Numlock News: October 9, 2020 • WIMPs, Whales, Snacks

By Walt Hickey


In 2018, 115 people who had been homeless for at least six months and weren’t struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues were enrolled in a study by a Vancouver-based charity that saw 50 of them randomly chosen to receive a cash payment of $7,500 (CAD). The results of the study are seriously encouraging: after 12 months, those who got the money had moved into stable housing after an average of three months, compared to five months in the control group. The recipients of the cash spent 52 percent of it on food and rent, 15 percent on items like medication and bills, and 16 percent on clothes and transportation, and 70 percent of them were food secure within a month. Many who object to direct cash payments to people in need argue they may spend the money frivolously; to the contrary, spending on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs went down 39 percent on average. It costs $55,000 on average annually for social services for a homeless person in Canada, and the project saved the shelter system $405,000 over a year across all 50 participants.

Bridgette Watson, CBC

Weakly Interacting Massive Particles

Physicists are planning on trying to find once and for all the theorized weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) that are believed to be the best candidate for “dark matter.” Previous experiments to find the WIMPs failed, and now physicists want to build a last generation of detectors that would leave no subatomic stone unturned. Operations in the U.S., Italy and China will all be looking for interactions in supercooled vats of xenon, about 25 tonnes of it across all three. The most advanced of the efforts is the European push, which hopes to culminate with a €100-million to €150 million detector called DARWIN that will contain 10 times the amount of xenon as the 6-tonne XENONnT detector about to start this year. The rival international efforts may need to work together eventually, if only because the amount of xenon necessary to run one is enormous: DARWIN would need 50 tonnes of xenon, and Earth only makes 70 tonnes of xenon per year, with a kilogram of the stuff going for $2,500.

Elizabeth Gibney, Nature


While much of the economy is dealing with a serious downturn, remarkably other chunks are doing pretty much business as usual. One of these is McDonald’s, which reported an extremely normal 4.6 percent year-over-year increase in comparable sales for the month of September. Overall guest count was down, but thanks to larger group orders, the average check was up, and the September result is their best month in a decade. The second quarter was as disruptive for Mickey D’s as anyone else — they cut marketing spending by 70 percent! — but having kept that powder dry, they’ve been mounting a significant marketing comeback. Drive-thru was 90 percent of domestic business in their second quarter.

Danny Klein, QSR Magazine

Buckle Up

A new survey of international relations scholars across the U.S. and Europe found 57.4 percent anticipated there would be fewer democracies in the year 2025 compared to the 87 democracies that existed in the world at the end of 2019. About two-thirds thought that there would me more fragile states over the next several years, and 72 percent said that they anticipated more civil and political rights violations, though just 53 percent anticipated more physical integrity rights violations. On the other hand, just 27.8 percent anticipated more terrorism, so I guess we have that going for us.

Helen V. Milner, Susan Peterson, Ryan Powers, Michael J. Tierney and Erik Voeten, Foreign Policy


A new study out of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands had 512 participants follow a fixed path through a room where there were either eight samples of food or eight food-scented cotton balls in various different locations, basically a classic scavenger hunt situation. Four of the samples were high calorie — brownies and potato chips — and four were lower calorie — apples and cherry tomatoes — and so less desirable to someone whose mind is in their stomach. After sampling the items, participants were asked to locate each sample on a map, and lo-and-behold they were 30 percent more accurate at mapping the higher-calorie samples compared to the lesser ones, which is basically exactly how I behave in literally any mall’s food court. The researchers blame our ancestors, and, sure, let’s stick with that. My complete lack of culinary self-control is their fault entirely, let’s roll with that.

Bret Stetka, Scientific American


In 2011, there were three sightings of five whales in New York Harbor, according to Gotham Whale, which is either a New York City-based whale research organization or a Batman spin-off I need to read immediately. The good news is that the whales are back in the Big Apple, with 2019 seeing 300 observations of 500 whales. The reason for the cetecean gentrification — lots are juvenile humpbacks — is that the population of menhaden, a type of small schooling fish, has rebounded significantly, which whale-watchers attribute to cleaner water and better conservation laws. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to writing this treatment of Moby Dick that takes place entirely on the Staten Island Ferry. It contains an enormous amount of swears, at least 80 percent of the characters are named Anthony, and the whale that Ahab hates more than anything in the world is named de Blasio, you’re going to love it.

Patrick Whittle and Ted Shaffrey, The Associated Press


The amount of political news one consumes and one’s happiness are inversely related, with a Dutch study finding that on average for every additional hard news television program watched every week, the average well-being fell 6.1 percentage points. Another analysis of data from the 2014 General Social Survey found that after controlling for other demographic properties people who are “very interested in politics” were 8 percentage points more likely to be “not very happy” about life compared to people “not very interested” in politics. Anyway, have a great 25 days everybody!

Arthur C. Brooks, The Atlantic

Last Sunday for the subscriber special edition I interviewed Dylan Matthews, the Senior Correspondent who runs the Future Perfect section on Vox and hosts a podcast of the same name that just launched its brand-new season. The new season is a fascinating dive into how factory farming affects people, and it’s really good. Dylan can be found at Future Perfect and the podcast is available wherever you listen. I’m a big fan it’s worth checking out.

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