Numlock News: August 28, 2019 • Ransoms, Cruise Ships, Pumpkin Spice Latte

By Walt Hickey

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Starbucks unleashed the Pumpkin Spice Latte yesterday, the earliest such day for the autumnal staple. The most popular seasonal beverage at the most popular beverage chain, 424 million PSLs are sold worldwide. That figure is astounding: assuming a 16 fluid ounce grande size, that’s 53 million gallons of Pumpkin Spice Latte. That would fill a fleet of nearly 5,900 semi-truck tankers. Earth’s consumption of pumpkin juice and latte could fill about four 640-foot oil tankers. I’m not even mad, I’m just impressed. In 2015, it was estimated the Pumpkin Spice Latte was responsible for $100 million in revenue in a single season. Good for them.

Rebecca Jennings, Vox


Who could forget Foursquare, the charming app that allowed users to “check in” at various locations in order to become “the Mayor” and have such wonderful fun in the heady days of 2013, when nobody had any idea what an app should actually do. Actually, everyone forgot about Foursquare, and they love that, because in the intervening period they instead became an independently operated user location data aggregation empire that services companies like Uber and Snap who don’t want to work with the Google and Facebook juggernauts. Their database contains 105 million places and 14 billion check-ins, which they use to consult with over 150,000 apps that use location data, as well as retailers and firms angling to increase foot traffic or better understand their users. They’ve built interest profiles on over 100 million U.S. consumers, but how many of them can briefly lay claim to the Mayoralty of the No Idea bar on 20th for a few weeks back in 2012, eh?

James D. Walsh, Intelligencer


Ransomware has hit all sorts of municipalities, with hackers infiltrating important government systems and locking the operators out until they’re paid off in cryptocurrency like bitcoin. It’s spreading, and cities with cybersecurity insurance are typically finding their insurers are just paying off the ransoms, which in turn fuels more hacks. The average ransom is up sixfold since last October, up to $36,000. From 2015 to 2017, premiums related to cybersecurity insurance doubled to an estimated $3.1 billion in the U.S., and it’s just as profitable for the insurance companies as it is presumably for the hackers: The loss ratio is about 35 percent for U.S. cyber policies, meaning that for every dollar collected in premiums about 35 cents get paid out in claims. In property and casualty insurance, that’s about 62 percent, meaning insurers are themselves making a killing in this kind of digital hostage taking. And if this is giving you any creative ideas, I already thought of it, and it’s definitely insurance fraud. I know, I was bummed too. This isn’t The Producers and that is totally a crime, I checked.

Renee Dudley, ProPublica

Bag Taxes

Tiny little bag taxes can have major impacts on use of plastic shopping bags. Ahead of a seven cent tax on checkout bags in Chicago, 80 percent of consumers used disposable bags, which after implementation switched to half using reusable bags. Following a Montgomery County, Maryland five cent bag fee, disposable bag use in one study dropped from 82 percent to 40 percent, while the number of bags per trip plummeted. A 2012 bag ordinance in San Jose led to an 89 percent decrease in bag litter in storm drains, 60 percent decrease in presence in creeks and rivers, and 59 percent down in streets compared to the year before the ban and tax.

Matthew Zeitlin, Vox

A Supposedly Fun Thing 30 Million People Do Again

Globally, the cruise industry takes in $37.8 billion from nearly 27 million passengers, but the business is still working on balancing the good it does for tourist communities (money, commerce) with the bad (leaving the engine on in port, accidentally running over their whales, et cetera). Take Ketchikan, Alaska, which went from seeing 50,000 visitors per year in the 1970s to an expected 1.3 million visitors this year, 16 percent over 2018 and mostly thanks to cruise traffic. The relationship between the town and the cruise operators is mixed. This year, a projected 30 million will board a cruise ship, 35 percent of whom will go to the Caribbean and the Bahamas, and 5 percent to Alaska. New legislation that reduces the emissions belched into the atmosphere, which also contribute to asthma near port cities, may help reduce the negatives, but fines are just a cost of business in the cruise industry so who can say.

Brian Payton, Hakai Magazine

Aluminum Cups

Ball Corp. makes aluminum cans and is poised to launch a recyclable aluminum rival to the iconic red solo cup that for years has defined college parties and the great sport of beer pong. While most recycled plastic is not actually even recycled, aluminum is effectively infinitely recyclable, and thus aluminum cups stand a far better chance of having a second life compared to their plastic rivals. There’s a slight price premium — plastic red Solo cups sell for about 17 cents per cup and the aluminum offering will go for about 25 cents per cup — but Ball is betting enough young consumers and universities are making sustainability pushes that it will be able to find a market. Listen, if we’re going to start evaluating our personal contribution to plastic pollution based on how many sick cups we drained during beer pong back in college, I am basically The Once-ler from The Lorax.

Craig Giammona, Bloomberg

Gift Cards

In 2018, about $95.7 billion worth of gift cards were sold, and somewhere between $2 billion and $4 billion this year will just sit there unspent. States sense an opportunity, specifically Delaware, which is home to many American corporations and is enthusiastically pursuing abandoned property laws to reclaim dollars abandoned on lost or expired gift cards issued by companies based in the state. Delaware’s unclaimed property office is considerable, overseeing a fund of about $540 million per year, or 10 percent of the state’s budget. On the other hand, Starbucks is based in a state that doesn’t consider unused gift card money as unclaimed property, meaning the coffee shop made back $60.5 million in unspent money in 2017.

Michael Waters, The Atlantic

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