Numlock News: August 8, 2019 • Snakebites, Star Wars, Seals
By Walt Hickey
Zillow, the company people turn to when they’re looking for real estate, has become seriously involved in the actual buying and selling of houses. In its last quarter, $248.9 million of the data company’s $599.6 million in revenue came from buying and selling homes directly. The company bought 1,525 homes from April to June in 15 markets, and sold 768 homes, with plans to be in 26 housing markets by the middle of 2020. Granted, the company posted a $71.1 million loss doing that, but given that the number of homes it bought is higher than the number it sold, I think I can figure out why. The company essentially flips houses, buying up properties and investing in repairs and then selling them, which, sure, sounds great as long as you’re not a human being, attempting to locate any value opportunity in the real estate market, who now has to compete with a rich algorithm specifically designed to exploit those inefficiencies.
The blockchain and cryptocurrency sectors are a hotbed of technical innovation and brilliant discovery, and a secretive group in Asia is pioneering a bold new use for the digital currencies heralded as the future of commerce, and it turns out it’s already funding cutting-edge indie rocket science! Here’s what the new report found: the organization, which goes by “North Korea,” has used cyberattacks to steal up to $2 billion from cryptocurrency exchanges and banks on at least 35 occasions and then subsequently uses those funds to invest in its nuclear missile program. Actually sounds pretty bad when you put it that way, come to think of it.
For the millions of Muslims who embark on the hajj to the Grand Mosque in Mecca, just know that the exceedingly positive reviews on the hotels and tour packages may not exactly be due to attentive service or quality accommodations, but rather the religious elation that accompanies such experiences. The average TripAdvisor rating for stores, eateries and hotels in Mecca is a heavenly 4.96 out of 5, compared to an average 3.96 stars among the 200 best tourist destinations in Europe. A similar halo effect is seen to a lesser degree at other religious pilgrimage sites, with a combined average rating of 4.63 stars for attractions near Haridwar, India, the Maya Devi Buddhist temple, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Western Wall. Think of these like those product reviews that actually evaluate the speedy delivery: not particularly helpful, but I get the appeal of reviewing the whole package.
Snakebites in the U.S. disproportionately happen in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Florida, which combined accounted for 39 percent of all reported bites among kids in a 2016 study. The leading culprit is the copperhead: in 2018, there were 2,118 Copperhead bites and 5,093 snakebites from other snakes. That’s on the rise, up from 1,840 copperhead bites in 2014 and 4,507 other bites. Bites tend to happen where the suburbs encroach on areas where snakes thrived before development, and wet winters (like this past winter) tend to drive the snakes to get a bit bitey.
Magic Down 3 Percent
Disney reported earnings on Wednesday, and while most of the attention was paid to the streaming offerings on the way, the theme parks also saw some impact from the newly-unveiled Star Wars attractions in Disneyland and imminent attractions in Disney World. Attendance was down 3 percent at the parks, which the company says is linked to a decrease in annual pass visitors and people deferring vacations until after the Florida installation opens. Nevertheless, revenue was up 7 percent at the parks thanks to price hikes and the fact that now I can pay a person to make me a lightsaber and what even is the point of capitalism if not to spend resources on such ephemera?
FedEx and Amazon are splitting up, with the delivery company no longer offering ground transportation to the retailer as of the end of the month. Back in June, FedEx dropped Amazon from its air cargo service. Last year, Amazon accounted for a reported 1.8 percent of FedEx’s revenue, but the pair of companies are increasingly looking like competitors when it comes to logistical optimization rather than partners or collaborators. Their field is poised only to grow: according to FedEx, the overall daily volume of packages is poised to rise from 50 million parcels per day today to 100 million by 2026.
Mankind’s ancient war with Sealkind is approaching a head in Moloka’i in Hawaii, and the U.S. federal government is looking for someone who can smooth this whole thing over. Basically, of all the many marine species placed on the endangered species list, merely two — the Hawaiian monk seal and the southern resident killer whale — have failed to recover at all. The seals like to eat fish, but so do the people around thereabouts, and the competition along with the opportunistic following of fishing boats and the overt protections from the federal government have made for a testy situation: eight Hawaiian monk seals have been killed by humans in the past decade, which sounds like nothing until you learn there’s barely 1,100 of them left. Now, NOAA’s Protected Resources Division is working to hire an intermediary to defuse the situation.
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