Numlock News: April 21, 2020 • Switch, Solar, Ultraviolet Light
By Walt Hickey
The world is coming together to produce the kind of essential materials necessary to maintain a functioning society. For an example, look no further than Nintendo, which is planning a significant increase in production of the Nintendo Switch console that right now is pretty much single-handedly keeping millions of people sane. According to reports — which are from real people at Nintendo, not your dumb friend who claimed his dad worked at Nintendo and said that if you used strength on the truck near the S.S. Anne you could move it and reveal Mew underneath, that prevaricating scum of an elementary schooler — Nintendo plans to produce 10 percent more Switch units in 2020, up from 20 million units in 2019. Parts suppliers have in some cases received orders 50 percent larger than anticipated, so people, help is on the way. This will have worldwide impact, for instance, I will get to learn who Tom Nook is and why he is motivating the workers of the world to unite and take up the cause of socialism.
On Sunday 6.1 million viewers on average tuned in to watch the first two parts of Last Dance, a ten-part documentary series about Michael Jordan. The two-part debuts are now the two most-watched original content broadcasts on ESPN since 2004. Talking about Michael Jordan is the closest thing society has to sports right now, coming in just ahead of the current top three pulse-pounding sporting events in America: Cloud Races, “Which One Of My Neighbors Will Finish Their Cigarette First?” and Rewatching Yuri On Ice.
Solar panels in Germany smashed a record Monday, producing 32,227 megawatts of power and beating the previous record set March 23. Ample sun and a lack of human-created smog enabled solar generation to produce 40 percent of German power Monday compared to 22 percent produced by coal and nuclear facilities. Fully 78 percent of the electrical output in Germany on Monday was renewables.
Yesterday, the price of oil crashed hard: the price of a barrel of crude to be delivered in May, which was $18.27 per barrel on Friday, finished Monday at -$37.63. That means that sellers will pay buyers $37.63 to take a barrel of oil away from them. The reason for this is nobody really knows what to do with a barrel of oil in May, because storage facilities are full and nobody’s buying it. For June deliveries and beyond, things are still positive, meaning that if you can find a way to get paid to accept a barrel of oil now, you can get paid again selling it sometime in the fall. Some people have prepared for this situation: it costs about $100,000 per day to lease a 2 million barrel Very Large Crude Carrier (VLCC) on a six-month contract — up $29,000 per day from a year ago — and a yearlong contract is $72,500 per day, up from $30,500 per day a year ago. This is because lots of people want to park a bunch of cheap oil on a boat so they can cash it in when it’s worth something again. In March, there were 109 million barrels of oil at sea, and on Friday that was up to 141 million. In the past month, about 50 long-term contracts for VLCCs have been signed.
In other commodity news, basically the entire market for illicit drugs has been disrupted worldwide at the wholesale and retail level. Cartels are reeling from the loss of precursor chemical suppliers and buyers retreating to their homes, and listen I didn’t exactly read the bill, but they do not strike me as eligible under the Paycheck Protection Program. The price of cocaine is up 20 percent or more in some cities, and in L.A., the price for a pound of methamphetamine has doubled over the past several weeks to $1,800, which I can only assume has some traders reeling. The equivalent of “a large oil tanker off the coast” when it comes to smack is just “stockpiling it along the U.S. border,” which is presenting some opportunities for authorities trying to strike a blow against the cartels.
A team of researchers has been investigating a type of plastic originally discovered in 1949 called isotactic polypropylene oxide, or iPPO, and how it may be useful in making fishing equipment that eventually breaks down when lost. Much like the noble Post-It note was born out of an adhesive that kind of sucked at its job, so too is iPPO a possible winner: the polymer chain length after 30 days of exposure to UV light degrades to a quarter of its original length, which while not perfect is very much a start. Right now the plastics used for fishing equipment — polyethylene, nylon and polypropylene — don’t degrade on any useful timescale.
Countries in sub-Saharan Africa owed about $583 billion to other countries as of 2018, funds that had been used to spur development and build out the kind of infrastructure that helped many of those nations become enmeshed in global supply chains. However, with developed countries staring down a recession and bills due soon, the African countries are trying to find ways to meet obligations without losing those investments. About $143 billion of that African debt is to Chinese lenders, and Beijing is demanding collateral — mining assets, for instance — in exchange for deferral or forgiveness. Hardball tactics are part of the game when borrowing: Sri Lanka was unable to pay a loan back for a port, so the government had to grant a Chinese state-run shipping group a 99-year lease.
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