Numlock News: October 31, 2019 • Trick-Or-Treat, Zerg, Modern Warfare
By Walt Hickey
The Numlock book club is picking a new book, so it’s a great time to hop in.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare made $600 million in its first three days of release, a gargantuan opening weekend, more than any of the seven other Call of Duty games released this console generation. This is despite the fact that the game is banned in Russia, primarily because the baddies in this game are Russian, so I get it. Modern Warfare beat last year’s release, Black Ops 4, by more than $100 million. The new game is a soft reboot of 2007’s Call of Duty 4, but in a timeline where the events and lessons of that earlier conflict have absolutely no bearing on the decisions of the American protagonist, demonstrating the game’s unparalleled fidelity and devotion to accuracy.
Rotten Tomatoes, a ratings service that uses a basic algorithm to strip out all nuance whatsoever from critic reviews and aggregates them as if they’re upvotes rather than analysis, appears to have an inflation issue. The average annual critic score for wide released feature films is getting higher on Rotten Tomatoes, a new analysis found. As of the end of October, the average movie of 2019 had a Rotten Tomatoes score of 59.3 percent fresh, the highest on record going back to at least 1998. That’s up from 57.9 percent last year, 54.5 percent in 2017, and 50 percent in 2011. From 2000 through 2010, the average annual score was consistently between 41 percent and 47 percent, so the grade inflation is real. Since 2016 the sampling-error-as-a-service site has been owned by Fandango, which sells movie tickets, so draw what conclusions you will.
Five six-month-old California condors were released into the Ventana Wilderness in October, with six more captive bred condors planned for release over the next few months and another two coming from the park itself, which will bring the regional population of condors to 111. Their total wild population is now over 300, and rising, and that’s a staggering achievement in conservation: In 1987, the last remaining 27 wild condors were captured, after having fallen from thousands that ranged from Mexico to British Columbia, and entered into a captive breeding program to ensure the survival of the species. Lead bullets used to shoot their prey had poisoned the condors to near extinction, and it’s still an issue: since the recovery program began in ‘92, so far 83 of the released birds have died from lead poisoning, 40 percent of recorded deaths. In July, California banned lead ammunition.
DeepMind’s AlphaStar AI system beat two professional players in StarCraft II back in February, and based on a new Nature publication it’s been pretty busy since. StarCraft II is a complex real-time strategy game, magnitudes more complicated than the board games AI systems have long since mastered. Trial-and-error based AlphaStar is now ranked above 99.8 percent of active players in the official StarCraft II online league. It’s also competent in each of the three playable races — Zerg, Protoss or Terran — while its fleshy human rivals typically master just one.
Trick Or Treat
Half of adults under age 30 plan to dress up for Halloween, according to a new poll, and are also far more likely to decorate for the holiday, with 48 percent of young adults sprucing up the joint with cobwebs and skeletons compared to the 28 percent of older adults. Fully 11 percent of respondents said they will dress up their dog, which is an excellent statistic we should all applaud. Based on the poll, just 7 percent of respondents planned to “pass out healthy snacks instead of candy” to trick or treaters compared to 42 percent who will give out candy. A quarter of adults will attend a Halloween party, a third will watch a scary movie, and I can personally confirm at least one would-be respondent plans to get drunk and play The Monster Mash on repeat until the bartender unplugs the juke box.
Gonna Have Ourselves a Time
HBO Max will spend as much as $500 million to score the 23-season South Park library’s streaming rights, taking the show off Hulu and on the roster of WarnerMedia’s streaming service that will launch in May. While other HBO Max shows like Friends and Big Bang Theory were made in-house by corporate sibling Warner Bros. TV, South Park is a Viacom joint and thus a major indication the streamer also plans to spend big, Netflix-style, on other people’s content. South Park has been the top cable comedy series among young adults for six years.
AmazonBasics is the in-house brand for Amazon, and the biggest success has by far been its batteries. Manufactured in Indonesia by a subsidiary of the Japanese tech company Fujitsu, the batteries are one of the top-selling Amazon originals, however there’s a serious environmental cost. AmazonBasics AA batteries are 46 percent of all the label’s battery sales, and one out of every $10 spent on the house brand is spent on batteries. A study on alkaline batteries found that it takes 100 times the energy to make an alkaline battery than that battery will eventually release over its lifespan. Once factoring in sourcing, production and shipping, on a per-watt basis an alkaline battery is 30 times as greenhouse gas emitting as a coal-fired power plant.
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