Business

Way to Go Everyone, We Ruined Almonds


Gizmodo / Alissa Walker

Way to Go Everyone, We Ruined Almonds

Great job, internet. Remember all that shit-talking you did about almonds sucking up too much of California’s drought-plagued water? Now the price of almonds is way down, and people just aren’t grabbing America’s nuts like they used to, causing serious damage to the industry.It wasn’t only a bad reputation that hurt almonds. Farmers got whipped into a planting frenzy that ended up flooding the market with too many nuts. Now, the price per nut has plummeted, causing the state to lose about $1.8 billion. Farmers admit they’re probably to blame, according to a report that aired on NPR:“We probably pushed the price up too high,” says Darren Rigg. He handles over 50 million pounds of nuts with Meridian Growers in Tulare, Calif.“It killed off demand, and people at a certain point, they just don’t buy,” Rigg says. “We’re probably coming back into an equilibrium point, but we possibly have overcorrected as well.”Why was the United States growing so many almonds in the first place? We have to go back to the counterintuitive reason for why almonds thrived in an age of water scarcity: Because of the drought, almonds were so financially lucrative that it made sense for farmers to plant more of them, even with the extra water factored in. As Valley Public Radio reports, farmers have been tearing out other crops to make way for almond trees, which resulted in the glut of nuts. This started happening long before the drought, by the way, so some of these almond trees have yet to mature—so even more almonds are on the way.The other big problem is that the almond industry is built on a precarious economic premise. It banks on the fact that people in other countries like China and India will pay top dollar for America’s nuts. That turned out to be not as true in 2015 as it was in 2014, and the market flooded, resulting in a plunging price per pound. As Gizmodo’s Esther Inglis-Arkell, pointed out to me, this is also the same kind of thing that happened when the price of wheat skyrocketed nealry a century ago. The price of wheat went up, so farmers planted more wheat to make big bucks. That sent prices way down, which meant farmers had to produce even more wheat to make money, which pushed the price down even more. Of course, farmers ended up abandoning their crops, and that’s how we ended up with the Dust Bowl. Let’s hope the Great Almond Crash doesn’t have the same effect.On the other hand, some forward-looking farmers have already given up on almonds entirely and are planting solar panels instead.[Valley Public Radio via NPR]AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Japanese Company to Build the World’s First Autonomous Farm


Gizmodo / Maddie Stone

Japanese Company to Build the World’s First Autonomous Farm

We had a hunch that the future of farming was going to be all about robots, and naturally, Japan is taking the lead. This morning, Kyoto-based firm Spread made a bold announcement: In two years time, it intends to be running the world’s very first fully-automated, (mostly) human-free farm.From watering seedlings to harvesting crops, robots will control nearly every aspect of this indoor lettuce production operation, according to company official Koji Morisada, who spoke about his autonomous farming ambitions with the AFP this morning. But note the ‘nearly.’ Despite the fact that this future farm is being marketed as a bastion of automation, humans are still going to fill one very important roll.“Seed planting will still be done by people, but the rest of the process, including harvesting, will be done [by industrial robots],” Morisada told AFP.Still, by cutting most of the squishy meatbags out of the equation, Morisada hopes to slash personnel costs and energy expenses. There are no details yet on what sorts of robots the indoor farming company plans on using, but if you’d like a little help imagining our robot-farming future, check out these 13 crazy farming robots that already exist.Spread’s indoor grow house is slated to open in 2017. [MSN] Follow the author @themadstoneTop image: lettuce in indoor hydroponic system via, Shutterstock

Alphabet’s “Other Bets” Cost It Almost $3.6B Last Year


TechCrunch / Frederic Lardinois

Alphabet’s “Other Bets” Cost It Almost $3.6B Last Year

 Alphabet — the company formerly known as Google — reported some pretty good earnings today. For the first time, the company also broke out its revenue and loss from its “other bets” outside of the core products that still make up its Google subsidiary. These other bets generated $448 million in revenue in 2015 but Alphabet’s operating loss for those bets was… Read More

Japanese Company to Build the World’s First Autonomous Farm


Gizmodo / Maddie Stone

Japanese Company to Build the World’s First Autonomous Farm

We had a hunch that the future of farming was going to be all about robots, and naturally, Japan is taking the lead. This morning, Kyoto-based firm Spread made a bold announcement: In two years time, it intends to be running the world’s very first fully-automated, (mostly) human-free farm.From watering seedlings to harvesting crops, robots will control nearly every aspect of this indoor lettuce production operation, according to company official Koji Morisada, who spoke about his autonomous farming ambitions with the AFP this morning. But note the ‘nearly.’ Despite the fact that this future farm is being marketed as a bastion of automation, humans are still going to fill one very important roll.“Seed planting will still be done by people, but the rest of the process, including harvesting, will be done [by industrial robots],” Morisada told AFP.Still, by cutting most of the squishy meatbags out of the equation, Morisada hopes to slash personnel costs and energy expenses. There are no details yet on what sorts of robots the indoor farming company plans on using, but if you’d like a little help imagining our robot-farming future, check out these 13 crazy farming robots that already exist.Spread’s indoor grow house is slated to open in 2017. [MSN] Follow the author @themadstoneTop image: lettuce in indoor hydroponic system via, Shutterstock

Alphabet’s “Other Bets” Cost It Almost $3.6B Last Year


TechCrunch / Frederic Lardinois

Alphabet’s “Other Bets” Cost It Almost $3.6B Last Year

 Alphabet — the company formerly known as Google — reported some pretty good earnings today. For the first time today, the company also broke out its revenue and loss from its “other bets” outside of the core products that still make up its Google subsidiary. These other bets generated $448 million in revenue in 2015 but Alphabet’s operating loss for those bets… Read More

UberPUPPY Is Exactly What You Think It Is


TechCrunch / Lucas Matney

UberPUPPY Is Exactly What You Think It Is

 Oh my god. Uber has finally done it. They’ve made my dreams come true.
In honor of this week’s Puppy Bowl, Uber is teaming up with Animal Planet, the SF SPCA, Peninsula Humane Society, and Berkeley Humane Society to deliver on-demand puppies to your house to hang out with you for a bit.
The puppy packs will be available this Wednesday, February 3 from 11am-2pm for $30 in an… Read More

Udacity Guarantees Graduates From Its New Nanodegree Plus Programs Will Find A Job In 6 Months


TechCrunch / Frederic Lardinois

Udacity Guarantees Graduates From Its New Nanodegree Plus Programs Will Find A Job In 6 Months

 Udacity is launching a new spin on its Nanodegree certification programs today. With its new Nanodegree Plus offerings, the for-profit education company guarantees that you will get a job within six months after graduation. If you don’t, you will get all of your tuition back. Read More

Udacity Guarantees Graduates From Its New Nanodgree Plus Programs Will Find A Job In 6 Months


TechCrunch / Frederic Lardinois

Udacity Guarantees Graduates From Its New Nanodgree Plus Programs Will Find A Job In 6 Months

 Udacity is launching a new spin on its Nanodegree certification programs today. With its new Nanodegree Plus offerings, the for-profit education company guarantees that you will get a job within six months after graduation. If you don’t, you will get all of your tuition back. Read More

Google X Is Now Just Called ‘X’


Gizmodo / Bryan Lufkin

Google X Is Now Just Called ‘X’

The most threatening letter of the alphabet is now the new name of Google’s quasi-secret moonshot lab: Google X is now just “X.” Hear that? That’s the sound of paranoid civilians boarding up windows and prepping drone-downing cannons.Re/code reports that Google’s arm for awesomely out-there inventions switched its name to just “X,” and debuted a new logo with it. Last year, the biggest tech company in the world made waves with the launch of Alphabet, a new parent company for Google and friends. Today’s nomenclature news is Google’s latest victory in its never-ending conquest of every facet of our lives, right down to owning individual letters in the English language.X has been brewing up crazy cool projects like delivery drones, self-driving cars, robots, balloon-based internet, and more for years. They all sound pretty sweet, but there’s something about “X” that reminds me of, like… exterminate? I dunno, I’ll just pretend Google’s working with the X-Men instead.[Re/code]

Math Says: Play the UK Lottery Today


Gizmodo / Mika McKinnon

Math Says: Play the UK Lottery Today

Statistically speaking, the lottery is an exciting way of separating you from your money. Except today in the United Kingdom. For the first time ever, playing the lottery is the mathematically sensible choice.Lottery tickets in the UK are £2 per play. Usually the expected payoff on a ticket is 95p. In the long term, not only will you not win the jackpot, but you’ll lose money.But today is different. Thanks to Lotto rule changes in October, today has the largest jackpot in the country’s history and it must pay off tonight. Even if no one wins the jackpot—which is still statistically unlikely at 1 in 45 million—the pot will be distributed amongst those who got closest. That means the expected payoff is jumping to around £4.50, double the cost to play. Josh White, an economist at KPMG, explains:“In mathematical terms, it’s a rare occurrence when the expected value from playing the lottery is higher than the cost of a ticket – statistically there has never been a better time to play!”The unusual situation is due to changes in the Lotto rules last October. Lotto players now need to pick six numbers between 1 and 59, instead of the previous range of 1 in 49. With longer odds against winning the jackpot, it slowly grew as the unclaimed prize rolled over. This is where the second rule change comes in. Once the prize is over £50 million, it must be distributed. At £58 million, today’s prize is being distributed one way or another. If no one wins the jackpot with all six balls, it will be distributed amongst people who got most of the numbers. Anyone with five balls plus the bonus has 1 in 7.5 million odds of winning tonight. If that’s also unclaimed, the prize is distributed amongst the 1 in 144,000 people who have five matching balls. The odds are so good that even my old roommate, and economist in the UK, is buying a lottery ticket for the third time in his entire life.This isn’t unexpected: Lottery operators reworked the game last year with a simple objective: which rules would increase the number of new millionaires each week? Doing that was simple—make a raffle where a million-pound prize is awarded each lottery draw. But a guarantee of two million-pound prizes each week meant that the odds on everything else needed to change.The important part is that the prize payout ratio hasn’t changed. The odds on winning the jackpot are longer, and the rollovers mean the jackpots are growing bigger. But at the same time, more smaller prizes are being handed out more often. The backend behind the details required intense game theory to understand the different possible outcomes. Although unlikely, this situation was anticipated under the new rules.The exact expected payoff will depend on how many people play. If it’s the average number of lotto players, the expected payoff will be £4.50. If it’s more players, like the numbers that turned out for Wednesday’s draw, that drops to £3.20. But Adam Rivers, also with KPMG, explains it’d take Lotto fever to drop that payoff below the ticket price:“You’d need close to all 50 million eligible people in the UK to purchase at least one ticket in order for the expected value to go below the £2 purchase price – pretty unlikely, and a big queue at the newsagents!”All this does hold a little white lie: the expected payoff only happens in the long run. Yet this is a one-time-only special circumstance. Next week, the Lotto return to normal as the jackpot resets, and gamblers can expect to get back just 92p for every ticket they buy.The draw is at 9:55pm local time, so time is running out to buy a ticket.Update: After a surge in ticket sales (up to 400 per second in the final hours), the jackpot grew to £66 million. Two winners matched all six balls and will split the prize.[The Guardian]Image credit: Nando Machado / ShuttershockCorrection: An earlier version of this article stated fewer people were playing the lottery under the new rules, leading to fewer jackpot wins. Instead, the same numbers played but odds against winning the jackpot increased. Our apologies for mixing causes to the same end result!Contact the author at mika.mckinnon@io9.com or follow her at @MikaMcKinnon.