’m just going to pick up some cross-country skis now to beat the run on them come November.

Rachel Wolfe, The Wall Street Journal

There’s A Spark In You

After months of reduced social contact many people feel like a plastic bag, drifting through the wind, wanting to start again. They have to ignite the light, and let it shine, own the night and set off a crapload of illegal fireworks in the middle of densely populated urban areas. This is happening everywhere: Boston recorded 1,445 firework complaints in the first week of June compared to 22 the same week of 2019. New York City’s 311 data notched a 920 percent year-over-year increase in firework complaints in May, and the general reports from the assorted metropolises are, “yeah, lotta fireworks this year.” Phantom Fireworks, which is responsible for getting these excellent explosives into the hands of the public, said sales are up 15 percent across the country.

Jeff Friedrich, Slate

Earthquakes

Starting in 2016 and continuing for three and a half years, seismologists observed a cluster of 22,698 temblors — tiny little earthquakes — in Southern California, the cause of which was distressingly unknown. The good news is they may have an answer: by following the progression of the quakes, California Institute of Technology researchers were able to determine that the quakes were probably triggered by fluids being injected into the fault system through natural means, possibly water or liquid carbon dioxide under the fault structure that then lubricated the cracks. Earthquake swarms are an enigma, so the new research could help figure out why they happen.

Maya Wei-Haas, National Geographic

Music

Twitch, the site that’s built its empire on video game streaming, has seen an outgrowth of non-gaming content succeed in the past several weeks. Among these was music: in May, users spent 27 million hours watching live music and performing arts on Twitch, which was five times the total in January. Music has muscled its way into the top 15 genres on the site as well, most of which are games. Some acts can use this as a solid revenue stream, with many pulling in over $100,000 per year through a mix of ad revenue and donations.

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

Brain

Researchers sought to find out what happens in the mind when a limb is encased in a fiberglass cast, and the answer is surprising: the brain writes off that immobilized limb basically immediately, with the parts of the brain that control the immobilized arm disconnecting from the motor system within 48 hours. The brain basically adopts a “ignore it for now, but get ready to reconnect if something changes” system, reacting quickly to the body during illness, injury or wellness, according to the study. This is promising because it suggests that it’s possible to reverse brain changes that result from limb disuse after a brain injury or stroke.

Jon Hamilton, NPR

Artists

Live Nation, a concert promoter, has sent a memo to agents indicating that when touring resumes in 2021, they plan to unload most of the financial risk on to the artists and agencies. This will impact most major tours and festivals, and the numbers look terrible for touring musicians: the company intends to decrease guarantees to artists by 20 percent, and to give artists 25 percent of the guarantee (instead of 100 percent now) if a concert is cancelled due to poor ticket sales. Moreover, if an artist cancels a performance in breach of contract — say, if their definition of “safe” differs from the venue or promoter’s definition of “safe” — they’d now owe double the artist fee. It also says that in event of a force majeure — like a pandemic — the promoter won’t pay the fee and the artist has to get cancellation insurance themselves. This is best read as an opening salvo in what will be an ongoing fight between artists and Live Nation.

Jem Aswad, Variety

Last week, the Numlock Sunday was with the wonderful Karen Hao of MIT Technology Review, who writes an excellent newsletter called The Algorithm that’s definitely worth checking out. You can read the full interview — about the intersection of technology and policing — here.

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