Numlock News: October 19, 2018
By Walt Hickey
Have an excellent weekend!
Spider webs with a combined length of approximately 1,000 meters are coating Lake Vistonida in northern Greece, and I think we should give the hundreds of thousands of spiders who are responsible whatever they want. Prompted by unseasonably warm weather that led to an explosion in spider prey like gnats and mosquitos, the spiders are actually doing us a favor here. This is the second case of this in Greece in two months, so either we should do something about climate change or we have displeased the Greek goddess Arachne and must make recompense lest we face her fearsome wrath.
Never Tell Me The Odds
In the past two years, the two major multi-state lotteries in the U.S. have tweaked the probability of winning. The goal: bigger jackpots to drive more ticket sales. Mega Millions adjusted the terms of play last October to worsen the odds of winning the jackpot from 1 in 258,890,850 to 1 in 302,575,350. Two years ago, Powerball changed its jackpot chances from 1 in 175,223,510 to 1 in 292,201,338, which as I’ve written makes billion-dollar jackpots more likely, but also extracts more money from habitual gamblers to the (general) benefit of people who only show up when the headlines start talking. The plan worked: U.S. lottery sales were $77.7 billion in fiscal 2018, up $5 billion from 2017. It’s particularly noticeable today, as the combined advertised jackpot for the two lotteries is worth nearly $1.4 billion.
Good Unfollows Make Good Neighbors
A group of researchers paid 1,220 users of Twitter who identified as either Democrats or Republicans to follow a bot that retweeted politicians and media figures from the other party. They then took surveys asking about their political views, to see if we all just need to listen to each other a little more to come together as a country. After a month, yeah, that didn’t work out. The Republicans following the liberal bot got “substantially more conservative post-treatment” and the Democrats following the Republi-bot didn’t have a statistically significant shift, but did show a slight increase in liberal attitudes. Back to the drawing board.
Cool news: the project I was most proud of at FiveThirtyEight (a huge research project about inclusion of women in film) made the Information is Beautiful awards shortlist. It’s the last day, check it out and consider voting for it!
Noncompete clauses cover 18 percent of U.S. workers, and over time have covered 38 percent of workers. While they are largely popular among high-wage workers and those for whom maintaining trade secrets and intellectual property is paramount, noncompetes are being forced on workers across the board. Noncompete lawsuits were up 60 percent between 2002 and 2013, and noncompetes also cover 14 percent of workers without college degrees. As a result, workers are unable to leave their company and work in a similar field and stay at the same place longer, and the Treasury has linked the contracts to lower wage growth.
In 2017, consumers under the age of 35 accounted for 85 percent of the growth in the luxury market. Industry analysts found that social media drives much of that growth. But, luxury fixture Prada has missed the boat: reluctant to target millennials, only 5 percent of sales for Prada happened online in the first half of 2018, a figure the company want to raise to around 15 percent. Prada — with $3.6 billion in revenue in 2017 — has had three years of declining profits, while other brands that Kreyshawn talks about — Gucci, Gucci, Louis, Louis, Fendi, Fendi — are beating it out.
Yes, it’s not just you, there has been a measurable increase in the amount of Fleetwood Mac people are listening to, a new report finds. Streams for the band are up 16 percent over two years according to Spotify, and the band is vastly outpacing contemporaries like Steely Dan (2.5 million Spotify listeners in September), Hall & Oates (8.6 million listeners) and the Eagles (9.4 million listeners) with 11.4 million listeners. It’s not longtime fans driving the surge — who are listening to 3 percent more Fleetwood Mac over the past two years — but rather the under-35 crowd, listening to 58 percent more Mac.
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Nascar is facing new competition in the racing space from dirt races, a more dangerous and lower-cost brand of racing. Nascar is a private company and signs indicate the business has seen issues recently: the International Speedway Corporation gets 90 percent of its business from Nascar and saw a $145 million decline in revenue between 2008 and 2017, and viewership of the Daytona 500 is down 45 percent from 2005. It costs $15 million to $18 million a year for a driver to compete at the highest level in Nascar, but dirt track races are massively cheaper and seemingly appealing to fans: Nascar’s first dirt race sold out immediately, and since then ratings have continued to rise year over year. There is a cost, though. In the past 25 years, 171 people have been killed at dirt tracks, while Nascar’s upper levels haven’t had a fatality since 2001.
Too Much Tuna
StarKist, which sells tuna, has agreed to plead guilty to price fixing and will face a fine of up to $100 million. Last year fishmonger rival Bumble Bee Foods pleaded guilty to price fixing as well and paid $25 million in fines. Three companies — StarKist, Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea — are accused of conspiracy to keep the price of canned tuna artificially high from 2010 to 2013. Chicken of the Sea exposed the scheme, cooperated, and haven’t been charged.
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