Numlock News: March 13, 2020 • Leaks, Bidets, Cretaceous Days

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


Japanese toilet manufacturer Toto is trying to convince Americans to invest in pricey bidets, and I say we hear them out. The company had 22 percent of its 2018 sales overseas, which is considerably higher than the 8 percent of sales in 2001. That’s important because as new home construction in Japan slows with an aging population, sales are pretty flat. In 2018 Toto moved ¥425 billion ($4 billion) worth of commodes, though operating profits were down to ¥24.4 billion from ¥28.6 billion the year before. They had been targeting the upper income bracket in China, but a housing slowdown meant less to go around. U.S. sales were $283 million in 2018, vastly higher than the $29.2 million of European sales, but while getting bidets into American houses could do wonders for that profit, it also means convincing the people, who use 141 toilet paper rolls per capita per year.

John Gapper and Rurika Imahashi, Nikkei Asian Review


The FCC will spend $16 billion over the next 10 years in an attempt to improve internet service in rural areas. The usual suspects will bid in the auction in October, but the people represented by both the Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are lobbying against a new contender for the subsidies: SpaceX, which has been depositing Starlink satellites into orbit, and wants a bite at the apple. SpaceX is pushing for a policy change that will let it qualify for a piece of the funding, while the rural phone companies say that granting public money to SpaceX is a gamble given it doesn’t have a record in the industry.

Ryan Tracy and Brody Mullins, The Wall Street Journal

Shell Game

A new study analyzing fossilized mollusks has helped determine the precise length of the day in the late Cretaceous period. Though the years have been the same length, we’ve known that earth used to spin faster than it does today, which means more days in a year. The study published in the journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology found that a day lasted just 23.5 hours in the late Cretaceous period, 70 million years ago, meaning there were 372 days in a year. I’ve always known Jurassic Park had some problems, but with a half hour gone every day who can blame them for falling behind on that security system.

Liza Lester, American Geophysical Union


A new report casts serious doubt on the future of Australia’s $26 billion coal export industry, namely that solar and wind power is cheaper than electricity from 60 percent of global coal stations, including half of Australian coal plants and 70 percent of China’s stations. Wind power is already cheaper than new coal plants in Japan — where half of Australian coal exports go — and will be cheaper than existing coal by 2028. Solar power in Japan will be a better option than new coal by 2023 and existing plants by 2026. China and South Korea both get about 15 percent of Australian coal, and South Korea is two years away from renewables beating existing coal. China’s going to get there this year.

Adam Morton The Guardian


In 1968, the top 20 percent of U.S. households made 43 percent of all income, a figure that in 2018 stands at 52 percent. One reason the rich have stayed wealthy is that they’re increasingly marrying other rich people. In 1960, 0.4 percent of married couples both made the top 20 percent of income for someone their age. Naturally, the increase in this number may have something to do with women entering the workforce, but the percentage of wealthy people marrying other wealthy people is far above expectation: in 2018, 7.4 percent of couples were dual top earners in their demographic, though if couples married randomly it would be just 4 percent.

Dan Kopf, Quartz


A federal judge rejected a plan that would lay down 164 miles of road and log 67 square miles of trees over the next 15 years from a 1.8 million acre area in the Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska, what would have been the largest timber sale from a national forest in three decades. The move was opposed by hunters and conservation groups, and the judge ruled the approval violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

National Audobon Society


In 2015, Comcast agreed to pay $33 million after it inappropriately disclosed 75,000 unlisted phone numbers over a two-year period, despite the customers paying to keep their numbers unlisted. Turns out that the slap on the wrist didn’t do the job, and last week it was reported that 2 percent of Comcast’s 9.9 million voice customers had their personal information shared on the company’s online directory, although they were paying upwards of $3.50 monthly to keep their numbers unlisted. After finding the error, the 200,000 customers who had their names, phone numbers and addresses placed on Ecolisting were given $100 credits.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Have a great weekend. Much like Numlock handles national politics, I’m going to try to continue to cover the stories that aren’t necessarily dominating the news. Nevertheless, please stay safe out there.

Quick logistical note: If you referred some friends to the newsletter, I still might owe you a sticker. I’m going to wait until the end of the COVID-19 situation before mailing that to you, for everyone’s peace of mind. Thanks so much for reading.

This week’s Sunday edition is part two of my interview with Ben Cohen, the author of The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks. Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition.

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