Numlock News: November 6, 2020 • Magnetars, Minks, Maneuvers

By Walt Hickey

Have a great weekend!


Bitcoin is a digital currency built on blockchain technology that allows its users to remain completely anonymous, which one would think would make it perfect for buying things like drugs and hitmen. One group, Silk Road, carried out this ingenious plan until it was shut down in 2013 by an extremely mad U.S. government, which has generally frowned upon drugs and hitmen. In the wake of the crackdown on Silk Road, lots of the money remained in inaccessible bitcoin wallets, which leads us to the second thing about Bitcoin which is that while it may be anonymous, it’s also completely transparent and traceable. This week, one of the wallets associated with the criminal consortium — the fourth-richest Bitcoin address, period — had 69,370 bitcoins moved to another account, an amount of digital currency worth about a billion dollars. The problem for the owners of the newly boosted BTC is that since it’s an irrevocable ledger, it’s incredibly difficult to fence.

Cristina Criddle, BBC


T-Mobile agreed to pay a $200 million fine that will conclude an investigation into the time Sprint admitted to taking millions of dollars in government money to give cell phone service to poor people who it was not, in fact, giving cell phone service to. Sprint, which has since merged with T-Mobile, admitted last year that it took money from the Lifeline program — which gives $9.25 per household in subsidies to companies to offer discount telecom service to low income households — when it should have unenrolled people who had dropped out of it. The FCC found that 885,000 subscribers — 30 percent of Sprint’s Lifeline users and literally like 10 percent of the entire Lifeline program — were not actually using the phones and should have been unenrolled.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica


Minks, which are raised for their fur around much of the world, are, like several other mammals, able to catch coronaviruses from humans. That’s the bad news. The worse news is that 207 fur farms in Denmark are home to minks that tested positive for the coronavirus, that one, the one everyone’s been on about for the past few months. The even worse news is that the nation’s public health authority found that the virus can then circulate between minks and humans, and worse still, the virus has mutated in the minks. Half of the 783 human cases in the north of the country are related to the minks’ mutant coronavirus. That’s extremely bad, as if this strain gets around it may be sufficiently mutated to undermine the efficacy of a future vaccine. In light of this, Denmark isn’t screwing around, and will kill every one of the 15 million mink in the country’s 1,200 fur farms as a precautionary step.

Dina Fine Maron, National Geographic


Some of the lifestyle changes induced by the pandemic may very well be permanent, and one of those is that people increasingly like having their groceries delivered and to accommodate that new preference, grocery stores are rolling out precious, dedicated, permanent floor spaces to their delivery operations. In August, online grocery sales were up 74 percent year over year according to Nielsen. Until they get a chance to invest in it, grocers are relying on apps that eat into margins in an industry known for slim margins. Deliveries add about $8 per order to costs while the pickup areas being installed in many Kroger, Albertson’s and Ahold Delhaize locations save serious dough.

Jaewon Kang, The Wall Street Journal

Right to Repair

Massachusetts Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent approval, and it requires car manufacturers to let owners of their vehicles access the data of their vehicles, expanding a 2012 “right to repair” law. This lets owners and the independent mechanics they hire access the wirelessly transmitted data sent from their cars to a remote server, a resource that automakers use to push buyers toward repair and maintenance services that they provide or have some sort of interest in. With cars becoming more and more sophisticated, down the line, it’s easy to envision that were that data to remain proprietary, car manufacturers could develop a stranglehold on the mechanic market and drive independents out. The new measure will give users access to this data via an app and require manufacturers to install an open data platform.

Adi Robertson, Vox


NASA has taken the unconventional step of weighing in on a proposed constellation of satellites put forth to the FCC by AST & Science, asking the FCC to not allow them to do what they want to do. The company has raised $120 million and wants to build a constellation of 243 satellites at an altitude of 750 kilometers. NASA thinks this is a terrible idea because the satellites — basically cell towers in space — would be big (about 900 square meters) and in a busy part of space (that region of orbit makes avoiding collisions a constant effort). By NASA’s math — and I, for one, trust them on this — a 243 satellite constellation would require 1,500 mitigation actions (when you move the satellite) per year, to the tune of four maneuvers per day. I consider myself an independent, driven person who can make a goal and work hard to achieve it, but like if NASA wrote a letter asking me to stop doing anything I would never do it again.

Eric Berger, Ars Technica


Magnetars — which I checked, not one of the new Pokémon, you’re welcome — are a unique type of star that a new set of four studies published in Nature attribute as the source of a heretofore unknown cosmological phenomenon called fast radio bursts. These are powerful radio bursts that have been seen coming from outside the Milky Way, and back in April a weaker burst was observed within the galaxy by two separate telescopes. It’s the first fast radio burst traced to a source, which in this case was a dense neutron star 32,000 light-years away. The type of star — the magnetar — has a colossal magnetic field and about a dozen exist in the galaxy. The burst contained the same amount of energy the sun produces in one month, but generally aren’t dangerous to us.

Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

This week in the Numlock Sunday interview I wanted to do something a little different and reached out to one of my absolute favorite internet creators, Kofie Yeboah of SB Nation, to talk about his work. I watch everything that Kofie puts out there pretty much immediately, and he’s one of my favorite creators on the internet. His stuff is statty, it’s fun, and it looks great. Kofie can be found at Secret Base, on TwitterInstagram and the stuff on his personal channel is pretty great too. He also has a newsletter with weekly music recommendations, I subscribe.

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