Numlock News: August 11, 2020 • Infiltrators, Indicators, Salty Craters

By Walt Hickey


Rideshare and delivery company Uber reported that in the second quarter of the year their gross bookings for human transportation dropped 73 percent, but their food and goods delivery business grew 113 percent. This is largely because of a massive, unexpected event that made a business that delivers things people need an incredibly valuable and important line of work to be in. What’s weird, though, is that Uber lost a truly incredible amount of money doing this business: the company puts a loss of $232 million to its delivery business during arguably the greatest quarter for the concept of delivery ever. Those are like “operates a movie theater chain” loss numbers! That’s on par with the $286 million lost by doing deliveries in the same quarter of 2019. That figure also excludes corporate expenses, overhead and IT, it’s just money lost doing deliveries in an attempt to gain market share.

Josh Barro, Intelligencer


The dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt had a visit in 2018 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, which flew 22 miles above the surface. Of interest was the Occator Crater, and that interest was absolutely justified according to analyses of the data published in seven different research papers. The 22 million-year-old, 57 mile across crater offered insights into the nature of Ceres. What they found was brine seepage deposits, and evidence that some could come from water that’s in a pool under the crater, and some may come from a deeper reservoir. So, when another planet leaves red stains all over the ground “it’s a bold and intriguing scientific discovery,” but when I do it suddenly everyone is all “it’s only Monday” and “if you spill again you’re losing wine glass privileges.”

Meghan Bartels, Space


As a whole, parasites tend to have a notoriously bad reputation, owing largely to the “feast greedily upon other organisms” thing they get up to. This is a bit of an issue for researchers who seek conservation of the species, but after some consideration their goals and advocacy for the parasitic make a lot of sense. Parasites account for around 40 percent of all animal species, only 10 percent of parasites have been formally identified. Many parasites keep populations of hosts from getting out of control — everybody’s all “boo, parasites” until a surfeit of frogs grows uncontrollably and an entire ecosystem goes to pot — and many of them are just incredibly cool, evolving to hack complicated systems in ways that medical science can only dream of. The issue for their advocates is that parasites tend to be incredibly uncharismatic, so unless Marvel’s willing to lend Venom to the cause, they’re still working on how to put a happy face on the tapeworms.

Lauren Sommer, NPR


Many unconventional economic indicators that historically have served as reliable bellwethers of economic health — people buy lipstick in recessions, RV sales tank when the economy does, champagne sells in good times, cardboard boxes are a proxy for retail health — were all super wrong, and we need new ones. Lipstick sales were down 44 percent in March year over year, RV sales were up 11 percent year over year, sales of champagne were up 17.9 percent and box shipments were up 7.8 percent year over year in June. Clearly there are other things at work — no socializing means no lipstick, RVs are a convenient way to bug out, alcohol is pretty great right now and boxes are the only way to get many things.

Jennifer Alsever, Marker

Not Great, Not Terrible

While forests covered 30 percent of the land in the Chernobyl exclusion zone prior to the explosion of the reactor, today they cover about 70 percent as nature reclaims the poisoned region surrounding the contaminated facility. The problem is that, to some notoriety, trees are quite flammable, and when forest fires hit the forests around Chernobyl they release cesium-137, strontium-90, and plutonium-238, -239, and -240, and enough of those to expose firefighters to triple the annual limit of radiation for nuclear workers. Fires have become more frequent, and more severe: in April, a blaze consumed 165,600 acres, and researchers as far as Norway noticed a bump in atmospheric cesium.

Jane Braxton Little, The Atlantic


With young adults adopting animals at a higher clip than earlier seen, plus the surge in pet adoptions that accompanied the onset of the pandemic, veterinarians are busier than ever. According to VetSuccess, revenue last month at the 2,800 clinics it monitors was up 18 percent over July 2019, and the number of policies Trupanion — a pet health insurer — has for cats and dogs is up 14 percent compared to the beginning of the year. The army of new dog owners has also meant a simultaneous surge in goofs that new dog owners tend to make, errors such as not getting them vaccinated, which may be leading to a rise in parvovirus cases according to some vets.

Sarah Kliff, The New York Times


The United States is home to 2.6 million miles of pipelines, critical infrastructure that facilitates the flow of natural gas or oil that, for the time being, fuels the country. Inevitably, every one of those miles of pipes will retire, as nothing lasts forever, and the country as a whole is revising its energy mix long-term. Still, the pipes will remain home to toxic materials, and the question of what precisely is to be done with all those miles of pipe is worth considering. Notoriously expensive to install, that financial investment is assumed with the understanding that it’ll be recouped with an operational pipe, but given that it’s also expensive to rip the pipes out with no possibility of remuneration, a lot of them are just going to stay in the ground. Enbridge’s 1,000-mile Line 3 could be the first pipeline to be abandoned in the U.S., and how that’s handled in Minnesota will set precedent. Abandoning it in place will cost Enbridge $85 million, while taking it out will cost $1.28 billion. The Canadian spur of the abandoned Line 3 will be cleaned and abandoned in place next year.

Justine Calma, The Verge

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