Numlock News: March 30, 2022 • Loose Flamingo, Crypto Heist, French Polynesia
By Walt Hickey
Seventeen years ago, two flamingos escaped from Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, during a severe storm in June of 2005. The birds had not yet had their wings clipped, and seeing an opportunity to stage a jailbreak in the middle of a storm, they took it and have been on the lam since. On Tuesday, Texas Parks and Wildlife confirmed that a flamingo caught on video near Port Lavaca, Texas, was indeed the missing Flamingo No. 492. This particular fugitive has been spotted all over the county on the run from the fuzz, including sightings in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Texas. The other bird has never been seen again, but I hear that Zihuatanejo is lovely this time of year, and there’s a little hotel right on the beach with a worthless old boat the owner lovingly restored, and I hear that the owner, who is a flamingo, might even take you out charter fishing on the Pacific if you ask nicely.
Barnes & Noble
Bookselling is a good business yet again, and the last big-box book shop standing in the U.S., Barnes & Noble, is changing course and expanding once again. The company had at one point said it would reduce its footprint to 450 stores by January of this year, but lo and behold the bookseller entered into 2022 with 625 locations. They plan to add an additional 20 to 25 stores this year. It’s also not just the giants: With book sales up 13 percent due to the pandemic, at least 172 new independent book stores opened in 2021.
Tawny crazy ants are an invasive species that’s been outcompeting the local wildlife, and not just ants; they’re causing declines in scorpions, snakes and lizards, are literally driving birds from their nests and swarming large mammals like cattle, and they’re attracted to electrical equipment and can cause shorts. So far 27 Texas counties are reporting infestations, and the pesticides and ant bait traps on the market are ineffective. This naturally leads some to the classic solution to invasive species: Find a separate invasive species that will eat it and see if we can’t make lemonade out of these invasive lemons. The local fauna wasn’t up to it: Crazy ants can survive exposure to fire ant venom 98 percent of the time, and if humankind is weighing an alliance with fire ants you know we’re in deep. However, a new study found one thing that’s killing crazy ants: a new type of microspordia parasite called M. nylanderiae first found in a colony in Florida. Every infected population declined, and 62 percent of the affected Tawny crazy ant populations were wiped out entirely.
About two-thirds of the population of French Polynesia live on Tahiti, with the rest living on 65 other inhabited islands. It’s a market opportunity for locals who want to offer internet deliveries where the typical players like Alibaba and Amazon don’t see a market. There are about 40 different courier startups across French Polynesia that facilitate the speedy transportation of online orders across the islands, with one particularly established delivery startup, HM Coursier Express, using a cargo ship to supply 17 atolls in the archipelago with online deliveries, for a flat rate of 1,500 francs ($14) per order. From 2017 to 2020, the number of internet users who made an online purchase weekly in French Polynesia jumped from 5 percent to 10 percent, and in the outer islands that rose from 1 percent to 9 percent.
Oat production in the U.S. crashed last year, with harvested acreage down to a record low of 650,000 acres and overall oat production down 39 percent compared to 2020. Canada, a major exporter of oats to the U.S., also had a miserable year, with the smallest crop since 2010. This is a crushing supply constraint for plant-based milks like Oatly, which is citing rising costs of materials and potential supply headwinds as causes of price hikes. Depending on the region, Oatly’s costs of oats are up 8 percent to 50 percent.
Axie Infinity is a crypto-based game, where people play it and perform mindless tasks in order to farm digital currency. Because the transaction volume is so high in the game, the publisher Sky Mavis set up Ronin Network, a side-chain that users can put real money into and then translate it into in-game crypto. If I’m losing you with this, hold tight, because the main news here is that one person managed to hijack five validators of the list and then steal $625 million in USDC and ether cryptocurrencies, one of the largest ever if not the largest ever crypto hack. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear if “steal” is the right word here, as the individual who fleeced Axie’s blockchain for all its worth was doing so because it appears that when the organizational code that defined the permissions of the validators ended in December, the organizer simply didn’t remove the allow list part of the contract, and so everything that the person did is arguably completely within the rights of the majority shareholder of the DAO. Anyway, lots of people — particularly in places like the Philippines — were attempting to use Axie as their primary way of earning money, and the losses for the bagholders may be considerable.
Drive My Car
On Sunday at the Oscars, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film Drive My Car won Best International Feature, in addition to scoring nominations but not wins in both Best Picture and Best Direction. The film is set at an inn, Kangetsu-an Shintoyo on the island of Osakishimojima in Hiroshima with a great view of the Inland Sea. The movie’s been a huge hit for tourism: Last summer the Hiroshima Film Commission published a map of shooting locations, a map viewed 200,000 times as of mid-January and, following the announcement of all the nominations for Drive My Car, 740,000 views as of last week. The area’s already booked 10 bus tour reservations in April alone, and locals are hoping for a boost in tourism as travel rebounds from the pandemic.
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