Numlock News: October 26, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Have a wonderful weekend!


The average participant in Halloween festivities spends $86.79 according to the National Retail Federation annual survey, with total spending on the holiday to hit $9 billion this year. I’m poised to come in right on the money: my Tamatoa costume — you know, the Bowie-inspired psychedelic crab monster from Moana — cost $38.08 to put together, and it coincidentally takes exactly $48.71 worth of whiskey to get me prepared to sing “Shiny” to a medium-sized audience.

Gaby Del Valle, Vox

Trolley Problems

When people program self-driving cars, those cars will have to eventually make decisions that could harm one or many people. Those decisions are derived from the “trolley problem” thought experiment that is getting way less experimental as we go along. Namely, if a runaway trolley is going to kill five people and you can pull a lever and make it kill only one, do you pull it? If forced to choose between a kid and a grandmother, who gets hit? It’s grim stuff, but the kind of thing that needs to be considered before equipping autonomous computer systems with that kind of power. MIT researchers asked people from 233 countries about different permutations of the problem and have since logged 40 million decisions, one of the largest global moral preference studies ever. The result? Depends on who you ask. France, Greece and Canada were more likely to spare the young than old, while Japan, South Korea and China broke the other way. Poorer countries were more sympathetic to jaywalkers. It’s enormously complicated stuff.

Karen Hao, MIT Technology Review

Baseball Participants

Major League Baseball has a star problem, namely that it’s fresh out of them. A 2017 survey that asked 6,000 U.S. sports fans to name their favorite athlete turned up only three baseball players — Derek Jeter, Pete Rose, and Babe Ruth — in the top 50, none of whom still play the sport. And of the athletes with the most followers on Instagram, none of the top 100 play baseball, and the top two baseball players are retired.

Kevin Draper, The New York Times

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I Like It, I’m Not Gonna Crack

Lithium is a psychiatric drug typically used to treat bipolar disorder, but small quantities in the earth’s crust do end up in tap water. Researchers have found evidence that the presence of trace lithium in tap water was linked to lower suicide rates in areas. One author argues that effect is rather large, with rates 50 to 60 percent lower in high-lithium areas than low-lithium areas, and a more skeptical report still estimates that a small increase in the trace lithium content in U.S. drinking water could prevent upwards of 4,000 suicides per year. Some want to test the effects of putting it in the water supply fluoride-style, a change that reduced tooth decay by about 25 percent.

Dylan Matthews and Byrd Pinkerton, Vox

Stolen Ad Money

A sophisticated scheme to defraud advertisers by faking app users with bots led to the removal of over 30 apps from the Google Play store and the termination of several publisher accounts with its ad network. The scheme — which involved over 125 Android apps — can have real consequences. A single mobile app nefariously turned into a fraud engine can hypothetically generate $75 million per year in stolen ad revenue. Juniper Research estimated $19 billion will be stolen this year by digital ad fraud. A separate analysis of in-app fraud estimates 23 percent of ad impressions in mobile apps are fake and another estimate said $700 million to $800 million in fraud on mobile app ads was committed in the first quarter alone.

Craig Silverman, BuzzFeed

The “Walking Dead” Doesn’t Refer To The Zombies It Refers To The Ratings

The Walking Dead is still one of the hottest shows on television, but ratings for the program are disconcertingly down. For season seven, 21.5 million people watched the season premiere within a week. This year for season nine, that figure was 9.36 million people for the premiere, a drop of 54 percent, and all of whom presumably have a podcast about The Walking Dead. It’s even uglier when looking at 18 to 49-year olds, who are down 63 percent. All shows shed audience, but this is a steep drop compared to a peer group of comparable popular dramas, whose audiences dropped an average 16 percent between season 7 and 9.

Rick Porter, The Hollywood Reporter


High demand for trucking companies is driving the cost of shipping up. Revenue per loaded mile was up 19.9 percent last quarter year over year at the largest truckload company in the U.S., and revenues are up across the board. The Cass Truckload Linehaul Index measures per-mile pricing and was up 9.8 percent in September 2018 compared to September 2017. Wages are rising for drivers and fuel prices are also up, and consumer goods companies like Procter & Gamble are anticipating trucking costs will rise 25 percent this fiscal year.

Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal

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