Numlock News: February 24, 2021 • Pickleball, Common Cold, Mekong

By Walt Hickey


In 2018, Americans sent 9.7 million tons of furniture to landfills, which was up from 6.5 million tons in 2000, and was equivalent to 80 percent of all furniture manufactured that year. There are lots of brands — folks like Ikea and Wayfair — that specialize in making affordable, flat-pack furniture that isn’t destined to last forever. To stop that end-of-life landfill trip for perfectly serviceable furniture, there are new startups such as Feather taking the Rent the Runway approach to home fixtures, arguing that there’s a market for people who want the Rent-a-Center leasing model but for urbane, trendy, staid furniture. Then, once you don’t want it, they lease it to the next guy who got into a relationship and was told in explicit terms that if their disgusting couch came within a block of the new apartment both it and I would be left on the curb.

Margaret Rhodes, Bloomberg


Lawmakers in 11 states have introduced bills for the 2021-22 legislative session that would form an interstate compact to eliminate tax giveaways to corporations. Right now, companies play states off one another, goading them into bidding wars over who gets less money to host the corporation. For many states, who see new businesses as a way out of their problems, this has become an increasingly standard practice, but if every time a company wants a new HQ it’s a 50-party bidding war, eventually we’re going to not collect taxes from businesses anymore. To avert this, the states are eyeing a disarmament, not unlike what Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas worked out in 2019. If the compact enters law, states will agree not to use tax incentives to poach jobs from the other states in the compact. This isn’t particularly new, as there are 200 ongoing interstate compacts and each state is in an average of 25.

Pat Garofalo, Boondoggle


There are 60 million people who live along the lower Mekong River, and they were in for a rough surprise in early January when China drastically cut the discharge from the Jinghong Dam in Yunnan Province. The “tests” — which were slated to end January 24 — entailed cutting the flow of the river from 1,900 cubic meters per second to just 1,000 cubic meters per second, but the final day of tests came and went and the volume is still down. That this occurred in the middle of the dry season was particularly rough for Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, countries that depend on the river. China has begun to draw international ire over their management of the river, which it has built 11 large dams on.

Marwaan Macan-Markar, Nikkei Asia

So Long And Thanks For All The Fish

The European Space Agency is currently evaluating Lunar Hatch, a research project that will attempt to raise fish on the moon. To that end, aquaculture researchers at the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea have now analyzed whether eggs exposed to the vibrations of a rocket launch would survive the ordeal, simulating the shaking of a Soyuz rocket in a laboratory environment on eggs of European seabass and meagre. The good news is that the eggs were not scrambled: 76 percent of the seabass eggs hatched, a bit shy of the 82 percent success rate of unshaken samples but still respectable, and 95 percent of the shaken meagre eggs hatched, which is pretty much right on the money scientifically speaking.

Chris Baraniuk, Hakai Magazine


The annual report from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association just dropped, and not only were Americans more physically active in 2020 than in 2019, but they also began changing the ways they did sports. Some sports exploded in popularity, such as skateboarding (up 34.2 percent), tennis (22.4 percent), pickleball (21.3 percent), table tennis (13.1 percent) and bicycling (12.9 percent). It’s not entirely shocking that those sports all entail either significant social distance from an adversary or a mobility component. Other sports saw significant dips in popularity, including gymnastics (down 18.1 percent), volleyball (down 16.6 percent on courts), cheerleading (down 11.8 percent) and bowling (down 11.5 percent), all of which seem to involve touching the same thing that everyone else is touching.

Lev Akabas, Sportico


If history is any guide, when eventually the COVID-19 pandemic is pushed back and life can return to some sort of normalcy, we’re all probably going to catch colds. The pandemic’s impact on other respiratory infections has been remarkable, with social distancing and masks wiping the floor with the annual flu. Last year by this time there had been 174,000 positive tests for the flu in the U.S.; there have been 1,400 this winter. There are about 200 viruses in the rhinovirus family of viruses, and they’re responsible for about a third of common colds. When many schools returned in late October to early November, there were 482 rhinovirus outbreaks reported in that month-long period. One reason this may very well roll across the country near the end of the pandemic is that with social distancing people haven’t been exposing each other to all the other germs, the ones that don’t cause too many problems, so all our immunities are slightly shot.

Helen Branwell, STAT


From early Monday to last Friday, Texas racked up $50.6 billion in energy bills, as natural gas infrastructure froze, generating capacity diminished and the cost of producing power skyrocketed. By comparison, the previous week that same cost amounted to $4.2 billion. This has already begun crushing ordinary Texans, who have been slammed with thousands upon thousands in energy costs, and ultimately it’ll be all Texans that pay a price. Californians spent 20 years paying for the 2000-2001 Enron era energy crisis through surcharges on bills.

Mark Chediak, Naureen S Malik and Josh Saul, Bloomberg

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