Numlock News: July 24, 2019 • Olympics, Dead Ice, Snapchat
By Walt Hickey
The IRS has decided that people can pay for 23andMe’s genetic testing using tax advantaged accounts, decreeing that as far as taxes are concerned the health portion of the test is medical care. There hasn’t been a ruling on the ancestry version. This means that users can claim $117.74 of the $199 kit as medical care for tax purposes, adding yet another specious proposition to the grand list of poor choices that qualify as tax benefits, which already include “moving to Florida,” “owning a home” and “subsequently declaring that home a place of worship.”
One of the most effective ways to campaign for Emmy Awards is to advertise on billboards in downtown Los Angeles. A high-end spot on the Sunset Strip can go for $75,000 to $150,000 per month. Options are increasingly limited, down to 108 billboards after Netflix decided to cut out the middle man and bought 35 billboards for a reported $150 million in the best part of town. The streaming players have bought up so much inventory that supply is fairly tight, but the campaigners are worried that with so many billboards as “For Your Consideration” it’s becoming harder to get the point across.
Lest We Forget
Iceland used to have 400 glaciers, but the once mighty Okjökull glacier — which a century ago covered 15 square kilometers and measured 50 meters thick — has been degraded to a dead ice sheet less than 15 meters deep and covering just a square kilometer. A glacier is a mass of ice that accumulates more size each winter than it loses to melt and constantly moves, whereas Okjökull is now just “dead ice”. In August, a plaque will commemorate the former glacier, with a monument acknowledging that we are aware of what’s happening and what has to be done.
For Whom The Toll Bells
As highways switch to electronic toll payment systems, the number of toll collectors are dwindling. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey employed 450 toll collectors in 1997 and now only has 158; the Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway are down to 884 collectors from 1,680 in the 1990s. The New York Thruway will soon transition to entirely automated tolling: when that was announced 19 months ago, there were 170 collectors in the system. In 1991, two years before E-ZPass, there were 789 full time and 1,153 part-time toll collectors. I get the convenience angle, but while people always joke about stagecoach drivers and lamplighters, it’s actually fairly wild to watch an occupation become obsolete in real time.
A maritime heatwave that was termed The Blob spread over 3,200 kilometers from 2013 to 2017, spanning from Alaska to Mexico. Its impact on the ecosystem will have ripple effects for years. Abnormally warm water meant certain death for all sorts of marine ecosystems, but also was great for organisms that have high heat tolerances, like jellyfish, mackerel, squid, hake and rockfish. Today we’re reckoning with the descendants of The Blob, and the numbers are huge: the previous record for market squid caught off the coast of Oregon was 1.2 million kilograms in 2016. In 2018, Oregon’s fishers hauled in 3 million kilograms of squid. On the other hand, fish like sockeye salmon are still recovering in some parts but thriving in others, with The Blob having thrown off entire ecosystems.
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NBCUniversal said it expects to sell over $1.2 billion in advertising over the 17 days of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That was the amount they made during the Rio telecasts, and the company said they’re already pacing ahead of that. The current $4.4 billion deal lets NBC broadcast the events through 2020, and Comcast has already agreed on a $7.75 billion deal that would get them the games from 2021 to 2032. NBC says one reason ads are selling so well is that advertisers want to put their name on something, anything, literally any single thing that has 100 percent nothing whatsoever to do with what experts think will be “a real humdinger” of an election. This includes the Olympics, the notoriously apolitical sporting event.
Snapchat turned it around, with 203 million daily active users in the second quarter. That’s up 190 million from the first quarter and up from 188 million the year before, an 8 percent gain year over year. The company juiced its user base by offering new lenses and filters, including exciting ones that used augmented reality to make fun effects like gender intensifiers. On average, users are creating 3.5 billion snaps per day, up from 2.5 billion in March 2017. Users are also spending more time on the Discover hub for public snaps and curated content, quite the turnaround after the app took a bruising from Instagram stories and TikTok.
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