Numlock News: June 28, 2023 • Buffets, AM, Sling
By Walt Hickey
Thanks to everyone who preordered my book yesterday, the early presales are a massive help. Preorder a copy of You Are What You Watch at your local bookstore or wherever books are sold! Canadian readers who reached out, my publisher told me this is the best way to get a hold of the book.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is suing a cleaning company, alleging that an employee destroyed decades of work when they unplugged a laboratory freezer containing samples that encompassed 20 years of research. The cell culture samples were supposed to be stored at -80C, but rose to about -30C by the time that the researchers discovered the error. The company had a $1.4 million contract to clean the labs in 2020, when the incident allegedly went down, and is being sued for $1 million. The university alleges that the cleaning company failed to adequately train employees.
New Belgium Brewing, the brewery behind Fat Tire ale, is swapping out one of its four gas-powered boilers at its main brewing facility with a 650-kilowatt electrified boiler system designed by a company called AtmosZero. Heat production for industry accounts for something like 10 percent of global carbon dioxide pollution, and the beer industry needs steam to get the perfect temperatures with boil kettles during the beer-making process. The device is effectively a massive heat pump, pulling in heat from the surrounding air and transferring it through a heat exchanger to produce steam.
Buffets have emerged victorious from a pandemic era and inflationary crunch that threatened their very existence. Golden Corral, a company that operates 360 facilities around the country that sell infinite volumes of 150 different kinds of food for roughly $20, says that year-to-date business is up 20 percent. In Vegas, the town that made the cheap casino buffet a cornerstone of its business model going back to the 1940s, buffets are mounting a comeback. Even though the number of buffets on the Strip is down to eight buffets from 18, the casinos are investing in the once-moribund format, with the Bellagio reopening its buffet and Caesars Palace’s Bacchanal buffet getting a $10 million renovation.
AI moderation systems are dropping the ball when it comes to small languages, which is an issue because large social media companies are believed to be using them for that very purpose, specifically identifying hate speech in languages where it’s not seen as viable to employ full-time moderation teams. The specific kind of AI model targeting low-resource languages involves models trained on a whole lot of languages, which researchers who studied the problem said essentially translate the text into English as an intermediary and then try to figure out if it’s hate speech. The problem is there’s a huge loss of context, missing out on words that translate as innocuous but instead are slurs for LGBTQ+, racial and ethnic groups. One language in particular noted in a report relates to Amharic and Tigrinya, two languages spoken in northern Ethiopia where Facebook rhetoric is accused of fueling violence. Tigrinya has just 7 million speakers, and some multilingual models miss entire characters from the language.
Car companies are phasing out AM radio from some vehicles, with Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo and Ford announcing plans to discontinue AM radio receivers from new cars. So far, eight out of 20 top carmakers have pulled AM out of cars, and that’s sending radio companies into a panic, especially the small players. The juggernauts of the AM and FM dial — companies like iHeartRadio — have long invested in apps to avoid the oncoming doom, but the rich tapestry of indie radio in America is threatened. Part of it’s simply demand: A survey conducted for the radio industry found that 75 percent of new car buyers think Bluetooth is very important in a vehicle, 71 percent think FM radio is, and just 32 percent think AM is.
FAST channels (the term for free, ad-supported television services) are scaling up substantially, with three such services — local news aggregator Local Now, Plex and Roku Channel — now each with more than 400 channels, and the fourth-place service Sling Freestream about to hit that club with 398 channels. As of last January, only one such service, Pluto TV, even had over 300 channels. Sling Freestream alone added 326 channels, mostly livestreams of foreign satellite channels, key to its target audience of first-generation immigrants to the U.S.
Prescribed burns are a key solution to the wildfires impacting the Western United States, with California estimating that about 20 million acres in the state need a prescribed burn. Given the current target of 400,000 acres per year, that’s going to take 50 years, and it’s unclear if it’s even logistically possible. The good news is that prescribed burns are remarkably effective: 99.84 percent of them go to plan, and there are only six so-called escapes per year. One thing that could help is just letting some naturally occurring fires run their course, but not only is that a tough sell for the state leaders tasked with putting out that fire to stomach, it’s also sometimes illegal.
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