Numlock News: August 15, 2023 • Echo, Fathom, Caspian
By Walt Hickey
Fathom Events is an extremely peculiar but overwhelmingly successful distributor, best known as the company that partners with movie theaters to distribute exactly three things: live opera, new anime and movies about Jesus. Their The Met: Live in HD program started in 2006 and puts 10 operas a year into cinemas on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and has grossed an aggregate $205 million, routinely making the top films of a given weekend. Last year, Fathom managed to rank as the ninth-grossing distributor in America, behind Lionsgate, with $68 million in ticket sales across 117 titles. They succeed by playing across a number of niches — it’s not like they’ve got a singular clientele of saved otaku with a penchant for Puccini — and are expanding into getting more live concerts, niche independent movies and theatrical distribution of Duck Dynasty-linked documentaries.
Produce titan Fresh Del Monte reported that they’re making a fortune off their new Pinkglow pineapples, which were the result of 16 years of R&D and which have bioengineered rose-colored flesh thanks to an abundance of lycopene. Sales of the premium fruit have doubled year over year, fueling a 26 percent increase in gross profit in their second quarter compared to last year, to $62 million. The fruits are produced in Costa Rica, and along with the Honeyglow pineapples — which were bred to be extra sweet — have racked up enough demand to actually start outpacing supply. I would pretend to be shocked, but ever since I learned what a pineapple actually looks like when it’s on the plant there is literally nothing about this fruit that can surprise me anymore.
Earlier this year, a court ruled that the Internet Archive was indeed liable for copyright infringement over a “National Emergency Library” where they scanned and loaned out books that are still copyrighted. They were being sued by four publishers — Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, John Wiley & Sons and Penguin Random House — over 127 books in particular, and the Internet Archive’s attempts to probe copyright law backfired and they were on the hook for what could be quite a bit of money. The archive still intends to appeal, but the judgement was extremely worrying for many because when they’re not operating a wildcat library, the Internet Archive is, well, the primary archive of the internet, and a big enough judgement could annihilate an utterly essential project for understanding the web’s history, expansion and growth, which would be disastrous. The good news is that the archive and the publishers have submitted a jointly proposed agreement, which includes a permanent injunction against sharing unauthorized scans of commercially-available work, and also a monetary settlement that, while covering lots of legal costs, won’t financially shatter the Internet Archive.
The Caspian Sea, bordered by Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Russia and Iran, is believed to be the site of all sorts of off-the-books shipping judging by frequent AIS (automatic identification system) gaps from Russian-flagged vessels operating in the lake. In July alone, there were 630 gaps in location and status transmission by 157 Russian-flagged vessels operating in the Caspian Sea, considerably more than the 138 gaps seen in the same month of last year. It’s not just Russia: In July, 47 Iranian vessels racked up 192 gaps in AIS, many of which were traveling between Russian and Iranian ports. Absent other partners, Russian trade with Iran has boomed since the invasion of Ukraine.
A new study out of Stanford found that software used to spot plagiarism and AI-generated writing is significantly more likely to incorrectly flag the work of non-native English speakers as AI-generated. Submitting human-written text by native English speakers saw 5.1 percent of submitted work flagged as AI-written, while human-written text by non-native English speakers was flagged 61.3 percent of the time. Part of this is that the way that AI writes — direct, efficient sentences with a somewhat more limited vocabulary — is inherently the way that anyone who has to speak in a new or different language will often write. They tested this in a really clever fashion: When they modified the text from non-native English to include more diverse vocabulary, only 11.6 percent was flagged as AI-written, and when they simplified the vocabulary of the native English speakers’ text, 56.9 percent were flagged as AI-generated.
The head of Amazon’s devices division is retiring, and the departure is putting a spotlight on a division that has both been incredibly successful from a sales perspective but categorically disastrous from a profit point of view. Essentially, Amazon is a highly profitable cloud services company that in 2014 decided to generously provide the world with hundreds of millions of smart speakers at a loss, presumably out of a generosity of spirit. The company, by all accounts, does not actually make a profit on each Alexa-enabled device, which is a bit of a problem when it’s literally sold 500 million of them, effectively Blue Monday-ing themselves at global scale, with recent years posting an annual operating loss of $5 billion. People using Echo devices to shop is way rarer than the company expected, and it’s not like they can just pump ads through them because then consumers will just discard them.
No More Bets
The hit movie in China right now is No More Bets, which is a crime thriller that follows two people lured into an online fraud ring and is inspired by real such operations. The movie has earned $247.5 million in its opening weekend, and is projected to finish at over $500 million, which is good enough for the biggest hit of the summer. Meg 2: The Trench, a Warner Bros. movie that was co-produced with the local CMC Pictures, has racked up a decent $91 million overall, but the American movie that’s been the real surprise in China is Barbie, which has earned an unexpected $35.8 million in the market off exceptional word of mouth among young women.
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