Numlock News: January 5, 2024 • Stanley, Cordyceps, Hallyu
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
When we hear about an elusive and hard-to-get Stanley Cup, we all think the Toronto Maple Leafs. That is, until recently when expensive insulated drinkware from the Stanley company became all the rage among the Target crowd. The limited edition Valentine’s Day Stanley’s Quencher available at Target on December 31 — MSRP $20 to $45, depending on the size — was bought up in mere minutes, and has hit reselling platforms for north of $100 already. Sky-high demand and lines around the block for the Starbucks X Stanley Winter Pink cup, released on January 3, speak to interest in the mugs, which are steel, vacuum insulated, and have become a hit particularly among women despite the company’s origins traditionally hawking the mugs to outdoorsy men. It’s been outstanding for business, as Stanley secured $750 million in revenue in 2022, 10 times the revenue the company saw in 2022, and they’ve sold over 10 million Quenchers as of December. The company’s president is, incidentally, the guy who made Crocs cool.
Cordyceps, the parasitic fungus that took its star turn in The Last of Us, is a staple of China’s traditional medicine and can sell for really high prices. More specifically, it’s ophiocordyceps sinensis people are after, or caterpillar fungus, and hunters try to find caterpillars who have been afflicted with the parasitic growth to sell for prices that now can go for as much as $110,000 per kilogram. Some are able to derive their entire annual income from the May and June harvesting period, selling the worms to middlemen who can broker 1,500 pounds of product per day and move tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cursed caterpillars. Demand in the West for cordyceps from the supplement crowd — whether it’s hawked by Goop on the left or Info Wars on the right — is also up, fueling demand on what’s worrying a declining supply. Some are trying to cultivate it in a lab setting, rather then sending out pickers, and as it stands lab-grown cordyceps could eventually make up 20 percent of the market.
December saw 23andMe announce that hackers had stolen genetic and ancestry data from 6.9 million users, an outcome which felt pretty much inevitable in the “mail your genes to a strange P.O. Box so they can tell you you’re bog-standard Irish-American for $50” space of companies. What’s interesting about this particular hack’s execution is that the data breach at first only affected 14,000 user accounts, which hackers obtained access to through brute force credential stuffing. But from there, they were able to obtain 6.9 million accounts’ personal data because they’d opted into the DNA Relatives feature, which allowed the hackers to scrape their personal data even if they weren’t directly hacked. That’s the exciting thing about the internet: A bunch of scams that were rendered completely vestigial are now back on the market; “pretend you’re a long-lost cousin from the old country to rob the fools blind” was over and done with in the ‘30s, but now finally has some juice again.
The Future’s In Plastics
Consumer Reports tested 85 foods for plasticizers, the chemicals that make plastic more durable and flexible, and have linked them to health concerns. They analyzed 67 grocery store foods and 18 fast foods, and found BPA and other bisphenols on 79 percent of tested samples, an indication that chemicals and plastics are firmly ingrained in the American food supply. The study also found that phthalates were found on every single foodstuff studied, with the sole exception of Polar raspberry lime seltzer, and that the levels of phthalates found were considerably higher than the levels of bisphenols.
Harvard, a unique entity on the outskirts of Boston with a considerable suite of investments in land, stocks, bonds, and assorted funds, and which incidentally operates a degree-granting institution, has come under significant scrutiny over the past several weeks amid a scandal among its administration related to plagiarism but also a lot of other things. Anyway, its moment in the sun has dinged its popularity somewhat, which for a 387-year-old institution may not be all that big of a deal but is probably worth at least keeping an eye on. Harvard’s net favorability — the share of respondents in a poll who have a favorable view minus the share that hold a negative view — has generally bounced around between 30 percentage points and 35 percentage points month to month since late 2021, but has been on a steep downward slope since August 2023. Then, Harvard’s net favorability stood at 32 percentage points, but as of January it’s slipped to 21 percentage points, an 11-point drop that is the understandable result of being in the newspaper negatively every day for a couple of weeks. I don’t pay too much attention to the higher ed scene, so I’m just going to assume this is all about that thing on Data Colada about the behavioral science data kerfuffle and not just some ploy by the representative from New York’s 21st District to get the Good Will Hunting remake set at Rensselaer.
According to the package tracking app Route, Amazon was responsible for 21 percent of global order volume of online packages in the week of Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a respectable slice of the holiday season’s online sales. However, they also found that Amazon, with their two-day shipping promise, also seriously benefited later on in the season and gobbled up more and more market share the closer that we got to the big day. In the final two weeks before Christmas, Amazon caught 29 percent of global order volume, a sign that procrastinators gravitated toward Amazon at the expense of rivals.
South Korea is tweaking its visa system in order to attract more remote workers as well as pull in fans of their pop cultural exports like K-pop for longer stays. The country peaked pre-pandemic at 17.5 million visitors in 2019, and is now targeting 30 million visitors annually by 2027, a steep target that it’s pulling out the stops to hit. Starting as of the beginning of this year, it’s offering a “digital nomad” visa for up to two years for remote workers who make more than 84.96 million won ($66,000) per year and want to live in South Korea, a significantly longer visa than the maximum 90-day tourist visa previously offered. It’s also soon launching a K-Culture visa, with details forthcoming, that is specifically aiming at the legions of international fans of South Korean exports.
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