Numlock News: June 2, 2020 • Dogs, Dams, Deliveries

By Walt Hickey


In 2019, carbon dioxide emissions grew 0.6 percent to hit a total of 36.8 gigatons. Given that 2020 has been… unique… and that there’s a significant amount of renewable power coming online, it may very well be possible that 2019 was a high water mark for carbon emissions. From 2010 to 2018, the annual average growth rate was 1 percent, down from the 3 percent annual average growth rate seen over the course of the previous decade. Granted, it’s understood that what will follow the “peak” is — absent significant investment and direct action — a stubborn plateau rather than a genuine decline.

Benjamin Storrow, E&E News

What Is It, Lassie?

A new paper published in PLOS One found that dogs will, in fact, rescue an owner in distress when they know how to do it, mostly. The study tried to find out what precisely was motivating the animals to rush to the aid of their captors. Out of 60 dogs in the study — their owners were placed in a large box where they pretended to be distressed, and dogs could rescue them by opening a small door — a total of 20 successfully rescued their owners. I realize that a 33 percent success rate doesn’t sound particularly great, but, in context, it’s good. The dogs were also tested on whether they could open the box when food was placed inside, and 19 succeeded at that, and worth noting 84 percent of those smart pups did manage to save their owner. The moral here is, yes, your dog will save you if you are in danger. Unless it’s too dumb to do that, in which case it will stare at the danger and act confused for quite some time, which will be deeply entertaining to you during your plight.

George Dvorsky, Gizmodo


Streaming is where the money is in the music business these days, with artists getting paid when music attributable to them gets a digital spin. The problem is that lots of the data underlying those song libraries have errors, and those errors can compound: mistakes with metadata are responsible for an estimated $250 million not going to the appropriate artists every year. The ability to manipulate metadata has been used by some unscrupulous artists to gain new fans and followers, say, by saying that a new song features Jay-Z when it in fact merely samples him. This is a disgrace, one that I sing about in my forthcoming mixtape The Caps Lock Sessions featuring Lil Jon, Wiz Khalifa, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, Pope Francis, Nicki Minaj, all surviving Monty Python members, Ariana Grande, one of the dead Monty Python members, and Jack Antonoff.

Peter Slattery, OneZero

Good Dams

West Africa’s 400 million inhabitants use something like 100 terawatt-hours per year, which is a fraction of the 4,000 terawatt-hours used in the U.S. However, by 2030 electricity demand in West Africa is projected to be 200 terawatt-hours, which is double the current level and a fourfold increase from 2015. So, where’s that coming from? Large hydroelectric facilities provide 20 percent of the region’s energy, and renewables are poised to play a big part, especially with increased solar production at the border of the Sahara, a notoriously sunny place. By combining hydro and solar — use the excess solar that otherwise can’t be used to pump water uphill, and then release it through a generation plant when it’s needed — large gravity batteries can be created to fuel the region’s electricity needs.

John Timmer, Ars Technica

Bad Dams

Speaking of dams, the U.S. is full of many of them that are busted and badly maintained and put thousands of lives at risk. Of the 91,000 dams in the United States, 15,500 could cause deaths in the event they failed. In 2025, 70 percent of the dams will be more than 50 years old, and right now 8,000 are over 90 years old. Repairing and upgrading dams in the U.S. would cost $70 billion, and to address the 700 dams owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers alone would cost $25 billion. Gosh, if only there were millions of people who needed billions of dollars in exchange for a critical job with government benefits.

Maya Wei-Haas, National Geographic

Faux Burgers

Nestlé has been ordered by the District Court of The Hague to discontinue selling its plant-based burger as the “Incredible Burger” following a suit from Impossible Foods, which claimed it infringed on trademarks related to its Impossible Burger. Nestlé is appealing the decision, but nevertheless purchased the necessary thesaurus to rename the pea protein burger as the Sensational Burger, at least in Europe. Plant-based meat-adjacent protein sales were just over $1 billion in the U.S. in the 52 weeks ending January 25. Though it was a fraction of the $96 billion spent over the period on proper meat, sales are growing much faster — 14 percent growth for the plant-based stuff, compared to just 0.8 percent for the traditional.

Saabira Chaudhuri, The Wall Street Journal


The U.S. Postal Service is doing an incredible job amid difficult conditions. Between April 19 and May 23, the USPS successfully delivered 89.5 percent of priority mail packages on time, up from 87.4 from March 1 to April 18. Among First Class packages, that level was 92.8 percent. Meanwhile, parcel volumes are through the roof, and due to the ongoing pandemic the workers are managing those numbers at something like a 74 percent staffing level. For comparison, FedEx Ground delivered 86.9 percent of packages on time from April 19 to May 23, and UPS hit 96.5 percent of business-to-consumer shipments on time. And while UPS is adding fees and FedEx is capping the items from some retailers, the USPS is managing despite the headwinds

Jennifer Smith, The Wall Street Journal

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