Numlock News: August 23, 2019 • Volcanoes, Blood, Peppa Pig
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
The Jimmy Fallon Law
Minnesota is rolling out a new reform to its film and television incentive plan after The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon made a mockery of the rebate. The New York-based television program received $267,000 in subsidies from the state in 2018 after filming one episode in Minneapolis, the town that was hosting the Super Bowl. This illustrated how badly thought out the incentive plan really was, namely that it allocated funds on a first-come, first-serve basis rather than on whether the productions, in fact, created any local jobs or growth. The state has since fixed that loophole and also said it will no longer offer state funds to one-off television episodes tied to national events.
Hasbro will pay $4 billion to buy the Canadian studio Entertainment One, the company behind Peppa Pig and other kids series. The studio turned down a $1.3 billion bid from ITV last year, which is looking smart. The move will allow Hasbro to own an in-house studio to make programs based on its toy lines and will — once the licensing deals on Peppa Pig and PJ Masks end by 2021 — fully weaponize that intellectual property into an operational merchandising battle-station.
As a thirsty nation turns its tongues to carbonated water, the unambiguous market leader LaCroix is attempting to deflect reams of challengers. Back in 2013, there were two big names in carbonation, Perrier and San Pellegrino. Today those two brands — with $318 million and $214 million in annual sales — have been thwarted by the Pamplemousse-wielding LaCroix, which commands $800 million in sales. This has prompted retaliation from established brands like Coca-Cola (which paid $220 million to buy Topo Chico) and PepsiCo (which unleashed Bubly last year). Needless to say the Water Wars are in full swing, or as our climate change-wrecked descendants will say, Water War 1 is now in full swing.
Spit and Blood
The National Institutes of Health wants at least 1 million people to contribute their DNA to a database open to medical researchers looking for breakthroughs, and while giving a spit or a blood sample to a private corporation to do as they see fit is probably a bad idea, it’s worth considering the NIH’s pitch. So far 230,000 people enrolled in the program and 175,000 contributed a biological sample, not to mention electronic records and health measurements. But unlike the pay-to-play private world of DNA, the NIH offers genetic counseling services and uses the data to bolster research that incorporates genetic analysis of marginalized or underserved citizens, who make up 80 percent of participants. The cost of sequencing a full human genome has dropped steeply, from $95.3 million in 2001 to $17.5 million in 2005, $4,000 in 2015 and a reasonable $1,300 today.
It’s essential to note that not every well-intentioned or clever idea is necessarily a good one, as seen in a French experiment to overlay solar panels on roads to power a city and better utilize space currently covered in bleak asphalt. Well, it could have gone better. The one kilometer stretch of fragile solar panels in Normandy was protected by silicon and resin, and two years on we are reminded of why exactly we make roads out of that bleak material. The resin is peeling, the road was shortened by 100 meters because some panels were too damaged to repair, it generates half of what power was expected, and because a car driving over resin is hella loud, the speed had to be cut to 45 miles per hour. Listen, they’re not all going to be winners here, people.
Self-driving cars require a ton of data in order to properly understand the world around them, and that kind of data requires humans to individually identify what precisely is being “seen” by the vehicle. It’s brutally tedious work, and it’s largely being done by well-educated formerly middle class people in Venezuela who — as a result of 10 million percent inflation — need to earn a living. Right now, 75 percent of the traffic to Mighty AI, a company that connects large crowds of cheap workers to AI firms looking to tag trees and crosswalks and dogs and what not, was from Venezuela, and some similar firms in the space have about the same fraction of their workforce connecting from Venezuela.
There’s an enormous volcano under Yellowstone that, were it to erupt in a catastrophic fashion, could put a tenth of the world’s population in peril. Granted, large eruptions like that occur only once every 714,000 to 45,000 years, but that death toll would still average out to be worthy of observation, anywhere from 1,000 to 17,000 annualized lives. The U.S. spends $7 billion per year on aviation safety — airplane related incidents accounted for 556 deaths worldwide in 2018 — but merely $22 million on volcano monitoring, which sounds like a statistic you hear quite a lot in baggage claim in geology convention host cities. It would cost $370 million per year for the whole world to keep an eye on volcanoes to the same extent the U.S. does.
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