Numlock News: August 16, 2023 • CAPTCHA, Messi, Disney
By Walt Hickey
A Messi Business
Lionel Messi, the best soccer player ever, turns out not to be a brand name when it comes to the clothing line that’s cashing in on his name. MGO Global is the fashion line that licenses the Messi name and slaps it on apparel, and much like a complacent opposing defense Messi is categorically winning the matchup. Messi himself was paid out $320,229 in royalties in the quarter ending in June, even though sales of his clothing line only amounted to $226,645 over the same period. That’s actually decent sales, up 134 percent over last quarter, but given that they’re losing money on the arrangement — and owe Messi another $2.2 million through November 2024 — those numbers need to improve.
Disney is being sued by TSG, the film financing company that put up $3.3 billion to back the budgets of 140 projects produced by Fox. If you’re wondering which one TSG is, when a movie opens there’s a Greek statue of a bowman who draws an arrow and shoots it through a bunch of axes toward the viewer, and they’re one of the companies that funnel investor money into the movie business, backing hits like Avatar: The Way of Water, The Grand Budapest Hotel and a ton of other projects you’ve seen. They also alleged they’ve been screwed by so-called “Hollywood accounting,” and that they’ve been bilked out of millions thanks to shrinking theatrical videos and direct-to-streaming plays that they argue came at their expense. Amid the allegations, TSG says a third-party audit of 3 percent of their films found Fox underpaid them by at least $40 million across those films through practices including self-dealing movies to FX, putting shows directly on Disney+ the same day they’re on Blu-Ray, and jacked up fees on digital sales through Apple, Amazon Prime Video and more.
In a deal that will seriously shake up the carbon removal space, Occidental Petroleum will pay $1.1 billion to buy Carbon Engineering Ltd., the Canadian startup seen as among the most promising developers and suppliers of carbon capture technology that some see as a Hail Mary in the climate fight. Occidental plans to build 100 direct air capture plants that will capture CO2 and reuse or bury it. Last week the Department of Energy announced $1 billion in grants to sites in Texas and Louisiana, some of which will fund 30 of Occidental’s proposed direct air capture plants.
“Last Night” by country musician Morgan Wallen has reached 16 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot 100, tying for second place with 1995’s “One Sweet Day” by Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men as well as 2017’s “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee featuring Justin Bieber. It now stands just a few weeks away from the record 19 weeks “Old Town Road” — which is by Lil Nas X and featuring Billy Ray Cyrus — spent at No. 1. It also means that “Last Night” is now the longest time spent at the top of charts of any song that by an act with no accompanying featured artists.
A new research paper that’s awaiting peer review found that AI systems are now better at solving CAPTCHAs than humans are. The puzzles, which involve identifying objects, rotating images, or decoding distorted letters, were originally designed to thwart attacks from automated bots, by presenting an impediment that humans could somewhat easily solve while machines would struggle with. Just a few years ago, Google was already warning that CAPTCHA was in danger of being defeated by bots, and this paper from Microsoft, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the University of California, Irvine, argues we’re well past that. The 1,400 recruited humans solved CAPTCHAs correctly anywhere from 50 percent to 85 percent of the time, while the bots’ accuracy was between 85 percent and 100 percent, with the majority of the bots tested above 96 percent. It’s a little annoying that the very first things designers of AI sought to automate away happened to be “creative artistic expression” and “the ability to figure out if something is a robot” and not, like, “drudgery.”
The move to make LEDs the primary form of lighting in homes and businesses is shaping up to be huge when it comes to energy efficiency. In 2005, your typical commercial building spent 40 percent of its electricity just lighting the place, a figure that today is between 6 percent and 8 percent. An incandescent bulb gets 17 lumens of light per watt, while your typical equivalent LED is looking at 70 lumens per watt, and the Department of Energy is looking at north of 200 lumens per watt as a feasible target. With lighting accounting for 15 percent of global power consumption and LEDs accounting for half of global lighting sales, switching to more efficient lighting is critical not only to reducing the costs of light, but also making it more available worldwide without damaging the atmosphere.
An analysis of 2 million tax records from lawyers and 10 million tax records from doctors found that on balance, the average lawyer will make out a little bit better financially over the course of their lifetime earnings ($7.1 million) than the average doctor ($6.5 million). That said, there are some fascinating regional disparities going on. First, the best-paid lawyers are in New York City and in D.C., which isn’t especially surprising given that’s where lots of financial services companies live and where laws come from, respectively. But the best-paid doctors are not in the big cities, and not even in the cities: In 2017, the average doctor in their prime earning years made $524,000 in South Dakota, and $468,300 in North Dakota, well above the $405,000 made by the average prime age doctor in the U.S. and even more than the $447,000 made by the average doctor in New York. Doctors in rural areas of all kinds made more than their peers in high-income areas, in no small part because rural areas have 20 percent of the people but only 10 percent of the doctors, so they stay busy and can charge more for it.
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