Numlock News: March 19, 2020 • Rocket Science, Cybersecurity, Puppies
By Walt Hickey
Up The Wolves
The U.S. population of Mexican gray wolves increased by 24 percent last year, a huge win for the conservation of the endangered species. The 163 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico is the highest level seen since 2014, and a significant rebound from the 131 counted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018. Of the 28 packs being monitored, 21 had pups last spring, and the survival rates were up across the board at 58 percent last year compared the typical 50 percent average.
Despite large swathes of the working world winding down and beginning a work-from-home isolation period, not every job can do that. In New York City, that applies especially to construction, which hasn’t missed a beat. There are over 6,800 active construction sites across New York that collectively employ tens of thousands of people. A shut down in construction — as the retail industry has effectively shut down across much of the city — could further exacerbate an already dire economic situation, though local officials are weighing rules that could force some sites to shut down. Listen, it wouldn’t be the first time I emerged from my apartment soaked in alcohol and thinking the city looks completely different from what I remembered.
Walk It Off
For the first time since records were kept, the cities of Helsinki and Oslo each recorded zero pedestrian deaths in the entirety of 2019. By comparison, in cities like London dozens of pedestrians are struck and killed annually. The Nordic capitols’ successes are thanks to a dedicated campaign to reduce the superfluous use of cars in their cities. Oslo increased its tolls by 70 percent, which coincided with a 6 percent decrease in traffic, while parking charges increased by 50 percent in downtown Oslo and thousands of spaces were removed for 35 miles of cycling lanes.
According to Verizon’s analysis of their own fiber optic and wireless networks, during peak hour usage video gaming data was up 75 percent week over week, by far the biggest shift to occur as many of their customers drastically change their lifestyles. By comparison, VPN usage (perhaps to access work networks) was up by 34 percent, web traffic was up 20 percent in the peak hour and video demand was up 12 percent. Video games have emerged as an oasis for many. Steam, a PC gaming platform, saw 20 million people logged in at the same time on Sunday — a new record — with 6.4 million actively playing a game. Twitch, the game streaming site, saw a 10 percent surge in viewership, and gaming communities app Discord, as well as XBox Live and Nintendo’s networks, have been buckling under the load.
The U.S. healthcare system may be sleeping on the advantages of using copper plating in its equipment, with clinical trials demonstrating that copper is really effective at killing bacteria and better at destroying viruses than the stainless steel and plastic that dominate surface materials. This isn’t exactly a new discovery — people in trades that entailed copper often skirted the worst when plagues rolled through back in the day — but a 2012 trial in three hospitals show this may be an idea whose time has come. Enveloping high contact area — bed rails, buttons, tray tables — and equipment in copper reduced microbes by 83 percent, and the infections people caught in those hospitals decreased 58 percent, despite only 10 percent of the surface area getting coppered. A later study found the cost savings of rolling out the copper to be considerable: Installing copper on 10 percent of surfaces cost $52,000 and prevented 14 infections over 338 days. The cost of treating one such infection cost between $28,400 to $33,800 per patient, so even at the low end you’re looking at a savings of $397,600.
Necurs was once the scourge of the internet, a mercenary botnet that hijacked 9 million computers over its reign, training them to fire off spam and push out ransomware and do whatever top dollar wanted them to do. Microsoft has wanted to wipe Necurs out for ages, and over the past eight years has worked to destroy it. A single infected computer can send 3.8 million spam emails to 40.6 million possible victims over 58 days, per their research. Necurs is actually 11 different botnets, four of which control 95 percent of the infected computers. The botnet runs by creating 2,048 potential command-and-control domains every four days, which helps it to stay versatile and hard to eliminate. But Microsoft cracked the algorithm it used to make the new domains, identified the 6,144,000 domains it’ll use over the next 25 months, and then called in the feds to block their registration.
A new report published earlier this week put the total price of developing and building a mobile launch tower for NASA at upwards of $927 million. Originally, the development cost for the Ares I rocket launch tower was $234 million. If you don’t know that one, it’s because they cancelled that rocket in 2010, prompting a $693 million redesign and modification of their extremely special mobile launch tower for the new Space Launch System rocket. That teardown and renovation was originally supposed to cost $54 million, but the government was really, really bad at contracts and the contractor apparently was really aware of that information. Good news is that NASA now needs a second, larger mobile launcher to accommodate the Block 1B version of the SLS, which will cost $383 million by March 2023. Jeez, Numlock really needs to get some skin in the game on the rocket launcher business.
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