Numlock News: August 7, 2020 • Nintendo, Hurricane, Hell Ant

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Fossil

A new fossil reveals an ant — specifically a “hell ant” — locked in fatal combat with an extinct relative of the cockroach. The chunk of amber shows the ant (Ceratomyrmex ellenbergeri) with its mandibles around the proto-roach’s neck, a position it’s been stuck in for 99 million years. For its ruthless devotion to killing roaches to the point of death, I call on the Mayor to grant this ant the key to New York City, and at an appropriate time to convene a ticker-tape parade down the Canyon of Heroes to commemorate its devotion to the cause.

Lucy Hicks, Science

Hurricane

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has upgraded its forecast of the number of named Atlantic storms to 19 to 25, and has increased its estimate of an above-average hurricane season from 60 percent to 85 percent. NOAA anticipates that seven to 11 of those storms will become hurricanes and that between three and six will become major hurricanes. The agency expects to run out of traditional hurricane names, at which point it will start naming them “Alpha,” “Beta,” and so on, or — in the event that my Change.org petition is successful — non-traditional but trendy names that ride incredibly brief pop culture trends, like “Arya,” “Bella,” “Cedric", “Daenerys” and more. Call your member of congress today, and together we can make Hurricane Baby Yoda the reality we deserve.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

Genes

This week, the HUGO Gene Nomenclature Committee published new names for human genes, a step taken because lots of the unique identifiers given to sequences of genetic material were poorly thought up and don’t play well with common software like Microsoft Excel. Specifically, consider genes such as MARCH1 and SEPT1, which the spreadsheet software interprets as dates. This is a significant issue: a 2016 study found a fifth of 3,597 scientific papers in genetics had Excel errors. The new guidelines will ensure problematic names are made to be excel-friendly, with MARCH1 and SEPT1 becoming MARCHF1 and SEPTIN1. So far, 27 genes have been renamed in the past year in this manner. It is unclear how this will affect the critical =IF(TRUE,“BUTTSBUTTSBUTTS”) gene.

James Vincent, The Verge

Concert

Live Nation, the company behind many of the concerts and festivals that snapped out of existence this year, saw revenue down 98 percent year over year in the second quarter of 2020. All told, Q2 of 2019 brought in $3.2 billion for Live Nation, while Q2 of 2020 necessitated a mild amount of belt-tightening given revenues of $74 million. Live Nation has all but written performances off until summer 2021, when they anticipate a robust rebound. According to the promoter, 86 percent of fans held on to their tickets for rescheduled shows rather than cashing them out, so they’re holding hope that next year will see a serious rebound, especially given the 19 million tickets sold for festivals in Europe in 2021.

Chris Willman, Variety

Super Mario

Meanwhile, Nintendo made a billion dollars in three months. More specifically, they made ¥106 billion ($1 billion) from April through June, six times the amount made last year and the best Q2 haul since 2008 when the Wii was flying off shelves. Nintendo moved 5.7 million Switch consoles and sold 10.6 million copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons in those three months. The company’s expectations for the rest of the year are more conservative given rivals Microsoft and Sony are launching their new consoles come this fall.

River Davis, The Wall Street Journal

Campaign

The 2020 campaign is unlike any other, with the presidential bids spending significantly less money on travel and events in 2020 compared to 2016. Last time around in Q2, the two presidential campaigns spent 19.1 percent of their total spending on travel and events. In 2020, they’re saving a ton — spending an aggregate 5.4 percent on such things. That’s not all great: it seems a lot of the balance has shifted into media buys, as Q2 of 2016 saw 40.8 percent of expenses go into media, whereas this cycle 54.1 percent of the spending was on advertisements.

Karl Evers-Hillstrom, The Center for Responsive Politics

Drive Into The Sunset

The market share for new budget vehicles is evaporating as automakers increasingly rely on large, more expensive trucks and SUVs to bank profits. In 2015, vehicles that cost $30,000 or less accounted for 48 percent of new cars sold. In 2018, that market share has more than halved to just 23 percent. For car shoppers on a budget, that means used is basically the only point of entry. Subcompacts are a dying breed in the States, with Honda discontinuing the Fit in the U.S, GM dropping the Sonic, and Toyota ceasing sales of the Yaris. Now, the Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Accent and Jeep Compass are some of the last cheap cars available. Cars that cost less than $20,000 are just 1.3 percent of new U.S. car sales so far this year.

Sophia Cai, Bloomberg

This past Sunday edition was a fascinating interview with my friend and former FiveThirtyEight colleague Ben Casselman, who wrote the front page story about last week’s GDP numbers for The New York Times.

It was a great conversation about why economic data is so interesting right now, and what’s in store for us to come. You should absolutely be following Ben on Twitter and over at the Times. He’s doing really cool work.

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.


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Numlock News: August 6, 2020 • Penguins, Plants, Postponements

By Walt Hickey

WE DID IT

According to the Brookings Institution, 50.7 percent of U.S. residents were under the age of 40 as of July 2019, meaning that the combined Millennial, Gen Z and their youngers amounted to 166 million Americans, and the Gen X-Boomer-and Ups were 162 million people. That stat could be terrifying for any number of reasons, like if you’re a Gen X-er who is not particularly cool with the framing that the good people at Brookings have teed up here. The oldest millennial is 39, so maybe it’s a great time to stop using it as a synonym for “youths” because statistically a majority of millennials have lower back pain. While Millennials and Gen Z have the numbers, if it’s any consolation the Boomers continue to control most of the wealth, housing equity, stocks, earning power, pensions, political power, electoral college influence, tenure, congressional representation, media control, corporate leadership, cabinet positions, access to capital and disposable income. So, got that going for them.

Mike Schneider, The Associated Press

Division I

A Morning Consult survey conducted last weekend found only 32 percent of NFL fans think the league should begin its season as planned on September 10, with 33 percent backing postponing the season and 18 percent saying they think the league is best off cancelling the 2020 season. That last number is significant because it exceeds the baseline coalition of Browns, Jags, Jets and Dolphins fans who would prefer that the NFL just forgo play and scrap the season under normal conditions. An outright majority thinks the college football season should be delayed or cancelled, with 34 percent of self-avowed NCAA football fans backing a postponement and 24 percent pushing cancellation.

Alex Silverman, Morning Consult

Happy Feet

Analysis of satellite imagery has found new Emperor penguin breeding sites in Antarctica, a discovery that will increase the estimated population of the Emperor penguins by 5 to 10 percent to 278,000 breeding pairs. Given their remote location and miserable conditions, penguin populations are found by scanning aerial imagery and locating enormous pages of ice that have been stained with guano (penguin feces). The new discoveries bring the number of known breeding sites to 61, an upgrade from the previously known 50.

Jonathan Amos, BBC

Wireless

Wireless charging is neat, but also wasteful. An analysis of energy use found that charging a Pixel 4 from dead to 100 percent on a classic cable took 14.26 watt-hours, while doing so with a wireless charger took 21.01 watt-hours, a 47 percent increase. For a single phone and a single charger this is a very small amount of energy, but at scale it could pose serious problems: if the 3.5 billion smartphones in service all took 50 percent more power to get a charge, the impact would be enormous. It’s estimated it takes the equivalent of 73 or so 50MW coal plants running for a day to charge 3.5 billion smartphones from 0 to 100 percent, so any increased popularity of wireless charging in the absence of serious efficiency gains isn’t a great trade-off for an incredibly mild convenience.

Eric Ravenscraft, OneZero

Plants

Sales of plant-based meat alternatives are doing vastly better than ever before, with sales of refrigerated plant proteins up 113.6 percent in the week ending July 26 compared to the same week of 2019. All told that week there were $21.3 million in sales in the category of meat and burgers that are Impossible, Improbable, Benevolent, Alleged and Beyond in nature. Now thoroughly in the mainstream, the Impossible Burger brand has made it to Walmart shelves this year, putting it in 8,000 total locations nationwide, which is fifty times their retail footprint compared to just March 2020. For rival Beyond Meat, sales were up 194.9 percent in Q2.

Kat Martin, Winsight Grocery Business

PS4

This year will be the end of the PlayStation 4, as the PlayStation 5 emerges near the holidays to replace it. This information will come as news to people who bought a truly enormous volume of PlayStation 4 games between April and June, the single best second quarter in the history of PlayStation 4, with $5.65 billion worth of revenue, up 36 percent year over year. The bulk of that was in digital software sales — hardware and packaged games are down 22 percent — with $3.72 billion in sales for PlayStation. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is widely expected to be the best-selling PS5 title of the year come its release in the holidays, but global lockdowns are going to give the PS4 one last burst.

Sam Byford, The Verge

Clean House

The United States’ PACE financing program provides people with financing to install solar panels, battery storage, and more resilient and insulated roofs and windows for homes and businesses. By 2025, it’s expected to put up $2 billion annually, which is teensy tiny in the $11 trillion home mortgage market, but, nevertheless, a good push for upgrades that can have considerable return-on-investment in terms of climate. Every $1 million in PACE upgrades is calculated to avoid 1,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, or roughly 300 passenger cars in a year. Last week, Fannie Mae priced single-family home green bonds intended for mortgages for new homes that meet more onerous certification standards, and expects to make efficiency standards more important moving forward.

Emily Chasen, Bloomberg

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Numlock News: August 5, 2020 • Lava Oceans, Beetles, Bikes

By Walt Hickey

Bikes

In April, U.S. bicycle sales hit $1 billion, which was up 75 percent year over year. Sales of bikes that were retailing for less than $200 were up over 200 percent, kids’ bikes were up 107 percent and mountain bikes were up 150 percent. The construction of a bike can incorporate parts from up to 50 different suppliers, and from parts to retail it can take 120 days for a bike to get to market. All told, the U.S. bike market — normally $6 billion per year — is in a sprint to get supply to consumers who are avoiding other transportation options or just looking to stretch out their legs. Sure, it’s hard getting a bike, but not as hard as it was back in my day. You couldn’t just buy one from a bike shop, you had to leave town, then talk to a guy in the next town over, and then get a bike voucher, and then schlep all the way back to Cerulean City and only then could you get a bike.

Larry Kanter, Marker

Mulan

Disney announced their $200 million tentpole would-be summer blockbuster Mulan will be released on Disney+ in countries where movie theaters are unable to open, by which they mean “The United States.” Mulan will be available to rent for $29.99 on September 4 through the app, on top of the $6.99 subscriber fee. In countries where Disney+ is unavailable, Mulan will hit theaters. They also announced another eagerly-awaited delayed 2020 film — Black Widow — will stick to its release date of November 6 by a similar pattern. They also said something about The New Mutants, but I stopped listening at that point, because it had to do with New Mutants.

Julia Alexander, The Verge

Artifacts

In the United States, any museum or institution that receives federal funding must return any Native American sacred, patrimonial and funerary objects of cultural heritage, as well as the remains of Indigenous people. Furthermore, it’s a crime to traffic in items taken after 1990. However, there is no law preventing such cultural heritage from being exported, and it’s incredibly difficult to repatriate items that find their way to international auction houses. The Government Accountability Office tracked 1,400 sacred objects from tribal nations that were put up for sale in Paris from 2012 to 2017 alone, half of which sold for a collective $7 million.

Elena Saavedra Buckley, High Country News

Taxes

The Department of Justice is considering the $7 billion acquisition of Credit Karma by Intuit, the largest online tax prep company in the country. Intuit — particularly though subsidiary TurboTax, which handled 40 million returns in 2019 — has a 67 percent market share in online tax prep, and Credit Karma launched a free tax prep product that specifically competes with TurboTax in 2017. Intuit is considering offering a spinoff of the tax prep product as a concession, but a divestiture may not do the trick because if it’s financially doomed as an independent offering separate from the rest of the Credit Karma product there could be a more significant issue with the purchase.

Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel, ProPublica

Census

As of Sunday, 37 percent of U.S. households still have not yet responded to the census questionnaire. There are 500,000 door knockers working to reach those households — they’ll be out in force next week — but the Census Bureau announced it will cut that schedule a month short after a bill in the Senate to extend it stalled. This means that the door knockers and ability of households to respond will conclude at the end of September, not the end of October. The census steers $1.5 trillion in federal spending.

Mike Schneider, The Associated Press

Goal

With no fans to ruthlessly mock them or otherwise distract, NBA players are shooting 80.6 percent of their foul shots in the restart bubble, up from 77.1 percent of foul shots before the stoppage. They’re also making more of their corner threes — up to 42.8 percent in-bubble compared to 38.9 percent this season as a whole. This was also seen in soccer, with the Premier League players nailing 10 percent of their free kicks in empty stadiums, compared to 6 percent before the pandemic.

Ben Cohen and Joshua Robinson, The Wall Street Journal

Super-Earths

Of the 4,000ish exoplanets discovered orbiting far-flung stars, a particularly interesting group are hot super-Earths, or worlds that are really close to their star and are probably covered in an ocean of lava. These miscellaneous Mustafars are often unusually bright, and astrophysicists would like to know why. Given their proximity to their star, their surfaces are at least 850 kelvins, or 1,070 degrees Fahrenheit. Earth’s albedo — the percentage of light from the sun it reflects — is about 30 percent, but some of these super-Earths are between 40 percent and 50 percent, and given they’re pretty much cooked well-done, we’d anticipate they’re about as reflective as charcoal. The latest experimental research out of MIT also scratches another proposal, namely that they’re reflective because of cooled smooth, glassy lava. But no matter the cocktail of rock, the albedo of a lava ocean was only 10 percent.

Jennifer Chu, Phys.org

Fantastic Voyage

A new study of an aquatic beetle Regimbartia attenuata finds it has a unique way of avoiding death by being eaten by frogs. Namely, that when it gets eaten by frogs it simply refuses to die. The study in Current Biology found that 93 percent of the beetles fed to frogs escaped from the, er, designated exit in four hours or less. This is not a passive act on the part of the beetle, not even remotely: they clocked the fastest mouth-to-anus sprint at six minutes. The beetles were completely unfazed by their experiences and suffered no deleterious effects resulting from the journey. The frogs, well, I honestly have no idea how I could recover from that personally, but I’m sure they manage.

Matt Simon, Wired

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Numlock News: August 4, 2020 • Pickup Trucks, Dwayne Johnson, Wind Farms

By Walt Hickey

XFL

This year the XFL, the alternative football league founded by WWE CEO Vince McMahon, went bankrupt and folded after just a few games. Clearly there were some prevailing global headwinds against founding a new sports league in 2020, however, this is the second time the football league has called it quits. The assets of the brand were destined to hit the auction block next week if it hadn’t been for Dwayne Johnson, off the top rope, jumping in with $15 million to purchase the league. Assuming the bankruptcy judge gives everything the okay, who knows, perhaps come 2022 you’ll turn on your television and find the Memphis Scorpion Kings down 14-3 to the San Francisco San Andreases. Personally, I’m a fan of the Empire State Empire States, but I’m mainly watching to see the Philly Tooth Fairies lose.

Alex Weprin, The Hollywood Reporter

Pickup

From 1990 to 2019, the average pickup truck has gained 1,142 pounds, 730 pounds of which were added since 2000 alone. This is a problem because between 1990 and 2019, the average human did not gain 1,142 pounds, Newton’s Third Law of Motion as it relates to the conservation of momentum did not change, and trucks still sometimes hit people. Bulkier cars have fatal consequences: looking at SUVs that have seen a similar growth, fatal single-vehicle crashes with SUVs and pedestrians were up 81 percent from 2009 to 2016. Trucks and SUVs account for 70 percent of new vehicles sold in the United States, and there are more on the street than ever thanks to a number of incentives, governmental and otherwise. Even so, light duty pickups are getting bulkier, and looking closer to what only a few years ago was described as a heavy-duty pickup.

Dan Neil, The Wall Street Journal

Warehouses

Spending online in June hit $73.2 billion in the United States, which is up 76 percent year over year according to Adobe Analytics. Incidentally, this is around the time that retailers start shoring up their warehouse situation in advance of the holidays, and this year they’re basically planning for the apocalypse. From April to June, e-commerce sucked up 31 million square feet of industrial leasing, and logistics and distribution businesses needed 15.3 million, both of which were up significantly from the first quarter, when e-commerce needed 24.9 million square feet to operate and distribution needed 11 million. Now, the rush is on: between the inevitable retail maelstrom to come this fall and the combination of the reliance on online shopping that accompanies a pandemic with the inexorable approach of Christmas, everyone wants to hammer down that warehouse space.

Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal

Quick Chat

A working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research that analyzed metadata from the emails and meetings of 3 million people found that as a result of lockdowns, the number of meetings that the average person goes to per day is up 13 percent. The good news is the length of the average meeting is down 20 percent, meaning that on balance people are spending 12 percent less time in meetings per day. Unfortunately, the average workday is up 50 minutes, so it’s pretty much a gigantic mess top to bottom.

Sarah Todd, Quartz

Subs

China’s National Radio and Television Administration maintains a quota of about 40 foreign films that see distribution in China every year. Many Chinese cinephiles want to see more than that, but without direct access to the market for the films, they resort to piracy. Given the absence of an official channel though, legions of movie fans must work together to translate and produce subtitles for the films and television shows that are brought in through the internet, and there’s a thriving culture — particularly among LGBTIQ movie fans in China, who are needless to say underserved by the imported films — of fan subtitle generation. QAFONE (Queer as Folk), which has existed since 2008, coordinates teams of volunteers to translate over a thousand movies and television series into Mandarin for the 700,000 registered users of the site. On one hand, piracy is bad, on the other hand, listen, if these are teenagers trying to watch The Kids Are All Right, maybe we just let them have this one.

Zeyi Yang and Meaghan Tobin, Rest of World

Turbines

There’s a neat thermodynamic effect that wind turbines have on the surrounding area, one that’s long been exploited by farmers. Now that turbines are coming into vogue — last year, the U.S. generated 300 billion kilowatt-hours from its 60,000 turbines, and about 3,000 are being added per year — there are chances to pair them with farms to exploit that. By reducing wind speed and adding turbulence, they redistribute heat in the lower atmosphere — not adding or subtracting, just mixing — which means that at night surface temperatures get a little higher than they normally would. Farmers of avocado, citrus and apples have put airplane-like propellers on towers since at least the 1940s to protect from frost damage, but now we can get energy from that too. According to observations from NASA’s Landsat 8, the estimated nighttime warming effect on a Texas wind farm was 0.3 °C warmer that the surrounding area.

Lee Miller, Physics Today

Brands

Last weekend, both department store Lord & Taylor and Tailored Brands Inc., the owner of Men’s Wearhouse and JoS. A. Bank, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. This year, at least 25 major retailers have filed for bankruptcy, 10 of which were in the past five weeks alone. The year as a whole looks to be a retail bloodbath — 25,000 stores are expected to close — which naturally follows 2017’s retail-pocalypse, 2018’s retail-mageddon, 2019’s rag-tail-narok.

Kim Bhasin, Bloomberg

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Numlock News: August 3, 2020 • Earth, Water, Fyre

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

It Came, They Sawed, They Charged More

Lumber use across the United States is through the roof, with the price of a thousand board feet of lumber skyrocketing since mid-June from $357 per thousand board feet on June 2 to $587.60 as of July 31, hitting records across the country. In June, there were 1,258,000 new building permits, a significant rebound from the low points seen in April. The only time that futures contracts were above $500 in the history of wood was a brief spell in 2018 when wood-boring beetles, wildfires, and a Canadian trade dispute screwed up the supply. UFP Industries, which sells pressure-treated wood to places like Home Depot, saw June sales up 47 percent year over year.

Julia-Ambra Verlaine and Ryan Dezember, The Wall Street Journal

Fyre

The Fyre Festival, a wannabe Woodstock intended to take place on a beach in the Bahamas that collapsed from sheer mismanagement and became the defining fiasco of the influencer era, has some merch on the auction block. Well, more specifically, the good people at the U.S. Marshals Service are auctioning off 126 items — shirts, tokens, hats, bracelets — of Fyre Festival Merchandise with the proceeds to benefit the victims of the fraud. Proprietor Billy McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison and ordered to forfeit $26 million, and honestly, the government charging over $260 for a cheap, underwhelming sweatshirt for the benefit of the bamboozled is pretty much a perfect conclusion to this humiliating saga. If you’re thinking of throwing out a bid, as someone who once paid $54.98 for a Moviepass sweatshirt, allow me to assure you it is absolutely worth it.

Ashley Carman, The Verge

They’re Back

Two astronauts returned to Earth in the first splashdown landing by American astronauts in 45 years. The SpaceX capsule landed in the Gulf of Mexico 40 miles off the coast of Pensacola, slowing from a 17,500 mile per hour orbital speed to 350 miles per hour during reentry and down to 15 miles per hour at landing, and hitting a maximum temperature of 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The mission as a whole was the first time a private company launched people into orbit and the first time in a decade that NASA astronauts took off from American soil, long a goal for the space administration following the shuttle’s retirement.

Marcia Dunn, The Associated Press

Smile

Last week Reuters reported that drug store Rite Aid had rolled out facial recognition software to 200 of its stores. That’s merely the tip of the iceberg though, as retail chains are a significant customer of facial recognition technology: Walmart uses the tech in over 1,000 of its stores, 7-Eleven’s got it in 700 stores, and some fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s are already experimenting with the tech in China and Japan. It’s like a dragnet, but of places I am deeply ashamed to gorge myself at.

Dave Gershgorn, OneZero

Brahmaputra

Bangladesh, home to 165 million people, is seeing awful flooding covering a quarter of the country. At this time 24 percent to 37 percent of Bangladesh’s landmass is submerged underwater, with a million homes affected and 4.7 million people displaced or impacted. The floods may last thorough mid-August as rains upstream of the Brahmaputra River continue. Poor countries like Bangladesh are poised to bear the brunt of climate-related disasters, despite the average resident being responsible for a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions of a person from a rich country. If average global temperatures rise just 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial average, flooding along the Brahmaputra will increase a projected 24 percent, and if the warming is 4 degrees, flooding will increase 60 percent.

Somini Sengupta and Julfikar Ali Manik, The New York Times

Theme Parks

The nation’s parents will make good on their promise to turn this car around, I swear to god, according to a new poll. The Morning Consult survey asked how interested 962 parents would be to take their kids to a theme park at various points in time, and the answer was we’re pulling over at the next exit and turning around and going straight home, mister. Just 18 percent were interested in visiting a theme park in summer 2020, rising to just 28 percent by this coming winter. As of next Spring, only 41 percent would be willing to go to the park, and it’s not until summer 2021 that more would go — 47 percent — than would not (42 percent).

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

Honey

A new study from researchers at the University of British Columbia found traces of the 460 tons of lead that burned the night the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris caught on fire. The lead has made a measurable appearance in the outer environment. Honey samples collected downwind of the fire contained three times as much lead on average than those samples taken from before the fire, with the honey having a lead concentration of 2.3 nanograms of lead per gram of honey. That’s well within the tolerance for human consumption, which is good news for Paris as a whole, where there are an estimated 1,000 urban hives. Notre-Dame itself was home to 200,000 bees on its roof that survived the fire, but I cannot say this strongly enough: please do not try to eat that honey.

Elian Peltier, The New York Times

Bubbly

Wine producers in France’s Champagne region estimate they have lost $2 billion in sales this year, with turnover falling by a third. That’s the worst time for Champagne since the Great Depression, and just a note, France had a particularly rough patch shortly after that one, so that truly is saying something. Producers anticipate 100 million bottles will go unsold by the end of the year. Remember it’s only a global recession if it’s from the Récession region of France, otherwise it’s just Sparkling Broke.

Thomas Adamson, The Associated Press

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The very best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends. Go to swag.numlock.news to claim some free merch when you invite someone.

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at walt@numlock.news. Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at copy@numlock.news.

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2020 Sunday subscriber editions: Larger Than Life · Streaming · Wildlife Crime · Climate Solutions · Blue Skies · UV · Facial Recognition · Vaccine Development · The Pudding · Burmese Pythons ·

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