Numlock News: April 6, 2022 • Ever Forward, Ballooning Spiders, Favre
By Walt Hickey
Ballooning spiders use wisps of web to take flight and expand into new territory, and have long been a subject of fascination. Physicists have designed a new model to understand the nature of how the webs take flight. When winds are less than 3 meters per second, spiders will shoot out several threads — 200 nanometers across and an average of 9 feet long — which are thin enough that the very physics of the air make it more viscous for the threads. They found that small spiders can take off simply with the earth’s electric field pulling on the long, thin threads without any airflow. This is all an elaborate way of telling you that the next Spider-Man movie is going to have a real Around The World In 80 Days feel.
The earliest form of mass-produced sound recording technology were wax cylinders, which starting in the 1890s became the first way for people to record sounds. The wax is fragile, though — the earliest cylinders became sonically inscrutable after a couple dozen listens — but plenty of them still exist, held in libraries like the New York Public Library, which for instance has a box of unlabeled wax cylinders, given to the library in 1935 by someone named Mary Dana, and the Mapleson Cylinders, which are 135 wax cylinder recordings of the Met Opera at the turn of the century. The NYPL just got its hands on a spiffy new device, the Endpoint Cylinder and Dictabelt Machine, which is able to use a laser and a needle to digitize broken and cracked wax cylinders and get the sound off them. The library will spend several years digitizing all the mysterious wax cylinders it’s got laying around, which is either going to lead to some National Treasure-style lost mysteries, the discovery of the first-ever true crime podcast, or the funniest possible Rick Roll in American history.
Two notebooks of Charles Darwin in the possession of Cambridge University went missing 22 years ago. Fifteen months ago, the BBC ran a report that the books had gone missing, but recently the notebooks were returned in a pink gift bag by an unknown depositor in a drop first noticed on March 9. The notebooks are from the late 1830s, and — unlike almost all of my personal notebooks, which are either untouched because I don’t want to write something dumb and ruin them or have exactly three pages of notes and are otherwise completely blank because I forgot to keep using it — contain priceless records of Darwin’s development of the theory of natural selection, including an early sketch of the tree of life.
In 1991 a federal court overturned the EPA’s efforts to ban asbestos in the United States under the Toxic Substances Control Act, but a 2016 overhaul of the TSCA is giving the EPA a window to act again. Asbestos was one of the first 10 chemicals that were evaluated under the new TSCA, and the EPA offered an initial partial implementation of an asbestos ban while leaving open a number of other uses for the dangerous substance in “sheet gaskets, brake blocks and aftermarket automotive brakes” as well as industrially-used asbestos diaphragms which are used by the chlor-alkali industry, the last industry still importing raw asbestos into the United States. Under the new proposal, prohibitions against commercially-used asbestos would roll out over the next two years while prohibitions for industrial uses will be in effect in 180 days.
The commercial shipping vessel Ever Forward, owned by the same company that got a massive ship stuck in the Suez canal last year, has been stuck in the Craighill Channel near the Port of Baltimore for more than three weeks, with efforts to dislodge the beached ship proving so far futile. After two failed attempts last week to refloat it, the Coast Guard announced that over the next two weeks they will begin installing cranes and removing some of the 5,000 containers onboard from the 1,095-foot ship to help the tugs and barges jostle it out of the mud. The next attempt to remove the ship from the muck is scheduled for April 15.
The former governor of Mississippi and former New York Jets legend Brett Favre are at the center of an inquiry into potentially misspent state welfare funds that were directed towards the business interests of Favre. In December of 2018, Favre scored a $1.7 million investment in a biomedical startup that claimed it had a treatment for concussions, with the money allegedly stolen from a federal program for the poorest residents in Mississippi. The Mississippi state auditor — who was once the campaign manager of the former governor — has already arrested two former officials in the embezzlement probe, with prosecutors alleging they conspired to steal $2.15 million that was allegedly given to Favre’s startup. Auditors claim that at least $77 million in welfare funds were misdirected by the administration.
The number of reporters working in U.S. statehouses covering the ongoing business of legislation at the state level increased 11 percent between 2014 and 2022, rising from 1,592 reporters in 2014 to 1,761 reporters in 2022. Though the number of reporters covering state capitols full time fell from 904 to 850, the number of journalists covering statehouses part time increased from 402 to 617. It’s also been driven by nonprofit newsrooms: In 2014, newspapers accounted for 38 percent of the reporters, and nonprofit online newsrooms only 6 percent. In 2022, the newspaper’s share of reporters fell to 25 percent, but the nonprofits’ share increased to 20 percent of statehouse reporters.
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