Numlock News: December 16, 2020 • Tuvalu, Commercials, Nanoseconds
By Walt Hickey
Fun fact: Today begins year seven of me writing a daily morning newsletter about numbers in the news! Thanks for reading, and thanks to everyone who has told their friends.
CBS is charging about $5.5 million for a 30-second television slot during the 2021 Super Bowl, and advertisers aren’t biting like they usually do. Blue-chip advertisers — who even in a normal year have a reputation that ranges somewhere between “a bit skittish” and “gutless invertebrates” — are keeping their powder dry, with CBS still holding dozens of unfilled ad slots as of mid-December. By comparison, last year, Fox sold all 77 of its national ad slots by Thanksgiving.
All countries are assigned a domain name suffix by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and in 1995 the island nation of Tuvalu encountered a linguistic natural resource that is poised to pay big: the .tv domain suffix. Realizing the potential, in 1999, Tuvalu leased the .tv suffix to a Canadian entrepreneur for $50 million in royalties over a 12-year period, which in retrospect is a pretty raw deal. In 2011, they signed a deal that’s set to expire in 2021 with VeriSign, an internet infrastructure company in Virginia. While Tuvalu has no domestic television stations itself, the .tv domain has become inordinately more valuable since the 2011 deal: Twitch.tv generated $1.54 billion in revenue in 2019 alone. There were 859 .tv domain sales in the past five years, and the top 100 were for a total of over $1.4 billion. How much of that flowed to Tuvalu is in question.
High-frequency trading is the process by which companies use algorithms and incredibly fast networks to earn money by beating rivals to trades though technological expertise and literally by having faster networks. This is a big business: a decade ago, Spread Networks spent $300 million laying fiber-optic cable between New York and Chicago in a straight line, which meant that financial trading data could move from one point to the other in 13 milliseconds. A few years later, a microwave transmission network cut that down to nine milliseconds. Now, firms are fighting over nanoseconds by ripping out the few hundred yards of standard fiber-optic cables that connect their data centers to communications towers and replacing it with hollow-core fiber, a more intricate and difficult-to-work-with type of cable. The advantage is that they can shave a few hundred nanoseconds off their data transmissions with this kind of cable, and in doing so beat out rivals in the cutthroat game that adds absolutely nothing to society.
A wild mink in Utah has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, becoming the first known case of the novel coronavirus in a non-captive wild animal. The creature was found in the vicinity of a fur farm, one of 16 mink farms in Utah, Wisconsin, Oregon and Michigan where coronavirus outbreaks have been documented among the captive animals raised for fur. While the USDA said there’s no evidence that the virus is circulating in wild populations around the farms, it’s still pretty bad. The Netherlands culled 4 million mink raised on farms and shut down the industry, Spain and Greece culled over 100,000 animals, and Denmark has decided to cull its 15 million mink stock. The U.S., true to form, is going to do its own thing, we’ll see how it goes.
The year 2020 saw quite a bit of news, but according to an annual analysis of “seen, read, heard” polling from Morning Consult — this year, 370 poll questions that asked respondents if they had seen, read, or heard anything about a given news event — the story that broke most unanimously through American society was not the election, not the aftermath, not the virus and not the protests, but rather the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and seven others in a helicopter crash in January. At the time, 75 percent of voters said they had heard “a lot” about the incident, the high-water mark for a year that would divide attentions, news feeds and nightly coverage with an onslaught of information. The runner-up, with 73 percent of voters hearing “a lot” about it, was the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
Amazon has significantly increased the amount of plastic packaging it uses, but has an unexpected justification that demonstrates the difficulties of trying to reduce the carbon footprint of an e-commerce juggernaut. This year, Amazon will handle 5.1 billion packages, up from 3.5 billion in 2019. That year, 47 percent of Amazon packaging was plastic mailers, which was up from 27 percent in 2016. These packages are difficult to recycle — if you put them curbside, they’ll contaminate the programs, so technically they’ve got to go to a grocery store — which was one reason they created an all-paper padded mailer. The trade-off is that the plastic mailers are lighter, and you can put way more on a truck, which means fewer trips and reduced vehicle miles traveled.
In May, the United States had 15 million syringes stockpiled, which was probably not enough syringes to stockpile. Since then, federal contracts for 280 million syringes from Becton, Dickinson and Company and nearly $600 million loaned to disposable injector maker ApiJect have set things on better footing. Overall, the world typically uses roughly 16 billion disposable syringes a year, only 5 percent of which go to immunizations, but, needless to say, 2021 will likely be a different story.
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