Numlock News: March 9, 2020 • Pedals, Nintendo PlayStation, Manure

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

App

With kids in parts of China unable to attend classes, a new app called DingTalk was introduced to have students sign in and join their classes remotely for online lessons. Teachers could even use the app to assign homework, a digital age technological solution to an ancient biological problem. The children, though, are far smarter than the educators gave them credit for, as tens of thousands of kids gave the app a one-star review, tanking its rating from 4.9 stars to 1.4 stars overnight and getting the homework app booted from the App Store due to low quality.

Wang Xiuying, The London Review of Books

Methane

Companies that sell natural gas have partnered with hog farms and sewage plants to wring a little more value out of poop. A Massachusetts dairy farm, home to 800 Holstein cows, loaded its waste into a silo called an anaerobic digester, mixing it and heating it for a month. Once concentrated and purified, it produced enough natural gas to heat 1,600 homes, raising income per cow by 15 to 25 percent. A sewage treatment plant in Phoenix previously burned off its methane emissions — CO2 is better than emitting methane — but after constructing a facility to process, purify, and pump the methane emissions into a pipeline, the system now produces 600,000 cubic feet of natural gas per year, earning a further $1.2 million in revenue split by the plant’s municipal owners.

John Fialka, E&E News

Information

Companies have been using what they know about consumers to change the way they price different items online for a while, but the effects can be pretty remarkable. The price of headphones in a Google search can vary by a factor of four depending on how Google’s sized up your degree of affluence and willingness to spend. One study found that a seller with access to basic demographic information about a given buyer can get 0.3 percent more profit from them, but a seller with access to a person’s browsing history can increase their profit by 14.6 percent.

Maya MacGuineas, The Atlantic

Pedal To The Metal

For decades, guitar players have used guitar-effect pedals to make their instruments sound hella cool, using electrical engineering to extract alternate sounds from their strings. The devices, which can go for a couple hundred dollars, are legitimate creative technological advancements, often backed by bona fide patents. That’s in part because this is actually a fairly brisk business these days: sales of effect pedals hit $125.5 million in 2019, up from $68.25 million in 2013, the year that the medium began a steady rise. It, like music as a whole, is a hit-driven industry, where a single best-selling pedal can make its creator a small fortune for decades, such as the Big Muff fuzz pedal which dates back to 1969.

Ryan Dezember, The Wall Street Journal

Video Games

Greg McLemore, the founder of Pets.com, was identified as the buyer of a prototype “Nintendo PlayStation” that had gone up for auction. The selling price for the abomination was $300,000 plus a $60,000 buyer’s premium, and he announced he’d loan the device — a seminal prototype video gaming system that never made it to market, but in many ways is an ancestor to both the Nintendo line of home gaming consoles, as well as the Sony products — to the University of Southern California’s Pacific Asia Museum next spring.

Owen S. Good, Polygon

Delivery

The fastest growing job in the United States is couriers and messenger services, increasing from 690,000 to 850,000 workers between January 2018 and January 2020. That’s a 22 percent growth, more than double the second placed occupation among 88 industries with 500,000 employees or greater. The next up is social assistance workers (up 9.1 percent) and warehousing and storage (up 9.1 percent). Wages in the delivery industry are lower than average, with the median hourly wage of $13.80 in 2018 considerably lower of the national average of $18.60.

Dan Kopf, Quartz

Supply

Even as many companies exited China for its neighbors, the Middle Kingdom remained an essential component of the global supply chain in unexpected ways. For instance, China was responsible for 31 percent of global clothing exports in 2018, down from 37 percent in 2010. That’s because many clothing manufacturers left China for places like Vietnam, Pakistan and Bangladesh. However, China’s share of textile exports — the raw materials from which finished clothes are produced — rose from 30 percent in 2010 to 38 percent in 2018. Chinese fabrics account for anywhere from half to three-quarters of textile imports to Vietnam, Bangladesh and Pakistan, meaning that production issues in China can still have global ripple effects.

Jon Emont, Chuin-Wei Yap, The Wall Street Journal

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