Numlock News: August 10, 2023 • Volkswagen, Starcruiser, Earendel
By Walt Hickey
Disney reported earnings yesterday, and while lots of attention was paid to forthcoming price changes in its streaming products, the parks situation is especially fascinating right now. The parks, experiences and products revenue was up 13 percent to $8.3 billion, buoyed by ticket price hikes for admissions and annual passes. The company revealed, though, that it will be taking a $250 million hit in accelerated depreciation on the closure of the immersive Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel in Florida, which featured a two-night stay where guests experienced a fully experiential Star Wars vacation, which basically breaks down to a write off of $2.5 million per room they built in it.
WeWork has indicated that its finances are less than ideal right now, as the co-working startup indicated that there are doubts as to whether they’ll be able to stay in business amid membership cancellations and a debt load that the market seems concerned can’t be paid. Since going public in October 2021, the stock price has dropped 99 percent, and as of Wednesday trade’s at 13 cents a share. A key issue is the debt: Right now, the notes due in 2025 are trading at 33.5 cents on the dollar, an indication that there are significant doubts it’ll actually be paid.
Today the California Public Utilities Commission will vote on whether or not to allow driverless car livery companies like Cruise and Waymo to continue to operate in the state. One thing they’re weighing is the input of police and fire departments that has generally come in negative, in particular the 55 “Unusual Occurrence” reports provided by the San Francisco Fire Department of times that an autonomous vehicle interfered with SFFD response. Autonomous vehicles have done some funky things, such as rapidly approaching firefighters working to extinguish fires, driving over hoselines, stopping abruptly in front of fire rigs and stopping their movement, ignoring caution tape and driving through downed Muni wires, blockading firefighters attempting to respond to a call, and blocked fire station entrances and exits.
Wolfsburg, Germany, is a city of 130,000 and fundamentally a company town, with a large Volkswagen factory employing 22,000 people and an adjacent corporate headquarters employing 38,000. This being Europe, the ample vacation made available to workers made it logistically ideal to just shut down the factory for three weeks every summer, so as to give everyone a reliable chunk of time off and also give a skeleton crew a chance to clean and implement maintenance. This does fascinating things to the city of Wolfsburg as a whole, which used to empty out pretty much entirely. Today, traffic still drops by 80 percent, but the town endeavors to schedule fun things like art exhibitions and concerts during the downtime for folks who prefer to stick around.
Everyone’s buzzing because the most popular show in America right now is Suits, a procedural which ran on USA Network and in mid-June landed on Netflix. It’s set a record for a licensed show on the platform, with Nielsen saying people watched 3 billion minutes of it on the streamer. This is pretty funny, as despite billion-dollar content spends and an unrelenting quest to create original programming, the main thing that viewers seem to want is a 134-episode nine-season procedural that ran on basic cable from 2011 to 2019. One thing helping it out is that Netflix dropped eight seasons at once, a ton of material, meaning that your typical Suits fanatic will get a lot more hours out of their watch than your typical Netflix Original fanatic, who gets two 10-episode seasons before Netflix cancels the show. Netflix makes a whole lot of bets: They released 1,017 new television series in the U.S. from 2019 to 2022, vastly more than rivals like HBO Max, which released 145.
The Swiss are getting salty at their neighbor Germany over the latter’s inability to operate a punctual train system to their exacting standards. Last year, one out of three long-distance trains operated by Deutsche Bahn were late, the worst performance in a decade. The Swiss are livid; officials there are considering banning DB trains, as German delays are seen at risk of degrading the timeliness of Switzerland’s rail system, which has just a 7.5 percent late arrival rate. Any train that arrives from Germany more than 15 minutes late is stopped at the city of Basel, where passengers transfer to a Swiss train. This mostly will come as a shock to my fellow American readers who have managed to read this entire newsletter while waiting for a single R train to show up at Herald Square.
Last year the Hubble Space Telescope discovered an ancient star visible in the warped power of gravity cluster WHL0137-08, and finally the significantly more powerful James Webb Space Telescope has been able to study the light of the star. It’s taken 12.9 billion years for the light of Earendel to get to Earth, and since it’s been traveling away from us since the Big Bang it’s now thought to be 28 billion light-years away. In a new statement, NASA has revealed that Earendel is a B-type star, it’s twice as hot as our G-type sun, it’s a million times as luminous, and it might also have a cooler, redder friend nearby. It’s the most momentous Earendel news since Eärendil the Mariner, carrier of the Silmaril and father of Elrond and Elros, along with the Eagles of Manwë slayed the dragon Ancalagon the Black in the ultimate battle of the War of Wrath, crushing the Thangorodrim and eventually leading to the destruction of Angband and capture of Morgoth.
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