Numlock News: January 30, 2024 • Gravel, Suits, Cryogenics
By Walt Hickey
Alaska’s North Slope, which encompasses some of the northernmost parts of the state, is increasingly short on gravel, of all things. Gravel is hard to come by, and is necessary to build new construction, roads and runways that keep the remote region tied into the rest of the state. As it stands, two Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation gravel pits have been exhausted over the past three decades, and now they are trying to develop a new one. Difficulties sourcing gravel mean that necessary infrastructure projects are seeing sky-high costs for construction that anywhere else in the country would be downright routine, such as a $330 million sea wall that stretches for just five miles, and projects being quoted $800 per cubic yard of gravel that could go for $15 per cubic yard in Anchorage.
This past weekend saw a rare photo finish at the box office, where Mean Girls pulled ahead of The Beekeeper by just $200,000 in order to finish No. 1 at the box office, with the former making $6.9 million and the latter $6.7 million. It’s believed that Sunday’s football games may have been the deciding factor, giving the edge to the Broadway musical adaptation while the male-skewing demo for The Beekeeper was otherwise indisposed watching the San Francisco 49ers.
Streaming services have been releasing television miniseries that are, in fact, just feature-length films with the re-addition of some cut scenes. November saw the release of the six-part miniseries Faraway Downs on Hulu starring Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman and directed by Baz Luhrmann. It’s just Australia, which bombed in U.S. cinemas in 2008, making $50 million on a $150 million budget. Baz added new music, graphics and an hour of new scenes that had been shot but not included in the original final cut, and then changed the ending. Also seeing a unique re-release was Blackberry, which literally came out last year and was converted into a three-part limited series released by CBC. There’s precedent: Networks used to do all sorts of nutty stuff, like making The Godfather parts one and two into a four-episode miniseries in the late ‘70s.
There are just 13 markets in the United States that have a team in the MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL, and one of them is Minnesota, which thanks to a tough finish to the Vikings’ season will now extend the longest active streak of championship appearance droughts to 32 years. Mind you, that’s not a drought of winning the championship, but merely of appearing in one, and it’s about 10 years longer than the runner-up. The last time Minnesota appeared in a championship was in the victorious 1991 World Series, with the Twins.
Rich guys who have reached deals with cryogenics firms to freeze their corpse or head upon their death have to contend with another major impediment beyond the whole “we don’t actually know if we’ll ever figure out how to do anything with the frozen brains” thing. Yes, the issue for the rich guys is that it’s not entirely legally clear how they can continue to be rich once unfrozen, and a cottage legal industry has cropped up around the cryogenics world to try to ensure that money can be left in trust for the frozen head which, in the eyes of the legal system, is dead and cannot inherit anything. Most U.S. states have a rule against perpetuities that cap trusts at 90 years, in many ways to avoid this exact kind of legal chicanery. The industry fighting to protect the rights of the wealthy wants to contest that, and not just for icicle-related reasons. They’ve won in some cases: In 2008, Arizona enabled trusts that could last 500 years, though its own attorney general conceded that the law is probably unconstitutional.
The price of chicken is poised to fall considerably as a glut of feed hits the market. Feed costs are about 60 percent of the expenses of raising birds, and the rising need for biofuels means that there is poised to be much cheaper feed on the market. When soybeans are processed, there are 4 tons of soymeal produced for every ton of soybean oil extracted. Soybean oil is expected to be in high demand, with the need for renewable diesel projected to rise from 2.7 billion gallons last year to 4 billion gallons in 2030. This means a ton of soymeal produced as a byproduct, which also means a ton of cheap chicken feed; compared to 2022, the levels of soymeal produced in the U.S. will be up 30 percent in 2026, which will keep prices for chicken and pork lower than otherwise.
Nielsen is out with their annual estimates of television viewership, and revealed that Suits was watched for an aggregate 57.7 billion total minutes in 2023, beating the record set in 2020 by The Office for most aggregate watch time, then 57.1 billion minutes. Last year was unique in that not a single original streaming show broke into the top 10, all of which were just traditional television programs that had seen revived interest or a second life on streaming. Following up Suits was Bluey (43.9 billion minutes), NCIS (39.4 billion minutes), Grey’s Anatomy (38.6 billion minutes), Cocomelon (36.3 billion minutes) and The Big Bang Theory (27.8 billion minutes). For perspective, the most-watched streaming original was Ted Lasso with just 16.9 billion minutes.
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Correction: the original version misstated Arizona’s recent performance in athletics.