Numlock News: October 15, 2020 • Snowbirds, Long Snappers, Iceberg

By Walt Hickey


Solar has become a significantly cheaper option for new electrical generation than its rivals, with the levelized cost of electricity — basically, how much it costs to generate electricity over the lifetime of the plant — between $35 to $55 per megawatt-hour in markets like the U.S., Europe, China and India, down from $100 per megawatt-hour four years ago and $300 a decade ago. By comparison, coal ranges between $55 and $150 per megawatt-hour according to the new report from the International Energy Agency.

Justine Calma, The Verge

Gravy Train Over

Pilgrim’s Pride, which has been charged with price-fixing in the chicken industry, reached a plea agreement with the feds, and per the agreement, will pay a fine of $110.5 million to settle the charges, with the Department of Justice agreeing not to bring further charges or recommend a monitor or a probationary period. The government alleged that Pilgrim’s Pride conspired to fix the price of broiler chickens from 2012 to 2017, and is just one part of a larger swathe of litigation busting the poultry business for inflating prices. Rival Tyson Foods said they’re cooperating with the Justice Department, and just last week six employees at chicken suppliers were indicted by a grand jury in Colorado on price-fixing charges. The U.S. District Court in Colorado still must agree to the agreement, but the other cases against the executives who allegedly orchestrated the price fixing will continue, not to mention the civil litigation, as 40 lawsuits have been filed by grocers, restaurants, and others related to the alleged price fixing.

Dee-Ann Durbin, The Associated Press

Lettuce Never Forget

The green lettuce consumed in the United States has been slowly, subtly changing for decades, and 2020 may be the year that romaine and leaf lettuce finally overtake consumption of head lettuce like iceberg, Bibb, Boston and butterhead. Iceberg’s been head of the class since the ‘60s if not earlier, but since the mid-’80s Romaine and its leafy compatriots have been swiping the market share. In 1985, there were 22 pounds of head lettuce available at retail for every American, compared to just 3 pounds of romaine and leaf lettuce. By the new millennium, head lettuce was still holding strong — 21.4 pounds per capita — but romaine was making inroads, with 7.5 pounds per capita. It’s been a rout since, with the 2019 figures showing 11.8 pounds of head lettuce and 11.5 pounds of romaine per American, with this year potentially being the inflection point.

Justin Fox, Bloomberg


Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL and college football, but with the risks of the pandemic teams are doing more than ever before to protect the one irreplaceable person on their roster: the long snapper. Yeah, other positions are important, but they tend to be so important that they’re worthy of a backup or two, or have other position players of similar skills who can flex on in a pinch. Not so for the noble long snapper, who has one job in the game — to snap the ball to the punter, and to not screw it up — but rarely rises to the level of notoriety that would warrant a spare. Generally, their work is stellar: of 132,998 long snaps attempted in the college game since 2012, just 259, or 0.2 percent, resulted in an aborted kick. But with some snappers out of commission and teams relying on substitutes ill at ease with the rigors of the job, in the first four weeks the percentage of long snaps that went bad was up to 0.29 percent, a 61 percent increase over last year.

Laine Higgins and Andrew Beaton, The Wall Street Journal

Cloud Gaming

The future of video games is often thought to be cloud gaming, where instead of the current model — where you buy an expensive computer or console and then buy games you run on that console — some computer on a server farm does all the hard computational work. This cloud gaming would allow any manner of devices with varying degrees of computing power to run any manner of game, and people wouldn’t need to buy new consoles to play new games. There is a problem with this model, and it’s not small: the network and transmission demands of this are enormous compared to current volumes, where gaming takes up 7 percent of global network demand and 95 percent of that is people downloading content from the cloud one time and running it on their device at home. A new study modelled a scenario where if 30 percent of gamers switched to the cloud it would cause a 29.9 percent increase in carbon emissions, and one where if 90 percent moved to the cloud would cause a 112 percent increase.

Nicole Carpenter, Polygon


Japan’s vending machine industry is a $44 billion retail concern, and with less movement and fewer impetuous shopping decisions it’s really suffering. The monthly sales volumes of beverages across 3 million vending machines dropped 35 percent earlier this year as people became more conscientious about their trips and purchase plans. Convenience stores have also seen a similar dip. The solution for many firms with lots of vending machine assets has been to use this year to upgrade their fleets, as lots of the vending is low-tech and isn’t able to provide the real-time inventory data that newer machines can.

Lisa Du and Grace Huang, Bloomberg CityLab


Every year, about a million Canadians head south for the winter to locations like Arizona and Florida in the United States to spend the winter. In March, the border was closed to tourists going in either direction, and Canadian officials have indicated they are not particularly interested in a reopening any time soon given the, er, state of affairs as it were. This means that a number of people who had sworn off the winters of Canada have, instead, begun stocking up on sweaters and jackets. About 60 percent of the migratory Canadians go to Florida, according to the Canadian Snowbird Association, but this year many are looking West to British Columbia, where the winters are less harsh than the rest of the country and there are 100 year-round campgrounds and RV hookups.

Paul Vieira, The Wall Street Journal

Last week in the Numlock Sunday edition I spoke to Tim Hwang, author of the book Subprime Attention Crisis: Advertising and the Time Bomb at the Heart of the Internet, which is out this week. The book looks at how advertising fuels the technology business and, in Hwang’s view, the modern ad tech system may be built on an unsound foundation jeopardizing that. The interview’s great, the book can be found on Amazon or your local book store, and Tim’s on Twitter @timhwang.

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