Numlock News: October 10, 2023 • Heists, Schemes, Point Nemo
By Walt Hickey
Later today expect an exclusive sneak preview of my book, You Are What You Watch, which is out exactly two weeks from today!
In August, Florida law enforcement arrested five people as part of a sprawling investigation into organized criminal operations that authorities allege paid people to steal things from Home Depot and then would go on to fence and sell those items on eBay. The alleged middleman, a pastor in St. Petersburg, Florida, has pleaded not guilty. According to the government, a seven-month investigation has led them to suspect a widespread scam involving many people, who were paid by the alleged fence anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per day — though later dropped to $600 to $2,000 per day depending on performance — to steal lots of stuff from Home Depot. That stuff would be then brought to the alleged fence’s home, where through an eBay account going by “Anointed Liquidator” they would conduct 10,500 in sales from January 2020 through May 2023, netting $1.5 million. This also spotlights the role that online peer-to-peer sales sites have in the modern fencing ecosystem: eBay’s internal team reviews over 500 account every year that are thought to be fencing operations, but given the 1.9 billion listings they’re likely missing some. The “Anointed Liquidator” account was even flagged internally in 2017, and it wasn’t until Home Depot started investigating the Tampa store’s large shrink that it got advanced.
Bats in Churches
The United Kingdom used to have a lot of bats, but now it doesn’t anymore, but it does have a lot of churches, and the bats that it does have love the churches. Hence, a Heritage Fund grant of £5 million for the Bats in Churches scheme that began in 2019 to work with churches and communities to help ensure that the religious facilities and the creatures in the rafters are getting along alright. So far, 753 churches have been surveyed, and they’ve found 12 of the country’s 18 species of bats dwelling within them, which is important because the bats have been in decline and are now protected by law. It’s gotten to the point that churches are now a major source of information about bat populations, and some churches are home to rare species of bat, like the grey long-eared bat that is down to about 1,000 animals.
From 1971 to 2018, over 263 space objects have been deorbited and made to crash into a remote region of the ocean in the vicinity of Point Nemo, which is a point 2,688 kilometers away from the nearest land and, ergo, habitation. Nobody really gets out there much, and it’s not an important waypoint for fishing or shipping, so if you’re going to crash a hundred tonnes of space junk somewhere on the planet it’s a pretty ideal place in which to do it. That’s why 140 Russian resupply vehicles, six Japanese transfer vehicles, five Esa vehicles, the Mir space station, and more have all come crashing down there. One interesting element of that? It’ll be an incredibly interesting place for archaeologists to visit at some point, as it’s likely that whatever didn’t burn up or disintegrate on contact is going to be maintained in pretty decent shape at the bottom.
Under a new law in Texas, school districts must automatically enroll any sixth grader who scores in the top 40 percent of the state standardized math test into advanced math courses. They can opt out if they choose to, but this replaces the previous system where teacher and counselor recommendations largely defined who gets to advanced math. It’s particularly a big deal because already in the Dallas school district, the share of Latino sixth graders enrolled in honors math has jumped from one-third to 60 percent, among Black sixth graders it jumped from 17 percent to 43 percent, and among white students it’s up from half to 82 percent. The fear has long been that Black and Latino students were being deprived of an opportunity to take a math course they could handle; one analysis of the top quintile of math scorers found that while 90 percent of Asian and 70 percent of white students in the top fifth were in Algebra 1, the same could be said of only 50 percent of Latino and 35 percent of Black students who made the top quintile.
According to the Amtrak Improvement Act of 1973, passenger rail is supposed to be priority over freight trains when dispatching trains. In reality, nope, the freight rail companies don’t actually do that, Amtrak is the second banana here, and it has some serious ramifications for rail service. Amtrak is allowed to file complaints with the Surface Transportation Board if, because of that lack of priority, on-time performance drops below 80 percent for six months. Indeed, last year 32 of the 39 services Amtrak operates failed that test. The Amtrak Cascades route had some of the worst performance this year, and in March and April the on-time performance was just 40 percent.
Netflix’s plan to crack down on passwords really began in March of 2022 and in Latin America, and a big reason for that was that Latin America was a huge center of password sales and login credentials on places like MercadoLibre, Facebook and AliExpress. Since the crackdown, the volume of the listings of those login credentials is down 51 percent since October 2022 across an analysis of over 1 million marketplace posts mentioning Netflix.
It’s the first couple weeks of the NFL season, and just like in every year there have been a few major and incredibly distressing injuries that horrified fans and players alike. And again just like every year, some of these injuries happened when the game was played on turf, which has a reputation for being a more injury-prone playing surface than grass. Data does bear this out: One analysis of 53 studies published from 1972 to 2020 found that foot and ankle injuries happen at a higher rate on turf compared to grass, while knee and hip injuries are similar on both surfaces. A study of 4,801 NFL foot and leg injuries from 2012 to 2016 found that there were 16 percent more injuries per play on turf compared to grass — including 20 percent more non-contact injuries per play, which can be especially gnarly — and if every game was on grass there would have been 319 fewer foot and leg injuries.
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