Numlock News: November 2, 2023 • Panda, Theia, Discogs
By Walt Hickey
Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham readers! I’m going to be at Flyleaf Books in a week for a book signing and Q&A with my friend and former FiveThirtyEight colleague Alice Wilder. You should come, it would be great to meet some of my North Carolina readers, and if the New York launch event was any indication it should be a great time. RSVP now, space is going to be limited.
When You’re Alone And Life Is Making You Lonely
Lots of ink has been spilled about the fate of municipal downtown business districts in light of the surge in working from home compared to the period prior to the pandemic, and a whole lot of that focuses on Manhattan for some reason, where the average asking rent for Class A office space has spiraled all the way down to a pathetic, scary and economically devastating $81 per square foot, an abysmal and earth-shattering fall from the dizzying highs of (checks notes) $85 per square foot the year before the pandemic. No, the real issue is in the downtowns of smaller cities where any drop could take a massive chunk out of municipal finances compared to the 3 percent to 6 percent of tax revenue New York might have to stomach. But a few dollars down hits way, way harder in places like Memphis (where Class A rents are $20 per square foot), St. Louis ($20 per square foot) and Albuquerque or Cleveland ($23 per square foot).
China’s panda bear diplomatic program can be pricey, a new analysis of zoo records found, with at least $280 million sent to China since 1994 from zoos around the world who wanted to have the most charismatic of the megafauna in their facilities. In Malaysia, the government estimated that obtaining a pair of pandas for Kuala Lumpur would cost 151 million ringgit ($35 million) over 10 years. It’s not always lucrative: A 2005 analysis of the four U.S. zoos that had pandas found that over the course of four years those zoos spent $33 million more on hosting them than they actually received from them. Since 2014, the government in China has sent 21 pandas overseas, 13 of which went to Europe, and the average lease period was upped to 15 years from the previous 10.
The World Series, a local baseball tournament that takes place throughout parts of North America where several regionally-popular baseball clubs compete in a best-of-seven tournament, has posted the worst ratings ever. In the 1980s, the World Series would average over 40 million viewers a game. Game 2 of this year’s series came in at 8.15 million viewers, a new low for the broadcast. One issue is that the final is between Dallas and Phoenix, and since 48 percent of television households are in the Eastern Time Zone, there may just be some regional issues at work.
The online vinyl music marketplace Discogs is in a tailspin, one that is somehow happening at the precise moment that vinyl is at its most popular in decades. In April, the company upped its selling fee, which infuriated sellers who were already working on slim profit margins, and went so far as to roll the shipping costs into the sum that was hit with the fee. Other controversial decisions by the company include the shuttering of mobile record store database VinylHub as well as layoffs. Again, a vinyl record reseller facing issues could not come at a more inexplicable time: From 2019 to 2022, mass market retailers saw vinyl record sales increase by 361 percent, and new generations with cash to spend have been wooed to the format.
For several years, carpal tunnel-related injuries were seen as a forthcoming scourge of the white-collar keyboard worker, but the actual reverberations of that purported tsunami have not, actually, materialized, at least not in desk workers. It’s still prevalent — somewhere between 1 percent to 5 percent of the U.S. population has the wrist issue — but it’s become clear that workplaces, particularly desk jobs, are not the main cause, and rather than keyboards it’s more just repetitive work stress as well as any number of other possible contributing risk factors that make it a potential issue. Repetitive strain injuries are indeed a concern, but one more often seen in physically-intensive labor environments. That said, I understand that some people have newspapers to sell, so I’m looking forward to serious investigations into an epidemic of hypothetical maladies in our modern era, such as, and I’m just spitballing here, Zoom Neck, Aeron’s Revenge and Peloton Foot.
Remixes of songs intended to speed them up or slow them down slightly have become pervasive online, with one recent analysis finding hundreds of millions of such modified audio tracks across a constellation of services, which is somewhat expected as the very point of services like TikTok and Instagram is to modify existing audio. The trouble for the music business comes when those modified tracks make it onto streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, and when sold or streamed divert money that would have gone to the original artist into a new account using the freebooted audio. Based on a new analysis released this week, over 1 million such manipulated songs are profiting off of unlicensed music on established streaming services.
The general understanding of the origin of the moon is that a large planetary object called “Theia” that was the size of Mars smashed into the primordial Earth, adding some mass to what would eventually become Earth and then ejecting a bunch of mass that would eventually become the moon. A new study modeled this in never-before-accomplished detail, and sought to find out if the stuff that Theia left behind is responsible for several geologically interesting parts of Earth’s interior, specifically two large regions of the mantle where seismic waves traverse more slowly than in the rest of the mantle. Researchers estimate that chunks of Theia that were 25 kilometers across would not sink, those that were 50 kilometers across would, and that the fragments would sink down too close to the core if their density was 2.5 percent higher than Earth’s. This doesn’t totally answer the question, but it does offer one theory as to why some parts of the mantle are weirder than others.
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.