Numlock News: June 9, 2023 • Metallica, Adult Swim, Vaquita
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend. I’ll be on vacation through next Thursday, so you’ve got some really exciting guests filling in for me on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
After years of slashing locations, enduring a brutal round of press related to a disgraced former mascot, and complicated franchisee relationships, Subway is finding it rather difficult to recruit new franchisees to operate shops. One issue is that a Subway’s margins are much tighter than rival sandwich shops; a Jersey Mike’s will put up $1.1 million in average annual sales volume, a Firehouse Subs will generate $900,000, but a Subway is generally understood by experts and analysts to average around $500,000 in sales per year, which is on the lower end of the entire industry. Of the 100 multiunit restaurant franchisees with the highest revenues, none have a Subway.
Rock band Metallica is touring the world, pitching fans on a two-night no-repeats weekend experience that around 80 percent to 90 percent of concertgoing fans are taking advantage of. The tour — 22 cities in 2023 and 2024 — is a technical phenomenon in and of itself with 500 speakers, 192 audio inputs, and the single largest PA system ever designed for a tour. It all requires 87 trucks to simply move it from city to city, and a crew of 130 people, of whom 40 are steelworkers who build the stage and towers that alone take 42 trucks to transport.
The federal government announced $570 million in grants to 63 projects that will eliminate railroad crossings across 32 states. Given the increasing length of trains and sporadic logistical problems, railroad tracks can serve as barriers that split municipalities in half and increase risk to local citizens. Every year, about 2,000 collisions are reported at railroad crossings, and with freight rail relying on fewer and longer trains it’s causing issues at intersections that weren’t always an issue. One $37 million grant will eliminate four rail crossings in Houston, the city with the second-highest number of rail crossing deaths, by building underpasses. Fostoria, Ohio, is called the Iron Triangle because it’s bordered on three sides by train tracks, with a CSX train passing through every 26 minutes; it will get $7.2 million for a new bridge over the tracks.
According to Roku, a 2022 internal survey found 58 percent of subscribers use subtitles. Drilling down further to distinguish between those who need them and those who just desire them, while 36 percent of subtitled viewers switched on subtitles because of a hearing impairment, 32 percent do it out of force of habit, with the balance providing reasons like sleeping kids, a lack of privacy and bad audio. Subtitles are a young person’s game: Two-thirds of Roku’s millennial customers used subtitles, which is more than literally any other group, including the ones where hearing loss is more common. While some blame the inconsistent sound mixes of the streaming boom, others the rise in imported non-English media, and others still the rise in people paying partial attention to what’s on television, subtitles are in considerable demand and that’s prompting content delivery systems and auteurs to put more thought into how they’re rendered. All this means is that James Cameron’s use of the Papyrus font during Avatar was ahead of its time and all of us owe the guy an apology for roasting it.
Adult Swim is an evening programming block of content on Cartoon Network aimed toward older teens and adults on the otherwise kid-friendly network. Two weeks ago, Adult Swim expanded one hour earlier on the programming block, starting at 7 p.m. instead of 8 p.m., and the early results show the decision is a smash hit. Tune in among viewers 18 to 49 is up 24 percent compared with the previous Cartoon Network-branded hour, and the network’s jumped from the 12th-most watched ad-supported network in prime time to the sixth-most watched. It’s so promising that the network is now going to convert the 6 p.m. hour into a transitional block, airing shows that were designed for kids 20 years ago — Dexter’s Laboratory, Courage the Cowardly Dog, and the like — meaning that it’s still appropriate for the young Cartoon Network audience tuning out, but it’ll be a nostalgia-driven block for the older Adult Swim crowd tuning in.
A new study of the vaquita, a small porpoise that lives in the Gulf of California off the north coast of Mexico, found between 10 and 13 of the porpoises still living as of last month. That included one to two calves, and based on the observations the researchers are 76 percent sure that the overall number spotted was 10 to 13 individual vaquitas, which is roughly the same figure estimated in October of 2021. The mammal is very much on the verge of extinction, owing to nets that are illegally used to catch totoaba fish, which have swim bladders that are worth a considerable amount of money in Chinese traditional medicine. As bycatch, the vaquita population dropped 92 percent from 1997 to 2005.
Four years ago, a construction crew found a weird piece of wood in Berkshire, England, while digging a foundation. The meter-long hunk of wood was sent in for analysis because it had interesting carvings on it, and the Centre for Isotope Research has reported it’s been dated to 4,640 BC to 4,605 BC, which would make the carvings about 500 years older than the only other known example of carved wood from the late Mesolithic era, and about 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. The wood was well-preserved in peat, and includes such intricate carvings as one I refer to as, “Wow, looks like someone really went at it with a hatchet!” and another I call, “Hey, that’s a deep groove that looks like someone got bored at Boy Scout camp.”
This week in the Sunday edition, I spoke to Shayla Love, who wrote “Scientists Gave People Psychedelics — and Then Erased Their Memory” for WIRED. It is a fascinating field of study, and I love how it demands researchers to get clever in their attempts to learn more about a very unique batch of substances. Love can be found on Twitter, and you should check out the interview here!
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.