Numlock News: March 2, 2020 • Invisible Man, Weather Forecasting, Battery

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!


In 2018, the four major U.S. cell phone carriers agreed to stop selling their customers’ location information to data brokers, but they continued to do so several months into 2019 anyway. The FCC thinks this violated the opt-in consent rule of the Communications Act, and announced they will slap the telecoms lightly on the wrist with fines of $91 million for T-Mobile, $57 million for AT&T, $48 million for Verizon, and $12 million for Sprint. That paltry total of $208 million in fines for years of data sales pales in comparison to their revenues, which are a thousand times as large: in 2019, $45 billion for T-Mobile, $181.2 billion for AT&T, $131.9 billion for Verizon and $32.5 billion for Sprint.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica

Visible Success

The Invisible Man made $29 million in North America and $20.2 million overseas in a massive opening weekend for the horror film. The movie cost just $7 million to produce before marketing, meaning that Blumhouse Productions septupled their money in a couple of days. The film, starring Elizabeth Moss, is a departure for the studio. Universal had sought to rejuvenate its latent horror franchises based on monsters through more conventional remakes, case in point The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, an enormous flop that doomed the entire “Dark Universe” from the get-go. This smaller attempt to adapt H.G. Well’s iconic depiction of a mega-perv is now an enormous success.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter


South Korea is contending with coronavirus, with over 1,500 cases as of late last week compared to 50 just days earlier. Though the initial outbreak was concentrated around Daegu, the spread and any impact it may have on Samsung, in particular, is of serious concern for the South Korean economy. Last year, fully 12.5 percent of South Korea’s gross domestic product was Samsung’s $211 billion in revenues. Exports in general are 45 percent of South Korea’s GDP, and computer chips are a fifth of exports. Samsung Electronics alone accounted for 12 percent of the total corporate tax haul in South Korea in 2019. So any disruption for Samsung is a disruption for South Korea, but it goes a step further even: South Korean companies make 70 percent of the world’s DRAM chips and 50 percent of NAND flash memory. Though there hasn’t been an impact on production volume yet, if the outbreak goes on for a while the worldwide chip market could grind to a halt.

Song Jung-a and Edward White, Financial Times


In 2017, Tesla Inc. installed the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in South Australia, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, owned by Neoen. Friday an engineering consultant group announced the extent to which having this power reserve has stabilized the entire grid in South Australia, and has also facilitated a transition to green energy that can be plagued by boom periods (sunny, windy) and bust periods (night, calm) while still satisfying demand. Aurecon announced that in 2019, the Hornsdale facility reduced network costs by $116 million Australian dollars ($76 million USD). The battery — and the added slack it permits — has cut the cost to regulate the South Australia grid by 91 percent. Neoen announced it will add another 50 megawatts of capacity at Hornsdale in 2020 on top of the 100 megawatts there now.

James Thornhill, Bloomberg


Companies are trying to find ways to keep employees in their current roles, with turnover nearing historic highs. For workers, the math is pretty simple: those who switch jobs see an average 15 percent boost in compensation, while internal promotions typically come with something closer to a 2 to 3 percent raise. That’s an attractive incentive to send some resumes around, and for employers this is getting costly. In 2010, employers spent $331 billion replacing workers according to a consulting firm, but by 2018 that rose to $617 billion.

Kathryn Dill, The Wall Street Journal

Weather Sats

For decades, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has relied on large geostationary weather satellites to fuel its forecasts. Six years ago, the newest version of these instruments started being assembled at Lockheed Martin, the latest iteration of the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) array. The plan is to launch four new weather stations, which weigh 6,000 pounds and orbit 22,000 miles above the planet to monitor weather with a degree of precision never before seen. The stations will be capable of observing every single lighting strike across the Western Hemisphere. The first satellite entered service in 2016, and in six months collected more data than the previous 15 GOES satellites combined over their four decades. The second entered service in 2018 and the final two in the $10.8 billion fleet will blast off in 2021 and 2024.

Daniel Oberhaus, Wired

Air Purifier

The National Advertising Division, which is a project of the Better Business Bureau, investigates advertising claims that consumer watchdogs, or even rival companies, flag as erroneous or improper. NAD handles about 90 cases per year, and typically how it goes is that a challenger pays a filing fee and writes a detailed argument about why an advertiser’s claims are inappropriate, each side presents their case to NAD — more than 90 percent of manufacturers agree to NAD’s arbitration — and then after an investigation NAD makes recommendations. If they smell BS, they’ll recommend that they cease the claims, and if they don’t change, they’ll flag the Federal Trade Commission and presumably summon the Valkyries. Dyson filed a series of claims against trendy air purifier Molekule, and the report from NAD is serious: NAD upheld 26 challenges out of 26 claims, backing up Wirecutter and Consumer Reports’ findings that the purifier was inadequate. Molekule will appeal some, but said it will withdraw all its claims about pollution elimination, allergy/asthma symptom relief and independent testing.

Tim Heffernan, Wirecutter

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