Numlock News: June 26, 2019 • Electric Planes, Lacrosse, Kansas City
By Walt Hickey
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Kansas City Shuffle
A great conflict may be approaching an armistice, as the respective governors of Missouri and Kansas are eyeing a ceasefire over the issue of tax incentives for companies crossing the river for tax purposes. Basically, the Kansas City metro stands astride two states, and just as other states get into ruthless and shortsighted competitions to set up incentives for companies to pick up shop and move for tax credits, that whole concept has been pushed to the point of ridicule in Kansas City. Since 2011, 5,526 jobs moved from the Kansas side to the Missouri side and 6,729 existing jobs moved from the Missouri side to the Kansas side. Missouri paid $151 million to companies to move the jobs and Kansas paid $184 million, which is extremely stupid and a completely insane use of taxpayer money. The $335 million led to basically no new jobs, some new zip codes, and what literally sounds like a parody of a Planet Money episode.
The bee business is an exciting one, with mercenary apiaries going from town to town, ronin style, taking out pollination contracts in a life on the road. Bees, which are technically speaking livestock, are trucked all over the country to facilitate the vast pollination needed to make the American fruit and nut business function. It takes 31 billion bees to pollinate the 90 million almond trees in California each year. Since there aren’t enough natural pollinators for the job, bees are trucked around the country — to Massachusetts for cranberry pollination, to the Pacific Northwest for apples, to Georgia for peach season — for anywhere from $175 to $225 per hive. It’s a better business than the honey business with some $3 billion changing hands for pollination services in the U.S. annually.
Netflix is losing The Office in January 2021, meaning that in January 2021 lots of my friends are going to have serious sleep disorders. The show will go to NBC’s forthcoming streaming service, which offered to pay $100 million a year for five years compared to Netflix’s $90 million per year, according to reports. The Office was made by Universal Television, which is a separate part of NBC Universal. Outside estimates place the show as the most popular on Netflix, with an estimated 52 billion viewing minutes in 2018. Netflix originally paid $100 million for its current multiyear deal, a comparative steal. About 72 percent of minutes spent on Netflix were spent watching non-original library programming, according to Nielsen data that is disputed by the streaming service.
Batteries being what they are, an all-electric airplane isn’t viable for long haul or large commercial flights yet, but a number of engineering groups are working on smaller planes. Cape Air, a regional airline in Massachusetts with 92 planes that complete hundreds of short flights daily, put in orders for Eviation Aricraft’s electric plane, a $4 million aircraft named Alice. It can fly 650 miles at 500 miles per hour with a 900 kWh battery and seats 9 passengers. Those short flights make it ideal for a company like Cape, but there are lots more advances on the horizon. The number of electric aircraft under development is expected to rise from 170 to 200 by the end of the year, and commercial jet makers are eyeing hybrid tech with electric assists already.
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In 2018, 830,000 people played organized lacrosse in the United States, up from 250,000 people in 2001. The ancient sport has long been the target of enterprising business types eyeing the potential for a professional offering, but for years Major League Lacrosse failed to deliver, averaging just 4,000 attendance across its nine teams last season and failing to pay its workers a viable living. Now they’ve got a well-funded and ambitious rival in the Premier Lacrosse League, which pulls from soccer culture and even a bit of UFC or WWE-style coverage to appeal beyond the lax bros. They’ve linked up with NBC as they try to push the sport over the top once and for all. The inaugural season of the league is running city-to-city, touring roadshow style, with 12 of the 39 games going up on NBC Sports and three on NBC proper. Already the week two broadcast of Atlas LC vs. Chrome LC got 412,000 viewers, making it the most watched outdoor pro-lacrosse game ever.
The FTC announced 94 actions targeting operations it said were responsible for a billion robocalls shilling scams, spam, and junk. Of those 94 actions, 4 were new FTC cases, 3 were settlements in existing cases, and 87 were actions from other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The actions announced bring the total number of cases brought against illegal robocallers and Do Not Call violators to 145, which let’s be honest is nice but that number still seems a bit low.
AI is good at a lot of things, like science fiction plot devices or identifying curvy writing or doing a mediocre job of transcribing interviews. While lots of jobs remain susceptible to automation, it’s crucial to remember that AI is still pretty dumb. At a MetLife call center, AI may not have replaced the employees, but it did actually replace management to an extent: they use software to coach callers in real time whether they’re talking too fast, or sound a bit sleepy, or don’t sound empathetic enough. On one hand, additional employee monitoring can be intrusive or annoying, but on the other I would really love a friendly algorithm to remind me to slow down when I am talking, so I get the appeal. MetLife said the rollout increased customer satisfaction by 13 percent, which is, if not convincing, at least intriguing!
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