Numlock News: May 12, 2020 • Office Space, Space Debris, Quibi

By Walt Hickey

Space

According to SquareFoot, companies in New York City spend an average of $17,020 per employee annually on office space, an expense that right about now pinches a tad more than usual. Many companies that had resisted the siren call of remote work are now finding themselves forced into the arrangement, and not entirely hating it. As a result, commercial real estate prices may take a dip as companies take that money and instead consider throwing it at employees, who can set up an at-home arrangement in lieu of a proper office. The thing that may save the industry in the short-term is the standard 10-year lease will save many companies from an instantaneous shift in the entire market. For now, prices are steady — $85.84 per square foot in New York in March, $92.13 per square foot in San Francisco — but times are changing.

Courtney Rubin, Marker

Backpack

The FTC has hit the creator of the failed iBackPack with a monetary judgement of $797,502.20, which will be suspended provided his statements about his finances hold. Doug Monahan, who was alleged to have spent the $800,000 he raised on Kickstarter and Indiegogo on Bitcoin and personal expenses rather than developing the promised state-of-the-art backpack, has agreed to never crowdfund again though he admitted no wrongdoing amid the allegations. The FTC sued him after frustrated backers of the project united and urged them to press charges, arguing they would never, in fact, see the backpack with a gun sleeve, Kevlar, a Bluetooth speaker, a mobile hotspot, and security countermeasures. When your literal inspiration is an equally ridiculous cooler — which infamously raised $13 million and resulted in staggeringly few coolers — you know the business may not actually be on the level. This is only the second crowdfunding campaign to settle with the FTC after a board game that raised $122,000 simply turned around and sold customer data rather than producing a board game.

Ashley Carman, The Verge

Applicants

Last year, the University of California system received 215,000 undergraduate applications as a whole, and four-fifths of applicants take the SAT. This makes the UC system the single largest university source of customers for the College Board, the organization that forges the Standardized Aptitude Test in the fires beneath Mt. Doom. Their adoption of the test decades ago made the SAT nationally prominent, their elimination of the requirement to take the exam in the 1990s single-handedly propelled the College Board to revise the test to meet objections of bias, and now the fate of the SAT and UC are intertwined yet again. Janet Napolitano, the head of the UC system, joined with critics of the exam to call for a suspension of the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement through 2024, with a possible elimination after that. The Board of Regents votes next week.

Teresa Watanabe, The Los Angeles Times

Someone Talked

An investigation from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control found that food delivery companies like DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats were responsible for a considerable spike in alcohol deliveries to minors. They conducted a sting operation, ordering roughly 200 alcoholic beverages over several weekends from both the apps and individual restaurants and bars, deploying decoys under age 21 as recipients in some cases. The bars were fairly savvy — one out of every four deliveries to minors went through, a 25 percent failure rate — while the apps screwed up, securing an 80 percent failure rate and getting lots of alcohol into the hands of some extremely clever teenagers.

Nick Statt, The Verge

Overlaps

New research on human remains found in a cave in Bulgaria now puts the presence of Homo sapiens at 46,000 years ago, which is 2,000 years earlier than previous evidence from the U.K. and Italy. During that time, there were still sparse groups of Neanderthals present, and there remains lots of debate over how long the two — early humans and the Neanderthals — overlapped. The current estimate is that Neanderthals disappeared from Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 years ago, and the previous estimate of Homo sapiens settlement in Europe was 44,200 to 41,500 years ago, so this would extend the timeline where early Europeans had roommates. Naturally the implications of this are enormous and call into question essentially the entire premise of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, a shock to the scientific community to be sure.

Paul Rincon, BBC

Users

On the subject of doomed creatures destined to be out-competed by peers, Quibi is having a rough time, as the short video app backed by $1.8 billion from Alibaba and Hollywood appears to be a dud. From DreamWorks founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and Hewlett-Packard executioner Meg Whitman, the service sought to appeal with short five- to 10-minute videos designed for periods of time when people were commuting or waiting in line, things that do not happen anymore for many people. Sensor Tower estimated the app had 2.9 million customers. Quibi said the number is closer to 3.5 million, but just 1.3 million are active users and the real-time user numbers are reportedly not great.

Nicole Sperling, The New York Times

A Souvenir for a Lucky Fan

One of China’s Long March-5B rockets launched May 5 became one of the largest uncontrolled space debris ever, crashing into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa on Monday evening. The 18 tonne empty core stage of the rocket was the largest thing to fall uncontrolled to Earth since Salyut in 1991, and the other two larger things than it were Skylab’s rocket in 1975 and Skylab itself in 1979. The U.S. Air Force was able to narrow down the crash down within a window of a little more than an hour, but the issue with even an accurate prediction like that is plus or minus a half hour means it’s anywhere along an orbit stretching three quarters of the way around the world.

Allen Kim, CNN

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