Numlock News: June 15, 2021 • Wildfires, Rude Batters, Hatsune Miku

By Walt Hickey

Lumber

Lumber, which somehow became the most valuable substance on Earth for a little bit, saw its price take a pretty steep dive this week. Lumber production saw output increase 5 percent over the past 12 months, with another projected 5 percent increase — about another 1 billion board feet — still to come. Last week, prices for lumber at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange fell 18 percent, the biggest-ever weekly loss since records began in 1986, with lumber falling 40 percent from the record high set on May 10. On Friday, prices hit $1,059.20 per 1,000 board feet; before Lumber Madness struck the nation last year, the normal price was like $200 to $600.

Marcy Nicholson, Bloomberg

Rude

Sabermetric baseball analysts have finally discovered a long-mysterious entry in the analytic history of the sport, namely, what’s the rudest thing a batter ever did? In the sport of baseball, an unwritten and also bad rule is that if your team is winning by a whole lot, and the batter’s count is three balls and zero strikes, and it’s late in the game, it’s generally considered bad form to try to hit the ball, and just take the walk and get it over with. In late May, Yermín Mercedes hit a home run in the ninth inning of a blowout on a 3-0 count, and that made a lot of people unhappy, for some reason. Anyway, it turns out there have been 14 home runs hit on that count in the seventh inning or later when the batter’s team was up by at least six, and the rudest one of all was, based on a new metric evaluating rudeness, Thomas Howard’s May 20, 2000 home run, which occurred in the ninth inning when his team was up by 12.

Alex Kirshner, FiveThirtyEight

Tuition

The Army’s tuition assistance program ArmyIgnitED is broken, with no indication of when the program will resume paying service members what they’re owed. Last year, over 110,000 soldiers used the tuition assistance program, which pays up to $250 per semester hour up to $4,000 in a given year, and this year at least 81,000 soldiers have enrolled in over 255,000 courses so far. Because the glitch is preventing them from getting reimbursed, this means that soldiers could be out several thousand dollars they’d been counting on.

Phil McCausland, NBC News

Poaching

According to Education for Nature Vietnam, an NGO that tries to end the illicit wildlife trade, an enormous chunk of the trade has moved online, and not on the dark web or anything, but rather to large social media sites. At the end of last year, 1,300 of 1,700 wildlife tracking reports processed by ENV were online, and the weekly average number of posts selling items made of ivory rose 74.8 percent in 2019 according to a report from Traffic. Action from the social media companies is effective, when they bother to take it: TikTok said it removed 85.3 percent of illicit wildlife trade content before any scored views since last November. Meanwhile, the Alliance to Counter Crime Online found that the number of Facebook pages about wildlife trade has actually increased since 61 internet companies formed the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online in 2018.

Ashley Lampard, Rest of World

Risk

A group of researchers surveyed members of a housing subdivision in Colorado to determine if the people who lived there actually understood how much risk their homes faced from wildfires. Turns out lots of people approached the question with a rosier view of their risks than actually justified: while professionals rated 61 percent of households as high risk to fire, just 22 percent of residents did. Fully 70 percent of residents said their situation was low or moderate risk when it came to wildfires, while in actuality only 19 percent of households were, according to experts. While 50 percent said they had over 100 feet of defensible space surrounding their home, in fact, just 17 percent did.

Kelsey Simpkins, University of Colorado Boulder

Vocaloids

Digitally created pop stars, vocaloids, were first developed in Japan, but are seeing significant uptake in China. Songs can be generated using synthetic human voices, and by pairing that up with an animated character as the artist. The music industry has finally developed an artist they can own lock, stock, and barrel. The best known is Hatsune Miku, who debuted 14 years ago and whose library now encompasses 100,000 songs. China’s vocaloid industry is estimated to be worth $100 million, but that’s just for the vocaloids; for instance, streaming site Bilibili that raised $2.6 billion this year started as a Hatsune Miku fan forum. I, for one, am choosing not to panic until Hatsune Miku gets into the newsletter game, at which point I am so screwed.

Krystal Chia, Bloomberg

Hydrogen

Japan is looking to hydrogen and ammonia for energy purposes to aid in its transition to a greener grid, with a December roadmap published by the government aiming for hydrogen to supply 10 percent of the power for electrical generation by 2050, which is cool because right now, it’s pretty much 0 percent. Japan is unique in that it imports 90 percent of the energy it uses, and lacks room for wind and solar and the political will for nuclear following the Fukushima meltdown. This is pretty untested: by 2050, Japan may consume 30 million tons of ammonia and 20 million tons of hydrogen annually to achieve its aims; for perspective, 20 million tons of ammonia is traded globally a year now.

Phred Dvorak, The Wall Street Journal

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