Numlock News: June 18, 2020 • Canadian Wine, Cretaceous Eggs, Rhino Horns

By Walt Hickey


A letter written by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin to their French colleague Emile Bernard in late 1888 has sold at auction for €210,600. The letter was written just weeks before the breakdown that somewhat notoriously left Van Gogh down an ear, and was heretofore the most significant known document written by the painter that remained in private hands. Later this year the letter will go on display in Amsterdam at the Van Gogh Museum, where visitors will get to read a note detailing two dudes getting rowdy in a new town, how they rented an apartment, how they hung out in brothels and how maybe they would go there to work and paint. Anyway, great news for artists currently in their dissolute youth, save those drunk texts they might be worth something someday.



The road to becoming a globally renowned wine region is a fraught one, and any newer contender trying to play with the big guys needs to be scrappy, tasty, and figure out the brand. This is the challenge for British Columbia, a steadily growing wine region that is endeavoring to put Canadian wine on the map. B.C. has over 280 wineries and sales are up twentyfold in the past two decades, with producers making 25 million liters of wine each year. All told, the province’s wine industry is worth $2.8 billion. But up-and-coming wine regions are legion: in the ‘80s only 35 countries could boast of wine production, but now it’s twice that, and worldwide sales will hit $423 billion by the end of 2023. Canada’s got spirit here — the country is the fifth-largest wine importer in the world — but developing a global niche, such as Australia and Argentina have accomplished, is critical, and first up you need to shore up fans at home. California’s Napa is a global player in no small part due to the fact that 61 percent of wine consumed in the States is from there.

Ellen Himelfarb, The Walrus


A fossilized object approximately 11 by 7 inches that looked to be a roughed-up football has been determined to be the largest soft-shelled egg ever, and it’s not even particularly close. The 66 million year old object — from the tail end of the Cretaceous — is the second largest egg ever discovered, trailing only the hard-shelled egg of the now also extinct elephant bird of Madagascar. Fossils of soft-shelled eggs — not unlike those laid by lizards today — are incredibly rare.

Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR


The size of Botswana’s rhino population is top secret, as any additional public information about the critically endangered mammals could aid poachers. Back in 2014, there were 153 white rhinos in the wild, and a further 87 rhinos were introduced from South Africa last year. However, the government has said that at least 56 of the animals were killed by poachers in the past two years, with their horns smuggled east where they’re valued as medicinal. This has led authorities to take the unfortunate but necessary step of removing the horns of its rhinos and moving them away from their habitat in the Okavango Delta as a last-ditch attempt to protect them. Removing the horn — the animals are anesthetized and the horn is removed with a chainsaw — renders the animals useless to hunters.

Pauline Bax, Bloomberg


Spotify, which has become one of the top distributors of music in the world, knows a thing or two about history and has evidently looked at the graveyard of other companies that were once the top distributors of music in the world. Sensing that the music business is a perilous one, they’ve spent oodles expanding into podcasts, buying Gimlet, Anchor, Parcast, and The Ringer, as well as signing the Obamas and Joe Rogan to their platform. These moves have steadily made a difference: the company said in April that 19 percent of their monthly active users listened to podcasts on the service, up from 16 percent the previous quarter. Tuesday, the company announced yet another top-flight signing in Kim Kardashian West, who will exclusively podcast for Spotify and launch a criminal-justice podcast. A Kardashian cashing in on a legal drama? Well, who could have ever guessed such a thing?

Kerry Flynn, CNN Business

Business School

M.B.A. programs in the United States admit a disconcertingly small number of Black people, a crucial bottleneck to African-Americans attempting to get access to U.S. C-suites. Just 4.1 percent of U.S. chief executives and just 7.8 percent of people in management occupations in 2019 were Black, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. One cause? Since 2009, the percentage of GMAT exams taken by Black students has been flat at 8 percent, and Black students account for less than 10 percent of B-school enrollment on average nationally. Black students at Harvard Business School have remained only around 5 percent of the total enrollment for three decades. A U.S. Department of Education study found a larger share of white master’s degree students got grant aid from employers compared to Black or Hispanic students. Top programs can have a sticker price near $200,000, and schools — such as the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley — are angling to raise funding for scholarships, at Berkeley by 63 percent.

Patrick Thomas, The Wall Street Journal

Electric Vehicles

The electrical grid is generally considered to be useful and good, and great lengths are gone to in order to make sure it continues to function uninterrupted. Cybersecurity is a major focus for the companies that distribute electricity, and a future in which many cars refuel by drawing electricity rather than by using gasoline is one in which a lot of small, potentially hackable devices have direct access to large amounts of power. While half of passenger vehicles sold by 2040 are projected to be EV, the large commercial trucks will be the first to adapt to it. The power level to charge one of those on the road is 200 kilowatts or higher, which is a not-inconsiderable amount of power. A nightmare scenario would be someone hacking a lot of truck chargers, switching them on and off quickly — load cycling — and inducing a power outage. It’s a lot easier to hack a gas station terminal than a power command center. Before we get to that point, right now, a team at Sandia National Laboratories is trying to find ways to prevent that kind of attack on the grid. Listen, the current system is “haul around billions of gallons of volatile explosive liquids,” we can find a way to beat that.

Christian Vasquez, E&E News

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