2021 Numlock Sunday Specials Archive
2021 Sunday Editions
I wanted to have a place for all the collected subscriber-only Sunday interviews all in one place. If you’d like to read these and aren’t sure if you want to subscribe, I’ve made it really easy to sign up for a one month free trial to the paid subscription and read whatever you like.
To make up for the two-weeks-of-no-Sunday special, a bunch of folks sent in questions and I have done my best to answer them.
I spoke to Alex Davies, the author of the brand new book Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car. I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was announced, and it doesn’t disappoint: from the iconic if shambolic 2004 DARPA Grand Challenge to the legal battles that threatened to tear the industry apart, the creation of this tech could change the world. The book is Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car and can be found wherever books are sold, and Alex is on Twitter at @adavies47.
I spoke to Andy Warner, a contributing editor at comics consortium The Nib. I’m a huge fan of them, and after a herculean effort on the part of the contributors and the team, they managed to publish a new print edition of their magazine devoted to the Pandemic.The Nib can be found online at TheNib.com. They have a great free newsletter, and if you end up becoming a paid member you won’t regret it.
I spoke to Julia Alexander who wrote “From Fanfiction to Netflix Hits” for The Verge, a very cool profile of the site Wattpad. Then, a week later, Wattpad got bought for $600 million. We spoke about Wattpad, how they use internal tools to track trends as they happen, why this could change the future of media adaptations. Julia can be found at her excellent newsletter, Musings on Mouse, on Twitter, and at The Verge.
I spoke to Emily Atkin who wrote “The conservative climate fear-mongering begins” for her newsletter HEATED. We spoke about why pipelines are about a lot more than one infrastructure project, what the current vibe is on making progress addressing climate change, and the onslaught of greenwashing about to hit us. Emily can be found at her exceptional newsletter HEATED. It’s really great and just a stellar publication at tracking this. She’s also on Twitter @emorwee.
I spoke to Alex Silverman, a sports reporter at pollster Morning Consult. We talked about the polling around Super Bowl, the Olympics, legalized gambling and why Gen Z worries leagues. Alex can be found at Morning Consult and on Twitter.
I spoke to Dr. Annelies Goger who wrote “Apprenticeships are an overlooked solution for creating more access to quality jobs” at Brookings. We spoke about why apprenticeships were invented, why they need an update and where things are going from here. Annelies can be found at Brookings and on Twitter
I spoke to Abraham Josephine Riesman, the author of the electric new book True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. We talk about the actual role Lee played in making the characters, how Stan Lee was ahead of his time when it came to making a living as a proto-influencer, and the undercovered, complex and unsavory period from the 1970s through his death. It’s a complicated portrait of a complicated guy, and is deeply reported at every stage. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee can be found wherever books are sold, and Riesman can be found on her website and on Twitter.
I spoke to Rebecca Jennings who wrote “Figure skating is on thin ice. Here’s how to fix it” for Vox’s The Goods. We spoke about the rise and fall of figure skating, why the sport is thriving in places that are not the United States and then a little bit about Rebecca’s coverage of TikTok and why the platform is fascinating. Rebecca can be found at Vox, on Twitter, and on Instagram.
I spoke to Alex Kaufman who wrote “U.S. Trade Authorities Deal Blow To Biden’s Electric Vehicle Plans” for HuffPost. We spoke about these odd little organizations and how they wield so much power, and what people can do to get popular policies across the finish line without them discreetly killing them. Alex can be found at HuffPost, on Twitter, and has a personal Substack where he blasts out cool stories he works on like these.
I spoke to Aaron Gordon who wrote “The US Invented Life-Saving Car Safety Ratings. Now They’re Useless” for Motherboard. For years, the U.S. was at the vanguard of regulation, and other countries looked to it as an example of how to model their own programs. That’s not the case anymore, and Aaron’s story gets at why. Aaron can be found at Vice, and he’s got a newsletter called Urbababble where you can keep tabs on what he’s up to.
I spoke to Ellie Shechet who wrote “Firefly Tourism Has a Surprising Dark Side” for Popular Science. We spoke about tourism, how the science of fireflies is very much an ongoing area of research and how to cover ecology in an era when climate change is one of the main stories of the natural world. Ellie can be found at her website, on Twitter, and several times a week at Popular Science.
I spoke to MIT Technology Review editor Karen Hao, who frequently appears in Numlock and wrote the bombshell story “How Facebook Got Addicted to Spreading Misinformation.” The story was a fascinating look inside one of the most important companies on the planet and their struggles around the use of algorithms on their social network. Karen can be found on Twitter, @_Karenhao at MIT Technology Review, and at her newsletter, The Algorithm, that goes out every week on Fridays.
I spoke to Katharine Lusk, who wrote “City Dwellers Gained More Access to Public Spaces During the Pandemic – Can They Keep It?” for The Conversation. The pandemic has transformed cities in really significant ways, and as vaccinations ramp up we’ll soon be at a point where city leaders need to decide whether some of the decisions implemented on a temporary basis have enough merit to stick around. Lusk’s work at the Menino Survey of Mayors can be found at SurveyOfMayors.com.
I spoke to Kim Bhasin, who wrote “One Couple’s Fight to Stop the ‘Gentrification’ of Sneaker Collecting” for Bloomberg. This story was great as it highlights a lot of intersecting things going on at this moment in retail, including how the sneaker collecting business went seriously mainstream, the effect that has on the people who made the hobby something to begin with, and why things like sneakers are exploding at this moment in the world today. Kim can be found at Bloomberg and on Twitter.
I reached out to FairVote’s executive director Rob Richie, who has been working on this since the ‘90s. This interview goes into why upsets have become more likely in Best Picture, what that has to do with ranked choice and why that’s exactly what the people who run the Academy seemed to hope for with the change.
I spoke to Joshua Darr, professor of political communication at Louisiana State University and an author of the new book Home Style Opinion: How Local Newspapers Can Slow Polarization. It’s a very cool story that gets to the heart of what local news offers, and also why it’s in danger. Darr can be found on Twitter and the book, Home Style Opinion: How Local Newspapers Can Slow Polarization, can be found wherever books are sold.
I spoke to Dave Levinthal who wrote “The Wild West of political data sales can score candidates big money but raise privacy concerns. Here's how one politician is benefiting.” for Insider. This story gets at a fascinating sliver of that ecosystem, how a little bit of data can be worth a whole lot of money to the right buyer. Dave can be found on Twitter and at Insider.
I spoke to James Temple of MIT Technology Review who wrote “The Climate Solution Actually Adding Millions of Tons of CO2 Into the Atmosphere” with ProPublica’s Lisa Song. This story is fascinating because it takes a concept that gets discussed a lot in the abstract and drills down what the heck is exactly being measured, and in doing so discovers ways that the system can be improved and finds things it’s failing to capture. James can be found at MIT Technology Review and on Twitter, his co-writer Lisa Song is at ProPublica.
I spoke to Ana Diaz of Polygon, who wrote “Demon Slayer has biggest US foreign-language box office debut ever”. Demon Slayer has smashed all kinds of records, and has done so at a fascinating time. Beyond its hits at the box office, it’s also a big hit for an anime format that has long been on the rise. Diaz’s coverage has explored that repeatedly, so I’m very excited to chat with her. Ana can be found at Polygon and on Twitter at @Pokachee.
I spoke to Pat Garofalo who writes the wonderful newsletter Boondoggle. Today in another special podcast edition of the newsletter, we talk about the botched Foxconn deal, why everything is suddenly a “campus,” the Peace of Kansas City and whether or not the federal government accidentally screwed over every local corporate tax incentive project. Pat can be found at his newsletter, Boondoggle, and his book The Billionaire Boondoggle is really great.
I spoke to Jason Schreier, author of the new book Press Reset: Ruin and Recovery in the Video Games Industry, a brand new book from the author of Blood, Sweat and Pixels detailing the complicated working conditions in a magnificently lucrative but thoroughly demanding video game business. Jason can be found on Bloomberg and at his podcast Triple Click.
I spoke to Emily Atkin, who writes the delightful HEATED newsletter about the climate and the companies who destroy it. Two weeks ago saw a fascinating day when three colossal oil majors suffered genuine, bona fide, measurable losses either among shareholders or at the courts. It was a remarkable day, and I wanted to talk to Emily — who had a great post that week called “A good day for life on Earth” — to get her read on some unambiguously pleasant climate news. Emily can be found at her newsletter, HEATED, and on Twitter.
I spoke to Victoria Knight who wrote “Once Banned, For-Profit Medical Schools Are On The Rise Again In The U.S.” for Kaiser Health News. We spoke about the history of medical schools in the United States, why schools in the for-profit model began to emerge several years ago, and what that means for medical training across the country. Knight can be found at Kaiser Health News and on Twitter.
I spoke to Stephanie Apstein who wrote “‘This Should Be the Biggest Scandal in Sports'” for Sports Illustrated with her colleague Alex Prewitt. This story is fascinating because it’s the latest in what seems to be an endless sequence of baseball scandals where a team or a player will do something that fundamentally alters the structure of the game and breaks it, and then the league needs to scramble to fix it to the consternation of fans, players and all involved. Stephanie can be found at SI.com and on Twitter at @stephapstein.
I spoke to frequent Numlock guest Joanna Piacenza of Morning Consult, who this week published a deep report about travel and trust in the wake of COVID-19. We spoke about why the Herculean steps taken by airlines and hotels resulted in a net gain in trust over the course of the pandemic, why cruise companies are in such a difficult position and the eagerly-awaited return of business travel. Joanna leads industry intelligence at Morning Consult, she can be found at their website and on Twitter.
I spoke to John Jackson Miller, author and the mind behind the Comichron database. This week, he published the annual state of the comic industry report with ICV2. John Jackson Miller can be found at Comichron and on Twitter. Besides running one of my favorite databases and blogs, he’s also an author and has some great stuff coming out, including a new Star Trek book — Star Trek: Picard – Rogue Elements, out in August — as well as a compendium of his work on Star Wars comics, Star Wars Legends: The Old Republic Omnibus, out next week.
I spoke to Chris Ingraham who wrote “Vaxxed, vibing, and totally thriving” for The Why Axis, his newly launched indie publication. We spoke about how and why the national mood has perked up, the Golden Age of data blogging, the Dark Age of data blogging, and his new venture. Ingraham can be found at The Why Axis and on Twitter.
I spoke to Francesca Tripodi, a senior researcher at the Center for Information Technology and Public Life at UNC Chapel Hill who wrote “Ms. Categorized: Gender, notability, and inequality on Wikipedia” which was published in the journal New Media and Society. You can find her on Twitter at @ftripodi, her website where you can access all of her work is at ftripodi.com.
I spoke to Julie Kendrick, who wrote “Shampoo Bars: What they are, how they work, and why we need them” for HuffPost. We spoke about why shampoo is mostly water, the plastic impact of all that waste, and how bottled shampoo may one day be seen as similar to smoking in restaurants. Kendrick can be found at her website and her Twitter.
I spoke to Ben Casselman of the New York Times who wrote “The Pandemic Changed How We Spent Our Time” and “More phone calls, less shopping: how the pandemic changed American lives, down to the minute” with Ella Koeze. This week, we talked all about his coverage of the latest data from the American Time Use Survey, a wild annual data collection carried out by the Department of Labor that shows how Americans spend their days. This latest edition includes the pandemic year’s data, so it’s an intriguing look at how people spent their time in 2020. Ben can be found at The New York Times and on Twitter at @BenCasselman
I spoke to Frank Pallotta who writes about the entertainment industry for CNN Business. Frank and I spoke about the revised expectations that have come with this summer, what’s happening at cinemas, and how the streaming experiment has been going. He can be found at @FrankPallotta and at CNN.
I spoke to Rebecca Jennings who wrote “The $5,000 quest for the perfect butt” for Vox’s The Goods. We spoke about what a BBL is, what makes it so controversial and dangerous, and the industry that sprung up to sell targets on a fantasy of a perfect $5,000 butt. Rebecca can be found at Vox and on Twitter.
I spoke to Ahmed Ali Akbar, who wrote “Inside the Secretive, Semi-Illicit, High Stakes World of WhatsApp Mango Importing” for Eater. I loved this because it’s not only about a particularly great fruit, but also about how the global food system works and how wild consumer expectations have become. Akbar can be found at the podcast See Something, Say Something. You should also check out Delivery Wars, another podcast he hosted, and be sure to read the full piece over at Eater, it’s really great.
I spoke to Morning Consult’s Sarah Shevenock, who wrote “Viewers Still Want LeVar Burton to Win ‘Jeopardy!’ Host Gig Following Mike Richards’ Exit last week. The revelations two weeks ago that prompted named host Mike Richards to step down were a huge deal, and Sarah had a poll in the field nearly immediately to my absolute delight. Shevenock can be found at Morning Consult, where she writes their morning entertainment brief, and on Twitter.
I spoke to Kylie Mohr, who wrote “For dairy cows, where there’s smoke, there’s less milk” for High Country News. I loved this because as the West continues to suffer wildfire after wildfire, the impacts that these blazes have on the people and ecosystems of the entire country remain to be understood. There’s so much we don’t know about air quality, and we’re going to get a rude awakening as climate change exacerbates wildfires worldwide. Kylie can be found at High Country News, which you should subscribe to, and on Twitter.
I spoke to Katherine Ellen Foley, who wrote “FDA nears day of reckoning on e-cigarettes” for POLITICO. Later in the week, that reckoning came: the FDA denied 950,000 applications on top of the 4.5 million applications it denied outright. However, they deferred the decisions on the major players. Katherine can be found at POLITICO where she covers the FDA and on Twitter.
I spoke to Ariana Case, a project administrator at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC and the lead author of their latest study “Hispanic and Latino Representation in Film: Erasure On Screen & Behind the Camera Across 1,300 Popular Movies.” We spoke about how Hispanic and Latino people are portrayed onscreen, how a town where half the population is Hispanic or Latino still produces material that excludes them to such a deep extent, and what the roadmap is to get at fixing this oversight. Ariana can be found at the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which is on Twitter @inclusionists and Instagram @Inclusionists.
I spoke to the wonderful Ed Zitron, who wrote “Say Goodbye To Your Manager” in The Atlantic. We had a blunt, rollicking discussion about how the profession and discipline of management has mutated into something altogether different, how that hurts both managers and workers, what happens when anecdotes have replaced data in stories about remote work, and where this all goes from here. Ed can be found at his newsletter, ez.substack.com, and on Twitter @EdZitron.
I spoke to Sarah Frier, the author of No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram. The past two weeks has revealed a great deal of information about how Instagram and Facebook operate thanks for the most part to a trove of documents published by The Wall Street Journal. Sarah can be found at Bloomberg where she runs the big tech team, she’s on Twitter and the book No Filter is available wherever books are sold.
I spoke to Dina Fine Maron who wrote “Criminals are stealing giant clams—and carving them like ivory. Here's why.” for National Geographic. I love Wildlife Watch, Dina’s team at National Geographic, and their coverage of the crimes related to animals. This story about the diversification of the ivory trade and the creatures other than elephants that are now threatened by demand for ivory. We spoke about this latest story as well as a story she wrote back over the summer, all about dolphin therapy and how they’re oftentimes oversold to desperate families. Dina Fine Maron can be found at Wildlife Watch at National Geographic and on Twitter.
A few weeks ago, I wrote up a story about Hakuho, a sumo wrestler, who had announced his retirement. When I saw this news break, I knew there was one person who I had to talk to about it, my former FiveThirtyEight colleague Benjamin Morris. Back in 2016, Ben wrote one of my favorite-ever stories, The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making, all about the sport and its history and this guy named Hakuho, who even then Ben argued was the greatest of all time. I spoke to Ben all about the greatest’s retirement, the changing face of sumo, and what made Hakuho so dang good. It’s a great read even if you don’t know anything about the sport. Ben can be found on Twitter at @skepticalsports.
I spoke to my former colleague and longtime friend Sam Ro, one of the smartest people covering finance and the economy. Sam wrote a really great post recently called 4.3 million quitters and me 👋 to launch his new newsletter, TKer (pronounced Ticker) all about what’s been going on in the economy. I have been an avid reader of Sam for a while and it’s great to see him get back to posting on the regular. Sam can be found at TKer.
I spoke to Casey Crownhart, who wrote “How two new supercomputers will improve weather forecasts” for MIT Technology Review. We spoke about the role of the NWS, why the big gains lately have been in not just predicting storm landfall but also the much harder storm intensity, and what role climate change has in this. Casey can be found at MIT Technology Review, which you should subscribe to, and on Twitter.
I spoke to Stacey Vanek Smith, the host of The Indicator from Planet Money on NPR and the author of the new book Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace. Machiavelli wrote the book not for the inheriting prince but for the conquering prince, the new entrant, and Smith argues that as a result it’s full of really great advice for women and people of color and LGBT folks in the workforce. She blends this angle with some really compelling economic and sociological research about how workplaces operate. Machiavelli for Women is available wherever books are sold, and Stacey Vanek Smith can be found at The Indicator and on Twitter.
I spoke to the brilliant Alex Abad-Santos who wrote “The Open Secret of Looking Like A Superhero” for Vox. Alex is one of my favorite culture writers, and he wrote a really incisive story about the impacts that PED use in Hollywood and social media has on viewers. His story peels back the façade set up by the industry and speaks the truth all about how pervasive steroids and hormone usage is in the entertainment business We also talked about the pressures pushing actors towards this, from the demise of the mid-budget movie to the dominance of comic book movies, which bring hyper-masculine superheros from the page to the screen. Also, we talked about his favorite topic, the X-Men. Alex can be found at Vox, on Twitter and on Instagram.
I spoke to Alexander Kaufman, who wrote Oklahoma Proposes Letting Gas Utility Charge A $1,400 ‘Exit Fee’ To Go Electric for HuffPost. We spoke about the recent COP26 conference and why the outcome left a whole lot to be desired, as well as what’s happening in Oklahoma and how it might lay the groundwork for more natural gas companies flexing political power to extract anti-consumer laws. Kaufman can be found at HuffPost and on Twitter.
I spoke to Jordyn Holman, who wrote Good Luck Finding Deals This Year With All the Supply Chain Chaos for Bloomberg. I love Black Friday; it’s a fascinating holiday that for whatever reason reveals a great deal about the health of commerce in the country. Jordyn’s brilliant, her work at Bloomberg is always a great read, and she took some time out of a particularly busy Black Friday to talk about the evolution of the day. She can be found at Bloomberg, on Twitter, and on Instagram.
I spoke to Ernie Smith who writes the Tedium and Midrange newsletters. A week ago he had a great story, ‘A Chart-Record Feast 🎶’ in Midrange. I really love Ernie’s newsletters, Tedium at this point is iconic and is a brilliant weekly dive into the kind of topics nobody else is writing about, and Midrange is on the newer side and has been a great read into quicker but nonetheless fascinating topics. Smith can be found at Tedium, at Midrange, and on Twitter at @ShortFormErnie.
I spoke to Surya Mattu and Aaron Sankin, who wrote Crime Prediction Software Promised to Be Free of Biases. New Data Shows It Perpetuates Them for The Markup. We talked about how exactly they managed to report this out and how The Markup is able to use data to bring accountability to new technology that hasn’t been adequately vetted. Mattu and Sankin can each be found on Twitter, there’s a bunch of data for this story they’ve uploaded to GitHub if you’re interested in getting hands on with it, you can read more about how they pulled this off here, and the story is over at The Markup.
I spoke to Cameron Easley, who wrote “Insurrection. Inflation. Infection. Inflation. Here’s the News That Broke Through For 2021” with Eli Yokley for Morning Consult. The partisan gap in news actually seemed to take a dip after several years of expansion. The top news story of the year wasn’t anywhere near as read as the top stories of the years prior. We saw a shift in what people were reading, one only visible looking at the entire year as a whole. It’s cool stuff. Most important of all, a boat got stuck in the Suez Canal. Cameron can be found at Morning Consult and on Twitter.