Numlock News: April 30, 2021 • Singing Competition, Supporters, Antarctica

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

You should check out the Numlock Podcast on Apple Podcasts or Spotify, once a month I’m posting the recording of a Sunday interview. This week was a great episode with researcher Joshua Darr about a fateful opinion page experiment in Palm Springs, California.


On Monday, a man arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport was discovered with 35 songbirds hidden in hair curlers in his clothing, and is now facing down federal smuggling charges. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, he said he had been offered $3,000 to bring them to New York from Guyana. The draw is that the birds are used in singing competitions against one another, with the winner usually singing the fastest or longest, while the audience bets on the birds. The finches from Guyana are considered particularly good at this singing competition, with the country being the Ireland of this avian Eurovision. Chestnut-bellied seed finches from Guyana can sell for as much as $10,000.

Neil Vigdor, The New York Times


From January to March, the 2022 congressional campaign of Christy Smith of California’s 25th District made $54,782.06 renting out the personal information of supporters to a digital consulting firm, an enormously common practice for federal candidates. What makes this interesting is that the campaign actually made more money leasing out supporters’ emails than it did from actual campaign contributions, where it pulled in $42,501. Lists of supporters have become really valuable assets for candidates, who even in defeat can make money by selling access to the people who kept them in the race to other PACs or candidates trying to shore up support or fundraising.

Kayla Epstein and Dave Levinthal, Insider

Bottled Water

Last year, Nestlé drew 58 million gallons of California spring water, well above the 2.3 million gallons it could validly claim under its rights. The company claims its rights to spring water in the parched state go back to 1865, but according to an environmental group opposing the corporation pumping the state dry, they’ve on average used 25 times as much water as they were entitled to. California's officials have moved to stop Nestlé with a draft cease-and-desist order that requires the approval of the California Water Resources Control Board. If approved, BlueTriton — the rebranded Nestlé Waters North America — could owe fines of $1,000 per day, or $10,000 per day during droughts.

Maanvi Singh, The Guardian


A new study published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters sought to estimate just how much extraterrestrial dust hits Earth. To accomplish this, they went to the South Pole several times over the past two decades to collect samples from 1,100 kilometers inland, where the area is remote enough to be undisturbed and the ice makes it simpler to date the dust. They filtered the dust from the snow, analyzing 2,000 particles ranging from 12 to 700 microns in size to look for signs they were from space, usually that they were spherical, had weird elemental composition, or presumably had shape-shifted to imitate a scientific colleague as it hunted them down one by one in the Antarctic base. About 60 percent of the dust originated from Jupiter family comets and 20 percent of dust was from the asteroid belt. All told, an estimated 4,000 to 6,700 metric tons of space dust falls on Earth annually given their findings.

Sarah Derouin, Scientific American


Millimeter-wave networks are the fastest form of 5G coverage, responsible for all those bananas speed tests wireless networks touted in the early rollout. Average download speeds on millimeter-wave 5G were 232.7 megabytes per second on AT&T, 215.3Mbps on T-Mobile and 692.9Mbps for Verizon. The problem? Basically nobody has the millimeter-wave 5G, according to an OpenSignal report. Overall, 5G was available 33.1 percent of the time on T-Mobile, 20.5 percent of the time on AT&T and 11.2 percent of the time on Verizon. But that great millimeter-wave 5G was available only 0.5 percent of the time on T-Mobile and AT&T, and only 0.8 percent of the time on Verizon.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica


California’s Air Resources Board has rolled out a statewide carbon credit policy, but the issue is that it oversimplifies how much a given tract of forest actually mitigates carbon emissions. As a result, a new analysis found that of the 130 million credits generated as of last fall — worth $1.8 billion at current prices — an estimated 20 million to 39 million carbon credits don’t actually achieve any benefits for the climate. The “ghost credits” didn’t preserve any additional carbon in forests, and empowered additional pollution commensurate with annual emissions of up to 8.5 million cars. The Air Resources Board disputes the study, which looked at the specific pricing lines within forests to identify areas where the value of an acre appeared to be inaccurately priced compared to adjacent areas, allowing landowners to game the system.

Lisa Song, ProPublica and James Temple, MIT Technology Review


Tires have been found to be the second-largest source of microplastics, estimated to be responsible for 5 percent of plastics in the ocean and 3 percent of particulate matter in the atmosphere. Part of this is simply a function of cars. Unless you find a way to make cars that don’t need brakes, the physics of the situation are rather unforgiving when it comes to wear and tear on tires, and solutions to the problem are difficult. The tire people suggest that it’s more an issue with roads than with tires, with rubber-modified asphalt or bioswales, which redirect stormwater to sequester pollution runoff, being the ticket to cutting back on microplastics from tires. Other startups are trying to redesign tires, especially with the shift towards electric vehicles — which in general tend to be heavier than comparable internal combustion vehicles — leading to more of that dreaded friction and actually exacerbating the problem a bit.

Corbin Hiar, E&E News

Last week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Joshua Darr, professor of political communication at Louisiana State University and an author of the new book Home Style Opinion: How Local Newspapers Can Slow Polarization.

The book is about a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime natural experiment that has broad reverberations across the news industry and the world of American politics. Darr can be found on Twitter, and the podcast of the interview is available for everyone on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

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