Numlock News: August 28, 2020 • Heists, Heaters, Hybrids

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Arts & Craft

A painting by Dutch old master Frans Hals called Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer has been stolen, the victim of an early-morning art heist at a small museum in Leerdam. Thieves broke in through the back door and stole the painting. While it’s important that the piece is recovered promptly, owing not only to its place in art history but also its estimated value of €15 million, this is not exactly the first rodeo for Two Laughing Boys with a Mug of Beer. Indeed, this is the third time it’s been pilfered in an art heist since 1988, when it was first stolen along with a van Ruisdael and recovered three years later. In 2011, the same two paintings were stolen and then recovered six months later, in what I understand to be basically the Toy Story film series, but with art.

Jennifer Rankin, The Guardian


A survey conducted in 14 countries about the impact of the pandemic on national unity found that across the nations — all wealthy democracies — a median of 46 percent feel more national unity than before while 48 percent think divisions have grown. Denmark’s feeling pretty good — 72 percent think they’re more united — followed by Canada (66 percent), Sweden (58 percent), South Korea (56 percent), Australia (54 percent) and Japan (47 percent). Meanwhile, some other countries are not feeling the unity: for instance, Spaniards think they’re more divided (59 percent), as are respondents in Belgium (55 percent), Germany (54 percent) and Italy (54 percent). Oh, another country participated in the survey, and 77 percent of Americans think they’re more divided compared to just 18 percent who think they’re more united.

Kat Devlin and Aidan Connaughton, Pew Research Center


The falloff in U.S. unemployment aide has had a measurable week-to-week impact on grocery sales. Comparing volumes of groceries sold the week of July 26 — the last week of bolstered benefits — and the week ending August 16, sales of meat were down 3.8 percentage points, cheese was down 8 percentage points, coffee down 4.7 percentage points and soup down 9.1 percentage points. The slowed grocery spending wasn’t due to prices, which have been unchanged, or restaurant dining, which is flat, but states with higher unemployment saw a larger deceleration in grocery spending.

Annie Gasparro and Jaewon Kang, The Wall Street Journal


The angelfish is an inhabitant of coral reefs, and a new study found that they’re highly predisposed to hybridization, where the eggs of one species of angelfish and the sperm of a different can combine, and sometimes produce a hybrid organism. This leads to neat results and combinations in the patterned, multi-colored fish. The mitochondrial DNA of 37 such hybrid organisms were compared to find that 48 percent of the angelfish can hybridize, a level vastly higher than other reef dwellers. Angelfishes can produce hybrid offspring between species with upwards of 11 percent difference in mitochondrial DNA, which is much higher than the 6 percent seen in other species.

Sabrina Imbler, The New York Times

Patio Heaters

This fall, as things get chillier, a huge and vulnerable swath of the global economy will live or die based on a single contraption, the patio heater. As many restaurants and other gathering spaces rely on outdoor dining to get by, and as temperatures inevitably drop, propane heaters will decide where outdoor dining can continue. Pre-pandemic estimates put the patio heater category rising 7 percent annually on average from 2018 to 2022. Stackline, which tracks e-commerce sales, said sales of propane tanks are up 83 percent year to date. Amazon reported that sales of outdoor heaters were up 70 percent year over year between April and June, and a supplier of the outdoor heaters said that sales are up 400 percent this year.

Zara Stone, Marker


Television commercials have been lacking a key advertiser over the past several months, namely movie studios. In the first five months of 2019, studios spent $884.2 million on television ads for movies, but this year that was down to $356.1 million, largely front-loaded. For the entire year of 2019 the studios spent $2 billion advertising movies, and while the studios — many of which incidentally are owned by the same companies that own the television networks — have been unable to release films, they’ve also been holding back on advertising for the more experimental direct-to-VOD releases. Basically since the Fourth of July, nobody’s advertised much of anything. Indeed, the Warner Bros. film Tenet saw $951,000 in advertising according to iSpotTV on ESPN, CNN and CBS, a tiny fraction of the typical promotional expense on a film of that size.

Brian Steinberg, Variety


California approved a $437 million plan for Southern California Edison, a utility, to fund the installation of about 40,000 electric vehicle chargers. The state wants to have 5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2030, and to do that they have to get a lot of people who do not currently have electric cars to get electric cars. To that end, about half the money will go to low income communities while 30 percent will go to multi-family residences like apartments or rentals, where it’s often harder to charge an electrical vehicle.


This week in the Sunday edition, I spoke to Erin Davis, who wrote a really cool data story called “The Physical Traits that Define Men and Women in Literature” for The Pudding. Erin can be found on Twitter and her website’s full of a ton of great visualizations and all her work, you should check her out.

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