Numlock News: October 21, 2020 • Algae, Asbestos, Manga

By Walt Hickey


The amount of farm income in the United States rose from $76 billion in 2017 to $103 billion in 2020, but it’s not like the production of crops are getting any better: much to the contrary, it’s the federal subsidies that have exploded, from $12 billion in direct government payments in 2017 to $37 billion in 2020, while non-government income is flat, slightly rising from $64 billion to $66 billion over the same period. Government payments — rather than, you know, putting seeds in the ground and then turning that into food, or growing productive industrial precursor chemicals like “corn” — accounted for a third of all farm income, up from 21 percent four years ago, part of USDA policies to blunt the impact of trade wars and the pandemic.

Jacob Bunge, The Wall Street Journal


It’s compelling to think that if you plant enough trees, you can reverse the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and on paper that’s sensible but comes with a few issues. Yes, a single tree can remove up to 48 pounds of CO2 per year, but if it dies or is used for industrial purposes, you’re back to square one. “Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage” is the term used to describe this kind of thinking, where you use plants to suck carbon out of the atmosphere and then do stuff with it to remove it from the game entirely, but the really attractive plant isn’t trees but rather algae. From the tiny fifth-of-a-millimeter plankton to the 60-meter long kelp, algae already produces half the oxygen on the planet. Moreover, the numbers are pretty great when you consider it industrially: an acre of algae can remove 2.7 tons of CO2 per day, and when you start getting into specific species that can get 10 to 50 times higher than other plants. Viewed as a crop, a hectare of algae generated 27 times as much protein as a hectare of soybeans.

Benjamin Cooley, Parametric Press


The holiday shopping surge of this year is going to be a stress test for the shipping capacity of the logistical operations arm of the economy, and retailers want their customers to know that things could really get out of hand. A report from Salesforce this year warned that if online orders exceeded shipping capacity by the anticipated 5 percent, as many as 700 million packages could be delayed. This crunch has a number of ripples: first off, Black Friday won’t be as big this year, and entire supply chains are screwed up because it costs three times as much to ship a container from East Asia to the U.S. West Coast as it did pre-pandemic. Anyway, let’s all just agree that the hot gift of Christmas 2020 is [checks closet] a 48-pack of ramen you bought when things popped off earlier this year and haven’t gotten around to eating yet and also lightly used yoga equipment.

Hilary George-Parkin, Vox

Graphic Novels

North American bookstores are selling an impressive number of print graphic novels, which are either standalone or collected editions of comic books and are selling like mad. Sales are up 42 percent this quarter, with 4 million print graphic novels moved in the bookstore market alone, up from 2.8 million in the April to June period. For context, overall print book sales were up 6.4 percent. Most of the growth was in manga — Japanese graphic novels that were responsible for three quarters of the growth — which is up 25 percent year-over-year and up 8 percent in the past five. Meanwhile, superhero stuff is down 11 percent year-over-year in the category.

Chris Arrant, GamesRadar+

An Election For Change

It’s election season, and now more than ever the choices could not be more stark. And while I don’t like to make political statements, it was probably smart that 51.5 percent of the town of Asbestos, Quebec, voted to rename their municipality Val-des-Sources. That’s a really great change and I for one am a gigantic fan. Asbestos is a terrible name for a town and they picked one of the good options that sounds like a bottled water brand that costs like $8 and is only sold at coffee shops in Midtown. All told, 2,800 Asbestonians — which I assume is what they call themselves, at least until December when the change takes effect — cast a vote in the local parking lot that served as the site of this shining moment for Canadian democracy.

Laurel Wamsley, NPR

Cost of Scrolling

The tech sector is responsible for an estimated 3 percent to 3.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is actually slightly higher than the 2.5 percent that could be attributed to air travel in 2019. Behind the scenes of digital experiences are the energy costs of rendering a byte of data. An analysis looked at the carbon emissions that could be attributed to scrolling through websites at a constant speed for 60 seconds on a Chrome browser with a Wi-Fi connection. A Google search result page was responsible for 10 milligrams of CO2, an Amazon product page 64 mg, a New York Times interactive article 60 mg, watching the “Old Town Road” music video in 1080p 118 milligrams, and a minute of scrolling on the Facebook newsfeed 168 milligrams. All told, a minute on Facebook was calculated to be the equivalent of driving the average American car two-thirds of a meter.

Halden Lin, Aishwarya Nirmal, Shobhit Hathi, and Lilian Liang, Parametric Press

Let’s All Go To The Lobby

The ads that play before movies — no, not the trailers, the ones before that — are a serious industry that’s pretty much dried up these days. National CineMedia is the company that puts ads on those screens, things like advertising the concept of soft drinks to you or the pre-show for people who got to the movies early, and in 2019 they made $445 million in revenue. This year, with few eyeballs in front of the 20,000 screens they work on, they’re estimated to generate $97 million, down 78 percent. Listen, I miss movie theaters, I miss the trailers, I even miss the trailers before the trailers. I would literally pay Maria Menounos $10 to show me an upbeat behind-the-scenes look at soon-to-be-canceled prestige television shows for a half hour just for old times’ sake, I miss it that bad.

Kevin Tran, Variety

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