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The Hustle

Ever want to see the internet, but on a movie screen? CatVideoFest is an annual compilation reel of — you guessed it — cat videos. And it’s pretty good at filling theaters, grossing ~$115.5k last weekend (local shelters get a cut of the proceeds). Organizers tried to expand into DogVideoFest last fall, but it didn’t go over well.

In today’s email:

  • High hopes: Turning abandoned office towers into housing.
  • Missing a beat: The artists behind one of hip-hop’s most sampled sounds aren’t getting paid for it.
  • Captchas: Why are they so weird now?
  • Around the Web: Fighting “internet gaming disorder,” a collection of toasters sounds boring but this one isn’t, and more.

👇 Listen: Why nobody wants to buy a house right now.

podcast media player
The big idea
skyscraper graphic

The answer to sky-high housing prices may also be sky-high

Sure, NYC’s Empire State Building makes a fine list-topper as America’s favorite piece of architecture.

But it ain’t my favorite — that’d be LA’s 2121 Avenue of the Stars, a gleaming 34-story beauty that holds two secrets:

  • Its unofficial, fictional name, Nakatomi Plaza (AKA the setting of Die Hard).
  • It’s actually pretty empty — it has 186.9k square feet currently for lease.

It isn’t alone on the latter one. In the 10 largest US markets, ~50% of office space sat unoccupied in June, per Investopedia.

We’re in the thick of a commercial real estate crisis — one in desperate need of a hero.

John McClane = housing conversions?

A new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) lays the groundwork for shifting America’s underutilized office space into much-needed housing supply, per Insider:

  • The NBER team found that ~11% of office towers in the 105 most-populous US cities could be converted into residential properties.
  • The report outlines 2k+ “zombie” office buildings — empty and unrentable — that could be turned into eco-friendly 200-unit apartment towers.

The best-case scenario would add 400k homes to the market, making a dent in the millions of units needed to steady the housing crisis.

Could it really work?

… Yeah, seems like it. Bringing these zombies back to life could make financial sense:

  • It can be cheaper and quicker to retrofit existing structures than to start from scratch, anyway, but 2022’s Inflation Reduction Act also incentivizes green building — if the new homes meet efficiency standards, they could qualify for $10B+ in federal grants.
  • The opportunity is particularly massive in NYC, SF, and LA, which have the most towers fitting NBER’s residential conversion criteria — and an insatiable demand for more housing.

The first step: real estate leaders fully accepting that the combo of remote work and high interest rates mean commercial tenants (like, say, the Nakatomi Corp.) aren’t coming back anytime soon.

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eyeball wearing a hat

Not bad: An Oklahoma woman said she earned ~$16k in Etsy sales on 5k+ friendship bracelets made for Taylor Swift’s concert goers. Swifties often wear and trade bracelets, inspired by lyrics from one of the singer’s songs.


Red, red, red, white, and blue: Americans set a new record for credit card debt last quarter — the collective bill passed $1T for the first time. Yikes.

More bad records: A whole 82% of Americans feel it’s a “bad time to buy” a new house, the most pessimistic results in the 13-year history of Fannie Mae’s National Housing Survey.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is offloading 40% of its craft beer portfolio, selling eight craft brands to Canadian cannabis company Tilray Brands in a $85m cash deal.

Meanwhile… Rival brewing conglomerate Molson Coors is adding bourbon and rye brand Blue Run Spirits to its roster. Blue Run’s premium whiskeys retail as high as $250 per bottle.

Not cool: July was the hottest recorded month ever, affecting both global ocean and air temperatures. (And money — heat stress gives the US economy an estimated $100B+ haircut every year.)

Amazon’s Prime Day in July was a $12.7B success. Now, the retail giant is holding another in October targeting holiday shoppers.

But also: After years of investigation, the FTC is expected to file an enormous antitrust suit against Amazon that could potentially force the company to break up.

Funko laid off 12% of its workforce — 180 employees — after Q2 sales fell 24% YoY. The collectibles company, which has struggled with surplus inventory, will cut product lines and SKUs by 30%.

Netflix launched a new app that will soon allow subscribers to play its games by pairing their phones with their TVs.

Dream team: What makes a team successful? It’s a mix of specialized expertise, talent, and collaboration. Here are seven characteristics high-performing teams have in common.

Made from scratch
most sampled songs

Why nobody got paid for one of the most sampled sounds in hip-hop

In late May, Beyoncé’s “America Has a Problem” remix with Kendrick Lamar did what every Beyoncé song does: blew up.

An homage to retro hip-hop in “America Has a Problem” stands out — every few seconds a DJ scratch ties the rhythm together and inches it forward. And it’s not just any scratch. Contributors at the sampling database website WhoSampled recognized it as an iconic sound: the “Ahh” scratch.

Along with its equally famous sister scratch, “Fresh,” the sound comes from the closing seconds of the artist Beside’s 1982 song “Change The Beat.”

  • They’ve been an unheralded ingredient in 2.6k+ other songs, according to WhoSampled, connecting artists, eras, and genres across decades, from Eric B. and Rakim to the Beastie Boys to Missy Elliott to Bad Bunny.

Basically, any time you hear a scratch on a rap song there’s a decent chance you’re listening to a DJ or producer manipulate the word “Ahh” or “Fresh.”

But outside the rap industry the details of the sample’s origin have largely gone unexplained. How did a couple of random words from an obscure rap song weave their way into hundreds of new tracks?

“Change the Beat” is a story that stretches on for decades, an eclectic tale about the first attempt to bring hip-hop overseas, the muddled economics of sampling, and the unfortunate music trope of not being fairly compensated for your work.

Read the full story →
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We do make the resources. Take these Excel chart templates to start enhancing the stats in your emails, reports, and presentations.

Customizable design assets:

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Just input figures for up to five variables, and voilayour co-workers will think you’re some kind of wizard.

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I Am Not a Robot?

CAPTCHAs get weirder as AI gets smarter

It’s gotten increasingly harder — weirder — to prove you’re not a robot.

Why? AI trained on the Captchas of yore are able to pass them, per Insider, meaning it’s a constant battle to find a Captcha a human can solve, but a bot can’t.

In 1950…

… Alan Turing created the Turing test. A human evaluator sent the same questions to both a human and a machine, then guessed which answers came from the machine. A machine that tricks evaluators often enough has “passed” the test — but so far, none has.

In 2000, Luis von Ahn — now co-founder and CEO of Duolingo — was inspired by Yahoo’s problem with spammers using bots to sign up for millions of free accounts.

He and mentor Manuel Blum invented the Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart (Captcha), which required users to decipher distorted letters and numbers. Humans could, bots couldn’t.

But guess what?

Optical character recognition (OCR), which helps digitize text, taught bots to read wonky text. By 2014, Google’s AI could solve text Captchas 99.8% of the time, while humans could only do it 33% of the time.

Captchas evolved, asking users to identify particular images or audio, but AI is getting good at that, too.

And as AI trains itself to generate Captchas, things have gotten weirder. Discord users noticed Captchas full of AI-generated, Cronenberg-esque objects asking them to ID stuff that isn’t even real — e.g., a snail-yoyo thing called a “Yoko,” per Motherboard.

What’s next?

The “I am not a robot” button uses behavior leading up to clicking the button — e.g., browser history, mouse movement — to gauge humanity. Future tech could build on that to create a state of constant surveillance.

But ultimately, as bots get smarter, Captchas will always be lucky to be one step ahead.

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🌲 On this day: In 1854, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden; or, Life in the Woods was published. Thoreau had spent over two years living simply among nature in a small cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts.

🍞 That’s cool: Do you love toast? Then welcome to the online Toaster Museum.

🎧 Podcast: Many people define their identity by the work they do. On this episode of No Straight Path, guest Simone Stolzoff, author of The Good Enough Job, promotes separating self-worth from output and treating work more transactionally.

🎮 That’s interesting: A deep dive into “internet gaming disorder” and the parents taking on tech companies over their children’s gaming addictions.

🐱 Aww: Excuse me, but why are cats like this?

Twitter payout meme

Is it weird to invoice your friends? (Link)


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Today’s email was brought to you by Jacob Cohen and Juliet Bennett Rylah.
Editing by: Ben “I’m not a robot” Berkley.

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