A star pitcher is resurrected from the Hall of Flame. A Hellmouth swallows the state of Utah. Crows descend on Tastykake Stadium, pecking slugger Jessica Telephone out of a peanut shell. This is Blaseball, the absurdist baseball simulator that captured the most delightfully wacky corners of the internet when it launched in summer 2020.
Developed by indie studio The Game Band, Blaseball arrived at a moment of global isolation and fear. So, naturally, swaths of extremely online gamers with lots of anxiety and too much time on their hands welcomed the distraction and developed an expansive, collaborative fan community. There’s an international grunge band with dozens of members; an hour-long, original rock opera about sibling sacrifice; a Blaseball News Network posting in-depth splorts analysis (yes, Blaseball is a splort); a data analytics and research society; Houston Spies fans hosting workshops about unions; and of course, thousands of fanfics.
The Game Band also developed Where Cards Fall, a more “traditional” puzzle game on PC and Nintendo Switch, but Blaseball is more of a role-playing game with randomized elements than a video game. The Internet Blaseball League’s teams, like the Charleston Shoe Thieves, Ohio Worms or Canada Moist Talkers, face off against each other in text-based, simulated baseball-like games. But passively watching these updates isn’t the fun part — its communing with fans to impact the course of the season. You participate by betting on games with in-game currency, voting in weekly elections that allow fans to dictate the plot of the game or helping your favorite team renovate their stadium (Go Philly Pies!). One stadium modification, for example, is “Ball Pit,” which declares that “Every Foul Ball hit in this Ballpark will be 5 times as Foul.”
The game garnered 1.75 million hits in August 2020, its first full month online. Within a month, web traffic nearly doubled. It’s been more than two years since Blaseball’s explosive debut, but inside The Game Band, the game’s instant success posed an insurmountable challenge to the small, under-resourced studio.
“We were like five or six people when we first started making Blaseball,” said Sam Rosenthal, founder and creative director of The Game Band. “Talk about unsustainable. We made this as a quick and dirty prototype that blew up.”
As Blaseball inches closer to its long-awaited return, we talked to the team behind the game about how they plan to turn a viral hit into a viable business.
After ample beta testing and experiments to figure out how to keep up with their unexpectedly popular game, Blaseball went on a long hiatus (a “siesta”) in summer 2021, spare for some short tests. In the time since, The Game Band raised a $3 million seed round for Blaseball, allowing the project to increase its staff size five times over. The studio, now remote, finally has a fully built-out tech team, bringing in Jesse Raccio as director of engineering.
“Now, we’re actually writing style documents, which is unheard of for Blaseball,” joked game design lead Joel Clark. “Back in the day, it was literally just three of us in a call.”
Raccio joined The Game Band in August 2021, just as the second era of Blaseball, known as the Expansion Era, was ending.
“Blaseball was on my radar for a while, but I wouldn’t have considered myself a super fan. I definitely didn’t understand what I was getting into,” Raccio told TechCrunch. “Onboarding was like… that was quite the experience, with my first two weeks being the last two weeks of the Expansion Era, when everything was imploding.” Blaseball concluded the Expansion Era, as well as the game’s beta phase, by nullifying the existing story line and absorbing the league into a Black Hole. It was a plot-relevant excuse for the game developers to scrap everything and start from scratch.
The studio then hired a team of four full-time community managers, who also work on quality assurance. Many of these new hires — both in fan-facing roles and in engineering — joined The Game Band from the Blaseball fandom itself.
It’s taken Blaseball’s expanded team more than a year to revamp the game, which they’ve rebuilt from the ground up.
“We’ve redone everything essentially, from the core simulation that powers the game to the entire user interface of Blaseball,” Rosenthal told TechCrunch. “It is built in a way that allows us to be as fast as we were previously, but now on three different platforms, since the mobile app is coming out on iOS and Android.”
It wouldn’t be Blaseball if rebuilding the game didn’t come with its own flavor of chaos, though.
“Sometimes our tech standups go for 45 minutes, because we’re all just riffing over some beautiful thing that happened in the sim that broke in such a gorgeous way that we’re just gushing over it,” said Raccio. In recent internal tests, the team ran into a bug that caused games to spiral into perpetual extra innings, since neither team could get on base and score a run. “Every day, the engineering team would get more and more excited about the fact that this game was never ending. And we’d start to post logs of what was going on in the sim, and it just turned into multiple days of pure wackiness.”
These simulated games should usually last under an hour each, so a three-day-long game wouldn’t cut it in a live run of Blaseball. But this isn’t all too out of the ordinary in a game where you can score “unruns,” which give you negative points. And let’s not get started on fractional runs, which can generate final scores like 10.7 to 2.5.
Blaseball resembles baseball, but with a lot more chaos and… death (players can get incinerated — believe it or not, Blaseball is actually a horror game). But it’s also just pure fun. At one point, fans could modify a favorite team’s stadium by adding a “secret base.” If you can run to first base or second base, why not a secret base? In practice, this stadium upgrade let runners on second base randomly slip into the secret base, then, later in the game, they could unexpectedly reemerge, putting pressure on the opposing team’s pitcher. Also, those pitchers are named things like PolkaDot Patterson, Nerd Pacheco and Jaylen Hotdogfingers, because why not.
“And on the opposite side, right now, the games are going into triple digits — it’s like 126 to 85,” Clark said.
These simulation errors might be funny internally, but now that Blaseball actually has a tech team, The Game Band hopes that fans won’t find too many glitches to exploit, as they did in the game’s beginning. Some of the most iconic moments in Blaseball stemmed from technical errors that resulted from the game’s unexpected popularity, which overzealous fans turned into plot points.
Within Blaseball’s first month on the web, some sneaky fans hacked into the game — it was a prototype, remember? — and figured out how to give themselves unlimited peanuts, a form of in-game currency. It was almost like fans were quality assurance testing the game in real time, only the product had already been shipped. This offense may have broken the game, so Blaseball stopped game play and threw a giant, evil peanut up on the site, admonishing the thieves for committing Peanut Fraud and practicing bad “splortsmanship.”
But Blaseball folded this incident into the plot, and from then on, the main antagonist of that first era of Blaseball — the Discipline Era — was a frightening peanut known as the Shelled One.
Clark still wants fans to interact with Blaseball however they see fit, ideally without breaking the game and overturning an entire peanut economy. Now that The Game Band has right-sized itself, these hacks should ideally happen less often.
“How can we anticipate how this will break, and how can we build to plan around this more, to be ready to capitalize on things going in that direction?” asked Clark. “Now that we have a tech team, we probably won’t have infinite peanuts anymore… but I’m sure there’s going to be something that [fans] find.”
Blaseball moved so fast, even fans got burnt out
By the end of the Discipline Era, the great Shelled One had been appeased, and The Game Band took several months off to regroup and prepare for the next era of their unlikely hit. So many new features were added to the game — weather conditions like Jazz and Glitter, a school of salmon knocking players to another realm and a concession stand run by a giant talking squid — that it became hard for fans to keep up. In the real world, it was March 2021, and fans’ lives were getting a bit more busy than they were during the height of lockdown.
Even for casual fans, the game became difficult to follow. And for the fandom creators who made the game’s community feel so special, Blaseball started to feel more like a commitment than a source of joy.
When Blaseball returned for its Expansion Era, Beck Barnes co-created the podcast This Week in Blaseball with gaming journalist Giovanni Colantonio, but found it nearly impossible to recap everything that happened in each season of Blaseball.
“I burned out really hard. If I wanted to keep my podcast viable with its original gimmick (recapping one season of Blaseball an episode), I had to really think about how to scale back,” Barnes told TechCrunch. “Long-term fan content like this is a marathon, not a sprint, and it can be important to pace yourself.”
The Game Band quickly realized the problem they had on their hands and hired “The Anchor,” a YouTuber who posts comprehensive, yet comedic season recaps.
Yet the game still felt difficult to follow, especially for fans who weren’t plugged into the official Blaseball Twitter and Discord.
“The reason so many people got burnt out on Blaseball, I think, is because the splort was just so much, so fast, especially in the Expansion Era,” said Cat, a fan who runs the Blaseball News Network. “Fans would get emotionally attached and have art and [fan fiction] ready for a new player within hours of their joining a team, only to be shattered when that player gets incinerated.”
On one hand, it speaks to the impact of Blaseball that fans care so much about it that they got burnt out on making fan content. But also, fandom shouldn’t be stressful. So, The Game Band has made it a priority to make the game feel more manageable for casual fans.
“One of the main things that we’re trying to do is bring a lot of the conversation that happens outside of the game into the game,” said Rosenthal. “We don’t want you to have to follow us on Twitter to figure out how you can impact the game, or have to join the Discord and things like that.”
Again, Rosenthal was reluctant to share further details about these upgrades, but he did say that there won’t be a live chat function in the app.
“We saw that the vast majority of our fans that absolutely loved the game and stayed with it were people that joined the Discord, and are active in the community in some way,” he added. “But when we looked at the number of people that have signed up to play the game, and the people that have actually joined the Discord, a very small amount of people were in the Discord and got to see what was really so special about the communal nature of Blaseball.”
At the time of writing, Blaseball’s Discord server has over 28,000 members.
“We felt like if we don’t take a step back and and make this a lot better, Blaseball is going to continue on its current trajectory, which can be really exciting for its existing fan base but it will never get outside of that, and we don’t want that to be the case,” Rosenthal said.
The Internet League is kind of sort of almost back
Blaseball isn’t quite ready to reveal when they’re making their grand return. But they’re getting close enough to ready that they decided to speak to press about what they’ve been up to over the last year.
“The same teams that we left off with and knew from our previous league will be carried forward in the future,” Clark said. “And story wise, we’re picking up from where we left off, but we did it in a way to let us start fresh a little bit. So we’re going to be taking a new direction, but most of it’s still going to feel very familiar to existing fans.”
“I imagine what a lot of fans are probably expecting is something more in line with the first few eras of Blaseball, but a little bit better,” Rosenthal added. “But this one, I think it’s more of a reboot than a straight sequel.”
The Game Band intentionally takes its time with new additions to Blaseball to avoid “crunch,” a stressful period in game creation when developers pull unsustainable work hours to meet a deadline. But as an indie studio, the devs can choose their own deadlines. Fans are eager to get back to Blaseball, but for the most part, they understand that the longer they wait, the better the game will be.
“I’m excited to see how the devs plan to handle some of the issues with Blaseball beta, especially the breakneck speed that was so signature to the gameplay,” Cat told TechCrunch. Still, fans feel nostalgic for the sublime, first era of Blaseball.
“I miss connecting with people and seeing all the wonderful and zany ways it can bring people together,” Barnes told TechCrunch. “One of the biggest allures of Blaseball is that there is so many ways you can engage with it. It really is one of those things with something for everyone.”
Blaseball will also be fundamentally different in its upcoming iteration since it will be accessible via iOS and Android mobile apps. Rosenthal said that the apps are designed to enable passive game play — you’ll get push notifications about key events, but as always, Blaseball isn’t designed to be addictive. He envisions users logging in for a few minutes at a time, interacting with the games, and moving on.
For the first time, fans will be able to make in-game purchases, helping The Game Band try to turn a profit.
“One hard line we’re taking is, no, nothing that you can pay for can affect the actual game,” Rosenthal said. “If you happen to be wealthy, you cannot spend money to ensure that the Kansas City Breath Mints are going to win the championship.” And of course, in typical, secretive Blaseball fashion, Rosenthal refused to elaborate on these monetization plans.
Despite spending a year completely overhauling the game, The Game Band wants Blaseball to retain the same feel it’s always had — the game is simple yet deeply clever, packed with surprising yet satisfying twists. And most importantly, it conjured a zany, enthusiastic fan community in a time when blissful silliness felt so elusive.
“This is a game that came out during a pandemic when we were all split from each other. And I think the game design itself is very reflective of that,” Rosenthal said. “The game is about bringing people together through chaos and absurdity, and with a lot of laughter.”
How Blaseball’s fantasy sports fever dream is embracing the future by Amanda Silberling originally published on TechCrunchtesting pandemic lockdown canada
We can turn to popular culture for lessons about how to live with COVID-19 as endemic
As COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic, apocalyptic science-fiction and zombie movies contain examples of how to adjust to the new norm…
In 2021, conversations began on whether the COVID-19 pandemic will, or even can, end. As a literary and cultural theorist, I started looking for shifts in stories about pandemics and contagion. It turns out that several stories also question how and when a pandemic becomes endemic.
The 2020 film Peninsula, a sequel to the Korean zombie film, Train to Busan, ends with a group of survivors rescued and transported to a zombie-free Hong Kong. In it, Jooni (played by Re Lee) spent her formative years living through the zombie epidemic. When she is rescued, she responds to being informed that she’s “going to a better place” by admitting that “this place wasn’t bad either.”
Jooni’s response points toward the shift in contagion narratives that has emerged since the spread of COVID-19. This shift marks a rejection of the push-for-survival narratives in favour of something more indicative of an endemic.
Contagion follows a general cycle: outbreak, epidemic, pandemic and endemic. The determinants of each stage rely upon the rate of spread within a specified geographic region.
Etymologically, the word “endemic” has its origins with the Greek words én and dēmos, meaning “in the people.” Thus, it refers to something that is regularly found within a population.
Infectious disease physician Stephen Parodi asserts that an endemic just means that a disease, while still prevalent within a population, no longer disrupts our daily lives.
Similarly, genomics and viral evolution researcher Aris Katzourakis argues that endemics occur when infection rates are static — neither rising nor falling. Because this stasis occurs differently with each situation, there is no set threshold at which a pandemic becomes endemic.
Not all diseases reach endemic status. And, if endemic status is reached, it does not mean the virus is gone, but rather that things have become “normal.”
We’re most likely familiar with contagion narratives. After all, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film Contagion, was the most watched film on Canadian Netflix in March 2020. Conveniently, this was when most Canadian provinces went into lockdown during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In survival-based contagion narratives, characters often discuss methods for survival and generally refer to themselves as survivors. Contagion chronicles the transmission of a deadly virus that is brought from Hong Kong to the United States. In response, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control is tasked with tracing its origins and finding a cure. The film follows Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon), who is immune, as he tries to keep his daughter safe in a crumbling Minneapolis.
Ultimately, a vaccine is successfully synthesized, but only after millions have succumbed to the virus.
Like many science fiction and horror films that envision some sort of apocalyptic end, Contagion focuses on the basic requirements for survival: shelter, food, water and medicine.
However, it also deals with the breakdown of government systems and the violence that accompanies it.
A “new” normal
In contrast, contagion narratives that have turned endemic take place many years after the initial outbreak. In these stories, the infected population is regularly present, but the remaining uninfected population isn’t regularly infected.
A spin-off to the zombie series The Walking Dead takes place a decade after the initial outbreak. In the two seasons of The Walking Dead: World Beyond (2020-2021) four young protagonists — Hope (Alexa Mansour), Iris (Aliyah Royale), Silas (Hal Cumpston) and Elton (Nicolas Cantu) — represent the first generation to come of age within the zombie-infested world.
The four youth spent their formative years in an infected world — similar to Jooni in Peninsula. For these characters, zombies are part of their daily lives, and their constant presence is normalized.
The setting in World Beyond has electricity, helicopters and modern medicine. Characters in endemic narratives have regular access to shelter, food, water and medicine, so they don’t need to resort to violence over limited resources. And notably, they also don’t often refer to themselves as survivors.
Endemic narratives acknowledge that existing within an infected space alongside a virus is not necessarily a bad thing, and that not all inhabitants within infected spaces desire to leave. It is rare in endemic narratives for a character to become infected.
Instead of going out on zombie-killing expeditions in the manner that occurs frequently in the other Walking Dead stories, the characters in World Beyond generally leave the zombies alone. They mark the zombies with different colours of spray-paint to chronicle what they call “migration patterns.”
The zombies have therefore just become another species for the characters to live alongside — something more endemic.
The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead (2015-), Z Nation (2014-18), and many other survival-based stories seem to return to the past. In contrast, endemic narratives maintain a present and sometimes even future-looking approach.
Learning from stories
According to film producer and media professor Mick Broderick, survival stories maintain a status quo. They seek a “nostalgically yearned-for less-complex existence.” It provides solace to imagine an earlier, simpler time when living through a pandemic.
However, the shift from survival to endemic in contagion narratives provides us with many important possibilities. The one I think is quite relevant right now is that it presents us with a way of living with contagion. After all, watching these characters survive a pandemic helps us imagine that we can too.
Krista Collier-Jarvis does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.disease control pandemic covid-19 vaccine spread lockdown transmission hong kong
Has the pandemic changed our personalities? New research suggests we’re less open, agreeable and conscientious
COVID-related changes in our personalities could go some way to explaining the widespread decrease in wellbeing.
For many of us, some personality traits stay the same throughout our lives while others change only gradually. However, evidence shows that significant events in our personal lives which induce severe stress or trauma can be associated with more rapid changes in our personalities.
A new study, published in PLOS ONE, suggests the COVID pandemic has triggered much greater shifts in personality than we would expect to have seen naturally over this period. In particular, the researchers found that people were less extroverted, less open, less agreeable and less conscientious in 2021 and 2022 compared with before the pandemic.
This study included more than 7,000 participants from the US, aged between 18 and 109, who were assessed before the pandemic (from 2014 onwards), early in the pandemic in 2020, and then later in the pandemic in 2021 or 2022.
At each time point, participants completed the “Big Five Inventory”. This assessment tool measures personality on a scale across five dimensions: extroversion versus introversion, agreeableness versus antagonism, conscientiousness versus lack of direction, neuroticism versus emotional stability, and openness versus closedness to experience.
There weren’t many changes between pre-pandemic and 2020 personality traits. However, the researchers found significant declines in extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness in 2021/2022 compared with before the pandemic. These changes were akin to a decade of normal variation, suggesting the trauma of the COVID pandemic had accelerated the natural process of personality change.
Interestingly, younger adults’ personalities changed the most in the study. They showed marked declines in agreeableness and conscientiousness, and a significant increase in neuroticism in 2021/2022 compared with pre-pandemic. This may be due in part to social anxiety when emerging back into society, having missed out on two years of normality.
Personality and wellbeing
Many of us became more health-conscious during the pandemic, for example by eating better and doing more exercise. A lot of us sought whatever social connections we could find virtually, and tried to refocus our attention on psychological, emotional and intellectual growth – for example, by practising mindfulness or picking up new hobbies.
Nonetheless, mental health and wellbeing decreased significantly. This makes sense given the drastic changes we went through.
Notably, personality significantly impacts our wellbeing. For example, people who report high levels of conscientiousness, agreeableness or extroversion are more likely to experience the highest level of wellbeing.
So the personality changes detected in this study may go some way to explaining the decrease in wellbeing we’ve seen during the pandemic.
If we look more closely, the pandemic appears to have negatively affected the following areas:
our ability to express sympathy and kindness towards others (agreeableness);
our capacity to be open to new concepts and willing to engage in novel situations (openness);
our tendency to seek out and enjoy other people’s company (extraversion);
our desire to strive towards our goals, do tasks well or take responsibilities towards others seriously (conscientiousness).
All of these traits influence our interaction with the environment around us, and as such, may have played a role in our wellbeing decline. For example, working from home may have left us feeling demotivated and as though our career was going nowhere (lower conscientiousness). This in turn may have affected our wellbeing by making us feel more irritable, depressed or anxious.
Over time, our personalities usually change in a way that helps us adapt to ageing and cope more effectively with life events. In other words, we learn from our life experiences and this subsequently impacts our personality. As we age, we generally see increases in self-confidence, self-control and emotional stability.
However, participants in this study recorded changes in the opposite direction to the usual trajectory of personality change. This is understandable given that we faced an extended period of difficulties, including constraints on our freedoms, lost income and illness. All these experiences have evidently changed us – and our personalities.
This study provides us with some very useful insights into the impacts of the pandemic on our psyche. These impacts may subsequently influence many aspects of our lives, such as wellbeing.
Knowledge allows us to make choices. So you might like to take the time to reflect on your experiences over the past few years, and how these personality changes may have affected you.
Any changes may well have protected you during the height of the pandemic. However, it’s worth asking yourself how useful these changes are now that the acute phase of the pandemic is behind us. Do they still serve you well, or could you try to rethink your perspective?
Jolanta Burke does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.social distancing pandemic covid-19
Coalesce lands fresh capital to transform data at ‘enterprise scale’
Coalesce is a startup that offers data transformation tools geared mainly toward enterprise customers. Today the company closed a $26 million Series A…
Coalesce is a startup that offers data transformation tools geared mainly toward enterprise customers. Today the company closed a $26 million Series A funding round led by Emergence Capital with participation from 11.2 Capital and GreatPoint Ventures, bringing the company’s total raised to $31.92 million. Co-founder and CEO Armon Petrossian tells TechCrunch that the cash will be put toward building out Coalesce’s product and ecosystem.
Petrossian met Coalesce’s other co-founder, Satish Jayanthi, at WhereScape, where the two were responsible for solving data warehouse problems for large organizations. (In computing, a “data warehouse” refers to systems used for reporting and data analysis — analysis usually germane to business intelligence.) Their clients often encountered challenges in transforming data, Petrossian says, as well as documenting these transformations in a way that made intuitive sense.
To Petrossian’s point, a survey commissioned by data integration platform Matillion found that as much as 57% of the time involved in analytics projects is spent tackling data transformation hurdles. Moreover, 75% percent of data teams feel that outdated migration and maintenance processes are costing them productivity and capital.
“Companies have been struggling with data transformation and optimization since the early days of data warehousing, and with the enormous growth of the cloud, that challenge has only increased,” he told TechCrunch via email. “We are on a mission to radically improve the analytics landscape by making enterprise-scale data transformations as efficient and flexible as possible.”
Coalesce offers tools designed to simplify modeling, cleansing and governance of data primarily in the Snowflake cloud, powered by what Petrossian describes as a “column-aware” architecture that leverages metadata to manage data transformations with an understanding of how the data is related or connected. Users can take advantage of data transformation automation templates that can be edited, packaged and shared, either with code or a visual design tool.
Often, companies approach Coalesce with specific problems, Petrossian said, like needing to transform data from different databases, apps and systems to follow a certain spec or standard. Other customers seek to speed up business intelligence queries by removing the need to search across multiple data sources and formats.
“Our product solves the largest bottleneck in analytics today by combining the speed of an intuitive graphical user interface with the flexibility of code, plus a healthy dose of automation, to enable rapid data transformations,” Petrossian continued. “With Coalesce, the data can be organized in an easy to access and read fashion while using automation to streamline the process and limit the amount of time needed by highly skilled engineers to code manually.”
Petrossian sees Coalesce competing with “extract, transform, and load” data integration vendors, including Informatica and Talend. The aforementioned Matillion also occupies that space, as does Incorta and Etleap.
Fortunately for Coalesce, the ETL market is massive, with one estimate putting it at $10.75 million as of early 2021. While demurring when asked about revenue, Petrossian claimed that Coalesce’s business is quite strong, with “multiple” Fortune 500 customers paying for the startup’s services.
“Our company was born during the pandemic and has given us an opportunity to serve enterprise Fortune 500 companies that are resilient to the potential looming recession,” Petrossian added. “The Coalesce platform is easing the burden of companies struggling to find talented data engineers or architects by providing them with a tool that empowers their existing teams to be much more efficient without compromising flexibility at scale.”
Coalesce currently has 40 salaried employees, spread across locations in four different countries. Petrossian wouldn’t commit to hiring a certain number this year but said the plan is to invest generally in Coalesce’s marketing, sales and engineering operations.
Coalesce lands fresh capital to transform data at ‘enterprise scale’ by Kyle Wiggers originally published on TechCrunchrecession pandemic spread
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