Numlock News: December 4, 2020 • Dune, Daphnia, Deck The Halls

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


A few months ago there were no sports on television channels that cost a lot of money to subscribe to that had previously aired a whole lot of sports. Even when eventually there were some sports, the abridged nature of the packages and slimmed-down nature of the offerings had many wondering why they were paying a ton of money for sports that were, at the time, impossible. Well, the insurance has kicked in, the RSN fees are tallied, and the rebate is in: pay television providers will rebate something like $1.1 billion back to customers that had paid for regional sports networks. Charter has said it’ll credit $218 million back to its customers, Verizon has notified its customers a rebate is incoming, and AT&T has said a courtesy adjustment is coming if people were paying for sports from April to July. This isn’t going to be colossal — the average Charter subscriber will get $14 — but it’s something.

Scott Moritz and Gerry Smith, Bloomberg

Well, Crap

As the finances make large numbers of individual oil wells fiscally untenable and threaten the balance sheets of the companies that now maintain them, an ongoing crisis of abandoned oil and gas wells is poised to get a lot worse. In Oklahoma, the agency that regulates the oil and gas business has a list of 12,000 “orphaned” wells, or holes in the ground that have been abandoned by an owner who may very well not exist, or no longer possess the money to plug it. Plugging that to-do list is not exactly making a lot of headway — wells can continue to leak methane despite no longer producing oil, which is environmentally devastating — and right now, the state just has 800 plugging projects open. Last year, it plugged a mere 138 abandoned wells, so it’s going badly. Across the country there were 50,000 wells on cleanup lists in 2018, and the true estimated figure for abandoned wells is between 200,000 and 750,000. Including idle wells, the count is about 2.1 million.

Emily Pontecorvo, Grist


Warner Bros. announced its intentions for film releases in 2021, shattering the norms and typical distribution practices of the movie business and firing a shot across the bow of movie theaters. The deal sees movies releasing directly to sibling streamer HBO Max for 31 days as the films are released in U.S. cinemas, following which they’ll exit the streaming platform and go to video on demand and DVD. While it’s billed as a one-year plan and executives insist it’s not intended to continue into 2022, it’s an aggressive move against the struggling exhibition business. To get the cinemas on board, they’re offering them 60 percent of ticket revenue rather than the typical split for the 17 films slated in 2021. At least you’ll be able to watch the film Dune the same way we all read the book Dune, alone in our bedrooms on a Friday night while avoiding making plans to meet up and do things with other people.

Rebecca Rubin and Matt Donnelly, Variety

Deck The Halls

Sales of Christmas and holiday decorations are up substantially this year as people prepare for scaled-back holidays where they spend more of the time in the lead up in their own homes than out and about. A holiday merchant at Ace Hardware said holiday lighting sales are up 45 percent year over year, wreath and garland sales are up 42 percent, and its online sales are up about 30 percent for the year. That it’s incredibly Instagrammable doesn’t exactly hurt either. Listen, the last time I had a serious holiday light installation in my own apartment was in college and it remained up until June.

Jolie Kerr, Vox


There are about 100 species of freshwater Daphnia, which are tiny little crustaceans that eat algae and form the bottom part of the animal bit of the food chain — fundamental organisms in the health of lakes. There is an issue in the Great Lakes region, though, as the Daphnia are dying out, hunted to death by the invasive spiny water flea, a half-inch long crustacean with a barbed tail from Lake Ladoga in Russia. It hitched a ride in the ballast water of ships in European ports that was later discharged in the St. Lawrence River, making it to Lake Ontario in the 1980s and by ‘87 hitting Lake Superior. As a result, populations of the indigenous plankton in Minnesota’s lakes is down by as much as 60 percent, which in turn has affected fish populations.

Tim Folger, National Geographic


In the American West, you’re never too far from a fence. A new study estimated that at any given point, the nearest distance to any fence is usually less than 31 miles, and on average is roughly 2 miles. It’s estimated that the global length of fencing on Earth is 10 times the length of roads. Fences have unexpected impacts on ecology. For example, migrating pronghorn antelope have difficulty navigating the fences crisscrossing once traversable expanses, and fences that have long since outlived their usefulness have similar effects despite their vestigial use for landowners. Indeed, there is a serious issue for some species with “ghost fences,” which are when you remove a fence that has existed in a place for a long time but species continue on for generations avoiding a place because there used to be a fence there, because animals are weird and we kind of broke them with fences.

Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu, The Conversation


Many jerks enjoy installing non-standard exhaust pipes on diesel vehicles to make extra pollution for fun, a subculture known as rolling coal. According to the EPA Air Enforcement Division, an estimated 550,000 medium trucks have had their emissions controls deliberately removed entirely over the past decade, which is something like 15 percent of the class 2b and class 3 diesel trucks on the road. The report indicates that 570,000 tons of excess NOx and 5,000 tons of excess diesel particulates are emitted over the life of the noncompliant trucks, which is roughly equivalent to what 9 million normal diesel pickup trucks would do. Approximately 18.6 percent of the diesel trucks in North Dakota have been tampered with in this manner, according to the EPA.

Jonathan M. Gitlin, Ars Technica

This past Sunday, I spoke to Kim Bhasin of Bloomberg News who was reporting live on the ground on a bleaker Black Friday. Kim can be found at Bloomberg News, in Bloomberg Businessweek Magazine, and Bloomberg TV. He’s on Twitter at @KimBhasin.

We’ve got three great interviews coming to round out 2020, thanks so much to all the paid subscribers for supporting the newsletter. There’s also going to be a neat little bonus this year for those subscribers since there’s two Sundays between Christmas and New Year’s when I usually take off. Today’s the last day to nab a discount in 2020 if you want in!

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