Numlock News: December 15, 2020 • Hackers, Tyrannosaurs, Blue Whales

By Walt Hickey

International Box Office

The current estimate has the North American box office for 2020 coming in at $2.3 billion, the lowest number since serious efforts to track the box office began in the mid 1980s. The $2.2 billion brought in domestically so far is down 80 percent from the $11.4 billion haul of 2019. The overseas value is stronger, especially in Asian markets that have largely recovered: foreign ticket sales are around $9 billion now. Overall, global box office gross will be down upwards of 70 percent from the $42.5 billion brought in last year. Right now, the biggest movie at the box office is The Croods: A New Age, which made $76.3 million worldwide.

Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter


The top 10 art sales this year totaled $408 million at auction, which to say the least is a bit low. As early as May 2019, the top 10 sales had accumulated $605 million. Part of that is, rather than rolling the dice at auction, many sellers this year have resorted to prearranged private sales. Indeed, one of the top-ten selling items at auction was the $31.9 million Tyrannosaurus Rex that Christie’s sold back in October, which if anything should remind art collectors that sometimes it takes a little time — in that case, 67 million years — for a piece to accrue in value. On the other hand, that’s less than half of what Croods 2 made during a pandemic, so maybe art’s got some problems.

James Tarmy, Bloomberg

Knotty Issue

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Coast Guard, arguing they are violating the Endangered Species Act by endangering the whales that inhabit the marine area around Santa Barbara, California. Ship strikes are a serious issue — in 2018 and 2019, ships killed 20 whales in the Santa Barbara Channel — and this year ships killed three blue whales in two weeks. The CBD wants mandatory speed restrictions in the area, forcing cargo ships to reduce their speed to 10 knots, which has in the past helped whales dodge vessels or be in better condition to survive a strike. In 2008, NOAA imposed a 10 knot speed limit on the East Coast in whale feeding grounds, a move that saw collisions fall considerably in the following five years.

Casey Rentz, Hakai Magazine


South Korea’s parliament has approved a controversial measure that would make it a crime to fly propaganda leaflets over the border with North Korea via balloon. The measure, which was supported by 187 members of parliament and backed by the governing party of President Moon Jae-in, won with a super-majority that shut down attempts from minority parties to hold up the vote with speeches. In the past the South has banned those measures to appeal to the North only when the situation with their neighbor got particularly testy, normally allowing the border blasting as an exercise of free speech. The fine for violating the measure is 30 million won ($27,730) or up to three years in prison.

Hyung-Jin Kim, The Associated Press


COVID-19 kicked off a nearly unprecedented flurry of work in the academic space as scientists and researchers dropped everything to address the most important topic on the Earth. While the motivations for that are completely understandable, we’ll be reckoning with the incidental impacts of that shift in focus for quite some time. Ongoing research trials were halted, field expeditions canned, experiments ended and many researchers, motivated by the cutthroat nature of the academic job market, dabbled in other fields, which had an unfortunate side effect of generating an enormous volume of well-intentioned but otherwise rushed and unclear work. The average biomedical professor trains six doctoral students across a career, but only 16 percent of students make it to the tenure track, so when the money dropped in one specific branch of biomedicine, the competition got fierce. The crisis also exacerbated existing power imbalances in academic work: the proportion of papers with women as first authors in medRxiv fell 44 percent relative to 2019, COVID-19 papers had 19 percent fewer women as first authors, and male scientists were quoted four times as often in U.S. news coverage as women scientists.

Ed Yong, The Atlantic

Go For It

The Philadelphia Eagles were innovators in using analytics to drive play-calling in the NFL, and it in part netted them a Super Bowl, with most of the rest of the credit going to Nick Foles, the restorative powers of the Schuylkill River and Gritty. Now everyone is using those analytics so, thank goodness, Philly is bad again and the universe is all right. The numbers bear out a league-wide shift towards doing what the analytics people say: in 2017, NFL teams went for it on fourth down 12.5 percent of the time, a figure that in 2020 is up to 19.1 percent, a 52.8 percent increase in just three years.

Andrew Beaton, The Wall Street Journal


SolarWinds, a company that sells computer technology to people like the State Department, the Center for Disease Control, the FBI, the Pentagon, 425 corporations of the 500 corporations in the Fortune 500, and lots of sensitive targets that are not the type to brag, yeah, those guys said in an SEC filing a ton of their customers got hacked. The filing said that because of a vulnerability in the Orion monitoring products, as many as 18,000 customers from around the world and in every imaginable industry may have been exposed to a cyber-attack suspected to be Russian. The investigation became public when FireEye, a cyber-security firm, investigated a breach of its own systems and found the Orion hack, which extended vastly beyond its own systems.

Alyza Sebenius, Kartikay Mehrotra and Michael Riley, Bloomberg

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