Numlock News: July 31, 2020 • De-Aged, Mamma Mia!, Turtles

By Walt Hickey

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New research from the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology found that the use of a mask that covers the face and the nose caused a massive spike in the error rate of 89 facial recognition algorithms. For the best algorithms, the failure rate can be as low as 0.3 percent, but that rose to 5 percent in the case of the top algorithms and anywhere from 20 percent to 50 percent for otherwise decent ones. Black masks were most likely to cause the errors compared to blue masks, and the more that your nose is covered the worse they are. As a result, my many enemies will have to rely on alternative means to identify me, such as my awkward, clumsy gait, my gigantic Irish head, the fact that I speak very loudly and am in no way discreet, or by the credit cards I forget at bars, the fact that I have a sticker from my place of business on my laptop, my extremely easy password hints, or by my frequent tweets about my current locations.

James Vincent, The Verge


Ambitious acolytes have awoken ancient life that lurked beneath the waves for millions of generations in a risky ceremony that has never been attempted so long as mankind has dwelt the earth, according to a new paper published in Nature Communications. The team of scientists extracted clay samples from sediment as deep as 5,700 meters below sea level in the South Pacific Gyre, adding simple compounds to feed the samples for up to 557 days and then trying to find if there was any life to be found. Normally there are over 100,000 cells per cubic centimeter of sea mud, but in the sediments from the 101.5 million-year-old layer there were no more than 1,000 cells. Thanks to the added nutrients, they got those up to 1 million cells per cubic centimeter. The previous record for reinvigorated ancient bacteria was 15 million years.

Elizabeth Pennisi, Science Magazine

Young Age Crawling Hatchling Turtles

Sea turtles lay their eggs in beaches in Florida, Mexico, the Caribbean and other parts of the southeastern U.S. from March through November, depositing an average of 110 eggs in holes in the sand. About 60 days later, the hatchlings arise, and they instinctively make a dash across the sand to the ocean. Well, that’s not entirely right: they instinctively crawl to the brightest area on the horizon, which for the vast majority of the existence of sea turtles was usually the ocean reflecting the sun, stars or moon. Not anymore though: the advent of artificial lights confuses baby turtles, who will wander in the opposite direction towards land, dooming many to predation, death, or a life in the sewers where they can be exposed to mutagenic chemicals, adopted by a rat, and trained in the martial arts. In 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recorded 2,689 reports of such disorientation events, which is a low-end estimate given most are not reported. Thus, it’s likely there are hundreds of thousands of hatchlings led astray in Florida alone every year. All that needs to be done to prevent the events is to shield the lights or switch to lower wattage LED lights.

Annemarie Mannion, Hakai Magazine


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. reported global meat production at 339 million tons in 2019, which was a hair down from the 341 million observed in 2018. The group estimates that the 2020 level will come in at 333 million, a plateau after decades of steady, reliable growth: meat production worldwide rose from 70 million tons in 1961 to 236 million tons by 2001. The FAO tracks production of 18 meats — wild game, camel, and guinea fowl among them — but 302 million tons of the 2018 production was just three beasties: pork, chicken, and beef.

Nathaniel Bullard, Bloomberg

The Show Can’t Go On

Every year thousands of schools participate in a survey from the Educational Theater Association to determine larger, national trends in high school plays. This year, 85 percent of the 3,300 high schools surveyed had to cancel performances, which is not only incredibly disappointing but also financially perilous as high school theater programs are not exactly known for enormous budgets and constant cash flow. They typically rely on spring’s box office to pay for fall’s production budget, and so on. Half of the schools said that the losses from cancelled shows will mean cutbacks for next year’s programming. The most popular play in 2020 was Clue followed by Almost, Maine, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter and the Starcatcher and Radium Girls. The most popular high school musical was The Addams Family followed by Mamma Mia!, Beauty and the Beast, Into the Woods and The Little Mermaid.

Elissa Nadworny, NPR

Swing, Batter Batter

Baseball is back, and there’s less of it than ever. Besides the 60-game season — well, the conceptual 60 game season, after a number of outbreaks it’s hardly certain that all teams will get to all 60 games — the league-wide batting average is just .229 as of Wednesday’s games, down from .252 last year. That, if anything, understates the slip, as this year the National League adopted designated hitters. The all-time low for batters league-wide was 1968, when the batting average was .237. As it stands, 24 percent of the 6,000 plate appearances so far have ended in a strikeout this year, up from the 22.4 percent in 2019. Still, in terms of “things that can go badly on a baseball field,” a strikeout is barely in the top five anymore.

Jake Seiner, The Associated Press


U.S. gross domestic product fell to $17.2 trillion in the second quarter of 2020, a 9.5 percent drop and $1.8 trillion decline. That period covers the April, May and June period that saw enormous swathes of the country shut down and people remaining in their homes in many places. That’s the largest drop on record, with the only comparable events being the Great Depression and post-World War II demobilization, both of which precede the use of modern economic stats. For comparison, during the Great Recession GDP fell 4 percent total, and over the course of 18 months.

Ben Casselman, The New York Times

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