Numlock News: November 19, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Good morning!

Flavored Preservatives

Last year Americans spent $1.36 billion on Lunchables, a figure I want everyone to just contemplate for a second. Lunchables — prepacked combination lunches that are the culinary equivalent of wearing stained sweatpants and an old D.A.R.E. t-shirt to a parent-teacher conference — are indeed on the rise, as that sales figure is up 19 percent in the past three years. Lunchables is turning 30 this year, which means that if it were a person it would be old enough to default on its student loans right about now.

Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic


Brace yourself for some shocking news, but it appears that people in the music business are arguing about who should get what share of the money. Google has locked horns with the major labels over precisely how much money labels should get for all the music on YouTube, where 85 percent of 1.8 billion monthly logged in users listen to music. YouTube says it paid music rights holders $1.8 billion in the 12 months leading into September 2018, which is 80 percent higher than the $1 billion Google paid to rights holders in 2016. The labels disagree: the group representing Universal, Sony and Warner say the total revenue from all video streaming services added up to $856 million in 2017. Thank goodness the cool heads and gracious negotiators of the music and technology business will get to navigate this thorny problem. Either way, my thoughts go out to all the savvy legal eagles who had the foresight to avoid this kerfuffle by writing “I DO NOT OWN ANY RIGHTS TO THIS SONG” in their YouTube video descriptions of bootleg uploads, which as we all know the Constitution says means you’re all clear.

Tim Ingham, Rolling Stone

Trees in California

The devastating fires in California have been escalating, and one key reason is the sheer number of dead trees in the forest. California was in a state of drought for six years, which hurt their vast forests and weakened the defense mechanisms of the trees. So when bark beetle infestations spread in 2010, the mass of dead trees began rising. Right now there are at least 129 million dead trees in 8.9 million acres of California forest. The USDA has an animated map showing the spread of dead trees per acre that truly hammers home the scope of the die-off. The state’s removed 1.3 million of them, but the trees are dying faster than California can cut them.

Umair Irfan, Vox

WEIRD People

More than 90 percent of studies published in the premiere scientific journal of psychology are from countries that represent less than 15 percent of the world’s population. As a result of how psych studies recruit participants, the sample is “Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic,” or “WEIRD” for short. This can have major consequences when trying to port different findings of psychological science into cultures and societies where they don’t hold and improper evaluations that don’t translate can have practical consequences for the studied.

Daniel Hruschka, The Conversation

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Parks and Recreation

Disney’s theme parks saw double-digit revenue growth in 2018, and a rash of construction and new attractions have analysts believing that the Mouse is poised to invest a fortune into resorts, with potential for a seventh park being more a “when” than “if.” In the 2018 fiscal, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts had a profit of $4.5 billion, more than double the figure of five years ago. One media analyst estimated Disney will spend $24 billion on new attractions, hotels and cruise lines over the next five years. Disney paid less than that to buy Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm.

Brooks Barnes, The New York Times


Movie cinemas are having a truly banner year, with profit way up at the box office compared to 2017. Much like Mufasa explaining the circle of life, they likely owe a bit of that jump to MoviePass, which in this analogy is an antelope that has pretty much bled out. Box office researchers estimate that MoviePass contributed $138 million in additional box office revenue over the summer. That would account for about half of the industry’s summer box office increase.

Anousha Sakoui, Bloomberg

Self-Driving Cars

Traffic originates from cascading overreactions from drivers on a road. One person brakes a little more robustly than called for, the driver behind them overreacts a little because he was tailgating a bit too close, and so on and so forth until you have the stretch of I-95 between Fredericksburg and D.C. that exists in a hellish state of paralysis because some BMW driver in Richmond forgot to use a turn signal. But robots don’t tailgate too close and have calibrated reactions, so introducing self-driving cars onto a road theoretically has some pretty positive effects on traffic flow. A new study found if you have 14 cars driving on a figure-eight, the average car speed doubles if one of them is self-driving, and handing over control of traffic lights on a Manhattan-style grid increased the flow of traffic by 7 percent.

Matthew Hutson, Science

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