Numlock News: September 15, 2023 • Antarctica, Namibia, Max
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend! Thanks to everyone who has preordered my upcoming book. The numbers have been really encouraging and I’m so happy so many of you are excited to get your hands on it. It looks like I might be able to announce the tour schedule sometime next week! If you haven’t yet, preorder it today; early preorders are really important in convincing retailers that a book is worth stocking and promoting, and as a result when you preorder you’re really helping me out.
A new study finds that the art produced by prehistoric hunter-gatherers in Namibia is pretty damn good, with the new study finding that the carvings of animal tracks and illustrations of animals are very, very accurate, even for species that rarely visit that area. Looking at 513 engravings at the Doro! Nawas site, modern Namibian trackers were able to confidently identify tracks that belonged to 39 different kinds of animals, including rhinoceroses, warthogs, zebras, blue wildebeest, bush pigs and open-billed storks. In over 90 percent of cases, the trackers were able to identify not just the species of the animal footprint that the ancient artists were attempting to replicate in the engraving, but also the sex, approximate age, and even which leg the track was from. As for the types of animals, the artists most seemed to prefer giraffes.
The National Science Foundation has pulled the rug out from under dozens of Antarctic research projects for the 2023-24 austral summer, cancelling or curtailing 67 out of the 131 projects executed by the world-class United States Antarctic Program. Its core issue is a housing shortage, as the pandemic caused major delays in a $500 million renovation project at McMurdo, which houses 1,200 people at its peak. Handling the logistics for the Antarctica work is government contractor Leidos, which has collected $2.7 billion since 2016 under a logistical support contract. A new 285-bed dormitory under construction is scheduled to be ready for the 2025-26 season, three years later than hoped.
Lots of schools rely on Chromebooks for their students, but there are a number of issues with the Chromebook business model that make the computers liable to generate e-waste. One issue is that each Chromebook is essentially a time bomb, as regardless of if they work Google will simply stop maintaining them after eight years. Yesterday, following pressure to allow more utility for late-life Chromebooks, Google announced that for any machine released 2021 or later, that expiration date will instead be 10 years of automatic updates before the devices are bricked.
A new study from the Pew Research Center tracked the perception of open marriages among people, finding that overall 50 percent of respondents found them to be unacceptable, 33 percent acceptable, and 16 percent neither. There are a few trends — the older the respondent, the more likely they are to consider open marriages unacceptable — but the broad contours hold among most basic demographics, and are essentially even among men and women. Respondents who are married or respondents who are divorced, separated or widowed were more likely to hold unfavorable views of open marriages compared to respondents who live with a partner, or have never been married. The most significant outlier demographic: 75 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people think an open marriage is acceptable, and just 13 percent think it’s unacceptable.
A new analysis of the cancellation of television shows over the past three years found that the streaming service Max had the highest show mortality rate, hitting 26.9 percent over the period of study. That’s more than double the 12.2 percent cancellation rate seen amid streaming services overall. Beyond the bloodbath at Max, other streaming services with an above average rate of cancellation include Disney+ (21.1 percent), Paramount+ (16.9 percent) and Hulu (15.2 percent). The streamers with the lowest rate of cancellation are, incidentally, the ones that are not owned by a studio but rather the ones owned by a colossal and fabulously wealthy technology corporation: Amazon’s Prime Video (9 percent) and Apple TV+ (4.9 percent).
China’s AI development industry is powered by underpaid interns from vocational schools, a new investigation detailed. One data company manager said that 60 percent of the annotators employed by his company — the people tasked with lending their human intelligence to AI training programs by tagging, describing and annotating images and text from large data sets — were vocational school students putting in eight-hour days, six days a week, for months on end, paid the equivalent of $409 to $545 per month of which $82 to $136 is kicked back to the school. One researcher who investigated the industry’s treatment of student workers from 2018 to 2019 found that in some cases they were paid by the amount of data they processed: 0.2 yuan (3 cents) per bounding box added to an image.
A new study published in Lancet Planetary Health argues that lead exposure remains a massive, dangerous, and economically destructive issue the world over, particularly in developing countries. The researchers estimated that 5.5 million people per year die prematurely due to lead exposure, which imposes a social cost of $6 trillion per year worldwide. A large nonprofit that examines global lead contamination conducted a survey of products from low- and middle-income countries, and found high levels of lead in 52 percent of metal foodware, in 41 percent of house paints, and in 13 percent of toys.
I hope everyone enjoyed the Numlock Sunday interview with Justin McElroy as much as I did. Over the course of the fall, I’m going to try to share some more of these with the full readership, mostly as a chance to show folks what they’re missing out on in the hopes you consider upgrading to a paid subscription. Let me know if there are any future guests you’d like to hear from, or if there’s any guest or kind of article that might be the thing that you’d like to see to subscribe.
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.