Numlock News: September 12, 2018

By Walt Hickey

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Christmas Trees

Amazon will attempt to muscle into the Christmas tree market this year, which is great news for people who despise the guy that delivers their mail. A seven foot Fraser fir will cost $115. This is outstanding news for people like me, by which I mean people who love reading stories about weird stuff, as it’s a nigh statistical lock that someone is going to get a bird with their tree and complain about it on the internet. I say decent odds of an Amazon squirrel while we’re at it. An accidental raccoon is pretty unlikely, but if this scales — only about 1 to 2 percent of the 27 million live Christmas trees sold last year were bought online — we’re looking at one unexpected raccoon within the next five years I wager.

Joseph Pisani, The Associated Press

Higher Ed

American taxpayers and families spend an average of $3,370 per college student on “ancillary services,” which is the stuff like housing, meals, healthcare, transportation and all the weird stuff colleges are cramming into their offerings to entice people into matriculating. And yes, that is three times the OECD average, but that’s still not the primary cost of a degree: routine educational operations are still an average of $23,000 per year per student, so don’t sweat the Homecoming concert.

Amanda Ripley, The Atlantic

Pig Crap

North Carolina is home to an ocean of liquid pig excrement and is also about to get hit with a powerful storm, which makes for a gross combination. There are 9 million pigs being raised on 2,300 Carolina hog farms, and those animals produce 10 billion pounds of wet animal waste a year, which is stored in open lagoons. The North Carolina Pork Council said the lagoons can handle 25 inches of rain without failing. Portions of North Carolina are forecasted to get 40 inches of rain.

Zoë Schlanger, Quartz

NASA

Last year, NASA collaborated on 143 documentary projects, 41 television programs and 25 feature films, but the space agency’s director is keen on putting its astronauts out there more to drum up popular support for the space program. If making an astronaut phone in a few lines on a Rick & Morty episode is what it takes to get the youth interested in funding space exploration, that’s fine by me, but some are worried about a linked directive that would have NASA investigate the sale of sponsorships for space missions. I understand that rovers aren’t cheap, but if the next thing we send to keep Curiosity company is the Nacho Cheese Doritos® Locos Tacos Supreme® Rover by Taco Bell I think we may be losing the plot here.

The Washington Post

Tusklessness

The normal background rate for tusklessness in African elephants is about 2 percent to 4 percent, and that historical evolutionary disadvantage has become a massive evolutionary advantage in an era when elephants are poached for their tusks. As a result of this fact and inbreeding, about a quarter of the 700 elephants in Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique are tuskless, all of them female. Life, uh, finds a way.

Natalie Angier, The New York Times

A.I. and Depression

New research suggests A.I. may aid in detecting depression through voice analysis. A system that was fed 142 recorded conversations found — in the best performing system — that 83 percent of test cases could be categorized correctly. The neural network analyzed for things like pitch and pacing and presumably the sentence: “Alexa, play the album Wish by The Cure.”

Kaveh Waddell, Axios

Pedialyte

Attention drunks: Pedialyte, a drink for fussy and dehydrated babies, has fully leaned into marketing itself as a hangover aid, and they’re making a fortune off of it. The over-the-counter beverage aids in re-hydration, and many grown-ups swear by it as a way to beat a hangover. Sales of Pedialyte for adult use were up 57 percent between 2012 and 2015, and at that point made up about a third of sales. Since then Pedialyte got an Instagram and fully began marketing to the Thirsty Thursday set, and now sales for adults make up more than half of its business.

Kaitlyn Tiffany, Vox

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