Numlock News: January 20, 2021 • Argo, Eve, Hippopotamuses

By Walt Hickey


Wattpad, originally an e-reading app that’s since become an incredibly popular platform for original works, was recently acquired by Korean conglomerate Naver, best known as the owners of the Webtoon comics platform for $600 million. The tie-up forms a company operating hugely popular platforms for amateur but incredibly popular stories, a body of work that is promising in terms of adaptations and intellectual property. Wattpad has 90 million people visit per month, hosts a billion stories and has users who spend 22 billion minutes per month reading it. By the same count, Webtoons averaged 67 million monthly users as of last summer.

Connie Loizos, TechCrunch and Julia Alexander, The Verge

Heat Of The Moment

Investments in geothermal energy companies hit $675 million last year, which was six times the investments in 2019. The one major geothermal energy company on public markets — Ormat — saw its market cap pop 80 percent since last March, one indication that investors, and most notably petroleum companies, are testing out geothermal as a promising energy source. In previous geothermal experiments in the ‘70s and ‘80s, oil and gas companies had difficulty making the economics work, with most wells turning up nothing. Decades later, nobody is better at drilling holes in the ground and finding what they’re looking for than the modern shale oil sector, as seen by the fact that while one in 10 shale wells were profitable in the ‘90s, today over 90 percent are. Now, traditional oil and gas companies are kicking the tires on geothermal startups, with substantial investment announcements reportedly coming up later this month.

Michael J. Coren, Quartz


Famous cocaine salesman Pablo Escobar’s legacy in Colombia extends to a thriving population of hippopotamuses that have made the Magdalena river basin their home. Escobar brought one male and three females to a private zoo at his ranch — in blatant violation of every lesson of Jurassic Park I might add — and needless to say they’ve adapted incredibly well to the climate according to a new study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers believe there are over 80 hippos in the region today, up from 35 in 2012, a distressing statistic for the local government that is attempting to castrate and sterilize some of the megafauna. One solution, to just cull them, is attractive to some, but the problem there is that the survival of the species is under threat in Africa, and so it’s never an easy conversation to have about slaughtering a vulnerable species just because it’s on the wrong continent.

Jack Guy, CNN


The College Board announced it’s phasing out both the essay portion of the SAT and SAT subject tests, and will encourage people who want to take a standardized test about a specific topic to just bite the bullet and take an AP test. The College Board has long been detested by students and parents, but it seems admissions officials are finally catching on that maybe they’re a bit of a menace. The SAT represents a considerable chunk of the College Board’s $1 billion annual revenue, and tweaks to the product — including a rollout of a digital version to come sometime — are a big deal for the Big Test. On the other hand, over 1,000 colleges and universities have dropped testing requirements, and many are using the pandemic to assess for themselves whether the SAT isn’t making the grade. Making this timing more interesting is the incredibly influential University of California Board of Regents meeting this week, when they will weigh a recommendation to eliminate standardized testing permanently from admissions requirements to the largest university system in the country.

Teresa Watanabe, The Los Angeles Times, and Kate Taylor, The New York Times


The data-gathering devices that fuel weather forecasts have been bit-by-bit going off-line, as the technicians who replace or fix them have been unable to embark on the voyages necessary to keep the devices online. A regional network of 12 instruments off the coast of Great Britain had, by June, fallen to seven remaining in service. The team managed to drop eight buoys out to sea over the summer to bolster the network, but around the world the systems that power weather models are faltering. Argo is a sensor array of thousands of floating devices that can submerge themselves to get measurements at various depths, reporting millions of observations a year to the World Meteorological Organization to be disseminated worldwide. The number of Argo devices in operation is down 10 percent, and the decline in research vessels at sea means that they can’t replace the 60 per month they typically do.

Chris Baraniuk, Hakai Magazine


China’s digital economy generated 35.8 trillion yuan ($5.52 trillion) of revenue in 2019, which was roughly 36 percent of the country’s GDP. Now, China is looking for ways to tax its colossal online e-commerce industry, kicking the tires on a number of digital taxes. Keeping up with the rapidly evolving digital scene — for instance, in 2019 the amount of merchandise volume sold by livestreaming events tripled to $56.5 billion — is poised to be a challenge. Currently, tax in China is based on place of business registration or operations, and there are 18 different types of taxes.

Cheng Siwei, Yu Hairong, Zhang Erchi, and Denise Jia, Caixin


Eve Online is an enormous space-faring massive multiplayer online game with legendary mass battles. One previous battle gathered 5,000 individual players attempting to fight, and another one saw a record 6,500 fighters in a large, costly space battle. A week ago, another one of those enormous space battles began, and attracted so much interest from players that the game began to break down: with 35,000 people online that day, about 35 percent, or 12,000 players, were trying to enter a single system, a space armada that the heretofore undefeated Eve server racks was unable to handle. What that looks like in-game means that what would have been a pitched naval fight turned into something like a siege, with a glitch trapping half of a fleet inside the battlefield and an uneasy standoff resulting.

Charlie Hall, Polygon

Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.

The best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends. Go to to claim some free merch when you invite someone.

Send links to me on Twitter at @WaltHickey or email me with numbers, tips, or feedback at Send corrections or typos to the copy desk at

Check out the Numlock Book Club and Numlock award season supplement.

2021 Sunday subscriber editions: The Nib · Driven

2020 Sunday editions: 2020 · Sibling Rivalries · Crosswords · Bleak Friday · Prop 22 · NCAA · Guitars

Fumble Dimension · Parametric Press · The Mouse · Subprime Attention Crisis · Factory Farms · Streaming Summer · Dynamite · One Billion Americans · Defector · Seams of the Grid · Bodies of Work · Working in Public · Rest of World
Worst Quarter ·Larger Than Life · Streaming · Wildlife Crime · Climate Solutions · Blue Skies · UV
2020 Sunday Edition Archive
2019 Sunday Edition Archive
2018 Sunday Edition Archive