Numlock News: May 7, 2021 • Bats, Sharks, Wings

By Walt Hickey

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wings

Prices for chicken wings are through the roof, with Wingstop reporting they’re paying 26 percent more for bone-in chicken wings this year amid supply constraints. In January 2020, a pound of jumbo wings were wholesaling for $1.58 per pound, and as recently as last June they were going for $1.46 per pound. Prices have skyrocketed since, as of the first week of May going for $2.92 per pound of chicken wings. Rising chicken prices are even putting a damper on the chicken sandwich wars that have beset American fast casual, as the primary reason everyone was rolling out a new combatant in the chicken sandwich battle royale was that chicken was hella cheap; boneless chicken breasts in March were going for 11 percent more than they were a year ago.

Heather Haddon and Jacob Bunge, The Wall Street Journal

Sharks

A new study has found that sharks rely on Earth’s magnetic field to navigate, a study prompted by an extremely motivated shark who in 2005 swam from South Africa to Australia in what was effectively a straight line. The latest study took 20 juvenile bonnethead sharks, put them in a pool one at a time and allowed them to swim while three different magnetic fields were simulated. They found that shifting around the magnetic field to reflect areas unlike their origin prompted the sharks to change course and swim in their perceived direction of home. This study formally adds Jaws to my long-running list of “films that could have been solved with a sufficiently powerful magnet,” a list that previously included Gravity, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Titanic, Armageddon, Terminator, Wall-E, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, and most, if not all, X-Men films.

Nikk Ogasa, Science

Dollar

An analysis of the 3,597 store openings announced so far this year by large retail chains found that 45 percent of those new locations — 1,626 stores — were from either a Dollar General, a Dollar Tree or a Family Dollar. In general, dollar stores have been expanding rapidly, in part due to widening wealth disparity and a shrinking middle class. According to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of American households considered middle-income fell from 61 percent in 1971 to 51 percent in 2019. Dollar stores are also online shopping-proof, as the customer base they target often lacks access to affordable online retail at that price point.

Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN

Library

From 2010 to 2018, there was a 31 percent decrease in public library building use, a lapse seen in other countries to a varying extent as well, including a 22 percent decline in library use over the course of 10 years in Australia and a 70 percent decline in U.K. library use since 2000. That’s based on an analysis of public data from library agencies as well as a consumer survey. The pandemic may actually prove to be a boomlet for libraries if patterns hold: 87 percent of U.S. respondents to the survey indicated they read a book in 2021, a solid improvement over the 81 percent who said as much in 2019.

Andrew Albanese, Publisher’s Weekly

Bats

A number of scientists pulled some great pranks on a bunch of bats and then got to write a scientific paper about it. The researchers wanted to find out if bats have an innate sense of the speed of sound, and sought to prove that by raising a group of bats in an atmosphere with enough helium in it that the speed of sound was 15 percent faster. This situation — which I’m pretty sure is 100 percent a thing that happened to Batman at some point in the past 80 years — ended up demonstrating that the bats do have some sort of instinctive sense of the speed of sound, because screwing with the speed of sound made them rather bad at navigating their habitat and correctly perceiving distance. More science should be fundamentally indistinguishable from things that The Riddler would do.

John Timmer, Ars Technica

Neutrality

A new report from the New York Attorney General analyzed over 22 million public comments received by the Federal Communications Commission in the lead-up to a 2017 decision that repealed net neutrality protections. The analysis found that 18 million comments were fake, millions of which were funded by the broadband industry, which wanted the protections stripped. About 80 percent of the comments from the broadband industry were rustled together through lead generation companies that offered rewards as compensation for people willing to hand over their information, and another 1.6 million pro-neutrality comments came from fictitious identities. Both sides played a bit of dirty pool here: one 19-year-old college student who was very passionate about this issue also submitted 7.7 million comments in favor of net neutrality, and, listen, the chance that person subscribes to this newsletter is not zero, so on the off chance you’re out there, let me tell you thank you for your service.

Issie Lapowsky, Protocol

Big Fish

Researchers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found an enormous lake sturgeon during a routine annual survey of their population. Where once over half a million sturgeon called the Detroit River home, overfishing and habitat destruction have brought the number down to less than 7,000. It was a record-setting fish, weighing 240 pounds, measuring 7 feet long and 4 feet wide, and believed to be over a century old. The fish was released back into the river, where presumably it will eventually serve as some kind of paternal catharsis for Billy Crudup as he reconciles the disappointing father he knew with the complicated man the world did.

Annamarie Sysling, WDET

Last week in the Sunday special, I spoke to Dave Levinthal who wrote “The Wild West of political data sales can score candidates big money but raise privacy concerns. Here's how one politician is benefiting.” for Insider. We talked about how a little bit of political data can be worth a whole lot of money to the right buyer, and how big data, national money, and divisive politics have combined to ruin your inbox. Dave can be found on Twitter and at Insider.

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