By Walt Hickey
Every year, consumers spend $122 billion on entertainment-linked merchandise, the figure that makes up the real asset of companies like Disney, Universal, Warner Brothers and which Netflix would desperately like a slice. Most of their original programming has not especially lent itself well to toys, apparel and branded material. Nobody is buying an Orange is the New Black action figure, and let’s just say kids aren’t beating down Hasbro’s doors to score House of Cards playsets. But with Stranger Things, Netflix is bathing in the lucrative waters of merch, with mobile games, branded camps and shoes, bikes, and soft drinks.
Everyone involved in manufacturing or importing of goods is trying to get their special little carve out in the trade war, and Big Bible is making its pitch right now. About 150 million bibles are printed in China each year, and the two largest publishers of the most popular book in America — Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, both owned by HarperCollins — make up 38 percent of the American bible market, and incur 75 percent of manufacturing expenses in China. The proposed 25 percent tariff will apply to all books, Good or otherwise, and inevitably annual top seller bibles will definitely be impacted. On one hand, tariffs on books just rub me the wrong way philosophically, but on the other hand if it was that serious I’m sure they would have taken the time to mention it in Revelations or something.
In a conventional solar cell, there’s a hard cap on how much energy can be extracted from sunlight. The theoretical maximum efficiency of a conventional silicon cell is 29.1 percent conversion, mainly because a photon can only knock loose one electron even though it’s got way more than enough energy to do more. A new technology — an eight angstrom layer of a specialized material — would allow high energy photons to release two electrons, and raise the theoretical maximum efficiency to 35 percent conversion. Granted, we’re still not yet practically hitting the maximum, and there’s still serious development to be done, but nevertheless the proof of concept exists and it could make solar generation better in the long term.
California has a lot of coastline, and generally speaking Californians who live on that coastline would like to keep it that way. But due to sea level rise and erosion, it’s an increasingly expensive prospect to keep the coastline locked in to where it was when we decided to build houses. There are a variety of solutions, but all of them are extremely expensive and inevitably temporary. You can spend millions to add more sand to a beach, but most will wash away in the next few years. You can build a seawall — roughly 30 percent of Southern California’s shore is behind a seawall — but that’s very pricey, and seawalls kill beaches, which according to state law belong to everyone. A third and much longer-term solution is managed retreat, which sounds great to everyone except the wealthy, and understandably stubborn people that municipalities are beseeching to retreat.
Interest in supplements specifically targeting brain health is understandable, given that brains are very important and people tend to want to make sure everything remains in working order. But there’s no pill that alone can shore up brain health, and no Vitamin B12 overdose, green tea extract, amino acid pill, stinky fish oil or Alex Jones or Gwyneth Paltrow-endorsed supplement is going to make people smarter, more awake or the protagonist of Limitless. That doesn’t stop people from spending an unfathomable amount of money on brain supplements, a sector Grand View Research estimates could grow 8 percent annually to reach $10.7 billion in sales by 2025.
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Dungeons and Dragons is having a huge sales renaissance, with sales of the fifth edition of the game up 41 percent between 2014 and 2017 and then up another 52 percent in 2018. With 40 million annual players, becoming a gun-for-hire Dungeon Master to oversee and run the various tables has become a bona fide side hustle for some, with Bay Area professional DMs fetching $300 for a four hour session. Interest — buoyed by references in more mainstream media and lots of podcasts — is higher than in years, with 306,670 sales of the Dungeons & Dragons starter set in 2018, up from 185,580 unit sales in 2017 and 91,900 in 2015. Given those enormous figures, now I’m getting the feeling that Neverwinter-area taverns where adventurers meet are more of a “packed at Mardi Gras” vibe than I originally believed and Phandalin is 100 percent going to be like Iceland was a few years ago, just overrun with tourists.
Cramped in NYC
New York City’s municipal government has 15 million square feet of city-owned space and about 22 million square feet of leased space, and a years-long effort from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is finally coming together to maximize the use of that space. They’ve so far measured 3 million of the 37 million total square footage, and will be cutting workstations down to a standard 6 foot by 6 foot compared to the existing 6-by-8 or 6-by-10 workspaces. While the municipal workforce is up 11 percent since 2014, the space-saving efforts have a massive effect. In 2019, the city cut $2.5 million in rental costs, and the forecast is $3.68 million in rental savings in 2020 and $15 million over the next 5 years.
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