Numlock News: April 3, 2020 • Manatees, Amber, Drones

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

In flagrante delicto

In a deeply embarrassing situation for all involved, a rock of amber has been found that contains two 41 million-year-old flies frozen in the act of mating. The 14.96 billion night stand is of significant interest to tons of paleontologists, and also presumably several extremely specific perverts. In a paper published in Scientific Reports, researchers detailed how the inordinately rare coupling allows the study of animal lineages heretofore unknown. Their existence also allows paleontologists to draw conclusions about what kinds of environments existed on Australia, where the fossil was found, back in the times after the dinosaurs.

Lucas Joel, The New York Times


Coal is being phased out of the energy mix in the United States, and that’s a good thing because the replacement energy generation is considerably better for the environment and climate. There are, however, some serious boosters of coal who will be bummed out by its exit: manatees. Sea cows in Florida absolutely love to hang out near the runoff from the cooling systems of coal plants. Of the 7,500 to 10,300 manatees that live in Florida, approximately half hang out in the vicinity of 10 of Florida’s coal and oil-fired power plants. Four of the 10 plants have closed, and the other plants aren’t too far behind, which may strand the manatees. They didn’t build the plants on manatee homes, they’re just dumping pleasant warm water that the blubbery beasts like to marinate in. I would criticize, but I also understand that’s the primary goal of basically all New Yorkers, so what are you gonna do. Florida’s fish and wildlife service is working on a plan to move the animals or somehow compel the power companies to ensure the survival of the animals.

Mya Frazier, Bloomberg


With schools in California shut down, many poorer students who lack access to the internet at home or a dedicated workstation have been falling behind their more affluent peers. Google announced it will donate 4,000 Chromebooks and offer free Wi-Fi to 100,000 rural households for at least three months in order to get kids access to school materials. Only a third of rural Californian households have internet service, substantially behind the 78 percent of households with access in urban areas. Overall, 20 percent of California students can’t get on the internet at home, and this donation could cut that by about half. Los Angeles Unified announced a $100 million investment to deliver laptops to students, and San Francisco Unified has already given 5,200 Chromebooks to students and are trying to give another 5,000 this week for the resumption of distance learning in April.

Sydney Johnson, EdSource


The hobbyist market for consumer drones is dominated by a single firm, DJI. Its low prices and solid products mean that its U.S. market share — 76.8 percent — is almost 20 times as high as the nearest competitor, Intel with 3.7 percent of the market. Other players in the drone market are even more modest, like Yuneec (3.1 percent), Parrot (2.2 percent) and GoPro (1.8 percent), plus a hodgepodge of other competitors that combine for just over 10 percent of the buzz business.

Blake Schmidt and Ashlee Vance, Bloomberg


Consumers are soldering the cord, or whatever the opposite of cutting the cord is. Paid subscriptions for streaming TV and video was up 32 percent from the week of March 16 compared to the prior week. That’s not all: subscriptions to online education services are also up 24.1 percent week over week. Beyond those digital services, this has been a period of belt-tightening for some consumers and businesses who have been walking back monthly commitments to movie passes, software-as-a-service companies and sports subscriptions. The monthly box subscriptions are a bit of a tossup, though, and the effect won’t be known there for a little while.

Nat Ives, The Wall Street Journal


The town of Whittier, Alaska is a unique one. There are 280 year-round residents in the deep-water port, and they live in two buildings, one of which is a 14-story highrise with about 80 percent of the population. Besides its tactical port access, the only way in and out of Whittier by land is a 2.5 mile tunnel that goes through a mountain, on the other side of which is Anchorage about an hour off. It’s a summer tourist town when there may very well not be summer tourism, but it’s also a critical port for Alaska, specifically the 300,000 people over in Anchorage. About 30 percent of Alaska’s freight arrives through Whittier, and given the remote location, necessity to the state and fairly ridiculous population density, COVID-19 is a major worry.

Michelle Theriault Boots, Anchorage Daily News


Roughly 4 million people work in the garment industry in Bangladesh, where the precursors of global fashion and apparel are created by an enormous supply chain. According to the Bangladeshi and Garment Exporters Association, clothing brands have cancelled £2.4 billion worth of existing orders, and as a result 1 million workers have been laid off or sent home without pay. Of that £2.4 billion, about £1.4 billion was cancelled and £1 billion was suspended. All told, £1.3 billion of the £2.4 billion had been completed or was already in production. The overwhelming majority of the suppliers said that the mostly western clothing brands had offered no recompense for purchased materials.

Annie Kelly, The Guardian

Last weekend in the Sunday special I talked to Shayla Love, the writer behind the outstanding story “Copper Destroys Viruses and Bacteria. Why Isn’t It Everywhere?” It’s a great conversation, you should check it out.

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