Numlock News: May 22, 2020 • Robots, Hurricanes, American Cheese

By Walt Hickey

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We all remember and love Sphero, the delightful company behind those zany rolling robots, like the BB-8 and R2-D2 rolling toys that were seemingly everywhere after Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Well, things took a turn at the Sphero company after their licensing deal with Disney expired in 2018, and the latest news is that the robotics manufacturer has pivoted and spun off a new venture called Company Six, which specializes in robots for military, police, and other first responders. They’ve raised $3 million and the former Sphero COO will head up the new venture. Listen, it’s never great to dwell on one’s own mortality, but I have to say: the fact that the probability of an armed, rolling killbot that looks kind of like BB-8 one day slaying me has increased from “zero chance” on Monday to “low, but definitely not zero” by Friday made this kind of a rough week.

James Vincent, The Verge and Nick Greenhalgh, American Inno

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The switch from restaurant dining to home cooking has been onerous for a few sources of protein in particular more than others. Some are already mostly consumed in the home: in 2019, about 62 percent of eggs were consumed through retail and grocery stores compared to 38 percent consumed through food service. Pork and beef had basically an even split. In 2019, 54 percent of both proteins were consumed through restaurants rather than at home. But seafood is different: only 30 percent of seafood was consumed at home with 70 percent moving through kitchens. That’s one reason salmon prices are down 23 percent year to date, and lobster tails are down 16.6 percent. Jeez, first we see the lights go out on Broadway, then people underpaid gig workers who subsist mostly on tips, and now there ain't much future for a man who works the sea. Did… did Billy Joel know this was coming? Has he been trying to warn us the whole time? And what precisely did he mean by for the longest time?

Jesse Newman and Julie Wernau, The Wall Street Journal


Once it was possible to bemoan that no one told you life was going to be this way, but now we have widespread and comprehensive polling, so we actually have a pretty good sense of what’s coming up. While poaching Friends from Netflix was touted as a crown jewel in the forthcoming HBO Max streaming library, it’s actually not the most appealing entry in their library by a long shot. Based on a survey of 2,200 adults conducted by Morning Consult, 34 percent cited the HBO shows as the biggest draw. Looking deeper at specific franchises, 26 percent cited the DC Comics Universe shows as something that makes them more likely to subscribe, 23 percent cited Game of Thrones, and 21 percent cited Friends. Meanwhile, just 13 percent of people correctly identified Friends as part of the HBO Max content lineup, and there are just a few weeks until launch.

Natalie Jarvey, The Hollywood Reporter

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When In Doubt, Charlie Out

Several teenagers who were unable to use the buggy College Board website to upload Advanced Placement exam responses filed a class action lawsuit against the testmonger in California. The company charges $94 per exam, but was unable to process the HEIC photo uploads from iPhones, among many other issues related to submitting answers. The College Board estimated 1 percent of test responses were rejected by their tech, which given 2.1 million exams in the first week of the APs is still 21,000 children who spent $94 and weeks of studying for naught. To compound the troubles for the standardized testing group, the University of California regents voted unanimously to eliminate SAT and ACT testing from consideration starting in 2025.

Jeffrey S. Solocheck, Tampa Bay Times and Teresa Watanabe, The Los Angeles Times


Abalone poaching in South Africa — where unauthorized divers raid beds of protected shellfish for considerable payouts — has seen prices collapse following lockdowns, though onlookers fear that when the market returns it’ll be worse than ever. Abalone is popular in China and can fetch $100 per kilogram, if a South African is willing to dice shark-infested waters to get them. Chinese mafia groups and South African drug cartels now control the market for illegal abalone and have overseen the harvest of some 45,000 tonnes of abalone, at a pace of about six tonnes per day. The money from this trade is everywhere, with two officials in the South African fisheries department enduring simultaneous, yet separate abalone scandals at one point in 2018. The local price is down to $22 to $45 per kilogram.

Kimon de Greef, Hakai Magazine


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s projection for 2020’s hurricane season is out, and the forecast is for an above-average season with up to 19 named storms of which 10 will develop into hurricanes and three to six will become Category 3 or higher. NOAA’s pretty good at figuring out hurricane patterns. Since 2010, they’ve successfully gotten the storm count and hurricane count within the projection six times.

Erin Ailworth, The Wall Street Journal


The cold storage stockpile of American and total natural cheeses rose 8 percent in April, the biggest single monthly gain since 2012. There are now 1.5 billion pounds of cheese in cold storage, the highest level on record since the USDA first decided to start asking around about cheese in 1917. Cheese stores jumped from 515 million pounds in 1980 to 1.2 billion by 1983, only to crash back down to 330 million by the end of the ‘80s. Since that bottom, though, the amount of cheese in reserve has been steadily rising, passing 600 million pounds in cold storage at the turn of the millennium and rising steadily to the glut we have today. One reason for the spike is that Americans consume a lot of cheese at restaurants.

James Attwood and Dominic Carey, Bloomberg

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Correction: an earlier version of this post misstated the price of abalone, it’s $100 retail, not to produce.

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