Numlock News: January 6, 2023 • Piñatas, Baguettes, Childrens Television
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
Last week two comics I edited at Insider were released, you should check them out! Bulldozer Injustice is about an activist in India whose house was demolished by the government in retaliation, and 88 Days of Hell is about a Ukrainian man who was held in the Russian filtration system for nearly three months.
Rising energy costs in France have put the iconic baguette in the hot seat, with inflation-related ingredient costs coupled with the rising price of fuel making it harder for bakers to keep prices down. The government is concerned, and not just because of the historical behavior of the French people toward their government when the price of bread goes up: the French government is pressuring energy companies to renegotiate bills with the smallest businesses to keep prices near the reference price of €280 ($295) per megawatt hour. One baker, who owned 20 bakeries in western France, said a baguette is now selling for €1.30, up 10 percent last month.
Disney reported that after Wednesday, Avatar: The Way of Water has made $1.51 billion worldwide, which puts it above the $1.49 billion made by Top Gun: Maverick last summer to become the second-highest grossing films of the pandemic era, after Spider-Man: No Way Home which made $1.916 billion. The two films are interesting for a couple reasons among the films of 2022, in no small part because of how much of their money they made overseas. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Jurassic World Dominion all did in the same ballpark domestically as Avatar has in just four weeks, but the difference overseas hundreds of millions of dollars, the same thing seen with Top Gun: Maverick. One potential lesson is that the interconnected nature of the big franchises like Marvel and Jurassic World may be suffering a bit because of the backstory needed to appreciate them, while Maverick and Water are pretty much standalone sequels.
The Whitebark pine was officially listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December, after being a candidate for protection since 2011. The species was listed as endangered in Canada as early as 2012, but it’s been more difficult to get protection for the pines stateside. The threats are myriad: mountain pine beetles, the blister rust fungus, and wildfires are just some of the factors that have sent mortality rates for the trees up to an alarming level. They have a range of 80.5 million acres across the West, and thanks to the new listing there’s now funding available to restore the trees and ramifications to removing them on federal land.
The original form for piñatas is a seven-pointed star, thought to go back to Catholic missionaries in the 1500s. The artistic medium of piñata design has long since expanded past the classics, though, and now TikTok, emoji and meme-themed piñatas are a solid percentage of the trade. The art of creating the doomed sculptures is a large one in Mexico, where sometimes entire towns exist to crank out the piñatas for consumption all over the country and continent, including a surprising amount of innovation and differentiation. About 80 percent of piñata sales at one family-owned shop in Reynosa are childrens’ television or cartoon characters, with the balance mostly pop culture figures, politicians, and memes. Custom orders can come in over WhatsApp for any design for about 500 pesos ($25) and be ready within a week.
The Power Of The Sun In The Palm Of My Hand
One avenue of green energy research that has long appealed to scientists is using the energy of the Sun to split molecules of water. There are two general strategies to accomplish this, one uses a photoelectrochemical cell that absorbs sunlight and uses the energy to generate a charge that’s fed into a catalyst that splits water molecules and makes hydrogen gas and oxygen gas. The best convert about a quarter of the solar energy into hydrogen fuel, but they require lots of corrosive chemicals that damage the tech. The other strategy is a monolithic photocatalytic cell that immerses a light-absorbing semiconductor in water, which tends to have way less efficiency — roughly 3 percent — but don’t eat themselves the way the PEC cells do. New research out of the University of Michigan has developed the photocatalytic equipment and the process involved, and has hit 9.2 percent efficiency, according to a new study published in Nature, is very close to the 10 percent efficiency target where commercial viability is in hand.
Last year saw the bottom fall out of kids television networks. Compared to viewership levels seen in 2017, primetime viewership of sports and news on cable is down 19 percent, unscripted reality television is down 34 percent, and general entertainment is down 38 percent, but kids television in primetime has seen audiences collapse 76 percent in 2022 compared to 2017. Kids cable television is still a lucrative business — collectively they’re estimated to bring in $3.1 billion in affiliate fees in 2022, with Disney Channel getting $1.1 billion, Nickelodeon $725.5 million and Cartoon Network $324.2 million — but it’s not clear how sustainable that is as a business.
The Federal Trade Commission voted 3-1 to start the process of implementing a new rule that would ban noncompete clauses from being imposed by employers on workers, which they described as exploitative. According to the FTC the agency estimated that the proposed rule would raise wages by $300 billion per year and impact 30 million Americans who lack job mobility due to contractual constraints imposed by their bosses. When Hawaii banned noncompetes for newly hired technology workers, a study found wages went up 4 percent. When Oregon made noncompetes unenforceable for low-wage workers in 2008, a study found wages of hourly workers went up 2 percent to 3 percent.
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