Numlock News: September 5, 2023 • Uncrustables, Uranium, Unification
By Walt Hickey
Hope everyone had a great weekend! Thanks to everyone who has preordered my book; the early numbers are really encouraging. Preorder a copy of You Are What You Watch today, it’s a huge help.
First designed by the nation’s finest scientists at a remote facility in North Dakota, the Uncrustable is a sandwich-esque pocket typically filled with peanut butter and jelly that, per the name, contains no crust. Technically, I’d have to guess it’s more a dumpling or a ravioli rather than a sandwich per se, but we haven’t yet recovered from the “Is a hot dog a sandwich?” wars for me to choose a side quite yet. Whatever they are, they’re lucrative, and not just for picky kids anymore: In 2022 they were a $511 million business for J.M. Smucker, which acquired them in 1998, up from a $290 million product line in 2019 and projected to hit $685 million in 2023.
The government of Japan is considering asking the courts to order that the Unification church in the country be dissolved, meaning they’d be subjected to an order to disband as early as next month. Just two churches have received such orders to dissolve before: the Aum Supreme Truth cult, which executed the 1995 Toyko subway sarin attack, and the Myokakuji temple group, which was accused of defrauding followers. The Unification church claims 100,000 believers in Japan and has collected $1 billion in donations since 1987, but has also generated 35,000 compensation claims from people who allege they’ve suffered financial damage from the church. The reason the government is weighing this move at all is wild; the man who assassinated former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his family was bankrupted by the church and killed the politician over his ties to the group. Needless to say, it is extremely rare for a political assassination to result in the government going, “You know, upon reflection that guy made an excellent point and we’re going to proceed with his desired policy choice.”
Beelinguapp is a language-learning app that claims to have 5 million downloads, and takes a different view that the best way to teach a language is by getting users to read stories in other languages rather than rote word repetition. It’s scored $10 million in funding from the Mexican version of Shark Tank and currently works in 18 languages. This makes a lot of sense to me, as most of my friends who have picked up a language casually did it because they either wanted to learn the lyrics to songs in other languages, just watched so much subtitled anime they started getting the hang of it, wanted to read ahead in a comic that lacked a scanlation, or spent months of their short time on this planet consuming web novels about ancient Chinese gay men.
The Equalizer 3 starring Denzel Washington scored the second-best Labor Day weekend opening ever, hauling in $34.5 million from Friday to Sunday. This is another feat, too: one of precision. The Equalizer franchise is now the single most consistent box office performer of any franchise, with this film coming in just above the $34.1 million made by the first film and the $36 million made by the second. That’s a deviation of only 2.3 percent across three films, beating out the 5 percent previous record set by the four Ocean’s Eleven films. Other consistent franchises include Barbershop (8.2 percent opening weekend across three films), Cars (8.4 percent) and Bridget Jones (10.6 percent).
A new report analyzing cubicle and desk usage in 24,855 workspaces across nine regions around the world found that 36 percent of desks are never occupied, putting a substantial number on the oversupply level in the global office space market. That said, not all parts of an office are in disuse: Meeting rooms for two to three people are 90 percent full on average, which tracks with my attempt to reserve a small conference room. Overall, the study found, only 14 percent of desks are occupied for more than five or more hours. According to the analysis, 80 percent of floor space is taken up by those underused solo workstations, while 20 percent is collaborative spaces that are clearly in robust demand.
Hong Kong will turn 79 acres of land currently housing the Fanling Golf Course into land for 12,000 apartments starting the day after the Hong Kong Golf Club’s lease expires. Members pay an entrance fee of HK$400,000 ($51,000) to join the club, and the course was built in 1911. Since then, though, Hong Kong has become one of the single most unaffordable housing markets in the entire world, and the private, exclusive golf course occupying prime government-owned land has become untenable.
Niger was once the fourth-largest producer of uranium in the world, but has since fallen to the seventh largest, still responsible for exporting 5 percent of global supply. Its uranium fuels upward of 10 percent of the nuclear reactors in France, which are hugely important exporters of electricity to the European grid. This is a bit of an issue, as Niger just had a military coup overthrowing its elected president. The good news for the global energy market is that the nuclear business is a slow-moving one; the approximately 400 atomic power reactors the world over need 149 million pounds of uranium per year, and last year Niger only exported 4.5 million pounds, so other countries should be more than sufficient in making up the balance. The price of uranium is also not felt by consumers the way that the price of other fuel is: If the price of natural gas doubles, consumer prices would too, but if the price of uranium doubled, the price of nuclear energy would move by a percentage point, tops.
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