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.

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.

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: Money in Politics · Local News · Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety ·

Climate Codes · 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 ·
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: May 6, 2021 • Uncontrolled Rockets, Earthquakes, Butts

By Walt Hickey

Rocket

I will begin by assuring you that you will probably not be hit with a Long March 5B rocket tumbling out of orbit. But! The 98 foot, 21 metric ton chunk of space junk is definitely uncontrolled and falling out of a rapidly-decaying orbit, and at some point between May 7 and May 9 will surrender to the Newtonian inevitability that now besets it and shall, one way or another, return to the surly bonds of earth. While most launches don’t actually send the first rocket stage into orbit, preferring to assiduously ensure a graceful landing to a predictable spit of unpopulated ocean, that is not what went down on April 28 when this particular rocket launched. The orbital inclination is 41.5º, its orbital speed is over 28,000 k/h, and miscalculating the reentry by a half hour means it’ll land 10,000 kilometers away, so good luck to everyone.

Jeffrey Kluger, Time

Theft

A new analysis of the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division records from 2005 to 2020 found that the agency only actually fined repeat wage theft offenders about a fourth of the time, regularly allowed those fined to avoid repaying the employees they grifted, and let 16,000 employers get away with not paying $20.3 million in back wages since 2005. For many companies, given the lax enforcement and low probability of legal blowback, it makes sense to bilk their workers and violate the law because the chances they’ll be forced to actually make things right is sufficiently low. Some estimates put wage theft at $15 billion per year.

Alexia Fernández Campbell and Joe Yerardi, The Center for Public Integrity

Fortnite

According to documents revealed in the course of their lawsuit against Apple, Epic Games made over $9 billion in 2018 and 2019 in revenue from Fortnite and derived $5.5 billion in profit over the period. The company went on to make $5.1 billion in revenue in 2020. Fortnite is the main gem in Epic’s crown, but far from the only one, with the company bringing in $108 million over 2018 and 2019 from other games like Rocket League and another $221 million made by licensing Epic’s game engine out to other game makers.

Mitchell Clark, The Verge

Shake Alert

As of Tuesday morning, all cell phone users in California, Oregon and Washington are enrolled in a program that will alert them as soon as a sufficiently large earthquake has been detected, a chance for the speed of signals to exceed the seed of the earthquake. The system, ShakeAlert, can provide people up to 10 seconds of lead time to prepare for hits from magnitude 5 and above earthquakes, and will warn of aftershocks as well. A 2019 test of the system found the earthquake alerts hit phones within an average of 2.1 seconds.

Jaclyn Diaz and Vanessa Romo, NPR

Coral

When Hurricane Iris struck Belize in 2001 it shattered the reef offshore, with coral structure falling to less than 6 percent of the national park area, down from somewhere between 15 and 28 percent prior to the storm. Several years later, the government authorized a proposal to restore the reef, reseeding it with transplanted coral in 2010. The secret was planting smaller pieces, which actually grew faster than the larger pieces. Since then 85,000 corals have been planted in Laughing Bird Caye National Park, with 89 percent surviving 14 years, and coral cover rising from 6 to 50 percent from 2010 to 2017.

Veronika Perkova, BBC

Buns

According to newly released data about 2020, butt implants surged during the pandemic, rising 22 percent. Though they’re a niche procedure — 1,179 carried out over the course of the year, according to the report from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons — they saw the biggest boost among the varietals of nips and tucks monitored by the group, which mostly saw declines in popular procedures due to office closures. Another procedure that saw a boost — 8 percent — was breast implant removals; the implants have a finite life and need to eventually be removed and replaced.

Aja Mangum and Mark Glassman, Bloomberg

Berries

Last year Driscoll’s, which grows fresh berries, had to send $20 million worth of unwanted fresh berries to be frozen or juiced for prices as low as 10 cents on the dollar. As a result, they cut production on strawberries — which take a year of planning — by 5 percent, a bad call given that two months later berry sales exploded 8 percent by volume compared to the previous year. Now, orders are back up as restaurants see a surge in interest, and wholesale prices have hit $18 for an 8 pound flat, double the level a year ago. Now, Driscoll’s is bullish on strawberries, telling its independent growers to plant as much as 8 percent more in California.

Jesse Newman, The Wall Street Journal

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.

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: Money in Politics · Local News · Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety ·

Climate Codes · 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 ·
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: May 5, 2021 • Kraken, Stars, Diamonds

By Walt Hickey

Likeness

U.S. Tax Court ruled that the concept of “Michael Jackson” is worth exactly $4.15 million, the result of a years-long dispute between the Internal Revenue Service and the artist’s estate. The IRS argued that Jackson’s likeness and image was worth $434 million, owing to his status as an enormously popular pop musician with global appeal and identification, whose estate can obviously make a fortune from him. The estate, which would prefer to not pay taxes on a multi-million dollar asset, countered that they believed Jackson’s image and likeness rights were worth only $2,000 at the time of his demise. The judge clearly went toward the lower anchor in this negotiation, making this a pretty significant tax win for the estate.

Ashley Cullins, The Hollywood Reporter

Ship

Container freight rates are up 10 percent since late March, when a ship got itself wedged in the Suez Canal. Spot freight rates from Shanghai to the U.S. West Coast hit $4,432 per 40-foot container, and those heading to the U.S. East Coast were at $5,452 — each the highest since the beginning of the survey in 2009 — while those headed to Europe hit $4,187 per 20-foot container, with a 100-ship backlog outside of the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Kazuto Shimada and Takeshi Kumon, Nikkei Asia

France

A Belgian farmer accidentally invaded France, moving a stone marker 2.29 meters out of the way of his tractor. The stone was in fact one delineating the borders of France and Belgium, a 390 mile stretch of territory that dates back to the Treaty of Kortrijk, and the stone was installed in 1819 to define the borders of the states. The Belgian authorities plan to ask the farmer to move the rock back to where it belongs before running it up the flagpole and initiating an international dispute.

BBC News

Best Picture

This year’s crop of Best Picture nominees suffered from a distinct lack of name recognition, in large part owing to the muted movie season that was 2020. The average film nominated for the top prize at the Oscars this year was familiar to 19 percent of respondents according to a poll taken before the Academy Awards, a figure that rose to 23 percent following the broadcast. The most well-known going into the show were Judas and the Black Messiah (27 percent), The Trial of the Chicago 7 (26 percent) and eventual winner Nomadland (24 percent), which rose to 33 percent notoriety in the days after.

Sarah Shevenock and Alyssa Meyers, Morning Consult

Kraken Mare

Saturn’s moon Titan is the only other world in the solar system where liquid exists in the form of lakes and seas. Titan’s largest sea — 500,000 square kilometers Kraken Mare — was an attractive target of study when the Cassini probe did a flyby in 2014. The data collected allowed researchers to actually develop an estimate for depth in some parts — 85 meters deep at one point in an estuary, but with no bottom detected in other parts, indicating possibly at least 100 meters of depth — but also enabled researchers to carry out a new study, recently published, about the composition of Kraken Mare. The estimates put it at 70 percent liquid methane, 16 percent liquid nitrogen and 14 percent liquid ethane, with a temperature of -182 degrees Celsius. So, you know, not exactly the Caribbean, but pretty neat!

Sid Perkins, Scientific American

Stars

From 2013 to 2017, a disease killed 5.75 billion sunflower sea stars from Mexico to Alaska, some 91 percent of the global population. This was catastrophic, but the effects of the sea stars absence are still being felt throughout the entire ecosystem today. The sea stars feasted on urchins, and with the species now functionally extinct, the urchins are running wild, devouring the kelp forests, with kelp cover down 95 percent since 2014 and causing problems all the way through the top of the food chain. The University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories is trying to bring the sea star back from the dead, establishing a breeding program to try to get them back on their many, many feet.

Todd Woody, Bloomberg

Diamonds

Jewelry retailer Pandora announced it will phase out mined diamonds and will transition to laboratory-developed diamonds. In 2020, demand for lab-grown diamonds rose to between 6 to 7 million carats, while the production of mined diamonds fell from a peak of 152 million carats in 2017 to 111 million carats in 2020. De Beers, which produces a fifth of the world’s diamonds, saw production of mined diamonds fall 18 percent. Last year, mined diamonds were in roughly 50,000 of the 85 million items Pandora sold.

Jonathan Josephs, BBC News and Elizabeth Paton, The New York Times

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.

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: Money in Politics · Local News · Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety ·

Climate Codes · 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 ·
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Numlock News: May 4, 2021 • AOL, HFC, FCC

By Walt Hickey

You should check out the Numlock Instagram, it’s a good time.

AOL

Verizon sold off a box of miscellaneous odds and ends in a bankers box labeled “AOL and Yahoo” to Apollo Global Management for $5 billion, a steep discount from the grand total of $8.9 billion Verizon paid for the pair of internet companies in 2015 and 2017. Though AOL’s dial-up service has long folded — there were 2.1 million using that service as recently as 2015 —interestingly, AOL continues to have a solid bit of cash flow, as 1.5 million pay $9.99 or $14.99 per month for AOL Advantage, which is sort of a mix of identity theft prevention services and tech support that conservatively brings in $180 million a year in revenue. Given that I am the last person on the planet interested in dunking on a niche subscription service for an extremely specific audience who nevertheless gets something out of it, good for AOL.

Alex Sherman, CNBC

Pork

The USDA has told pork processors that they are returning the speed limit of hog processing lines back down to 2019 levels. In 2019, a new USDA inspection system allowed plants to slaughter hogs faster than the previously-set limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. While that enabled faster production for the plants, worker advocacy groups opposed it given the negative impact that faster lines would have on safety, with workers forced to work faster being more likely to cut themselves and suffer pain in shoulders and arms from faster repetitive motions.

Megan Poinski, Food Dive

Generators

For the first time since 2011’s Fukushima disaster, three mothballed nuclear reactors have been given the go-ahead in Japan to restart. The nation is caught between two problems: one is the unrelenting climate change and need to slash emissions, and the other is deep, sincere skepticism of nuclear energy following the 2011 disaster. The former is beginning to edge out the latter: nuclear power is projected to account for 20 percent of Japan’s electricity mix in 2030, and to hit that about 30 reactors will need to restart. Right now, there are 33 reactors in Japan, nine of which have come back online and 24 of which were decommissioned following 2011. To encourage the reactors — even older ones — to come back online, the government is offering grant money.

Kazuhiro Ogawa, Nikkei Asia

Media Consolidation

Gray Television will acquire 17 television stations from Meredith Corp. for $2.7 billion in one of those under-the-radar media consolidation moves that you never really notice because the companies involved are functionally anonymous, but nevertheless it will have a broad-ranging impact on the corporations that fuel your news. The deal won’t need an FCC waiver: a single entity can own as many local television stations as it wants as long as it doesn’t reach more than 39 percent of U.S. households, and when all’s said and done, Gray will only reach 36 percent of U.S. households, with 101 outlets in 113 markets. The deal will make Gray the second-largest broadcast group by revenue.

Jon Lafayette, Broadcasting+Cable and Cynthia Littleton, Variety

Rental Cars

Prices for used cars at wholesale auctions are up 52 percent compared to a year ago, according to the Manheim Index. Part of that is large rental car companies have taken a nearly unprecedented step of trawling the used car market in order to get cars on the lot, a break from their usual policy of buying direct from manufacturers at a solid discount. Another part of the switch is the semiconductor shortage leading manufacturers to prefer the retail consumer market for new cars, leaving the rental car companies to dive into the used market and push prices up. Overall vehicle production was down 4.6 percent in the first quarter, and it’s the sales to fleet businesses that are absorbing a lot of that: Hyundai’s sales to fleet buyers were down 27 percent in April. Rental car companies are also holding on to vehicles longer: the average rental car up for sale at auction had 79,000 miles on it in April, far higher than the 40,000 miles when the companies typically like to move them off the lot.

David Welch, Bloomberg

Undernourished

According to federal survey data, 76.6 percent of 51- to 70 year old women and 85.6 percent of 51- to 70-year-old men eat less than the recommended amount of vegetables. The thing is that’s actually pretty good compared to teenagers, who really need to eat some greens: fully 98.8 percent of 14- to 18-year-old girls and 98.5 percent of 14- to 18-year-old boys ate less than the recommended amount of vegetables, which is particularly bad developmentally speaking.

Andrea Petersen, The Wall Street Journal

HFCs

The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday that hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) — chemicals that are in refrigerators and air conditioners that, unleashed on the atmosphere, are really very bad in terms of greenhouse gases — will be the target of new regulations designed to reduce their use. Over the next 15 years, the aim is to reduce HFC production and imports by 85 percent, and the timing couldn’t be better: demand for air conditioning is skyrocketing worldwide amid rising incomes, and a future for air conditioning absent of HFCs could have a drastic positive impact by 2050, the equivalent of two years of global CO2 emissions simply not happening. The new regulation will cut the equivalent of 4.7 billion metric tons of CO2 by 2036, on par with all the CO2 emitted by U.S. power plants over three years.

Rebecca Hersher, NPR

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.

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: Money in Politics · Local News · Oscar Upsets · Sneakers · Post-pandemic Cities · Facebook AI · Fireflies · Vehicle Safety ·

Climate Codes · 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 ·
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive

Loading more posts…