Numlock News: July 15, 2019 • Vacations, Omega-3, Toxoplasma

By Walt Hickey

Farms

Small farms have found that turning to AirBnB to bring in a little extra money from city slickers trying to relax in pastoral settings is a great way to pad the margins. According to AirBnb, 943,534 people booked stays on farms over a one-year period, a full $81 million transferred from the vacationers to the farmers. The appeal varies — some want to get up close and personal with where their food comes from, others want to get out of dodge and kick back in a tiny house — but it’s part of a larger trend of smaller farming operations setting their sights on ancillary income, like wedding or event hosting, organic farming, or bed and breakfasting, in an enormously competitive agribusiness.

Liz Tracy, Vox

Aquaculture

A new factory in notoriously landlocked Nebraska kicked off production last week on a new way to manufacture omega-3 fatty acids, which currently require millions of fish to produce. In addition to being a standalone product in their own right, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to farming fish, providing a necessary nutrient that’s added to the feed for farmed salmon. Today, it’s made by grinding up oily anchovies and herring, the extraction of which is fairly terrible for the oceans. The new factory instead makes omega 3 derived from algae, allowing for the farming of salmon that are functionally vegetarian. Algae, water, sugar and corn are combined in fermentation tanks to produce the feed. It should produce enough feed to sustain 15 percent of annual demand, replacing 1.2 million metric tons of wild fish that are killed for feed annually. For perspective, that’s roughly on par with the annual catch from the Mediterranean sea.

Ellen Proper and Deena Shanker, Bloomberg

Surveillance

Life360 is an app with 18 million active users as of 2018, essentially a location sharing service for families angling to keep tabs on where kids are at all times, how much battery their phones have, and how fast they’re moving. Needless to say, this is an enormous escalation in the parenting wars, and kids are ticked off. We know that by looking at TikTok, a popular app the youths are using, and where videos about Life360 racked up 13 million views. The company uses the location data to sell custom car insurance and other products it gleans you may desire based on your behavior. Needless to say, the offspring have launched a proportionate response, with one Iowa teenage 007 agent detailing how she uses the app to spy right back on her parents, allowing her to sneak out and ensure she gets home before mom.

Louise Matsakis, Wired

Potted Plants

In what is by far the most Vermont story possible, 34 marijuana plants were found growing in flower beds outside the Vermont Statehouse. The plants were found after some narc snitched on the grow, and whether they’re actual cannabis or merely hemp hasn’t been determined. In the best possible twist, officials conceded that this is not the first time this has happened. Police said the only way that this will lead to criminal charges is if someone comes forward, presumably to claim their Earth’s Best Prankster award from the governor along with the keys to the state and a truly reckless number of high fives.

Associated Press

Succession

Many companies in Japan and South Korea are closely held family businesses, and lots of those companies are contending with aging founders eyeing their heirs and then thinking hard about their fitness and then subsequently eyeing their exit. Right now, 66 percent of small- and medium-sized businesses in Japan lack successors and 84 percent of mid-sized South Korean companies don’t plan to pass on the business to the next generation. Lots of private equity companies — who have a collective $1.26 trillion ready to go — see all these local productions of King Lear and sense an opportunity to scoop up firms with limited succession options. This could be for a lot of different reasons — perhaps it’s related to the inheritance taxes of 55 percent in Japan and 50 percent in South Korea, or where the aging founder doesn’t have a kid, or ones where they do but are in Disney Channel Original Movie territory and the kids don’t want to take over the family business, they want to follow their own dreams, not dad’s.

Yoojung Lee and Shiho Takezawa, Bloomberg

Food

Postmates has been locked in the fourth position in the U.S. delivery market for going on two years now, with 10.2 percent of the market as of May according to Second Measure data — behind Uber Eats (19.7 percent), Grubhub (31.7 percent), and the newly kinged DoorDash (32 percent). Postmates has been considering a delayed public offering, but that hasn’t yet put to bed considerations of mergers or sales, potentially to DoorDash, Uber, or Walmart. Part of this is that there’s a ton of overlap and customers aren’t loyal — 26 percent of Postmates users also ordered from Grubhub in the first quarter, 27 percent also ordered from DoorDash, and another 27 percent also used Uber Eats.

Theodore Schleifer and Jason Del Rey, Vox

Cats

Toxoplasma gondii reproduces exclusively in cats, and when the parasite infects a rodent, that rodent becomes attracted to the scent of cat urine, which in turn makes them more likely to be eaten by cats and thus allowing the cycle to renew unabated. It also infects a third of humans, and though it doesn’t have the same cat urine effect, it’s really quite bad for fetuses. Until a recent scientific breakthrough, the only way to study Toxoplasma entailed experimentation on cats, which irks people, or infecting mice with strains, waiting 30 days, sending their brains to a lab in Maryland, having that lab feed that to cats, and then eagerly awaiting a parcel full of cat crap to come back. But now we figured out why cats are the only places the parasite can reproduce, namely that linoleic acid is 25 to 46 percent of the fatty acids in cat blood compared to much lower concentrations in other animals, such as 3 to 10 percent in mice, which is too low for toxo to reproduce. Now, researchers figured out how to make mice have linoleic-rich blood, and the kitties may be spared.

Ed Yong, The Atlantic

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