Numlock News: October 24, 2023 • Moon, Scares, Deus Ex Machina
My book launches today!
By Walt Hickey
My book, You Are What You Watch, is out today! It’s the culmination of years of work and I’m so excited that it’s finally out.
If your copy arrives, I would love it if you could post it on social media to help get the word out! Feel free to tag me — @walt.hickey on Threads, @walthickey on X née Twitter, @numlocknews on TikTok — I would love to hear about it. Thanks again for all the support through this process, and I hope you enjoy the book!
If you haven’t scored your copy yet, you can get it everywhere books are sold. Today Hachette is having a 20 percent off sale with free shipping when you use the code SPOOKY23 if you spend over $45, so get a copy or two and save.
The Washington D.C. Metro technically forbids advertisements that are specifically designed to influence public policy, but the reality is that lots of massive government contractors spend a fortune specifically advertising in stations often traversed by the federal workers who make decisions about who the government does business with. A new survey found 75 different advertisers in the WMATA system, of which 10 are contractors that received $83.1 billion from the federal government in FY2023, nine of whom count the Department of Defense as their biggest government contractor. In Foggy Bottom, where the State Department is, these contractors accounted for 6 percent of ads. Around Capitol Hill, they were up to 21 percent, and in the three closest stations to the Pentagon, they averaged 46 percent of advertisers. The Pentagon station itself displays 100 percent contractor advertisements, including ads from Pratt & Whitney for $26 million F135 engines, not exactly in the budget for a weekend hobbyist who happens to work for the military. Indeed, the Pentagon station gets an amazing per-passenger ad rate, about 30 cents per commuter over a four-week period — much higher than a more central station like Gallery Place-Chinatown, where that figure is about 5 cents per commuter.
Jump scares, the horror movie technique in which a director extracts a cheap spook out of audiences by just making a scary image jump onto screen unexpectedly, are in decline. Since the mid 2010s, the rate of jump scares in horror movies is declining steadily, hitting a 20-year low in 2021. It appears that jump scares became very fashionable from around 2003 to 2012, after which they fell out of fashion, potentially having become so saturated that they were no longer as effective. For instance, looking at 34 horror films that were eventually remade, in 27 of those cases the remakes contained more jump scares than the original. However, those films with more jump scares were more likely to be released in the 2003 to 2012 period, and since 2013 the remakes actually tended to have fewer jump scares than the original.
Deus Ex Machina
A Korean ChatGPT-based Bible chatbot service that was originally called Ask Jesus but which has since been rebranded to Meadow has grown to about 50,000 users, of whom 10,000 live outside the country, and which offer generated spiritual advice and prayers. In the Korean Christian churches, pastors have not been shy to turn to Meadow’s parent company Awake Corp’s other AI-driven WeBible service that can write sermons for them. In a recent survey of 650 Protestant ministers in Korea, 20 percent said they have used the tech to write sermons. Admittedly, when I first heard the phrase “upon this rock I will build my church,” I didn’t realize the rock in question was silicon.
Some of the hottest commercial real estate in suburban areas now are food halls, large complexes of small restaurants with shared seating and a diverse palate of high-end offerings available. The U.S. now has at least 364 of the specialized food halls, and another 120 of them are projected to open by the end of next year, which is 10 times the 35 such food halls — much of which were in New York and catered to tourists — that were open 10 years ago. One reason for their growth is that much of the pandemic-era movement of people out of cities and into suburbs meant that large groups of people accustomed to the kind of diverse offerings you can get in big cities found the local Applebee’s lacking, and as more people work from home, too, there’s additional incentive to pop up shop in what used to be bedroom communities.
A new survey found that 28 percent of social media users are posting less often on their preferred social media platform, including 37 percent of Gen Z adults. As of September, 61 percent said that they’re getting more selective about what they’re posting, which may be an issue for social networks trying to continue to juice engagement from their users. The fear is that organic variety is going to get trickier, as the social media companies become more and more reliant on brands and influencers to produce the content that fills their platform, rather than the kind of bona fide engagement and recommendations and social interaction that has historically fueled these networks.
Two professors at Oregon State University spent their lives collecting and preserving in an ethanol solution tens of thousands of snakes, and as they’re retiring they’ve decided to put the collection under the care of the University of Michigan, where the Museum of Zoology already has what’s believed to be the largest collection of reptile and amphibians in any research institution. The new haul is believed to contain roughly 30,000 snakes, and if that number holds then the Michigan collection would have somewhere between 65,000 and 70,000 snakes, beating the serpents of the Smithsonian, the adders and mambas of the American Museum of Natural History, and their rivals at the University of Kansas.
A new study published in Geochemical Perspectives Letters analyzed material recovered from the moon in 1972 as part of the Apollo mission to date the formation of the moon to at least 4.46 billion years ago, which is 40 million years older than originally understood. The moon is believed to have formed when an object the size of Mars collided with Earth, and the biggest piece that remained eventually became the moon. The dust analyzed was collected during the Apollo 17 mission, and contained tiny crystals that informed the updated estimate.
Check out this excerpt from my book about the intersection of nostalgia, loneliness and reboot culture.