Numlock News: May 28, 2020 • Bees, Coffee Grounds, Crowd Noise

By Walt Hickey

Dead Sea Scrolls

A new analysis of Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of Manchester — bona fide fragments, not the fakes that have been in the news lately — found four such fragments that had been believed to be blank actually had a written passage of text on them. The fragments were among the 51 that were over one centimeter in length believed to be blank. They were analyzed with multispectral imaging to find out if there was faded or obscured text. This timing could not be better because as we all know Disney+ is taking a stab at National Treasure 3, Justin Bartha is extremely available, and I think we all want to watch Nicolas Cage break into the Vatican Crypt — the fact it hasn’t yet happened on screen is a major Hollywood oversight.

Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica

The Forecast

Faladdin is an enormously successful Turkish fortune telling app where users can upload a photo of their coffee cup grounds and receive a personalized reading within 15 minutes. Approximately 1 million people do this every morning. About 700,000 readings are in Turkish, 200,000 in Arabic and 100,000 in English, and overall, the app’s been downloaded by 20 million people. It’s the automation of kafemandeia, the practice of telling fortunes from coffee grounds. Faladdin makes approximately $5 million a year, 60 percent from ads, up twelvefold since three years ago. To accomplish that growth, Faladdin used OpenAI to train a model on the readings produced by a group of 30 contributors, an ambitious attempt to make a fortune-telling robot that honestly I’m extremely jealous of because it sounds rad. Also, feeding Skynet a steady supply of nothing but coffee trash is 100 percent why it desired our demise.

Kaya Genç, Rest of World

Crowd Noise

Sports may return soon, but the fans will not. So, what’s the sports soundscape going to look like now? A new survey from Morning Consult found that just 22 percent of sports fans thought background music during play would be preferable to fanless events, while 36 percent thought it’d be less enjoyable. Fully 48 percent thought natural game sounds would be more enjoyable, while pumping in artificial crowd noise was deeply controversial, with 40 percent saying that’d make the game less enjoyable while 16 percent thought it’d improve the game. Piping in the sounds of an engaged, delighted and excited crowd of fans would also fundamentally undermine the experience of watching New York Giants home games, so I strongly oppose these measures and worry they may frighten or confuse my team. Nothing can ever replace the sensation of going to a game, but my friend Max from Philly has promised to FaceTime me and berate me if the NFL truly goes fanless.

Alex Silverman, Morning Consult


WarnerMedia’s streaming service HBO Max launched yesterday, but owner AT&T is feuding with Roku and Amazon, and it’s causing them significant problems in rolling out the service. In 2019, Roku was on one out of three smart televisions sold in the U.S., and they had 39.8 million active accounts as of the end of the first quarter. Amazon had over 40 million Fire TV users as of the end of last year. That’s good for 38 percent of the streaming player market for Roku and 32 percent for Amazon, combining to fully 70 percent of the streaming market. In third and fourth positions are Apple (13 percent) and Chromecast (9 percent), and as recently as the morning of launch, AT&T was working to settle up with Apple. Roku gets a cut of subscription fees and their fight is over ads and fees. The fight with Amazon goes deeper, as Amazon wants to have HBO Max stuff on Prime Video the same way they have HBO.

Joe Flint and Lillian Rizzo, The Wall Street Journal

Getting Around

While people searching for directions on apps is down across the board, some data from Apple Maps lays out the difficult future public transportation will face. Compared to the levels of searches on January 13, requests for driving directions are down 4.2 percent and requests for walking directions are down 14.7 percent, but requests for directions via public transit are down 68.6 percent as of the most recent data. Many cities are responding to this with proactive solutions, opening up streets to pedestrians and cyclists to ensure that vehicular traffic doesn’t become a disaster with everyone who was riding rail or busses hopping in a personal car. I live in New York City, a town where the mayor takes a car to a gym in a different borough from where he both lives and works, so I look forward to spending two hours a day on the 59th Street Bridge while the R train is converted into a hyperloop. Greatest city in da friggin’ world.

Camila Domonoske, NPR


A new paper published in Science shows that bumblebees will bite the leaves of plants when pollen is scarce and nearby flowers have not yet bloomed. This causes the plants to flower an average of 30 days earlier than otherwise. It’s unclear why this behavior — the bumblebee equivalent of buying bananas and then putting them in a paper bag with an apple because you bought un-ripe bananas — evolved in the first place, or why the plants respond to the bee bites, but it seems like everyone kind of wins here so no harm no foul.

Jim Daley, Scientific American

Amortization, Shmanortization

Rental car company Hertz entered bankruptcy with approximately 700,000 rental cars that constitute its fleet, but now its in a race against time to move some of those cars off the lot in order to get back on its feet. The vehicles are leased from subsidiaries that issue bonds to buy the cars, and the payments on the leases go to those bond investors. Not only is this a rough time to be a rental car company, it’s also a rough time to be a car company, since due to depreciation the value of Hertz’s cars is declining by $225 million to $250 million every month. Under normal conditions, 70 percent to 80 percent of Hertz’s vehicles are in use, but right now only 15 percent are.

Becky Yerak, The Wall Street Journal

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