Numlock News: May 26, 2020 • Tow Trucks, Allergies, The Greatest Showman

By Walt Hickey

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Whales

While this is a time of great anxiety for many, as far as whales are concerned it’s basically as if the construction site down the block from your apartment finally stopped jackhammering. Sea vessels are disruptive to whales, at worst colliding with them, but even in the best of times adding a mechanical din to the aquatic soundscape that aggravates the animals. This applies even to vessels with the explicit purpose of dragging people out to watch whales. There were 138 whale-watching vessels in 2019 in British Columbia and Washington State that ferried about a half million customers out to watch some whales, but they’ve been docked now.

Larry Pynn, Hakai Magazine

Towing Wars

The greater Toronto area has been the site of dozens of arsons of tow truck businesses, as well as several shootings related to the industry. One reason is an ongoing turf war between the many companies in the space, and it’s drawing the attention of the Ontario premier. The fight stems from the finder’s fees that garages will pay to tow truck drivers and the bare-knuckle tactics of accident-chasing drivers racing one another to an easy profit. Organized crime has moved into the space as well, having sniffed out the lack of regulation — towing is regulated at a municipal level, and only 17 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities have unambiguous rules about towing — and the ample cash in the business for an unscrupulous operator willing to resort to brutal tactics.

Leyland Cecco, The Guardian

OIL

Generally speaking, the best place for oil to be stored is in the ground, but given that we have a lot of infrastructure designed to take it out of the ground, and that it’s quite annoying to turn that off, with the price of oil crashing people are finding lots of places to sock away oil. One is floating in tankers, many of which are gathering off the coast of South Africa in prime geographical position for when the price of oil eventually shifts and a person can give the signal to go east or west for favorable market conditions. As of May 17, there were 178.8 million barrels of oil in floating storage around the world. By comparison, at the beginning of this year that number was about 52 million barrels in transit at any given time.

Julian Lee, Bloomberg

Vinyl

Vinyl has been an inexplicable bright spot in physical music sales for a decade and a half, as a potent cocktail of hipsters, audiophiles, and the Guardians of the Galaxy resurrected a format that had once been written off for dead. Vinyl sales have risen every year for 14 years, hitting $504 million in 2019. This year has been a disaster for the format though, thanks to a number of individually devastating events that happened in quick succession: first, a fire at Apollo Masters, which makes lacquer disks used for manufacturing, called into question the availability of an essential component of the vinyl supply chain. Then a conflict with music distributor Direct Shot led to turmoil in the market. And the latest blow, the many small indie factories that press records have had to shut down just like everything else and face an unclear future.

Marc Hogan, Pitchfork

Games

Globally, people spent $10.5 billion digitally on video games in April alone, which was up 17 percent from April 2019, and also up a half a billion dollars over the value in March. Animal Crossings: New Horizons sold $3.6 million in digital units, and after two months it’s the top Switch game for lifetime digital sales according to Nielsen.

Trilby Beresford, The Hollywood Reporter

Showman

Once again, The Greatest Showman’s run at the box office simply refuses to quit. South Korea has reopened cinemas, though the nationwide box office is just 7 percent of what it was at this point last year. The local Korean films have steered clear of a release, while The Greatest Showman — a 2017 Hollywood musical about P.T. Barnum if he was a huge, jacked man — cleaned up with an (all things considered) massive $205,600 haul, winning the weekend with a boffo Memorial Day, a holiday that I must stress is June 6 in Korea, not this past weekend. It seems producers are reluctant to get new films in cinemas, so I dare James Cameron to re-release Avatar in Korea just to beat Avengers: Endgame in the worldwide box office record.

Sonia Kil, Variety

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Allergies

Food allergies affect about 32 million people in the United States, and approximately two schoolchildren in each classroom. In the past decade, some allergists began treating patients with a small regular dose of the food in question, and a standardized version was introduced in January for peanuts. That’s a great help for patients who respond well to it, but the downsides are considerable, namely that it involves calibrated consumption of something that is fatal, and success looks more like “can survive peanut dust” rather than “can eat a whole can of Skippy when sad with no consequences.” A reason rising allergies are so enigmatic is they rose in frequency at the same time as all sorts of things — antibiotics, diet changes, urbanization, declines in parasites, increased maternal health, and so on — so it’s tough to nail down the cause. One line of inquiry that seems promising is in the bacteria that live in the gut: most of the common allergens (shellfish, milk, eggs, nuts, peanuts) have little in common besides proteins that resist digestion, so perhaps the absence of a bacterium in an otherwise healthy gut could contribute to the adverse reactions.

Esther Landhuis, Knowable Magazine

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