Numlock News: April 17, 2020 • Ice Stocks, Roblox, Mars Rocks

By Walt Hickey

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There And Back Again

NASA and the European Space Agency will soon embark on the first steps of a decades-long plan to get rocks from Mars back to Earth. This July, the Perseverance rover will be launched by NASA, and one of its jobs when it lands in February will be to collect 30 tubes of dust and rock that one day may make it back to Earth. What comes next has just been finalized: in 2026, NASA and the ESA will send two spacecraft to Mars, one of which will land in a crater and one of which will orbit Mars. The lander will deploy a rover to go to Perseverance, grab the tubes, and then transport them to a small rocket. That rocket will take off into Martian orbit, rendezvous with the orbiter, which would then subsequently fly back to Earth and land in Utah in September 2031. It’s going to cost several billion dollars from each agency and will be risky, but it’s also going to get us Mars rocks for the first time and if you replace “rocks” with “astronauts” you may be able to extrapolate how this plan, if successful, could progress.

Alexandra Witze, Nature


Sony’s PlayStation 5 console is due at the end of this year, and though the device will be outfitted with top-of-the-line tech, finding out how to balance the sheer cost of materials with how much can feasibly be charged for a gaming system is proving perilous. The company is believed to be making 5 million to 6 million PS5 units in the year ending March 2021. By comparison, Sony sold 7.5 million PS4 units when that system launched in November 2013. The console will be up against its longtime rival, the Microsoft Xbox Series X. The cost of the memory and storage in those two devices is about $250, which is estimated to be double the cost of those components in the PS4 and the Xbox One. The PS5 is projected to be priced between $499 and $549, but some analysts think the pair of consoles may go to market and sell at a loss, at $450.

Takashi Mochizuki and Yuki Furukawa, Bloomberg


A federal judge in Montana ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to suspend all dredging and filling activities related to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, a planned 1,179 mile pipeline that would move 830,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to Nebraska. At issue in the case is the roughly 700 waterways that would be crossed by the pipeline, and the court revoked Nationwide Permit 12 that would have allowed construction to cross those bodies of water following a suit from a number of environmental advocacy groups.

Nina Lakhani, The Guardian and Anthony Swift, NRDC


Update on what the teens are doing these days: they’ve moved on to Roblox, an online gaming platform that facilitates lots of user-built games and allows for social meeting. According to the company, two-thirds of American kids between the ages of nine and 12 use Roblox, and it’s used by a third of kids under the age of 16. Naturally, usage is off the charts: it’s seeing 120 million players a month, up 5 million users, and the number of people who play together is up 25 percent.

Olga Kharif, Bloomberg


A Pew Research Center survey found that 52 percent of Americans have decided to not use a product or service because they’re worried about how it would collect or use their personal information. Of those, 21 percent said they’d decided not to use a website, 11 percent opted out of a specific electronic device — gosh, I wonder which one, I should ask my Alexa maybe it knows — 10 percent cited a social media service and another 10 percent cited a DNA, financial, or healthcare service. It’s always sensible to minimize your digital footprint; I can’t (occupational hazard) but as a compromise about once a month, I spend 10 minutes rapidly searching things like “everglades real estate” and “fanboat sales” and “fanboat license needed Florida” and “how to start Florida LLC” and “fanboat international waters?” just to defile my browser cookies and confuse the crap out of the many ad tech companies tracking my every move.

Andrew Perrin, Pew Research Center


Greenland lost a net 600 billion tonnes of its ice sheet last year, a volume that raised the global sea level by 1.5 millimeters. That alone was approximately 40 percent of the total sea level rise observed in 2019. About half of the loss was caused by anti-cyclone conditions linked to global warming that inhibited the creation of clouds. This led to two things, both of which are bad: less cloud cover meant more direct sunlight which meant more melting, and fewer clouds means less snow. Overall snowfall was 100 billion tonnes below the average seen between 1980 and 1999. Between 1992 and 2018, Greenland lost 4 trillion tonnes of ice. That led to an 11 millimeter increase in sea levels.

Marlowe Hood, Agence France-Presse


Athletes, fans, and leagues are reeling from the cancellation of sports, but bookies are also in a dire position. Though the house always wins, they can’t win if nobody’s playing, and in late April over 20 CEOs of major bookmakers from around the world will gather for an emergency digital summit to determine how the oddsmakers can ride this one out. In the U.K., the gambling industry employs 100,000 people and contributes £2.9 billion per year in taxes, and with the country canceling Wimbledon, The British Open and The Grand National — the latter of which attracts £250 million ($312 million) in wagers alone — the house is actually in pretty rough shape.

Pirate Irwin, Agence France Presse

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