Numlock News: February 17, 2023 • Hot Box, Roblox, Kroger
By Walt Hickey
Have an excellent weekend! We’re off on Monday in observation of President’s Day, and then it’s smooth sailing on through May without any strange American federal holidays.
Lots of people want to be a member of Congress, which is sort of the minor league public employment that people pursue before making their way up to the big leagues, serving as high-powered and well-compensated lobbyists for large industrial concern. So many people want to serve in Congress that many people who otherwise wouldn’t have all much of a chance throw inordinate sums of their own money into their campaigns, which some might deride as attempting to buy their way into Congress but which is generally called “self-funding” because it sounds a bit more polite and after all these are rich people with fragile egos we’re talking about. A new analysis found that these self-funders dumped $297 million of their own money into their campaigns — 8 percent of the $3.6 billion raised by federal candidates in the whole 2022 cycle — but at the end of the day, most of them lost. Of the 44 candidates who spent more than $1 million of their own money on their campaign, only seven won a seat, a failure rate of 84.1 percent.
The average cost of shipping a container from China to the U.S. West Coast on the long-term contract market rose from $3,174 in April of 2021 to $8,607 in April 2022. As of February 9, that was all the way down to $2,618. On the spot market, it’s even lower: You can get a 40-foot container across the Pacific for $1,381, which is finally lower than the levels seen before the pandemic. Those lower freight rates are giving retailers a bit of hope that when they negotiate long-term deals with carriers they can get a great deal and stop hiking prices.
A Nielsen survey of streaming service customers found that the average user aged 18 to 49 spent an average of 12.7 minutes to make a selection. The average user over the age of 18 saw a 52 percent increase in the time spent choosing what to watch compared to March of 2019, when the available options were considerably smaller. The services worry about this because while customers obviously want a lot of movies and television with their subscription, if they’re actually not finding any of it, that could be a driver of unsubscribes.
Automaker Tesla is recalling 362,758 vehicles that have the company’s driver assistance software installed, with the company delivering an over-the-air software upgrade to fix issues. According to the notice on the website of the NHTSA, the current system — marketed as Full Self-Driving Beta — is having difficulty navigating intersections, which is generally considered to be a rather consequential element of driving.
Grocery store Kroger has an in-house data operation called 84.51, which sells information to 1,400 companies — including many grocery store staples — about sales and the people things are sold to. More consequentially for shoppers, the company claims to have over 2,000 variables on customers including 18 years of data from the Kroger Plus card program, including 2 billion annual transactions from 60 million households. The company claims it’s got over 35 petabytes of customer data, which is important because Kroger is trying to merge with Albertson’s and a competitive advantage that unique is drawing regulator attention.
Roblox, which is the actually commercially successful metaverse, revealed that the company finished January with 65 million daily active users, with spending on its in-game Robux currency up 17 percent last quarter to $899 million. This growth and success is remarkable compared to Meta, the Facebook parent which spent five times as much as Roblox did last year but has less than 1 million monthly active users actually using their metaverse platform Horizon Worlds.
A report released earlier this week from the NTSB revealed that the rail car that initiated the derailment outside East Palestine, Ohio, had an overheated wheel bearing. Technology to detect this problem exists; they’re called wayside hot-box detectors and they’re placed every 25 miles along a railroad and warn operators when there’s an issue. They’re very effective, and since 1990 their use contributed to a 59 percent decrease in train accidents. However, railroads have tried to operate more leanly, and as a result the devices get less maintenance: Norfolk Southern employed five specialized signalmen called electronic leaders in East Region North Division B as recently as three years ago, but today it employs zero.
It’s been an excellent few weeks in the Sunday edition, and I’ve unlocked a few for the long weekend if you want to read.
Last week, I spoke to Charlie Hall, who wrote “Tabletop funding was down on Kickstarter in 2022, but more campaigns succeeded overall” for Polygon. We spoke about what’s behind this explosive growth in board game variety, the recent kerfuffle in Dungeons & Dragons, and what it means for the immediate future of games. Hall can be found at Polygon and on Twitter.
Two weeks ago, I spoke to Lenika Cruz, who wrote On BTS: Pop Music, Fandom, Sincerity, a collection of her work from The Atlantic about the consequential musical act. Cruz can be found at The Atlantic, on Twitter and the book is available wherever books are sold.
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