Numlock News: July 21, 2021 • Free Willy, Geothermal, Faux Chicken

By Walt Hickey


Fifty years ago, the average American consumed 83.9 pounds of beef and 40.1 pounds of chicken annually. Today, that’s up to 97.6 pounds of chicken, and chicken consumption well exceeds that of beef and pork. It’s one reason that the market for plant-based chickenesque alternatives has suddenly begun to pop. Plant-based beef sales hit $371.39 million in the 52 weeks leading up to May 16, 2021, up from $290.95 million in the previous 52 weeks. Plant-based chicken alternatives saw similar growth, rising to $271.8 million from $230.72 million over the same period. Altogether, over that same period, plant-based nugget sales were up 48.4 percent.

Megan Poinski, Food Dive

Farm Bank

A Turkish Farmville ripoff game, Farm Bank, purported to actually link up genuine farms to players, commanding actual money for stakes in a farm business that the app offered. Unfortunately, this was just a rather sophisticated gamified Ponzi scheme: the company collected 1.14 billion lira ($250 million) from Farm Bank users, of which the founder of the company made off with 322 million lira ($80.5 million) to South America. At its peak, a half million people played Farm Bank, and 132,000 of them invested money, many if not most of whom lost what they invested in what’s now considered the biggest app-based grift of all time.

Paul Benjamin Osterlund, Rest of World

Free Willy

Ideally, the whales who are currently locked up in aquariums and performance venues will have a shot at moving past captivity and entering ocean-based retirement homes, where they’re both able to swim free but also protected from the predators they are now unable to evade due to age or captivity. Regrettably, this is a lot more difficult to pull off logistically than calling the phone number at the end of Free Willy. The Whale Sanctuary Project off the coast of Nova Scotia is one such attempt to clear a space for the mammals, but the politics of clearing productive fishing waters in Canada for American captive whales is fraught. One of the first serious proposals for a sanctuary is a 40 hectare facility that will cost $15 million to build and $2 million thereafter for up to eight belugas. With over 3,000 cetaceans in captivity, how this plays out has significant implications.

Matthew Halliday, Hakai Magazine


About 6 percent of American GDP goes to hospitals. All told, 80 percent of America’s hospital markets are considered to be “highly concentrated” by an analysis of market conditions from researchers at Yale’s School of Public Health. This consolidation may be at risk from anti-trust oversight. Just last month, Spectrum Health and Beaumont Health in Michigan announced a merger — which would result in a $12.9 billion system with 22 hospitals and 305 outpatient facilities employing 64,000 people, enough to be the largest employer in the state of Michigan — and an executive order followed shortly after, singling out hospitals as a source of monopolization concern. As a New York City resident, this is absolutely ridiculous, I can think of at least 10 hospitals that would make me equally bankrupt.

Greg Rosalsky, NPR


The average price of a single-family home in Billings, Montana, was $376,248 in June which was up a whopping 32 percent year over year, the highest growth rate for a municipality across the 300 largest metro areas in the country. Prices in the top 20 markets are up 13.7 percent over the past year, and prices in the top 300 are up 8 percent.

Nicole Friedman, The Wall Street Journal


Several decades ago, Kenya opened up the Olkaria power plant, then basically a research project rather than a proper commercial power facility designed to tap into the geothermal energy of the volcanic region. The first unit was designed to provide power for 10,000 homes; today it pumps out 50 times that, and while right now Kenya gets half its power from geothermal plants, by 2030 it’s on track to get three-fifths of its power from the fires below, aiming for 1.6 GW of power.

Paul Burkhardt and David Herbling, Bloomberg

Splash Zone

A new study looks at the effects that seawalls might have on not just the land they intend to protect but also the land in the immediate vicinity that lacks the luxury of a seawall. The reality is that the water will come one way or another: according to the study, protecting certain areas of the shoreline in California can increase flooding in 36 million cubic meters of other areas, costing an additional $723 million in damages in a single flooding event. For instance, if one were to protect the Napa-Sonoma shoreline, between $70 million and $82 million in damage from flooding would hit the Santa Clara Valley and San Leandro instead with a 200 cm sea-level rise.

Doug Johnson, Ars Technica

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