Numlock News: December 18, 2020 • Sherry, Poison Dart Frog, Run!

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!

Frauds

Oracle says it found a sophisticated case of ad fraud in streaming television that they’re calling StreamScam, a fascinating new development that means I now know one thing that Oracle does as a company. The operation fooled marketers into paying for ads that were never seen by actual viewers on their devices by using thousands of servers to impersonate SSAI servers, which are the real tech that puts ads in streaming programming, by pretending to be legit IP addresses and apps, spoofing 28.8 million fake IP addresses, 3,600 apps and 3,400 TV device models. Oracle pegged the haul of the scam at around $14.5 million in the past four months, and the big deal here is that it was an apparent ad fraud in the streaming video space, a rapidly rising format desired specifically because lots of the inherent problems of fraud in digital advertising weren’t thought to apply.

Sahil Patel, The Wall Street Journal

Gaia

Over the past six years, the European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft has been measuring the tiny shifts in apparent position of 1.3 billion stars to build the most accurate stellar map to date. In addition to enabling a whole lot of cool science orienting our world within the broader universe, it’s also already stirring the pot of commonly understood astrophysical knowledge. Based on the physics equations that govern the universe, the universe should be expanding at a rate of 67 kilometers per second per megaparsec. However, that’s not what the data has been saying, showing instead that the measurements are faster than 67 kilometers per second per megaparsec. Indeed, a paper posted this week and submitted to The Astrophysical Journal used the Gaia data to identify the expansion rate at 73.2 kilometers per second per megaparsec, which clocks with earlier estimates, but more importantly gets the margin of error low enough — 1.8 percent — to pretty definitively argue that there is a discrepancy between how fast the universe should be expanding and how much it in fact is. Neat stuff!

Natalie Wolchover, Quanta Magazine

RUN

An analysis of data by exercise monitoring company Strava from 73 million users shows just how many people responded to the crises of 2020 by trying to run away from their problems, specifically millions of them. Marathons around the world were cancelled, but in their place sprung hundreds of thousands of people doing a little marathon of their own, as the percentage of 26.2-mile runs on Strava that were completed alone rose from 14 percent in 2019 to 44 percent in 2020. Women in particular worked as hard as possible to sprint through the end of 2020, with women aged 18 to 29 increasing median activity by 45.2 percent between April and September.

Kelly Cohen, ESPN

College

Undergraduate enrollment in universities this past fall fell 3.6 percent compared to fall 2019, a drop equivalent to 560,000 students who effectively chose to not matriculate this year. That decline was most acute at community colleges, which saw an enrollment decline of over 10 percent, or over 544,000 students. Among those who graduated from high school in 2020, the number of students who enrolled in college was down 21.7 percent. The reasons for this appear to be financially driven: graduates of high-poverty high schools saw college enrollment down 32.6 percent, graduates of low-poverty high schools saw enrollment down 16.4 percent.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR

Sherry

Get bent Aperol, this year’s trendy apéritif is sherry, which has seen sales mount a comeback. In the 12 weeks up through December 5, Nielsen is reporting sales of sherry were up 17.6 percent in the U.K., with retailers reporting brisk sales, particularly among young people. Waitrose, a grocer, said sales of sweet sherry are up 24 percent year over year, and dry sherries are up 20 percent. As with all alcohol trends, it’s in part due to a dedicated campaign by bottlers to appeal to young people with new, more stylish versions of existing beverages.

Robert Plummer, BBC

School from Home

Around the world, kids are studying from home. In some places, that’s harder than others. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 85 percent of households lack internet at home and 89 percent of students lack access to a computer outside of school. Even if you were able to supply cheap computers, just 40 percent of the population has access to the internet, and as anyone running a classroom on a cheap computer may attest it’s still not exactly great in rich, developed countries either. However, this is not Sub-Saharan Africa’s first rodeo when it comes to ensuring kids get an education during a pandemic, as the recent Ebola crisis paved the way for thousands of kids to be educated by classes taught over the radio. Battery-operated radios go for like $5, are less energy-intensive, and don’t need the infrastructure of a smartphone. Liberia is using 38 national and community radio stations to teach its kids.

Elia El Habre and Devi Lockwood, Rest of World

Frogs

We’re all in agreement that poison dart frogs are absolutely rad animals, all brightly colored and hella poisonous, but it’s always important to know that things that are rad as hell in nature need to stay there. This moral center is ignored by the illegal pet trade, which fuels the trafficking of these critically endangered amphibians from where they live in Colombia — home to 850 species of amphibians and the second highest number of frogs — to collectors in rich countries, where the poison dart frogs can be worth $2,000 on the black market. To counter the poaching, researchers at Tesoros de Colombia are hatching a plan to flood the market with captivity-bred poison dart frogs, reducing the pressure on the delicate ecosystems by satiating the desires of the illicit market at cheaper prices. They got their first permit in 2011, gained several more by 2015, and today breed seven species of poisonous frog for export.

Peter Yeung, BBC

This week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Tim Wigmore who wrote The Best: How Elite Athletes Are Made, an excerpt of which was featured on the popular blog FiveThirtyEight. We spoke about why younger siblings are often better at sports than elder siblings, how birth order impacts athletic opportunities, and how where people are from can impact athletic development in surprising ways. I’ve briefly unlocked the interview if you want to read it, and be sure to check out the book. I read it and really enjoyed it.

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