By Walt Hickey
Despite cascading supply chain issues from the absence of semiconductors, still one of the weirdest, flukiest fluctuations right about now is dead trees, which got more expensive again. On Tuesday, futures for lumber were trading at $735.70 per 1,000 board feet, up significantly from the summer when lumber took a dip and about double the five-year pre-pandemic average of $356 per thousand board feet. The see-sawing of the price is due to a surge in home building followed by a surge in production of wood followed by a crash in demand followed by a surge in British Columbian log prices followed by forthcoming tariffs followed by, I don’t know man, it’s wood, they keep growing more of it but it’s hard to get.
Wheel of Time
Dubai has opened up the largest Ferris wheel on the planet, the Ain Dubai, which is 820 feet tall and is composed of 11,200 tons of steel. This makes the wheel much taller than the 440-foot London Eye or the previous record holder, the 550-foot High Roller in Las Vegas, and because of the way we calculate the circumference of a circle these days, that height turns into a pretty substantial spin. Yes, the Ain Dubai offers the incredible experience of packing into a 40-person cabin and taking 38 minutes to fully traverse one spin, for a maximum capacity of 1,750 disappointed and uncomfortable people at a single time.
Manike Mage Hithe
Back in May, “Manike Mage Hithe” was uploaded to YouTube by singer Yohani Diloka De Silva, and since then it’s racked up over 113 million views. This is particularly of note because the song is in Sinhala, a language only spoken in Sri Lanka; however, the tune’s popular all over polyglot South Asia. There are just 17.2 million Sinhala speakers, and it’s the 70th most spoken language in the world, while broadly South Asia is home to 650 of the 7,099 living languages in the world. Many — 615.4 million — speak Hindi, another 265 million speak Bengali, 170.2 million speak Urdu and 80.9 million speak Tamil, and for the most part, these tongues — often Tamil — are widely spoken across the region, which means that most of the chart-topping music is typically in one of the biggies. Whether it’s BTS’ global success or the success of “Manike Mage Hithe,” increasingly wide global audiences are comfortable with songs that aren’t necessarily in their own language, provided of course that they’re bops.
The fishmeal and fish oil industry is huge in India, and it’s causing problems for consumers trying to afford cheaper, locally caught fish. Farmed shrimp are fed a diet of about 25 percent fishmeal, and the industry popped up as a way to use bycatch for a productive goal, of feeding shrimp bound for export. However, the shrimp industry got massive: production rose from 28,000 tons in 1988-89 to 843,633 tons in 2020-21, and India’s now the second-largest exporter of shrimp in the world by value. All those tiny maws need protein, so large companies are buying up entire catches of fish just to grind them up and feed the shrimp for export: there were 10 fishmeal and fish oil factories in 2010 in India, and today there are 93, processing up to 3,224.50 tons of fishmeal and 877.68 tons of fish oil daily. In 2010, they bought up 5 percent of the total marine catch, but today they’re buying over 30 percent. That’s awful for poorer locals, who used to be able to count on inexpensive fish that now is instead being fed to shrimp bound for export to rich countries.
Retailers are fretting over an onslaught of bots this holiday season, automated bits of software that will camp out on their web pages and automatically buy up stock of desirable gifts only to hawk it later on auction sites for a profit. There’s reason they’re worried: Akamai, a software company that among other things helps retailers stymie bots, was following bot action in India ahead of the five-day Diwali holiday that starts in November. Over a two-week period, bot utilization jumped 55 percent over the previous two weeks, and retailers worry that’s just a prelude to what they can see ahead of the holidays. The Akamai anti-bot business is already worth $200 million a year, and is growing 40 percent annually. This is mostly bad, but great for me, as my holiday action script Santa Claus Vs. The Robotic Hoards has been languishing and this could very well be the news peg that gets Nick Cage to finally read it.
The Winter Olympics are coming up, which is weird because we just had the Summer Olympics, but the show must go on. Back in March, 40 percent of Americans were aware of the forthcoming Summer Games, and 36 percent knew Tokyo was hosting. By the same token, awareness is down for Beijing: just 26 percent of adults were aware the next games are winter 2022, and only 21 percent identify Beijing as the host. The events this year have a pall cast over them and will be a complicated one for avid skating fans, as it will mark the second Winter Olympics that pass us by without the long-awaited and promised second season of anime Yuri!!! On ICE.
Contract bridge, a competitive card game, is in the grips of a widespread cheating scandal at its highest levels of play. This past summer, 30 teams forfeited rather than play someone who had been accused of cheating. In bridge, cheating takes the form of signals or unauthorized information passing between partners playing at opposite sides of the table, and the pandemic enabled teams to cheat really easily. The league’s dealt with some two dozen cases in the past 16 months, and based on data beginning in March of 2020 by a software consultant bridge aficionado, an estimated 2 percent to 5 percent of all pairs playing online are cheating.
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