Numlock News: August 22, 2023 • Xylem, Loch Ness Monster, Mirage
By Walt Hickey
The Mitsubishi Mirage is the last model of automobile in the United States that is still selling on average for less than $20,000, with last month the vehicle averaging $19,205 at sale. Other vehicles are priced at under $20,000, but exceed it on average after factoring in options and shipping. The average vehicle in the U.S. costs around $48,000, particularly as the big three automakers ditch compact and subcompact cars in favor of massive trucks and SUVs, which are considerably more profitable. As it stands, 32 models sell for above $100,000 on average, up from 12 models in 2018. The Mirage may also be dissipating: 5,316 were sold in the first half of the year, 44 percent lower year over year, and Mitsubishi is expected to stop selling the Mirage by the middle of the decade.
Loch Ness is the largest lake in Great Britain by volume at 22 square miles and up to 788 feet deep, and the long-running claim that there is some sort of cryptid in the lake — the Loch Ness Monster — has gotten a lot of mileage out of that size. Now, the Loch Ness Centre is going to embark on the biggest search of the lake ever, claiming they will be using equipment and technology that had not yet been used on the lake before and recruiting the largest mass of volunteers in decades to presumably not find a monster. While there had been claims of something in the lake going back to the times when people wrote “here there be dragons” on maps, the claims took off in 1933 when a couple took a terrible photo and claimed they saw a dragon. Since then, there have been 1,140 claimed and reported sightings, which is weird that absolutely nobody had any recording technology worth a single damn during any of them.
Books3 is a dataset containing the text of 170,000 books, most of which were published in the past 20 years, and which has been used to train Facebook’s LLaMA machine learning model as well as BloombergGPT, GPT-J and more. These are copyrighted works, which means that the companies that violated those copyrights and pirated those books might be in for a legal rude awakening. Of the 170,000 titles, 30,000 are from Penguin Random House, 14,000 from Harper Collins, 7,000 from Macmillan, and about two-thirds are nonfiction. Books1 is thought to be the complete Project Gutenberg collection of 70,000 books with expired copyrights, the provenance of Books2 is an enigma, but Books3 appears to decisively contain a ton of copyrighted material. Books3 has already been mentioned in lawsuits against OpenAI and Meta.
A new survey of Americans find broad interest in a proposal to adopt a four-day workweek, as has been tried out in a number of companies and organizations around the world. A U.K. experiment saw 56 of the 61 organizations that tried it keep it after the trial period given improvements in employee satisfaction and revenue. All told, 87 percent of U.S. adults are very or somewhat interested in a four-day workweek, and 82 percent believed that such an implementation would be successful in the U.S. When asked if they’d still be interested in a four-day week even if that meant that remote work was never allowed, still 51 percent of Americans backed it.
Last year, 48 percent of new homes had at least four bedrooms, the highest level observed since the Census started keeping such records in 1973. While only 21 percent of households have four or more people in it, the new housing stock is decisively roomy, often with bedrooms that are not actually destined to contain a bed. Home office demand is up — 88 percent of builders cited an increase in demand for home offices — as is demand for patios, porches and decks, which were features of 93 percent of new single-family houses, up from 86 percent in 2010. While peak bedroom is yet to come, it appears we’ve hit peak bathroom: 35 percent of new single-family houses last year had three or more bathrooms, down from the peak of 38 percent in 2015.
The Panama Canal Authority has extended the restrictions on ship weight and cut the number of ship crossings owing to a devastating drought hitting the country. Every time a ship passes through the canal, Gatun Lake loses water, and since 14,000 ships passed through the canal last year that adds up. Container ships carrying 40 percent of all consumer goods traded between Northeast Asia and the East Coast pass through there, and some of them are transiting the canal lighter and with more delays than before. This year is one of the two driest years in the 143 years of recordkeeping in the region, with rainfall 30 percent to 50 percent below normal, and a rougher El Niño might mean that record low levels in Gatun Lake could come early next spring.
The water stress level of a tree is measured by cutting off a twig, putting it into an airtight container, and then pressurizing it until sap bubbles come out of one end. A healthy, high level might be around -0.6 to -0.7 megapascals, a dehydrated tree might have a leaf water potential of -2 megapascals, and during a serious drought in Switzerland a researcher measured some spruce trees at -2.3 megapascals. Much lower than that, and the tree can die of hydraulic failure; a spruce with water potentials south of -7 megapascals will have the liquid water evaporate, air bubbles clog the xylem, and the entire water transport system will clog, meaning that even when rain comes they can’t actually transport it anymore, killing the tree.
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