Numlock News: August 18, 2021 • Ambergris, Swiping, Noses
By Walt Hickey
Dreams of Deborah
Ambergris is a rare waxy substance that forms in the guts of sperm whales from accumulations of squid beaks. For hundreds of years it was used in medicine but later became used as a food flavoring or scent. It’s in the first recipe for ice cream and has always been very, very expensive, because it’s really rare and only randomly washes up on beaches. Today it’s value id $25 per gram, which is nearly the price by weight of platinum.
Engineers have done rather well at developing sensors to replace or improve upon several human senses — cameras for sight, tactile electronics for touch, the humble microphone for sound — but making a machine that can smell as good as a biological nose is really difficult. There’s a market for this kind of tech, and it’s growing across the board. In 2020 the waste management business spent $6.3 million on tech to detect smells, the food and beverage business spent $5.3 million, and military and law enforcement spent $4.6 million. By 2020, the waste business is projected to drop $11.8 million on e-noses, the food biz $10.9 million, and cops $8.1 million. After this, we can develop other tech to replace more secondary human senses, like the sense that you left your phone in the other room, the sense you know that actor from some other movie but can’t remember which one, or the sense of shame.
Swipe No More
Mastercard announced that it will begin to phase out the magnetic stripe on the back of its credit cards starting in 2024 in places like Europe, where the stripes have already fallen into disuse with the rise of chip cards. By 2027 the phaseout of the magnetic stripes will begin in the U.S., and starting in 2029 no Mastercard anywhere will have the swipe function. By 2033, they’ll be phased out completely, at which point I assume they’ll announce a similar phase out with the chip cards because it’s the monomaniacal goal of the FinTech industry to make you look like a gigantic dum-dum every time you’re confronted with a new card reader.
California’s production of almonds rose from 370 million pounds in 1995 to 3.1 billion pounds in 2020, and that may be a high water mark given California’s slip into a low water mark. The water-intensive trees cover 2,500 square miles of the state, which produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, with about 70 percent of the crop exported overseas. Back in May, the USDA predicted that California would produce 3.2 billion pounds of almonds, but in July they walked that back and lowered it to 2.8 billion due to water problems and the heat.
The bake-off to produce a successor to iconic Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek came to a conclusion last week when it was announced that producer Mike Richards would get the nod for the standard program and actress Mayim Bialik would be tapped to host primetime specials. According to a new poll of 1,465 viewers of the trivia show, that’s pretty much fine: 47 percent approve of the selection of Richards, 37 percent don’t know or don’t care, and only 16 percent oppose. For Bialik, 70 percent approve of her getting the nod, 20 percent are indifferent, and 9 percent oppose. Now, fans of Jeopardy! can hopefully come together, mend the wounds, and unite behind their common cause of muting Wheel of Fortune as quickly as possible.
In Spring of last year, a coin shortage struck the United States, as the usage of cash declined during the onset of the pandemic and the supply chains for everything, currency included, got wonky. While things got better over the course of the year, by March, when vaccinations rolled out across the country, supply got tight yet again, as people were cool again with touching change and buying stuff. Banks deposited 15 percent fewer coins at Federal Reserve Banks in the period from January to mid-July 2021, compared to the same period last year, and 45 percent fewer coins than the same period of 2019.
Last month the State Council rolled out a huge overhaul to the private tutoring industry and banned all tutoring during vacations and weekends for elementary and middle schools students, and banned private tutoring companies from going public or raising money overseas. Three publicly traded companies — TAL Education, New Oriental Education & Technology, and Gaotu Techdu — lost $100 billion in market value compared to the level at the beginning of the year. The current projection is that without tutoring in core primary school subjects, the industry will decline 61 percent.
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.
The best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.
2021 Sunday subscriber editions:Time Use · Shampoo Bars · Wikipedia · Thriving · Comic Rebound · Return of Travel · Sticky Stuff · For-profit Med School · A Good Day · Press Reset · Perverse Incentives · Demon Slayer · Carbon Credits · Money in Politics ·