Numlock News: March 12, 2019

By Walt Hickey

Liking Numlock? Forward today’s email to a friend you think may enjoy it and might subscribe.

Spit Industrial Complex

Lots of companies are trying to sequence your genome for a small up front fee, and potential riches selling that genetic jackpot down the line. But only one company is seriously profiting from selling the pickaxes in this genealogical gold rush, OraSure, which makes most of those plastic tubes that can preserve the samples submitted of genetic sequencers. They made $20 million in profit on $182 million in revenue last year, lots of which was thanks to their patented preservative tubes that can keep samples reliable for over two years at room temperature. Every company except Ancestry uses their tubes, and even Ancestry paid $12.5 million to settle a suit alleging they copied OraSure’s tech. They control at least 90 percent of the market, according to analysts.

Kristin V Brown, Bloomberg


Customs agents seized 3,200 pounds of cocaine at Port New York/Newark, the largest cocaine seizure since 1994. The $77 million shipment of blow came on a ship originating from South America, with the shipping manifest claiming the contents were dried fruit. Which is (unless my memory of the cocaine episode of How It’s Made is way off) wrong but not terribly so, as from a certain point of view I believe cocaine is technically a vegetable, right?

Ali Watkins, The New York Times, The Associated Press

Prison Food

Food in prison is designed to keep costs as low as possible while still meeting standards set by the government. The results are fairly disastrous for the health of inmates. Prisoners are 6.4 times as likely to become sick from poisoned or contaminated food than the unincarcerated, and the long-term effects of the sub-par grub on the human body are rough to say the least: 44 percent of state and federal prisoners experience chronic disease compared to 31 percent of the general population. This ends up biting taxpayers back: health care for inmates costs $12.3 billion per year, and there’s abundant evidence that investments in fresh produce while reducing soda consumption seriously improves health outcomes.

Madison Pauly, Mother Jones

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

Prime Targets For Disruption

As it stands, Amazon is UPS’ largest customer, and it’s also FedEx’s fourth-largest customer, so the company’s aspirations to do some of its shipping in-house could pose some significant threats to those delivery businesses. UPS gets 1.4 percent of its revenue from Amazon, and FedEx gets 0.26 percent. The peril isn’t so much losing existing business for the pair of shipping companies as much as it is missing out on future revenues from Amazon, which has continually experienced voracious growth and could even pose as a competitor in the future. You know the old saying: if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you’re in trouble, but if you owe the bank a hundred million dollars, the bank’s in trouble.

Ryan Vlastelica, Bloomberg


The maker of LaCroix had a bit of a rough quarter, with National Beverage’s profit falling 39.6 percent and its revenue down 2.9 percent. The shall-we-say eclectic 82-year-old billionaire who owns 73.5 percent of the company’s shares and is also CEO didn’t handle the subsequent 16 percent share dip all that well, suggesting that one reason for the rough quarter was “injustice” rather than other companies realizing how easy it was to can water, bubbles and flavors.

Jelisa Castrodale, Munchies

Leaving the Public Square

Mark Zuckerberg announced his intention to make Facebook more focused on interpersonal connections rather than serving as the public square for the internet, which is pretty convenient timing. The reality is that Edison Research estimated Facebook has 15 million fewer American users than it did in 2017. A quarter of respondents told Pew that they deleted the app last year, and U.S. users over 18 spent 10 percent less time on Facebook in October 2018 than they did in October 2017. Well, why don’t you ask Tom what it feels like to be on that side of the growth curve.

Elizabeth Dwoskin, The Washington Post


The 1970s detective series Columbo earned over $600 million in revenue during its life cycle, which I assume will resume when an inevitable remake starring Ryan Reynolds happens. But the co-creators (and their heirs) launched a suit claiming Universal City Studios underpaid them thanks to “Hollywood accounting,” and an L.A. jury decided we get to hear them out. The suit says that Link and Levinson were entitled to a cut of the net profits, but Universal finagled the math so that there was no actual profit booked on the show until 2016, when it made $5 million. The plaintiffs are looking for $135 million in damages, claiming that Universal did its best to make it seem like (on paper) the show wasn’t breaking even.

Eriq Gardner, The Hollywood Reporter

Thank you so much for subscribing! If you're enjoying the newsletter, forward it to someone you think may enjoy it too! Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at

Previous 2019 Sunday special editions: Gene Therapy ·  SESTA/FOSTA ·  CAPTCHA ·  New Zealand ·  Good To Go ·  California Football ·  Personality Testing ·  China’s Corruption Crackdown ·  Yosemite

2018 Sunday Editions: 2018  ·  Game of Thrones  ·  Signal Problems · CTE and Football · Facebook · Shark Repellent · Movies · Voting Rights · Goats · Invitation Only · Fat Bear Week · Weinersmith · Airplane Bathrooms ·  NIMBYs ·  Fall 2018 Sports Analytics ·  The Media  ·  Omega-3  ·  Mattress Troubles  ·  Conspiracy Theorists  ·  Beaches  ·  Bubbles  ·  NYC Trash  ·  Fish Wars  ·  Women’s Jeans  ·  Video Stores