Numlock News: September 4, 2020 • Dynamite, Reactors, Testing

By Walt Hickey

Numlock is off Monday in observation of Labor Day! Paying subscribers will still get a (particularly good) Sunday edition, and everyone else will get an email tomorrow with a few unlocked interviews for the long weekend. Don’t forget I’m doing that steep discount for this week and next week alone, and enjoy the weekend.

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The conference industry grew to a $1.1 trillion behemoth with a simple idea: what if when people had to hang out for work they could do it in a place that was not objectively miserable? From that notion arose a hospitality ecosystem that right now has been pretty much wiped off the map, with everything — travel restrictions, remote offices, large event bans, a recession — conspiring to annihilate this business seemingly specifically. The future of conferences will have to adapt, as digital solutions may satisfy the core mission — talk about work in groups — but distinctively lacks the key appeal of actually going to them, namely, hanging out with cool people and getting drunk in a strange city on company dime.

Chris Stokel-Walker, BBC

Teach to the Test

A number of schools use the Edgenuity online platform for learning virtually, which uses an AI to score assignments. The bad news is it appears that the AI is incredibly easy to fool in some situations, simply looking for appearances of a number of keywords rather than anything related to the comprehension and coherence of the answers. So, by spamming a few words into the textbox, students are able to ace the tests by guessing the magic word rather than writing. There are 20,000 schools that use the platform, including 20 of the 25 largest school districts in the United States. I think the solution here is pretty obvious: algorithm fix better training nlp test exam quiz fortnite copy text search 100 help. Yeah, one of those should be the answer. Another 100 percent Numlock, great job.

Monica Chin, The Verge


K-pop superstars BTS have become simply pop superstars BTS, releasing their first single to get serious radio play, and rocketing to the top of the U.S. charts that structurally don’t favor songs by artists who sing in another language. The single, “Dynamite,” has original English lyrics and grew to 101.1 million views within 24 hours, the highest ever for a music video on YouTube. But it’s the radio play that’s new: BTS’ Korean-language hits like “Boy With Luv” and “ON.” did not see the radio play that the songs would be expected to see given their streaming and sales performance, and given that FM spins are a factor in calculating the Hot 100 they had a harder time getting to No. 1.

Lenika Cruz, The Atlantic


A new study published in Scientific Reports details that the prevailing view on male adolescent elephant behavior — that they were loners, leaving their mother’s herd between the ages of 10 and 20 and then living a life alone — is probably wrong, and that the young male elephants are hardly anti-social and often form some looser, ragtag groups. Based on photos of 1,264 sightings of male African Savannah elephants in 2017 and 2018, the younger males rarely traveled alone and often traveled in groups led by an older male, basically using the tried-and-true “rude teenagers skulking around malls” social structure.

Christina Larson, The Associated Press

New Guinea Singing Dog

A unique dog found in New Guinea that was long believed to be extinct in the wild has been rediscovered thanks to a DNA analysis of samples collected by a particularly daring field researcher. After braving the highlands of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea to get photographs, the researcher obtained DNA samples from two trapped wild dogs that were compared to the captive singing dogs, which found that about 72 percent of their genes were held in common. Were further dogs captured, they could increase the genetic variation of the captive animals, but it would also be interesting as a missing piece of the puzzle in terms of the timeline of the domestication of dogs.

James Gorman, The New York Times

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Nuclear Power

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has approved plans for 12 small commercial nuclear reactors to be constructed by NuScale Power for the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems in Idaho. These small reactors are considered to be the future of nuclear electrical generation: they produce 60 megawatts of energy, have new safety features like self-cooling and automatic shutdown, and can bring power to areas that otherwise could not sustain a large nuclear plant. There are now 95 commercial nuclear reactors in the U.S., and they provide about 20 percent of the energy in the country. The Department of Energy has invested over $400 million developing small modular reactors, and the first will be installed in 2029.

Keith Ridler, The Associated Press

Heat Wave

Thursday, there were 45 million people in the U.S. who were under excessive heat watches or warnings, and this weekend that number is projected to be 50 million. This weekend over a hundred record highs may be set across the country, and Death Valley is forecasting temperatures of 125 degrees Fahrenheit for the four consecutive days from Friday to Monday. Out of 3,240 September days since 1911, just nine saw Death Valley hit a temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Allison Chinchar and Monica Garrett, CNN

This past Sunday subscriber special, I spoke to Peter Fairley who wrote “How a Plan to Save the Power System Disappeared” for The Atlantic and InvestigateWest. We spoke about what’s wrong with the North American power grid, what happened when some Department of Energy researchers discovered a key way to improve it, and how politics killed that improvement. Peter can be found at his website and on Twitter at @pfairley.

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