Numlock News: August 18, 2023 • White Noise, Draft Beer, Grown Diamonds
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
Lab-grown diamonds were a $12 billion business last year, up a whopping 38 percent year over year, and this year diamond jewelry that is produced from stones grown in a laboratory facility rather than mined from the ground has already surpassed that figure, with $14.6 billion in sales so far in 2023. This is a massive shift in the diamond business; as recently as 2016, lab-grown gems were responsible for just $700 million in sales. The savings of growing gems in labs are substantial: A generic lab-grown diamond sells for $1,425 per carat right now, vastly less than the $5,185 per carat that a natural diamond fetches and well under the $5,450 per carat that a lab-grown gem fetched in 2016.
According to an internal document at Spotify, as of January “podcasts” that were in effect just white noise machines accounted for 3 million hours of daily audio consumption, and while the company considered pulling the plug on the format, the service said that it’s continuing to host white noise. It’s a lucrative niche — some white noise podcasts can bring in $18,000 a month based on injected advertisements — but it’s got the platforms and rival audio content skittish, as there’s only so much money to go around here and it’s a bit peculiar that white noise is getting a bite at the royalty pool.
Last week’s Sunday edition was a free-to-read podcast edition with Ashley Carman talking all about audio, you can find it on Spotify and Apple Podcasts and follow the Numlock Podcast there. Ashley writes the excellent Soundbite newsletter. Right now the podcast industry is in utter chaos, the music industry is beseiged by an enigmatic TikTok and the rise of AI, and the main things that appear to be working in the record business are unexpected niches, like country music and Mexican regional music. Check out the interview, and check out Soundbite.
While the mental image that most people have of a wildfire is a forest fire, those are actually far from the most common type of conflagration, which is a grass fire that can nevertheless be serious, devastating and fatal. An analysis of burns in 11 western U.S. states from 1984 to 2020 found that just 35 percent were in forests, and of the 30 largest fires that have happened in Texas since 2000, 28 of them were in grass in West Texas. This makes sense from a numbers standpoint: Grassland makes up 60 percent of land use in the West and 29 percent of land on the Pacific Coast, and the domination of non-native grasses in the areas are making matters worse, as invasive cheatgrass can triple an area’s susceptibility to wildfires.
A new poll found that 67 percent of U.S. adults believe that college athletes should be able to be paid by their school, with 64 percent agreeing that college athletes should be able to get employee status and 59 percent agreeing that they should have the right to collectively bargain as a labor union. While the NCAA has had a complicated couple years, support for the organization is up to 75 percent, considerably higher than the 66 percent who held a favorable view of the organization in 2020.
The latest edition of a recurring annual analysis of every speaking character in the top 100 films of each year has arrived, with the percentage of women hitting 34.6 percent of all speaking characters in the films of 2022. This is obviously far from reality — men do not outnumber women two to one on Earth — but nevertheless is the highest level in the history of the study, which has analyzed the top 100 films since 2007. Behind the camera, just 10 women were directors of the top 100 films of 2022, 16.3 percent of writers were women, and just 26.8 percent of producers were women. In films directed by women, 44.3 percent of speaking characters were women, compared to 33.4 percent in films directed by men.
In 2003, Alaska decided that cows could have an island for themselves as a treat. Chirikof Island in the Gulf of Alaska is home to approximately 2,000 cows and bulls, first brought there by Russians and left behind when Alaska was sold to the U.S. in 1867. Rumor spread of the rogue cattle off the islands around Kodiak, and a rancher bought the rights to it in the 1920s. By 1939 the situation was a bit of a fiasco with 1,500 feral cattle on a generally difficult to access island owned by a delusional businessman incapable of actually herding them. In 1980, the federal government created the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which included Chirikof. By then, the cows had fans, and some of those fans ascended to the highest levels of American government, including Gov. Frank Murkowski who wanted to protect them and Sen. Lisa Murkowski who was able to get Congress to direct the Fish and Wildlife Service to leave them be.
Draft beer has been in decline since 2014, but the pandemic and the way it changed alcohol consumption patterns punched a 2-million-keg hole into draft beer consumption. In 2019, 17,500,000 barrels of kegged beer were sold, a figure that collapsed to 9,000,000 in 2020 when the brunt of the pandemic shuttered bars and the other on-premises alcohol sellers that constitute the bulk of demand for kegs. It’s looking like for 2023, the total number of kegs that are sold will end up at approximately 13,500,000 barrels, which is a 20 percent decline. Since kegs were already in decline, the fact that it’s lower isn’t particularly a shock, but what is surprising is that had the trend since 2014 held, we’re still at 15 percent lower than would have been projected.
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