Numlock News: July 27, 2022 • Biomass, Overdrafts, Crypto Mixers
By Walt Hickey
The average price of a round-trip domestic flight in the United States is down to $298, significantly down from the north of $400 average fare seen back in May. Overall, prices tend to dip once back to school kicks off, usually on the order of 10 to 15 percent, though this fall flights are down 26 percent compared to the highs of this summer. All told, though, the pandemic-era costs are still above typical, with flights this fall looking to be 19 percent higher than the same period of 2019. That's a strategic move from the airlines, who are keeping their capacity below 2019 levels given the staffing and training issues they haven't managed to fix yet.
Jacob Passy, The Wall Street Journal
Into the Wood
With the supply of natural gas and oil extremely volatile right now, last year the German government rolled out a scheme where homeowners who replace their oil heating system with one that uses biomass such as wooden pellets or wood will get 45 percent of the cost covered by the government, an offer that has attracted 60,000 new applicants since the beginning of the year. The advantage is that Germany's got plenty of wood, and Russian price volatility means nothing when you're burning pellets. The disadvantage is that the air pollution is not particularly great, with Germany's wood heating systems responsible for 14,333 tonnes of particulate matter emissions in 2020, the lion's share of PM 2.5 from heat.
A new poll of people who subscribe to varying numbers of streaming services found that the services in general are overall satisfactory when it comes to the number and quality of shows they have, the technological feats involved in delivering those to viewers, and to a lesser extent the number of movies they have. That said, there is a place where the streamers are truly lacking: live. Of people with three to four streaming subscriptions, just 44 percent think their streaming services are good at delivering sporting events, 47 percent think they’re good at local news and 55 percent think they’re good at live content. The main issue for the streamers is presumably that you can’t just cancel sports after two seasons, so their playbook is useless here.
In 2021, Facebook won a game of chicken against the Australian government when they overnight wiped out all news content from Facebook in Australia after the government attempted to force them to share profits with the media outlets. The government gave in after a week, and the regulations were squashed, but the episode got many people thinking what precisely Facebook would look like if not for news. The answer, according to a researcher at the University of Quebec who downloaded 3.3 million French-language posts from 2020 and weeded out the 28.7 percent that were from media outlets, is the platform gets really, really weird. It’s a lot of clickbait, a lot of meme pages centered on “feeling good,” a significant amount of religious content and proselytizing, and contests. Less conspiratorial thinking, but nevertheless pretty bland.
Small and midsized banks are feasting on overdraft fees, with “free” checking accounts responsible for a colossal chunk of the business at lots of smaller outfits. TD Bank, for instance, got $477 million from such overdraft fees, which accounted for 27.2 percent of their noninterest income, significantly higher than the 5.7 percent seen at Truist Bank or 3.8 percent seen at PNC. Banks with large customer bases in the armed forces — like First National Bank of Texas and Armed Forces Bank — made lots of money from overdrafts, with First National making 30.9 percent of their noninterest income from overdrafts and Armed Forces hauling in 27.9 percent.
Jennifer Surane, Max Abelson, Noah Buhayar, Cedric Sam, Mathieu Benhamou and Garrett Keyes, Bloomberg
If all goes as hoped and 40 percent of emissions from automobiles and heating buildings are shifted toward renewables, this does open up a problem that needs solving in that by swapping electric cars for internal combustion engines, you do need to put a little more work into the electrical grid. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates demand for electricity could rise 38 percent by 2050, again as part of the plan of decarbonization. Right now there are 1.44 terawatts of proposed wind, solar and battery generation, a phenomenal amount of generation that would power 80 percent of the electricity needed in 2030, but most of that won’t happen because grid operators won’t give a green light as the grid can’t quite handle it yet.
Alexander C. Kaufman, HuffPost
For as long as there has been money, crime and governments, governments have been pretty good at seizing money obtained through crime. As things go, it’s one of their key responsibilities. For a hot second there, cryptocurrency could have been a problem, but exchanges who were interested in playing ball with rich and powerful countries were eventually coerced by the feds into playing ball, and just last year alone the IRS seized $3.5 billion in crypto. Needless to say, an immutable public digital ledger is hardly an ideal way to obscure ill-gotten gains, but some people seeking to hide their loot have gotten creative. Some use “peel chains,” which route crypto through thousands of transactions to throw the scent off; others use “mixers,” which are what they sound like and route lots of crypto transactions through a hub to make the comings and goings unclear; and others use “chain hopping,” and exchange different kinds of crypto to make it harder to follow. A recent report estimated mixers moved $50 million worth of crypto per month this year, which has made them an attractive target for de-mixing.
Patrick Howell O’Neill, MIT Technology Review
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