Numlock News: August 25, 2020 • Weights, Murder Hornets, Fish

By Walt Hickey


There’s a dumbbell shortage, with major supply chain difficulties and an unprecedented run on product in the spring leading to significant difficulties in getting weights onto barbells. Icon Health & Fitness, which makes NordicTrack, saw March 2020 sales 200 percent higher than the same month of 2019, April sales were 400 percent higher year-over-year and May sales 600 percent higher. Bowflex’s second quarter was among their strongest ever, moving $114 million in flexible, bendy product, up 94 percent compared to last year. About 95 percent of dumbbells are made in China, and earlier shutdowns are still rippling through the supply chain, and preventing people from getting ripped.

Alex Abad-Santos, Vox


Aquaculture — farming fish in a pen — is poised to be an incredibly important source of protein as the world continues to grow. The math is pretty simple: it takes eight kilograms of feed to make one kilogram of meat from a cow, but just 1.5 kilograms of feed to make one kilogram of farmed fish. In the United States and Canada, the average person eats 22 kilograms of seafood per year, a fraction of the 55 kilograms on South Korean plates and 51 kilograms on Norwegian ones. The key will be in mollifying the potential environmental downsides of fish farms, like large escapes that in one case — Cooke Aquaculture’s spill in 2017 — unleashed 243,000 to 263,000 captive Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, which, if you were to consult a map, is not the Atlantic.

Jess Mackie, Hakai Magazine


Giant Hornets

Bees pollinate 75 percent of fruits, nuts and vegetables, and an invasive species — the Asian giant hornet — can wipe out an entire hive in a couple of hours, which is one reason that everyone earlier this year freaked out when they were found on the West Coast of the United States. The i5k initiative of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service wants to catalog the genomes of 5,000 species in five years, and has accomplished 78 so far, but let’s just say the murder hornets made it pretty near the top of the priority list very, very quickly despite missing the initial to-do list in 2018: in April, several were captured in Washington and British Columbia, and thanks to the USDA supercomputer the genome was sequenced — all 8.3 million letters — in two months, and released to the public in August.

Megan Molteni, Wired

Asphalty Forecasting

Whenever proposing a new road or highway, advocates will turn to traffic models to argue the impact that a new or expanded route will have in order to secure federal funds. “Travel Demand Modeling” is a critical part of civil engineering, but is also, at times, ambitious. One study pushing for a $2.5 billion bridge expansion in Louisville was projected to increase cross-river trips by 29 percent, but a later study found that traffic was actually falling at the time. A different one estimated that by 2030 trips would be 15 percent lower than the sunnier forecast projected, and the expanded bridge would carry fewer cars. A large study of these traffic forecasts found historically they’re scattershot: half of them are wrong by more than 20 percent according to a 2007 study, and of 15 toll projects the National Cooperative Highway Research Program analyzed, on average traffic was 35 percent lower than predicted.

Aaron Gordon, Motherboard


This year the 2020 election will result in $5 billion in advertising sales, up 24 percent from 2016. About a billion of that will go to the internet and somewhere between $3 billion and $4 billion will go to television networks, a banner year for political ad sales and a really miserable one for pretty much everyone else. What’s wild is that won’t even prevent one of the worst years in a while, as global television ad sales are projected to fall 12 percent this year, and by 2024 domestic ad sales are projected to fall $14 billion (23 percent) by 2024.

Lucas Shaw, Bloomberg

Pivot to Video

All the major media companies are trying to make more money from direct-to-consumer revenue, shifting to self-owned streaming services rather than living off licensing and distribution. Disney is doing the best of the bunch, and will generate an estimated $11.2 billion in direct-to-consumer revenue, which would be about 19 percent of total sales. That’s a much higher fraction than most of its rivals — Comcast is still at 0 percent, Fox is at 2 percent, Discovery is at 6 percent, and AMC and ViacomCBS are at 6 percent of revenues each. Only Lions Gate, which has 11 million online Starz customers, comes close, with about 18 percent of its (considerably smaller) revenues from DTC.

Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg

Big Box

For years, big box retailers have been struggling to fend off Amazon, which was rapidly eating their affordably priced and convenient lunch. However, many of the tactics they created to stave off the Amazonian assault — a solid investment in online resources, in-store pickup, a solid supply chain, curbside shopping — primed them incidentally for the demands of a pandemic, and as a result the biggies are doing better than ever before. Walmart, Amazon, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Costco combined for 25.6 percent of all retail sales in America in the second quarter of 2019. This year, that was up to 29.1 percent in the same period.

Sarah Nassauer and Jennifer Maloney, The Wall Street Journal

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