Numlock News: July 16, 2021 • Unexplained Seeds, Bamboozled Birds, House of Lords

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


Remember that weird couple of months when a bunch of people got random seeds in the mail from China and lots of folks freaked out? It’s weird that that was only like the tenth-wildest story from 2020, and yet here we are. The USDA has attempted to gather the seeds up — nefarious or not, it’s poor form to import unknown off-book flora — so the seeds were collected by states and sent along to one of 13 federal facilities where government botanists tried to figure out their deal. So far, out of 19,841 unexplained seed packages collected by the USDA as of June, they’ve identified 560 different species. The reason for the odd deliveries was either people ordering seeds that were delayed by months and forgetting they did that, or brushing scams, where retailers on online platforms were trying to arbitrarily inflate their ratings on the platforms on the backs of small purchases like seeds.

Chris Heath, The Atlantic

Bamboozled Birds

Lots of bird populations are at risk due to habitat destruction, deforestation and wildfires in historical nesting areas. Given that they’re not really known to crash zoning board meetings, birds don’t know that the areas they want to live in are doomed to timber harvesting, so researchers would like to find ways to get birds to nest in places where it’s safe. New studies have found ways to trick the birds into doing this by playing off the birds’ social ambitions, with one recent experiment in Oregon convincing marbled murrelets to nest away from threatened forests by piping in artificial recordings of marbled murrelets into the desired areas. Over 60 species of seabirds have been lured to different breeding grounds in this way before, and now they know it works with the murrelets: they played back recordings in 14 locations not slated for logging but otherwise unoccupied in 2016. Within a year, those locations had four times as much nesting activity compared to un-bamboozled tracts of forest.

Carolyn Cowan, Hakai Magazine


A new investigation into the financial interests of members of the British House of Lords found 54 financial interests from 42 peers that may have breached disclosure rules. These are holdings that appear to be either investment firms based in offshore tax havens, unidentified shells or holding companies, and stakes in financial concerns that they failed to declare involvement in. Wait, so you’re telling me there may be some corruption in the British aristocracy? Shocked, I tell you, positively shocked.

Martin Williams, openDemocracy

Child Tax Credit

Earlier this year, Congress expanded the Child Tax Credit, giving families $3,000 for kids aged six to 17 and $3,600 for kids under six. Furthermore, it’s no longer just an annual lump sum around tax time: the money will now hit bank accounts in monthly increments of $250 to $300 per kid per month. The payments began yesterday and will go to 88 percent of American families with children, and the backers hope that the payments could cut the child poverty rate from 13.6 to 7.5 percent, a 45 percent reduction.

Chabeli Carrazana, The 19th


India’s food delivery sector is estimated to be worth $4.2 billion, and about two-thirds of that goes to app-based aggregators, predominantly rivals Zomato and Swiggy. That’s a big slice of the pie in a wildly expanding market, one poised to be worth $8 billion by 2022. Zomato is going public this week in a $1.3 billion IPO and wants an $8.6 billion valuation. Naturally, because this is a vastly valuable tech unicorn in the delivery space, it’s just as ridiculously unprofitable as its American gig delivery counterparts: they posted a loss of $16 million in 2018, then a loss of $145 million in 2019, and a loss of $322 million in 2020. Nice work if you can get it!

Nilesh Christopher, Rest of World


A new report in June recommended NASA adopts a maximum career-long exposure limit of 600 millisieverts for its astronauts, who are exposed to radiation when they leave the cozy confines of Earth’s atmosphere. That limit would keep astronauts below a 3 percent risk of cancer mortality owing to radiation exposure. That’s reasonable right now, as every current astronaut at NASA has received exposure to less than that jaunting to the International Space Station. The Moon and Mars are different: while a stay on the lunar surface for six months would rack up 200 millisieverts of exposure, an entire multi-year voyage to Mars and back could expose astronauts to over 1,000 millisieverts. In practice, this likely means any Martian explorers get to sign a morbid little pre-flight waiver.

Ramin Skibba, Scientific American


In 2019, streaming was responsible for $11.2 billion of the $20 billion reaped by the music industry, but artists aren’t seeing a lot of that revenue. A survey of 1,327 musicians in the United Kingdom found that 92 percent of them said they made less than 5 percent of their income from streaming. Most of their funds come from live performances, which obviously took a substantial hit in the past year. Musical artists in the U.K. earned an average of £23,059 ($31,963) in 2018.

Samanth Subramanian, Quartz

This past weekend in the Sunday edition, I spoke to the wonderful Chris Ingraham who wrote “Vaxxed, vibing, and totally thriving” for The Why Axis, his newly launched indie publication. I dropped the paywall for this one, you should check the interview out, we spoke about why the national mood perked up and his new venture, of which I am already a big fan. Ingraham can be found at The Why Axis and on Twitter.

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