Numlock News: March 27, 2020 • Rover, Madness, Hangouts
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
The NCAA’s decision to cancel March Madness means that at the end of the 2019-20 school year, Division I schools will divvy up $225 million, which is just 37.5 percent of the anticipated $600 million in revenue the group planned to pass on to its member institutions. Of that, $50 million will come from its reserves, and the rest from a line of credit that the NCAA will pay off by next June, which is when it will get the anticipated $270 million event cancellation insurance payout. This will have a massive impact on lots of college athletics programs, many of which will have to contend with no longer being the most important part of their schools’ revenue engine. Typically, about 80 percent of NCAA revenue is derived from March Madness. Most depressing of all, the share of those revenues that go to the very athletes whose labor makes the NCAA watchable is 0 percent. It was also 0 percent before they cancelled March Madness, but that still sucks, and we should probably talk about it more.
Conference call companies have gotten away with not really caring about bandwidth for a while, mainly because the use of their software was fairly niche and a few largely remote firms using resource-intensive video-conferencing was not putting city miles on the telecommunications hardware in the country. That changed recently, and it’s putting a spotlight on the different quantities of data that different apps need. A Bloomberg trial found that Apple’s Facetime video calls needed 2.9 megabytes per minute, Facebook Messenger needed 3.5 MB/minute, WebX needed 4.2 MB/minute and WhatsApp needed 4.7 MB/minute. Those were fairly skinny bandwidth demands, at least next to the 6.8 MB/minute needed for Skype, 7.5 MB/minute for Zoom, and chart-busting 14.1 megabytes per minute for Google Hangouts. This has led to more pressure on networks, sure, but if not for Hangouts’ unoptimized code making my computer’s fan scream like an F-35 engine, how else would I heat my apartment?
In a sign that the celebrity Imagine video has turned people off from the concept of music altogether, music streaming as a whole dropped 7.6 percent the week of March 13th through 19th, to less than 20.1 billion streams. That’s on par with the dip seen in the week after Christmas. Besides streaming, digital sales of songs were down 10.7 percent, physical sales of media were down 27.6 percent, and digital album sales were down 12.4 percent. The most popular music — the top 500 songs at a given time — saw a more precipitous drop, with 12.9 percent on the week. Genre changes indicate that pop, rap, and R&B were down, but the genres that are up (classical up 1.5 percent, folk up 2.9 percent, children’s music up 3.8 percent) are all the ones outstanding at making kids shut up for ten freaking minutes.
Every two years, Mars and Earth reach the closest they’ll be to one another, before their different orbital speeds gradually lengthen their distance and bring it back around again. This is generally considered a great time for earthlings to throw crap at Mars, and it’s also this summer. One such experiment was a Russian-European collaboration to investigate a theory put forward by D. Bowie et al. regarding Life On Mars, a rover slated for launch this summer. However, due to some other stuff we really don’t have time to get into right now that you’re probably pretty up on anyway, they can’t do that. As a result, the rover is going to sit in storage for two years until 2022 when the trip makes sense.
The time when linear cable television was in decline is now firmly in the “before,” now people can’t get enough of it. Across the week of March 9, traditional TV viewing was up 5 percent among adults, while 12 to 17-year-olds were watching 18 percent more and kids aged two to 11 had viewing up 14 percent. In the week of March 16, there was a further 14 percent increase in live television usage compared to the previous week. The networks and news cable channels are doing well, HBO said the use of HBO Now was up 40 percent, and preliminary reports indicate that Law & Order: SVU reruns on USA have proven to be an anchor to daily morning newsletter writers all across the country in a challenging time.
While many government officials have scrambled to get supplies of medical equipment that had heretofore been inadequately stockpiled, one thing that’s going to be in high demand — bottled oxygen — is pretty set when it comes to the supply chain. Oxygen is used for both industrial and medical purposes, so redirecting more of it to the medical supply chain is very doable. Air separation units split up ambient air into its component 78 percent nitrogen, 21 percent oxygen, and 1 percent "other components” in a distillation-style process. Normally, these plants are running at 75 percent to 85 percent of maximum capacity based off of typical demand for the gasses. These liquefied gasses can be trucked to hospitals, where they’re pumped into a larger cryogenic tank to supply the facility, or transported in bottles or tanks. Any shortage would come from the delivery system, and in that event there are fallbacks like on-site generation. Either way, getting oxygen to people is not foreseen to be the same kind of bottleneck that other treatments have been experiencing.
Currently, electric vehicles on average have a 31 percent emissions savings per kilometer. One nagging issue of the conversion to electric vehicles is that if you’re switching from a gas-powered automobile to an electric one, but the electricity is generated by, say, a coal plant, you’re not really making things much greener. A new study sought to analyze where in the world that would be a problem, and found that it’s largely not: in 53 of 59 different global regions, which represented 95 percent of road transportation and home heating, the grid was superior to the gas tank. For instance, Switzerland has a really clean energy generation system, while Estonia’s is powered mainly by burning oil shale, so an electric car in Estonia increases emissions by 40 percent compared to an internal combustion engine. The average break point was 1,000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, roughly the efficiency of an older, dirty coal plant, meaning that the main situation where an EV increases emissions is if you’re functionally charging it with coal, which is rare, but not as rare as it could be. Improvements in power mix in some specific countries — Japan, the Middle East, the U.S., India and China — will be important in keeping the ledger balanced.
Last Sunday was a really wonderful in-depth interview with longtime friend of Numlock Aaron Gordon, who talked about his opus “Why the US Sucks at Building Public Transit.” You can find him on Twitter and sometimes — when the moon is right and the R train is on time — at his NYC transit newsletter Signal Problems.
The next few Sunday editions are locked in, and they’re super good. If you’ve been holding out on subscribing, there are some very cool interviews in the pipeline.
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