Numlock News: July 20, 2018

By Walt Hickey

Have an excellent weekend and thanks for reading!


Washington, D.C. is embarking on a first-of-its-kind $1.5 million program to count every cat that lives in the District of Columbia. Cats can have a destructive impact on local wildlife like birds and can carry diseases that are dangerous to humans. The initiative — which will count domesticated cats, feral cats, and presumably the enormous populations of amoral K-Street fat cats — will rely on as many as 60 camera traps to identify the felines.

Christian Caron, The New York Times

One Town

Two men have purchased the abandoned western ghost town of Cerro Gordo for $1.4 million. The town averaged a murder a week in the 1870s and includes a number of houses, a store and a church. They plan to spend about $1 million to restore the town while “preserving its past.” It is unclear how that is enough money to build HBO-quality robots that guests can interact, fight or sleep with, but I’m sure they’ve already figured that part out.

Melissa Gomez, The New York Times

Tons Of Gold Bullion On A Sunken Ship

The Russian Imperial cruiser Dmitrii Donskoi sank 113 years ago a mile off the coast of a South Korean island, and it’s believed to contain 200 tons of gold worth $130 billion. A Korean savalge team has found the lost ship, which was scuttled with what’s believed to be 5,500 boxes of gold to ensure it didn’t fall into the hands of the Japanese Navy. If proved to be the case, half the recovered treasure would go to Russia, 10 percent will go to tourism projects, and presumably the rest would go into some treasure hunter’s bath tub so they can swim around in it Scrooge McDuck-like.

Holly Ellyatt, CNBC

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Best Buys

Best Buy, despite being a big-box electronic store that sells a suite of products widely available online, is inexplicably not only “not dead” but oddly enough thriving. Their online sales are up to 16 percent of sales, well above other big box retailers and up from 7 percent in 2012. Part of this is leveraging their ample brick-and-mortar shops against Amazon for expensive purchases, but another part of this is a solid position as the Checkpoint Charlie of the technology business. They’ve negotiated to be the host to a number of stores-within-a-store for Samsung and Microsoft, and giving space to Google and even, yes, Amazon. It’s cheaper to pay rent to Best Buy than kickstart their own stores.

Susan Berfield, Matthew Boyle, Bloomberg Businessweek

Pawned Stuff

You can learn a lot about a place based on what they pawn when they’re running low on change. Broadly speaking, according to an online service that connects sellers to brokers, 30.9 percent of pawn requests nationwide are for electronics, 9.4 percent are for antiques or collectibles, and 8.1 percent are for tools or equipment. That’s followed by luxury goods: 8 percent for designer clothes and handbags, 5 percent for jewelry, and just shy of 4 percent for luxury watches. And while guns make up only 2.5 percent of requests, they’re disproportionately pawned by men (76 percent of requests) and in a few states that you can definitely guess if you close your eyes and think about America.


Chinese Homes

The Chinese housing market is enormous and depending on how you cut it this sole market accounts for 3 to 4 percent of global GDP. In the first quarter of this year, only 30.8 percent of homes were a buyer’s first home, with the rest being a second, a third or so on homes. Ten years ago, 70.3 percent of homes were buyer’s sole property. The same data shows that this is because people are investing in Chinese real estate for investment reasons, with 50.2 percent of the housing in the first quarter bought as an investment rather than a home to live in or part of a move. That’s up from a meek 19 percent toward investment properties in 2008.

Jamie Powell, The Financial Times

Ebola Vaccine Trials

The last person known to be infected with Ebola in an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had recovered as of June 12, beginning a 42-day Ebola-free clock before an official declaration that the outbreak is over. One question is whether or not a vaccine trial that had no control group actually did have an effect. Workers gave the experimental vaccine to 1,530 people in Iboko, 893 people in Mbandaka, 779 in Bikoro and 107 people in Ingende who were potentially exposed to Ebola. So far none contracted the disease, but the nature of the trial — no control group who may have been exposed but were not vaccinated — means that we won’t get any hard conclusions from this episode.

John Cohen, Science Magazine

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