Numlock News: February 26, 2020 • FCC Complaints, Solar Cells, Ponzi Schemes
By Walt Hickey
Last year, state and federal authorities uncovered 60 alleged Ponzi schemes. Ponzi schemes — where a fraudster pays early investors large “returns” that are raised from new investors until the whole operation collapses upon itself — were made most famous in 2008, when Bernie Madoff’s $65 billion scheme was discovered. Several others were unearthed in the aftermath of the financial crisis — including a $3.7 billion fraud from Thomas Petters in 2008 and an $8 billion fraud from Allen Stanford in 2009 — but last year a total of $3.25 billion in investor funds were tied up in such illicit schemes, the highest level since 2010.
Two programmers wrote every possible MIDI file melody into existence on a hard drive and then copyrighted the whole thing in an attempt to stymie copyright lawsuits against musicians. A person can be sued for copyright infringement even if the copying was indirect, such as when Tom Petty sued and got royalties from Sam Smith over “Stay With Me” bearing melodic similarities to “I Won’t Back Down.” The algorithm generated 300,000 melodies per second, recording every single possible 8-note, 12-beat melody combination.
This year, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira put on a halftime show for the ages, burning down the house in Miami and altogether scoring rave reviews. The show also led to 1,312 complaints from viewers, who may have wrongly thought the twerking was a tad much, to the Federal Communications Commission. The miscellaneous Helen Lovejoys voiced their dissatisfaction with the performance, which highlighted the vibrant culture of the city and, in the eyes of 1,312 viewers, was a stain on the otherwise blameless reputation of the Pepsi corporation and their halftime show festivities. Given that 102 million people watched the Super Bowl, the 0.00128 percent dissatisfaction rate is pretty solid, great show everybody.
An H-1B visa allows foreign workers to enter the United States to work on high-skill jobs, particularly in technology fields. A new survey of over 11,500 such H-1B workers at large technology firms found that large fractions of them felt under pressure to perform at work as a result of their visa status. The extent of pressure the workers reported varied widely company to company: Just 50 percent of H-1B workers at Adobe reported feeling such pressure, a low across the board, while at Microsoft, Amazon and Apple that figure was in the 74 to 69 percent range. It’s especially onerous at a handful of places: 80 percent of Uber workers on an H-1B visa, 85 percent of the workers at Netflix and 100 percent of H-1B employees at Lyft said they had felt some sort of pressure to perform as a result of their visa status.
A new study of European film critics found that women wrote an average of 28.5 percent of film reviews across the continent, with Spain seeing the continental low of 21 percent and Italy the high of 33 percent. All told, 34 percent of film critics across the countries studied were women, which is considerably lower than the 44 percent of working journalists overall, and — back of the napkin here — a lot less than the 50 percent of the population that would otherwise constitute parity. Unsurprisingly, just 16 percent of films reviewed were directed by women, an even more disappointing statistic. In North America, women accounted for 34 percent of critics and wrote just 32 percent of reviews.
The RIAA has released a new study that found streaming revenues grew 13 percent in 2019, up to $11.1 billion from $9.8 billion. Streaming now accounts for fully 79 percent of the overall revenue for the music business, and the fastest growing segment of it is paid subscription streaming services that enjoyed 25 percent year over year growth, now hitting 61 percent of all the money made from recorded music in the United States. Digital downloads — paying 99 cents for a song that you then own — have quietly become a thing of the past, now accounting for just 8 percent of revenue, down 18 percent from last year and the first year since 2006 that paid downloads made less than $1 billion.
The future of solar isn’t in small, tiny solar farms, but rather large mega-projects where the costs stay low and the scale is simpler. In 2019, developers set a new record, commissioning 35 projects in sizes of 200 megawatts or higher. That’s up 17 percent from the previous year. A megawatt of capacity necessitates 3,000 solar panels, approximately, so a 200-megawatt project needs something like 550 football fields of space. Prices for solar panels are down 88 percent in the past decade and are projected to fall another 43 percent by 2030, meaning that players who can operate at scale can see some serious benefits with each additional foot of land available to lay down panels, particularly when it comes to the more fixed costs on transmission lines and substation designs.
This weekend’s Sunday special was a really great interview with Alison Griswold about California’s controversial AB5 law. She’s brilliant and her sharing economy newsletter Oversharing is a huge personal favorite of mine, check it out.
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