Numlock News: April 29, 2019 • Potatoes, Legos, Avenged
By Walt Hickey
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Avengers: Endgame did the unthinkable and absolutely demolished not only the record, but even the entire conception of what is possible in a weekend at the box office. The film made $350 million in North America and $859 million overseas for a $1.2 billion opening weekend. Here’s how insane that is — prior to this past weekend the most money the American box office in its totality has ever generated in a single weekend was $314 million. The biggest domestic opener previously was $257.6 million. It was the widest release ever, with more than 4,662 theaters exhibiting the movie, and it’s not just the U.S. and Canada: after 4 days it’s the fourth-highest grossing film in China of all time and it’s got the biggest opening weekend in 43 international markets. Sorry if I’m sounding breathless, but as someone who is both a Marvel geek and a box office nerd this is basically my Miracle on Ice.
The IRS operates a program designed to encourage tipsters to rat out tax cheats, and a few major awards meant that last year was the largest ever. The IRS gave $312 million to tipsters as part of the program stemming from the $1.4 billion collected as a result of the tips. That’s way higher than the previous 2012 record of $125 million awarded, and it’s not slowing down: already in 2019 the agency has paid out $115 million to whistleblowers. The program — enacted in 2006 and clarified in 2018 to raise payments for offshore cheating cases — pays tipsters up to 30 percent of the monies reclaimed.
A massive fake Lego operation was shut down by Shenzhen police. All told, 10 assembly lines with more than 90 molds produced about 630,000 completed sets worth over $30 million. The rip-offs were sold as Lepin, and included such vaunted counterfeit intellectual properties as “STAR WNRS” and “The Lepin Bricks 2.” Part of this was China attempting to strengthen intellectual property rights, part of it was a safety concern given the illicit nature of the materials made by Lepin. When it comes to mediocre ripoffs at least we know Mega Bloks are probably not poisonous.
In 2018, only 16 percent of the technology companies that went public were profitable, the lowest percentage since 2000, right before the dot-com bust, when 14 percent of tech companies that hit the open markets were profitable. From 1980 to the mid-1990s, that figure generally hovered between 70 percent and 90 percent, and following the dot-com bubble it rose again to between 30 percent and 70 percent. But now, growth is appealing enough to investors that the promise of future rewards is sufficient to persuade companies to take the jump onto the NYSE. Tech’s unique like that: the idea that, say, an unprofitable restaurant would even flirt with a public listing is hilarious.
Dealing with an onslaught of trash, municipalities are now working to ban single-use plastic containers and cups, with Europe planning the obsolescence of plastic cups by 2021, India by 2022 and Taiwan by 2030. In January, Berkeley, California voted to add a 25 cent surcharge to all takeaway cups, a move often implemented before bans are considered. This looming legal dilemma is prompting coffee shops like Starbucks (which goes through 6 billion cups per year) and Dunkin' (1 billion cups per year) and McDonald’s (which is McDonald’s, everyone has eaten there, we all know they use a ton of cups), the three of which sling a collective $20 billion in coffee annually. All told the U.S. uses 120 billion paper, plastic and foam cups, 99.75 percent of which ends up in the landfill.
PepsiCo is suing four potato farmers in India over patent infringement. Pepsi owns FritoLay and owns proprietary potatoes called FC5, which have been designed to be lower moisture. PepsiCo claims the farmers are not authorized to grow their variety and has demanded 10 million rupees (about $142,000) from each. Agricultural activists in India counter the suit is illegal bullying, and that the nation’s laws are on the farmers’ side on this one.
The wheels on the bus go round and round, choking our children and stymying their intellectual growth in the process by belching pollutants around young minds. I mean that sounds kind of severe, but it’s also not entirely wrong: there’s ample evidence that exposure to air pollution and particulate matter can hurt cognitive functions, and that the nation’s bus fleet is old and runs on diesel. A new study found that retrofitting those engines to filter harmful pollutants saw significant improvements in respiratory health and convincing evidence of improvements in academic performance. The cost of retrofitting 10 percent of the average district’s fleet was $90,000, while the lifetime value of doing so — between improved health and test scores — was $3.45 million.
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