Numlock News: January 7, 2022 • Capacity, Bankruptcy, Jeopardy!
By Walt Hickey
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The brown bears of Katmai National Park in Alaska — best known as the stars of the official U.S. Government program known as Fat Bear Week — are like many people attempting to get a little more veg in their diet and cut back on the meat. A study found that the proportion of salmon in the diet of female brown bears in the park is down over 50 percent over the past 30 years, potentially due to declines in salmon. In 1989, salmon was 62 percent of their diet, and in 2017 that was down to 28 percent. The thing is, the bears aren’t hurting all that much; they replaced the salmon with increased berries and grasses and leafy vegetation, and the omnivores are doing pretty much fine with a more herbivorous diet. I, for one, would be down with a meal plan that involved cutting out just a little bit of meat provided I could gorge on huckleberries.
A deadly uprising in Kazakhstan prompted the government to pull the plug on the nation’s internet, a decision that had massive implications for the rest of the world because Kazakhstan, through a somewhat circuitous set of causes and effects, has become one of the most important places in the world for bitcoin mining. When China cracked down on the energy-intensive bitcoin mining, much of it hopped the border into nearby Kazakhstan. All told, Kazakhstan is responsible for 18 percent of the global hashrate, which is the amount of computing power used for bitcoin mining, up from 8 percent prior to the Chinese crackdown. When the government shut down the country’s internet, the overall hashrate at several major crypto mining pools dropped 14 percent. Kazakhstan’s crypto mining farms are powered by aging coal plants, with bitcoin consuming an estimated 1.8 GWt of power, or about 8 percent of the total electrical generation capacity of Kazakhstan.
The 500-foot-long steel-hulled SS Virginia was sunk by a U-Boat off the coast of Louisiana in 1942, 80 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped it from moving. The Mississippi River moves massive amounts of sediment, some 550 million metric tons a year, and with earthquakes and storms the mouth of the river is actually a fairly dynamic place to sink. The SS Virginia has moved an estimated 10 kilometers over the past 80 years, sometimes triggered by mudflows, other times through hurricanes, other times just due to the inexorable march of time. The movements of the ghost ship are scientifically useful: The last time anyone mapped the entire Mississippi River Delta Front was 1979, and researchers tracking the Virginia are able to get a sense of what’s happening geologically beneath the Gulf thanks to her movements over time. A survey from 2006 and 2007 found that after Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, the ship shifted some 400 meters since the last time they checked on it in 2004. That’s an enormous distance for a ship of Virginia’s size, and reveals just how dynamic the seabed actually is in the delta.
This Is Jeopardy!
Popular quiz show Jeopardy! has seen a major shift this season, as its recent run has seen specific dominant contenders go on long streaks. This season so far, there have been five contestants who have had at least a five-win streak, so many dominant performers that as of Wednesday there have been only four episodes of the 73 non-tournament episodes this season that have not featured a person in the midst of or about to log a five-win streak. This was not the case last year: The show at one point had 88 consecutive episodes without anyone hitting a four-win mark. One potential cause for the surge in super-champions may be the introduction of the Anytime Test in February of 2020, which let any wannabe contestant take the online exam required for entrance into the dance without proctoring. In previous years, about 70,000 people applied to be on Jeopardy! annually; as of this week, the Anytime Test was taken 239,089 times, which would average out to 125,000 applicants per year.
Over the past 10 years, an average of 130 companies with over $50 million in liabilities declared bankruptcies, their deaths a critical part of the corporate ecosystem. That said, there were only 121 of them in 2021, down substantially from the previous year, when there were 245 large corporate bankruptcies. The decline is mostly attributed to the fact that if a company wasn’t doing so hot in 2019 and was facing bankruptcy within two years, it was probably going to be 2020 that really knocked them out of commission even if they had the financial legs to make it into 2021. That, plus stimulus money in 2021, may have kept other financially imperiled corporations on life support, with low interest rates making it easier for even companies in rough shape to get financing.
On Wednesday, the 25-year global leader in cargo shipping Maersk lost the title of most container capacity to Mediterranean Shipping Company, or MSC. Maersk owns or charters enough ships to hold 4,282,840 shipping containers, while MSC has a capacity of 4,284,728 shipping containers. Part of that shift is Maersk moving into more profitable lines of business like air freight and warehousing, while MSC has sought to build an armada of ultra-large vessels to increase its efficiency gains. While Maersk owns more of its shipping capacity whole and MSC leases most of theirs, MSC has about 1 million TEU worth of cargo ships on order, four times the 255,000 TEU Maersk’s ordered.
Many new electric car companies are trying to sell their wares to consumers directly, a business decision that in virtually any other industry would be absolutely fine. However, car dealerships have spent decades carving out legislative cover to give exclusive access to the car market in states across the country. It’s a good business: last year, even as car sales volume was down 7 percent compared to 2019, gross margins for dealerships were $3,900 per vehicle, nearly double the $2,000 gross margin in 2019. Electric vehicle companies already contending with price pressures don’t particularly see the use of the dealerships but in many states are forced to roll out a dealer model, despite the fact that states that allow direct auto sales tend to show a higher penetration of electric vehicles compared to restricted states. One reason that’s not expected to change any time soon is that the dealerships are more politically powerful than the car manufacturers themselves: Over the past five election cycles, auto manufacturers donated $21.9 million to federal candidates, a fraction of the $75.7 million that auto dealers did.
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