Numlock News: January 8, 2021 • Moon Water, Stellar Winds, YA Novels

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend! Everyone gets the Sunday edition this weekend, it’s with my friend Alex Davies who published a great book during a rough week.

Land

An auction of Arctic drilling rights on Wednesday for access to 553,000 acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge netted a paltry $14.4 million. Only three entities placed bids on 11 leases, none of them major oil companies: Knik Arm Services LLC and Regenerate Alaska Inc, two small firms, and a state-owned Alaskan economic development corporation. The reason for the incredibly small amounts is that the forthcoming Biden administration is positioned to permanently protect the refuge, which would mean while the companies would have the lease to drill, they wouldn’t be able to get the permits to.

Jennifer A Dlouhy, Bloomberg

Bugfinder

Toshiba and Waseda University have developed a tool called HTfinder designed to locate barely-visible spy chips implanted into semiconductors, a serious point of concern for governments and companies seeking to keep hold of information security and close backdoors. The tool takes about two weeks to work, and an analysis of a product is projected to cost 2 million yen ($19,444). Do you know of any large institutional or government computers that may be at risk of a security intrusion? Why, this seems like just the service for them.

Yoichiro Hiroi, Nikkei Asian Review

Gold

India is one of the largest global consumers of gold, buying 700 tons annually, with an estimated 25,000 tons of gold stockpiled by Indian citizens, a value three times the reserves of gold held by the U.S. government. Gold is frequently given to female babies as a gift and included later as part of their dowries, but it’s also an incredibly useful asset in terms of gaining access to credit by using it as collateral. Manappuram Finance, a large lender, offers gold-backed loans, and customers such as independent business owners and farmers on average borrow $612 several times per year, with under 1 percent defaulting. The two largest gold lenders in India hold 248 tons of it, which is more than Australia has in reserve. Those gold-backed loans are now going digital, with startups like Rupeek offering that credit through an app.

Nilesh Christopher, Rest of World

Star

Scientists using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton space telescope have announced they found a star that is really weird looking, according to a new paper published in Astronomy & Astrophysics. The star, with the catchy and memorable name of IRAS 00500+6713, is potentially a new type, formed from the merger of two white dwarfs, which are the dense remains of dead suns. Normally when that happens you get a 1a supernova, which destroys the system, yet IRAS 00500+6713 still exists, consisting of a super-hot star lousy with oxygen and carbon and surrounded by a nebula, with stellar winds of 10,000 miles per second.

George Dvorsky, Gizmodo, Lidia M. Oskinova, Vasilii V. Gvaramadze, Götz Gräfener, Norbert Langer and Helge Todt, Astonomy & Astrophysics

.gov

Less than 10 percent of U.S. local governments that are eligible to use a .gov URL actually are registered as a .gov. The domain is only allowed to be used by official government sources and is overseen by the General Services Administration, but many official municipalities are still using .com and .org like the rest of us unofficial schmucks. However, the omnibus legislation package passed at the end of last year will transfer the program overseeing .gov from the GSA to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is under Homeland Security, and will involve a renewed federal push to get cities to switch, including granting them the ability to waive fees for .gov services. The annual fee for a .gov address is $400, which is a barrier for smaller communities, especially when a .com is a small fraction of that. Thanks for reading Numlock, a staid and respected news brand that can be found at FunkyNewsletter.biz.

Bill Lucia, Route Fifty

Books

Sales of print books were up 8.2 percent in 2020 year-over-year, according to NPD BookScan, with 750.9 million books sold. That’s up from 693.7 million in 2019, and is a solid performance, especially giving the tumultuous spring market. Books for children and young adults saw sales explode: in nonfiction — a staple of attempting to learn from a place that is not a school — juvenile sales were up 23.1 percent and young adult nonfiction was up 38.3 percent, and on the fiction side, the juvenile segment was up 11 percent and YA was up 21.4 percent. Adults bought more books too — nonfiction was up 4.8 percent and fiction was up 6 percent — but clearly no one will be going to Pizza Hut at the end of the school year if you know what I mean.

Jim Milliot, Publishers Weekly

Lunar Water

The moon’s going to be pretty busy in the next couple of years, with eight spacecraft from five countries poised to touch down on the surface of the moon in the next three years. Several of those missions are aiming at the poles, and will attempt to study the frozen water in craters there. However, many of the same researchers excited to study the water are worried about all the other researchers trying to study the water who might ruin some of the water by trying to study it. Many don't want to dig too much for water lest they disturb a scientific record. Contamination of lunar ice is a problem because rocket exhaust releases water. If traffic’s heavy that could actually present a meaningful issue: a simulation of a medium-sized lander near the pole found that the water released by a rocket would spread around the moon, with 30 percent to 40 percent remaining after two lunar days, which is two months on Earth.

Alexandra Witze, Nature

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