Numlock News: May 1, 2020 • Plexiglass, Sludge, Private Clubs

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Comcast

Comcast made $26.6 billion in the first quarter of the year, down 0.9 percent year over year, and saw its net income fall 40 percent. This is what happens when a company lacks a straight shooter like Jack Donaghy at the helm. Really, it’s because Comcast — with a theme park business down 32 percent, a film business down 22 percent, ad revenue down 2.2 percent, and those Olympic Games not happening this year — is a media conglomerate that’s pretty much situated at the center of a lot of the blowback from the shutdowns. Comcast is in a unique bind — the only other company whose entire business model is predicated on customer infatuation with memes about the yellow Minion characters, Facebook, had a decent quarter.

Kim Lyons, The Verge

Clubs

It’s news to me, but the United States is home to about 3,500 private clubs that post revenues of $1 million or more, and it turns out the “smoke filled room full of other septuagenarians” business is taking a bit of a hit these days. About 2 million people belong to these organizations, per the National Club Association, which as far as I can tell is a private club for private clubs. The club club claims clubs add $21.5 billion to the economy annually, but clubs are taking a clubbing, per the club of clubs: membership dues cover 70 percent of fixed operating costs, and many organizations have had to contend with members bristling at fees to attend a closed facility. When clubs dropped dues or initiation fees in 2008, it turned into the Clubpocalypse, so the NCA is urging clubs to hold the line. Though snooty, private clubs offer critical resources in the communities they serve, like introducing wealthy children to the screwball comedy film protagonists they will eventually elope with in an act of rebellion.

Hannah Elliott, Bloomberg

Sludge

The Hanford Site in Washington State is home to 177 giant tanks that hold the toxic remnants of nearly five decades of nuclear fuel production. Hanford made the plutonium in 60,000 nuclear warheads, but what remains is 212 million liters of toxic waste that the government is still trying to figure out what to do with. The key issue is that at Hanford they dumped waste fairly willy-nilly, and so the 1,800 contaminants are mixed in unique cocktails in each of the 177 tanks, which contain as few as 208,000 liters or as many as 3.8 million each. So far, they’ve leaked 4 million liters, so time is of the essence: the Department of Energy is spending $16.8 billion to build a vitrification plant, which will turn the waste into glass blocks that can be more stably stored in a waste repository. Total cleanup will take at least 60 years and cost as much as $550 billion.

Maria Gallucci, IEEE Spectrum

Prices

Tokyo has seen fairly flat housing prices compared to the skyrocketing costs of living seen in places like New York or European cities. Their solution? Very deregulated housing policies, where supply keeps pace with demand and few restrictions on height and density. In 2017, there were 10.955 housing starts per 1,000 people in Tokyo, nearly double the 5.786 starts per 1,000 New Yorkers. Japan’s built 1 million new homes and apartments per year every year for the past decade, while the U.S. — which has more than double Japan’s population — built 1.25 million in 2018.

River Davis, The Wall Street Journal

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Work From Home

A new survey from the Society for Human Resource Management of 700 people telecommuting finds many people adapting well to their new environs. About 44 percent cited reduced commuting times as the best part of the shift, while others cited better work-life balance (14 percent), spending time with people they live with (14 percent), flexible hours (9 percent) and fewer distractions (5 percent) as the best part. Genuinely, I wonder how surprised employers will be to hear about those new “flexible hours” people are availing themselves of, and at least half of those “spending time with roommates” people are referring specifically to the residents of their Animal Crossing: New Horizons island. As for the minuses, about 21 percent said the lack of collaboration with colleagues, while 17 percent said it was hard to unplug at the end of the day, which, again, I really think they’re talking about “unplugging the Nintendo Switch from its charging station.”

Eryn Brown, Knowable Magazine

Music Knowledge

A new project is tracking down the generational gaps in music. For instance, 91 percent of Gen Z was unable to place the song “With Arms Wide Open” by Creed compared to just 24 percent of Millennials, who know the 2000 song by heart thanks to endless infomercials imploring them to participate in mail-order compilation CD programs. It cuts both ways: 88 percent of Boomers were unable to place “In The End” by Linkin Park, fully 75 percent of Gen X could not identify “Forever” by Chris Brown, and Millennials failed at knowing any songs that came out prior to the Now That’s What I Call Music! program that Weird Al did not cover. This is dangerous information, dangerous information in the hands of, say, a host of a trivia night with a music round who’s got a bone to pick with another generation.

Matt Daniels, The Pudding

Plexiglass

The plexiglass business is booming right now, as the installation of sheets of clear but firm plastic between customers and employees strikes a serious nerve. The two largest producers are ramping up production. United Kingdom-based brand Perspex increased its production of acrylic sheets by 300 percent between February and March, and demand for rival Röhm’s official Plexiglass brand is up sharply. The material — poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA — has been around since the 1930s, but those in the business say that sales right now are higher than they’ve ever seen, with a West Coast plexiglass retailer citing a 200 percent jump in sales year over year. After the surge, demand may slip, as the traditional consumers of plexiglass — retail, expositions, automotive, construction — are primed to take a hit long-term.

Amelia Tait, Marker

This past Sunday’s subscriber special was an interview with Dave Gershgorn of OneZero, who broke the news about how the government relies on a 60-year old coding language for critical systems, and why several states are hunting for COBOL coders to help get those flooded systems back online. It’s a really great interview and a really great story, check it out!

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