Numlock News: March 23, 2020 • Sea Butterflies, Supercomputers, Sunscreen

By Walt Hickey

Welcome back!


Sales of marijuana popped to enormous heights last week, with the March 16 sales of recreational cannabis up 159 percent year-over-year in California, up 100 percent in Washington state and up 46 percent in Colorado, according to analytics tracker Headset. That’s less an influx of new buyers and more people stocking up for periods of isolation, a situation where marijuana can really be considered a performance-enhancing drug. Washington's consumers spent $33.70 per weed purchase, up 22 percent over the prior week. Retailer orders were up 48 percent as dispensaries tried to restock to meet demand. According to Weedmaps, edible orders were up 18 percent while the flowers, which are smoked, saw orders fall 21 percent.

Kristine Owram, Bloomberg


IBM and the federal government are offering up access to 16 supercomputing systems to researchers who want to use that computing power to advance coronavirus-related research projects. All told the systems have 265 petaflops of computing capacity, 775,000 processing unit cores, and 34,000 graphics processing units between them. Researchers at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently used IBM’s Summit supercomputer to analyze 8,000 compounds to find 77 molecules of interest, and AI researchers are analyzing a dataset of 29,000 articles of scholarly literature about the bug.

Sara Castellanos, The Wall Street Journal


A Soyuz rocket with a payload of 34 OneWeb spacecraft blasted off Saturday, bringing the total number of satellites in their constellation to 74. The goal is 650 satellites that will make internet access available to users in a number of northern latitudes with the eventual goal of a global expansion, an ambitious plan that is competing with SpaceX’s Starlink system and a proposal from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for another, rival system. The complete constellation has a target of Q4 2021, but the company is in a cash crunch and is mulling bankruptcy protection as a way to continue the work.

Jonathan Amos, BBC

Dropping Acid

Since 1997, scientists have been tracking the acid levels in the Beaufort Sea, which is the arctic expanse north of Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. In 2006, a distressing tipping point happened, where the water became corrosive to shells. In the fjords of the Beaufort Sea, now 70 percent of sea butterflies — a small, oddly adorable swimming snail — have weakened shells. When water is acidified, it makes it harder for animals to access the calcium carbonate that they use to build shells, and they often must expend more energy to do so than they otherwise would need to. Melting sea ice lowers calcium concentrate levels further by diluting it out.

Erin McKittrick, Hakai Magazine


Compared to the same week last year, the week ending March 14 saw sales of aerosol disinfectants up 518.9 percent compared to last year and sales of rubbing alcohol up 277 percent, but dig a little deeper into the Nielsen data and there are some surprises beyond the usual suspects. Apples and bananas were up 19.8 percent and 16.6 percent respectively, and dried beans were up 230.5 percent, rice up 166 percent, and tuna up 142 percent. I hope you people bought some Sazón Goya or garlic or this is going to be a pretty bland quarantine. What’s down is also interesting: perfume sales dropped 17.7 percent, sunscreen dipped 17 percent, and vegetable party platters were down 7.4 percent, because nobody is trying to impress anyone anymore.

Camila Domonoske, NPR


A Morning Consult poll asked adults what they’ve been watching over the past few weeks, finding that people are turning more to the movies and television shows they’ve seen many times before, with 29 percent (highest in the set) saying that’s what they’ve been watching lately. Fully 22 percent of people are watching more movies that “make me feel nostalgic,” another 19 percent are watching more animation. Meanwhile, 13 percent of people just want to marinate in it, so they’re watching more movies that “feature a disaster situation.” I’m just going to interpret these results as “everyone’s also watching a whole lot of Miyazaki” and assume I’m behaving normally here.

Sarah Shevenock, Morning Consult


The World Council of Churches and the Hartford Institute for Religion Research put the estimate at the number of houses of worship and congregations in the United States at 350,000, about 50 percent of which have 65 regular attendees or fewer. This has been a challenging time for churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and the like with mandatory caps on the number of people who can congregate at a given time necessarily putting a bit of a damper on the “congregation.” It’s especially an issue for the many religious groups that have average ages in the 60s and 70s, as those faithful are a little less likely to have the resources or know-how to plug into a Zoom call for church.

Ray A. Smith, The Wall Street Journal

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