Numlock News: March 3, 2021 • Fixed, Feta, Fagradalsfjall

By Walt Hickey

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Shrimp

Ecuador has become the largest exporter of shrimp in the world, moving $3.6 billion worth of shrimp — 676,000 metric tons — last year, beating out India. That’s all the more impressive because Ecuador is a comparatively tiny country of 17.4 million people, but the shrimp biz has popped 86 percent since 2016. Europe and the United States have long been Ecuador’s most prominent trading partners, but China’s share of the country’s exports rose from 3.9 percent in 2015 to 15.8 percent today, and they now buy half their shrimp. This rise has led the Ecuadorians to play a tenuous balancing act of crustacean-based diplomacy, striving to keep their longtime trading partners and the exploding new market in China both happy.

Gideon Long and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times

Waste

Every year Europeans produce 16 kilograms of electrical waste per person, half of which is broken household appliances and only 40 percent of which is recycled. New legislation out of the European Parliament, which went into effect at the beginning of the month, enacted stronger “right to repair” rules, requiring manufacturers to ensure parts to repair consumer electronics are available for up to a decade, repair manuals must be included with new devices and conventional tools — not weird screwdrivers with fantastical polygons as their heads — can dismantle the devices.

Adam Smith, The Independent

Shakes

Iceland is riding out a little bit of an earthquake swarm, and scientists at the Icelandic Met Office say this means magma is accumulating under Fagradalsfjall mountain and that there is a chance that it could lead to an eruption. Experts said it’s not likely to be particularly dangerous, and is as likely to happen in the next few weeks as it is to happen in a century or two. The swarm began six days ago, and in the past two days about 2,100 earthquakes have occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula, only 100 of which were above a 3.0 on the Richter scale. Did I specifically select this story to give Maureen, our copy editor, a hard time? No, of course not. But keep an eye on Brennisteinsfjöll, Fagradalsfjall, and Trölladyngja, it’s unlikely to be another Eyjafjallajökull, but you never know!

Gréta Sigríður Einarsdóttir, Iceland Review

Feta

Feta cheese is sweeping the nation thanks to a viral pasta recipe spreading across TikTok, which is basically an oven-baked feta pasta that can be made in one pan. The trend started pulling in serious numbers in mid-January, and now the hashtag #fetapasta has over 600 million views. This has translated into huge demand for the cheese across delivery apps and supermarkets; “feta” was the top search term on Instacart in mid-February, Harris Teeter reported demand for feta was up 200 percent, and Narragansett Creamery, which had produced 6,000 pounds per week for New York markets like Eataly and Zabars, has upped production to 10,000 pounds per week. I live in Astoria, Queens, where as I understand it the state bird is a block of feta, and so I welcome everyone to the party, hop in, the briny water is fine.

Rachel Wharton, The New York Times

Wrap It Up

A study assigned 252 people into pairs of strangers and left them to talk about whatever they wanted for anywhere from one to 45 minutes. Then, in the kind of social exercise I would genuinely pay money to watch as a reality television show or even public service, they did a quick exit interview with each participant asking when in reality they would have preferred the conversation to wrap up, and to guess what their partner said. They found only 2 percent of conversations ended at the time both people wanted them to end, and 30 percent finished when one person wanted them to. Half of the time both people wanted the conversation to be shorter, and only 10 percent of the time both wanted it to go longer. The study found people were abysmal at reading the room: when asked to guess when their partner wanted to stop, they on average were off by about 64 percent of the length of the conversation.

Rachel Nuwer, Scientific American

Tony Awards

Broadway has been closed for a year, no shows are playing, the industry is in turmoil, but Tony Award ballots are nevertheless being cast right now. The season up for the Tonys — which ran April 26, 2019 to February 19, 2020 — will be the one cut short; there are three shows up for best musical, and five best play contenders, all of which have closed. The real issue is that there are 778 Tony voters, but they only are allowed to cast ballots when they’ve seen every nominee in a category. As a result, producers think that at most 400 people qualify to vote on best musical, and even fewer for best play. There’s no prize for musical revival because only one opened, and it missed an eligibility date. Aaron Tveit is the only nominee for best actor in a musical, and to win he must get a positive vote from 60 percent of voters who cast a ballot. There’s no ceremony date either, because producers want to use the event to remind people Broadway is back, which it is not yet.

Michael Paulson, The New York Times

Drive-Thru

Restaurant chains have fallen back in love with drive-throughs, with many establishments that had avoided them now seeking out locations where they can stake out drive-through lanes, and eateries that have relied on them planning bold expansions to their offerings. A restaurant property with a drive-through lane has a 10 to 20 percent higher rent than a comparable one without a lane.

Esther Fung and Heather Haddon, The Wall Street Journal

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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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven

2020 Sunday editions: 2020 · Sibling Rivalries · Crosswords · Bleak Friday · Prop 22 · NCAA · Guitars · Fumble Dimension · Parametric Press · The Mouse · Subprime Attention Crisis ·
Factory Farms · Streaming Summer · Dynamite · One Billion Americans · Defector · Seams of the Grid · Bodies of Work ·
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Numlock News: March 2, 2021 • Smolts, Postcards, Hurricanes

By Walt Hickey

Good Condition

A study from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction reviewed the $7.8 billion spent on buildings and vehicles in the nation since 2008 and found that only $1.2 billion was used as intended, and a paltry $343.2 million worth of the buildings and vehicles remain maintained in good condition. The billions wasted include both infrastructure lost to attacks and corruption, and just kind of throwing money around without really thinking about it. Often the agencies responsible for building things did not ask if they were wanted or needed, or if they had the ability to maintain them. That $7.8 billion is a wonderful thing to think about next time you hit a pothole or try to find a bike lane.

Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press

Malls

Just in case you thought all the worthless, terrible real estate investments were abroad, the aggregate value of reappraised American malls fell an average of 60 percent in 2020, with 118 retail properties seeing $4 billion in value wiped out over the course of their reappraisals. Of the 1,100 indoor malls in the United States, only about half have a reasonable chance of survival, with the top 300 malls alone accounting for the vast majority of the value locked into the real estate format. It will be a real tragedy when the only place to get a rock solid pretzel is the airport or a Maryland-area I-95 rest stop, but times are changing.

John Gittelsohn, Bloomberg

Smolts

There’s a time in everyone’s life when they must leave the place where they are from, and for salmon this is called “smolt.” The smolt is when salmon make their way downstream towards salt water, and from 2008 to 2018 a group of marine researchers inserted over 100,000 tiny passive transponders into salmon smolts to try to follow their adventures to the Pacific Ocean. Thousands of them never made it, and the researchers wanted to know why, so they investigated seal habitats, otter latrines (that is an official description) and assorted estuaries to little avail. Then they found some heron guano and discovered about 450 tags at one site, and another 1,200 tags in some other heron nesting colonies, with the heron consuming an estimated 3.2 percent of all the tagged smolts.

Larry Pynn, Hakai Magazine

Postcards

In 2019, Canada Post reported that the number of letters sent to peoples homes was down 55 percent since 2006. This year, in an attempt to get people sending nice letters to each other again, the Canada Post will give every household in Canada a free prepaid postcard to mail to someone — 13.5 million postcards bound for every residential address in the country. The postcards are in one of six designs and come affixed already with a stamp, which normally goes for $1.07.

CBC News

Hurricanes

Hurricane season officially runs from June through November, a period of time that includes 97 percent of all tropical activity. That season has changed in the past, and may change in the future. The first officially designated hurricane monitoring period in 1935 involved a special telegraph line connecting weather stations from June 15 to November 15, which was in 1965 changed to June 1 to November 30. Last year, by June 1 the National Hurricane Center had already issued 36 special Tropical Weather Outlooks before the season began, owing in large part to sophisticated satellite imagery and superior computing than presumably existed in 1935. This spring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the World Meteorological Organization may decide to make an official expansion to hurricane season for 2022, having it kick off two weeks earlier on May 15, 2022.

Justine Calma, The Verge

Cows

Australia accounts for 4 percent of global beef production, but is the second largest exporter of beef behind Brazil, supplying China, Japan and South Korea with cows. Right now, the herd isn’t growing. The ratio of slaughtered cattle that are female is an indicator of when herds are restocking. If the number is below 47 percent, the ranchers are looking to build up their numbers, keeping the female cows around and forgoing a quick cash-out in favor of a rebuild. Despite the undersupply of cattle that take years to raise, the current ratio is at 48.2 percent, still north of what is likely necessary to restore the populations.

Sybilla Gross, Bloomberg

Rusted Chrome

A small industry of under-the-radar companies rent access to 10 million Web browsers to help clients obscure their identities, and they accomplish this by paying off the owners of browser extensions that discreetly embed code in their apps. Authors of extensions with over 50,000 users can fetch something like $15 to $45 per month for every 1,000 users to include the code, which then allows the buyer to redirect traffic wherever they want. There are lots and lots of extensions who may be willing to sell out their users: of 150,000 Chrome extensions, 104,133 are pretty much abandoned by their creators and haven’t been updated in at least two years.

Brian Krebs, Krebs On Security

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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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Numlock News: March 1, 2021 • Chariots, Beer, ATMs

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!

Cat and Mouse

A gripping, timely film about the tribulations of the hospitality and event planning business amid unprecedented adverse conditions has sparked a national conversation about the lengths entrepreneurs and workers must go to in order to salvage celebrations in the most trying times. That’s right, Tom & Jerry has made $13.7 million in North America and a global total of $38.8 million, launching the second-best domestic opening of the pandemic behind just Wonder Woman 1984. That number is with New York’s cinemas still yet to open up in early March, but for the time being it does technically mean that Tom & Jerry is the highest-grossing film of 2021.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter

Beer

Local Argentinian breweries submerged 185 gallons of artisanal beer attached to a sunken ship 66 feet underwater off the coast in an experiment to see how deep water beer-making would impact the flavor of the beer. The beer submerged was a dark ale with an alcohol content of 11 to 12 percent, and after a year of work attempting to obtain the permits, seven barrels were lowered into the depths on November 22. Well, the results are finally in: someone stole all the beer. The brewers have resolved to try again.

Daniel Politi, The New York Times

WFH

A study of the behaviors of work-from-home households from 2013 to 2017 found that employees who don’t have an office were found to increase their spending on their living space to the tune of 0.3 to 0.4 more rooms, with remote workers spending 6.5 to 7.4 percent more of their income per month on housing. This is from the before times, when only around 3 percent of U.S. workers did business from home, a figure that has surged vastly over the past year.

Sarah Holder, CityLab

Chariot

Archaeologists have unearthed a well-preserved 2,000 year old chariot discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, a vehicle that the researchers say was preserved in outstanding detail and could fit one or two people. Most interestingly, the researchers describe it as “a Lamborghini” and “an outright fancy, fancy car,” which is decked out in sculptures and medallions and other cool stuff. This naturally opens up a series of questions I must know about; for instance, the existence of a Lamborghini of chariots implies the existence of, say, a Ford Taurus of chariots, or a Toyota Camry of chariots. I must know what the gearheads of yesteryear were into. Was there a Nissan Stanza of chariots? Have archaeologists ever clowned on a ride of someone dead for two millennia? In print?

Becky Sullivan, NPR

ATM

Fully 2,956 ATMs out of 5,395 machines operated by Mizuho Bank in Japan have gone rogue, with the machines unable to dispense cash and devouring cards. The bug is related to an issue that popped up when the bank was updating its data, and 55 percent of Mizuho’s branches have been forced to shut down.

Jun Watanabe, Nikkei Asia

Movies

An independent study commissioned by Netflix analyzed the streaming service’s performance on representation in 2018 and 2019, finding that the streamer outperformed industry standards and approached proportional representation. All told, 48.4 percent of films had a female lead or co-lead as did 54.5 percent of series, outperforming the 41 percent figure for feature films released in 2018 and 2019. Behind the camera, 23.1 percent of Netflix films had a woman directing, compared to 7.6 percent of the comparison set of top-grossing box office films over the period. The company subsequently announced it’s setting up a fund to push money towards organizations of underrepresented film professions.

Stacy L. Smith, Dr. Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Kevin Yao, Ariana Case, Karla Hernandez & Zoe Moore, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Sinking

A new study of the physical weight of cities causing the actual topography of the land to sink — a geological issue called land subsidence — estimated that the problem is poised to get worse over the coming years and that denser cities will sink faster. The collective weight of San Francisco was estimated to be 1.6 trillion kilograms, which may have caused the land to sink 80 millimeters over time. Lagos, Nigeria may be in for difficulties as it’s poised to see its population of 14 million double over the next 30 years; right now it’s sinking between 2 and 87 millimeters per year.

Linda Poon, CityLab

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The 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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: Figure Skating · True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven

2020 Sunday editions: 2020 · Sibling Rivalries · Crosswords · Bleak Friday · Prop 22 · NCAA · Guitars · Fumble Dimension · Parametric Press · The Mouse · Subprime Attention Crisis ·
Factory Farms · Streaming Summer · Dynamite · One Billion Americans · Defector · Seams of the Grid · Bodies of Work ·
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Numlock News: February 26, 2021 • Leaks, Lent, Invasive Reptiles

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Fish on Fridays

Right now backlogs at U.S. ports are stranding frozen fish just offshore at the worst possible time. It’s Lent, when many Christians avoid meat and turn to fish for protein, and as a result of the slowed imports, fish prices are up and fishmongers are often getting stuck holding the bag — a bag which is presumably full of shrimp they wanted to sell ahead of the Super Bowl. Chicken of the Sea’s frozen food division is seeing 30 cents a pound added to fish costs, and the average price per seafood item in grocery stores is up 13 percent from a year ago. Long John Silver’s costs are up 5 percent year-over-year, and franchisees are looking to hike prices as a result. The cost of wholesale pollock, the eponymous fish in the all-timer Lent classic McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish, is up 5 percent.

Jesse Newman and Heather Haddon, The Wall Street Journal

Truck

The United States Postal Service announced it has chickened out, and that only 10 percent of the new fleet of mail trucks will be battery powered. The trucks, which will be made by defense contractor Oshkosh and will presumably pollute for decades, will go into production by 2023. Oshkosh will build between 50,000 and 165,000 of the vehicles, and will get $500 million to kick it off. The current trucks on the road dearly need a replacement and have been delivering for over two decades, occasionally bursting into flame and costing the USPS a fortune in repairs and upkeep. Multiple companies pitched all-electric or hybrid options, which are particularly well-suited for short range delivery systems.

Sean O’Kane, The Verge

The Nominees Are?

The Golden Globes are bearing down upon us, and according to a new Morning Consult poll, most Americans are not up on the movies in the awards mix despite a full year locked down with their televisions. A majority of people have heard nothing at all about some of this year’s contenders, including The Trial of the Chicago 7 (62 percent heard nothing at all), Promising Young Woman (72 percent), Nomadland (73 percent) and, in a particularly rough pill to swallow, 78 percent of respondents indicated they have heard nothing at all about Netflix’s Mank. It was a tough year to break through film-wise, where if audiences are anything like me they’ve just been re-watching Porco Rosso (1992) nonstop just to ride out the evening. Fear not, if there’s anything we know about the Golden Globe voters, there’s a solid chance that lots of them aren’t exactly up on the content of the movies either.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult

If you like awards coverage and want to see more, you should check out the Numlock award season supplement.

Pipelines

Last summer, the 5,500-mile Colonial pipeline spilled 1.2 million gallons of gasoline into a nature preserve in Huntersville, North Carolina, leaking for days to weeks in what’s now the largest gasoline pipeline spill outside of a tank farm. It highlights a critical flaw of pipelines: they’re really long, leaks can happen anywhere, and they’re really hard to find and detect. As is, Colonial can flag leaks down to 3 percent of a day’s flow, which sounds precise until you discern that 3 percent of daily flow is 1.8 million gallons, and the pipeline runs from Houston to New York. Leak detection systems themselves are buggy, with a 2012 study finding when pipelines had leak detection tech in control rooms they only flagged a leak 28 percent of the time. Now far be it from me to judge, but if I were a bus driver, and I only managed to notice a red light at an intersection 28 percent of the time, at some point the government may do something to me to ensure my reign of terror came to an end.

Mark Soraghan, E&E News

Trees

The cost of lumber may be soaring, but those high prices are to the benefit of saw mill operators, not the people who sell the timber that becomes lumber. While lumber prices are north of $1,000 per thousand board feet and trading over 50 percent the record high, timber prices are flat. The price of a ton of Southern pine saw timber was $24.03 in the last quarter of 2020, basically even with the $24 per ton from a year ago and even flat with the $23.30 a ton of pine ran in the last quarter of 2012.

Ryan Dezember and Vipal Monga, The Wall Street Journal

Invaders

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has signed off on a ban of the sale, ownership and breeding of 16 reptile species that include all species of tegu lizards, the green iguana, green anacondas, Nile monitor lizards and six different types of pythons. The rule bans the import of these species as well, given that they pose a serious threat to the Everglades and other fragile ecosystems across Florida and already hold a foothold in the wild in the state.

Adriana Brasileiro, Miami Herald

Websites

A web accessibility organization analyzed the COVID-19 vaccine websites of all 50 states and D.C., and found accessibility issues on almost all of the 94 webpages. In at least seven states, visually impaired and blind people seeking a vaccine would be unable to register through their state and local government web portals, and would have to rely on jam-packed phone lines with onerous waits and finite hours of operation. This issue extends to the CDC’s own Vaccine Administration Management System, which is inaccessible for blind users.

Lauren Weber and Hannah Recht, Kaiser Health News

Last Sunday, I spoke to Abraham Riesman, the author of the electric new book True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee. I’m a huge fan of Abraham’s, and the topic could not be more prescient. It’s a complicated portrait of a complicated guy, and is deeply reported at every stage. If you want to listen to it, I threw the interview up as a podcast on Spotify and Apple Podcasts — anyone can check that out. Riesman can be found on his website and on Twitter.

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.


The 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.

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: True Believer · Apprentices · Sports Polls · Pipeline · Wattpad · The Nib · Driven

2020 Sunday editions: 2020 · Sibling Rivalries · Crosswords · Bleak Friday · Prop 22 · NCAA · Guitars

Fumble Dimension · Parametric Press · The Mouse · Subprime Attention Crisis · Factory Farms · Streaming Summer · Dynamite · One Billion Americans · Defector · Seams of the Grid · Bodies of Work · Working in Public · Rest of World
Worst Quarter ·Larger Than Life · Streaming · Wildlife Crime · Climate Solutions · Blue Skies · UV
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