Numlock News: June 23, 2020 • Bees, Cheese, MLB

By Walt Hickey

Cheese

The price of block cheddar on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has been going on a wild ride for the past several months, and that’s an issue because that spot price pretty much sets the prices for cheeses across the market, from your finest aged ash-ripened goat cheese down to the lowliest Pasteurized Cheese Product. As of Friday, a pound of block cheddar went for $2.65 per pound, up from $1 per pound back in April, a colossal swing for a commodity that last fall was reliably in the ballpark of $2 per pound. When restaurants closed, so did 80 percent of the volume of sales in April, pushing a glut of cheese. Then, exports picked up as American stuff was the cheapest on the globe, and the government started buying too. Now, consumers are buying 20 to 30 percent more cheese than they were a year ago, so boom times are here.

Matt Phillips, The New York Times

Wirecard

Wirecard AG, a German fintech company, is teetering on collapse amid an announcement Monday that bank trust account balances that were supposed to be €1.9 billion do not in all likelihood exist. For years investors betting against Wirecard raised suspicions about their books, alleging that they used techniques to make the company appear larger than it actually was. Friday, the two Philippine banks who were supposedly holding the funds said they never had them. The company’s CEO resigned Friday and the former COO was canned Monday. The company, which was valued at $14 billion last week, is now valued at less than $2 billion.

Paul J. Davies, The Wall Street Journal

Games

With the weather turning nice and new hobbies appearing, time spent playing video games is ebbing. March and April were boom times for mobile games — the 93 million downloads the week of March 1 to March 7 exploded to 133 million downloads three weeks later — but they’ve slowed since. According to App Annie, downloads were down to 110 million by the last week of April, and sales of digital games were down 3 percent in May compared to April. Things are still better than typical — May 2020 video game spending was up 14 percent over May 2019 — but new rivals like “the sun” and “going on the sidewalk” and “3AM fireworks” have slowly reduced interest in games from the frenzy in March. Pokémon Go, a game that involves walking around outside, saw spending rise 60 percent month over month, so that should give you a sense of where the time is going.

Olga Kharif, Bloomberg

MLB

With the season hanging in the balance, the Major League Baseball owners and the Players Association have been engaged in tense negotiations over how much money the players will get screwed out of in the event of a return to the field. The players contend the answer should be “a proportional amount to the games we don’t play,” while the owners contend they should take another pay cut because the stands are going to be empty. This should be settled sooner rather than later as the deadline for any baseball whatsoever is coming up, and a new poll finds fans are inclined to blame the owners for a lost season if it goes bad. Among 862 U.S. adults who identified as MLB fans, 43 percent did not have an opinion on who would be blamed most if no agreement was made, 33 percent would put more blame on the owners, and 24 percent would blame the players.

Alex Silverman, Morning Consult

Bot Mafias

World of Warcraft Classic is the more grindy, resource scarce version of WoW, and the MMORPG is currently the site of a war between humans who control characters in the games and humans who control robots who control characters in the games. Blizzard announced that it’s closed 74,000 accounts over automating gameplay in the past month alone, a snapshot of the problem plaguing the realm. The bots are targeting scarce resources such as the Black Lotus, which is necessary for high-level play and requires players to defend a place for 45 to 75 minutes to obtain. The owners of the bot syndicates then sell the Black Lotuses at an inflated price of 300 gold. That’s not a trivial sum: 100 gold goes for $4.79 on one server, so by automating Lotus farming an organized botmonger can pull in some serious change. The impact has been making a punishing game even more punishing, driving up the price of a Black Lotus 600 percent in six months.

Cecilia D’Anastasio, Wired

Bees

This past winter American beekeepers lost 22.1 percent of their colonies, which is good news. The average percentage of colonies lost from October 1 to March 31 was 28.6 percent, according to the annual survey of thousands of beekeepers. That’s the second smallest winter loss in 14 years, and a substantial improvement on the winter of 2018-19 when 37.7 percent of colonies died off and the subsequent summer when 32 percent of colonies died off. The effect tends to be cyclical, so gird your thorax for a rough one this time around.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

Salt

“Salting the earth” is both synonymous with a vengeful, permanent destruction of resource-producing soil as well as a pretty accurate description of what industrial farming and irrigation does to a plot of land. Excessive salt causes an estimated £21.7 billion in crop losses globally every year, a figure forecasted to increase amid rising sea levels and a tightening freshwater supply. This has led researchers and start-ups to work towards a goal that would solve many of these problems: can you engineer food that grows from seawater? It’d require some of the mechanisms adapted by mangroves to filter freshwater in their roots and excrete salt, and the mechanism is still somewhat unclear, but given the stakes — the world lost up to a third of its arable land in the past four decades — and the opportunities — people will need to eat in order to not die — companies are investing in the possibility of GMO food that can survive in saltwater.

Christina Couch, Wired

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