Numlock News: August 26, 2021 • Seismometers, Cane Toads, Robocalls

By Walt Hickey

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Fined

The FCC has levied a $5,134,500 fine against two provocateurs who made over 1,100 robocalls peddling election misinformation, the largest-ever fine under the TCPA law that bars illegal robocalling. The Michigan Attorney General last year lodged four felony counts against the pair, which they allege made 85,000 calls in August of 2020 in Michigan, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Finally, the feds have laid down the law and shown that there’s no escape from justice, as long as you break the law in the single most obvious fashion. If you’ll excuse me, my dear personal friend Maybe Junk is trying to call me, I already missed Scam Likely earlier today and if I don’t take this I might miss the call from my beloved college friend Unknown Caller.

Makena Kelly, The Verge

Factory Workers

China's in the grip of a labor shortage at its factories just as demand for manufactured goods from the country begins to accelerate. For the first time in over a decade, the number of migrant workers who went to China dropped year over year, falling to 285.6 million workers in 2020 from 290.8 million in 2019. In part, the labor crunch for factory work is related to the record 9 million students who will graduate from college this year, which itself may exacerbate the issue where there are too many workers for the number of white-collar jobs in the country. A recent crackdown on the private tutor industry, which absorbed a whole lot of college grads, could make things even worse.

Stella Yifan Xie and Liyan Qi, The Wall Street Journal

The Experience

Joe Rogan, arguably the most popular podcaster in the world, cashed in and sold to Spotify for $100 million in 2020. Though numbers have been scant, there's evidence that Rogan's reach has taken a dip since going exclusive. An analysis of guests who went on the podcast with fewer than 500,000 Twitter followers at the time found that, prior to Rogan going exclusive on Spotify, guests on average gained 4,076 followers after an appearance, but after going exclusive that figure fell to just 2,186. And listen, I can understand 100 million reasons why this isn't necessarily the end of the world, but getting nailed down as an exclusive does have its drawbacks.

Ashley Carman, The Verge

Seismometers

In 2010, when the magnitude-7 earthquake struck Haiti, the nation had no seismologists and only one seismic monitoring station. In the years since, the country has beefed up its monitoring not only through official stations — which can run up to $50,000 — but also through a number of cheaper, citizen-science stations that cost around $500 and offer a wider degree of coverage on the island. Today, there are 7 official stations operated by the Bureau of Mines and Energy as well as 15 of the smaller, cheaper stations in the community-science network, a number that organizers hope to bring up to 50 in coming years. It's already paying off, with 600 aftershocks detected from the August 14 quake that struck Haiti, compared to the 10 aftershocks detected back in 2010.

Alexandra Witze, Nature Magazine

Fluorescence

Exposure to ultraviolet light reveals that the nests of paper wasps glow a neon green visible from 60 feet away, a fluorescence that is remarkable even within the animal kingdom. There are regional variations — Vietnamese paper-wasp nests glowed green, a European and South American nest each glowed teal — but across the world, the wasps were building less a habitat and more a rave. The wasps themselves didn't fluoresce, just some silk in different parts of the nest. The quantum yield is a measurement of a substance's capacity to emit light when photons are applied; for animals, that generally runs from 0.3 percent to 12.5 percent. For one wasp's nest in Vietnam, it was 35 percent. The glow is within the range of wasp eyesight, and the purpose (if any) is still unclear, but one theory has the wasps just getting really into the Vaporwave aesthetic during the pandemic.

Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic

Airbags

A little less than a decade ago, about 100 million Takata Corp. airbags were recalled worldwide, the largest auto safety crisis in history. While many were fixed, there are still about 14 million defective and possibly dangerous airbags on the road in the U.S. alone, and the number in the rest of the world is unknown but thought to be considerable. The U.S. has seen about 89 percent of the affected Hondas fixed, but Mexico has seen only about 72 percent. For Toyota in Mexico, that figure is just 41 percent, and for GM it's merely 36 percent fixed.

Andrea Navarro and Ryan Beene, Bloomberg

Home Ownership In The United States

Australia's invasive cane toads are pretty much free of predators and parasites, and as a result exist in 10 times the density there than in their native South America. This means that a new cane toad predator has muscled in on this promising food source: the cane toad. Yes, there's all sorts of cannibalism going down, and it's changing the lifecycle of the cane toad owing to the relentless predation of their primary foe, larger cane toads. Researchers compared Australian cane toads to their South American counterparts, and found that when fertilized cane toad eggs were placed in a container with a single Australian tadpole, the eggs were 2.5 times more likely to be cannibalized before producing a tadpole. The Australian tadpoles have developed a taste for cane toads: they were 30 times more likely to enter a container with hatchlings than an empty container. This pressure is leading the toads to evolve to develop faster, so they can survive to adulthood and live a cushy life devouring their own young.

John Timmer, Ars Technica

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