Numlock News: December 11, 2020 • Bees, Bulls, Moss

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


A new study published in the journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday describes an incredibly gross but evidently successful strategy employed by Asian honey bees to prevent onslaughts of predatory hornets from striking their homes. Researchers monitored three apiaries in Vietnam after reports the honey bees had been collecting water buffalo dung to incorporate into the structures of their nests following giant hornet attacks. Turns out coating your home in feces is an awesome way to repel invaders, as hornets were not only less likely to land on the entrances that had been doused in dung, but also spent 94 percent less time chewing at the entrance, which makes one wonder the precise blend of hornet emotions that go down in that 6 percent of time. Besides the obvious potential for deterrence, the dung may also cover up chemical markers left by previous hornets. Anyway, I think I’m done with honey for a little bit until they figure out how common this is.

Agence France-Press


By tonnage, 27 percent of new shipbuilding orders on book are ships that will use alternative fuel instead of the bunker fuel currently in use, options that include hydrogen, biofuels, liquid natural gas and more. There are 227 vessels on order that will run on natural gas, which is more than the 202 that run on gas that are currently in service. Liquid propane gas is also increasing in popularity — 37 pending orders — but in reality those are a small, small fraction of the 60,000 vessels currently in service. The financial picture is at least beginning to make sense: though natural gas-powered ships are 15 percent more expensive to build, operating them is 20 percent cheaper than conventional heavy oil. Plus, the port infrastructure is getting there: LNG fueling is globally available at 124 ports today, up from 20 five years ago.

Costas Paris, The Wall Street Journal


Off the coast of British Columbia, the species Zygodon gracilis is dying out. While many endangered species garner sympathy and high-profile cute campaigns to save them, Zygodon is a moss, and a pretty boring one at that: no medicinal value, not culturally significant, looks just like lots of other moss, it reproduces asexually so the internet hasn’t had an easy layup to make it into some fetish yet — it’s got some P.R. problems is what I’m saying. To save the moss, all that someone would have to do is spend one weekend on the island it’s on trimming some trees to let in more light to the ground level. That’s literally all it would take, but because the boat trip to the island costs $1,000 and there’s no money in the studies of weird moss, it could very well die out, which is sad because it’s kind of messed up that the slender yoke-moss has to find a way to be charismatic to continue to earn a place on earth.

Sabrina Imbler, Hakai Magazine


Countries around the world are all grappling with the same problem next year: vaccines need to stay chilly, but billions of people live in places that are not chilly and need to find a way to get the vaccine to coronavirus. For India, one industry offers a possible solution: cattle breeding. There is a vast refrigerated supply network that spans the subcontinent from city centers to rural regions, and it is used to keep semen from bulls cold en route to the dairies that use it to make more cows to make more milk. In 2019, the average crossbred cow in India produced 8 kilograms of milk per day, up from under 7 kilograms in 2014, owing in part to the efficiencies of the breeding infrastructure in the country. In 2019, India inseminated 75.8 million animals, and to accomplish that they needed to transport frozen shipments through 56 bull stations in the country. As it stands, India’s vaccination process will be arduous, but the cold chain stands to be an asset.

Karen Ho and Manavi Kapur, Quartz


In 2020, NFL teams are averaging 24.7 points per game, 357.4 yards per game, and 21.7 first downs per game, all considerably higher than any season on record. The scoring record — set in 2013, at 23.4 points per game — seems pretty much like a lock to break in 2020, as with the few games left in the regular season a league-wide offensive collapse would have to be Jets-like in magnitude to screw it up. Perhaps it’s a lack of crowds that typically aid the defense making the situation worse, as the league has seen home-field advantage functionally evaporate: home teams were 96-95-1 going into Thursday night, the worst ever.

Scott Kacsmar, Captain Comeback

Switch It Up

This season, all eyes are on the next generation of consoles, the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X. Seemingly absent from the conversation is Nintendo, though the ace up their sleeve may be in China. This year, the Nintendo Switch has sold 1.3 million units in China, about double the combined sales of the PS4 and Xbox One. And it’s not just a hot year for the Switch: with 3.95 million units, it’s overall outsold the PlayStation 4 (3.52 million units) and Xbox One (1.24 million) in China. This is complicated by the ambiguous legal situation of the consoles, which are made by foreign countries and thus banned by the government, and imported on through arrangements with local gaming companies such as, in Nintendo’s case, Tencent.

Zheping Huang and Takashi Mochizuki, Bloomberg


Sony will acquire anime streaming service Crunchyroll from AT&T for $1.175 billion, which could put the streamer under Sony’s Funimation division. Crunchyroll has 70 million free members and 3 million paid subscribers, and has been particularly successful at appealing to the global market for Japanese animation that now stands at about half the business. AT&T came to own Crunchyroll, incidentally through the acquisition of Otter Media and owes an unfathomable amount of money to creditors because of its acquisition of Warner Bros.

D.M. Moore, Polygon

This past week in the subscriber Sunday edition, I spoke to Michelle McGhee who wrote “Who’s In The Crossword?” for The Pudding. She wrote an incredibly cool story about who is and isn’t in the crossword that you should be sure to read if you hadn’t already. Michelle can be found on Twitter and on her website.

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