Numlock News: August 7, 2023 • Anteaters, Pecans, Kevin Costner
By Walt Hickey
For decades, actor Kevin Costner has been in a legal fight with the sculptor Peggy Detmers over a massive, 17-piece sculptural ensemble the actor commissioned in 1994 called “Lakota Bison Jump.” It’s an intricate and 150 percent life-size depiction of three Lakota warriors hunting some bison originally intended for a luxury resort that the actor was attempting to construct in North Dakota. That proceeded until 2000, when after opposition from the Lakota People the resort was scuttled. The original compensation was $300,000 up front for Detmers and then royalties on sales of reproductions of what Costner claims is the third-largest bronze sculpture in the world, but obviously with no resort those royalties ain’t amounting to a whole lot. The original agreement was that Costner would pay another $60,000 and if there wasn’t a resort somewhere, he would sell the sculpture and split the proceeds with Detmers, but that hasn’t happened so since 2008 they’ve had to take it to court.
An unexpected late boom in the summer box office continues, with Barbie bringing its domestic total to $459 million and surpassing $1 billion worldwide, while Oppenheimer continues to truck along to $552 million worldwide, making it the most commercially successful film about World War II ever made. Newcomer creature feature Meg 2: The Trench made a pretty dang solid $30 million as well as another $112 million overseas, while the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem opened to $28 million and excellent word of mouth. The only thing that’s not hitting right now is Haunted Mansion, which, come on, why would you release a $150 million Haunted Mansion in July, that’s completely nuts.
One of the most reliable bets in real estate has been self-storage facilities, which exploded in popularity during the pandemic, with about a tenth of Americans leasing storage space at an average of $165.55 a month. That spending is up 20 percent since June 2019, and major institutional investors have been dumping money into storage business to keep up. Deals to buy up self-storage facilities that were going for around $60 per square foot in 2016 are, in 2022, now selling for over $100 a square foot.
NASA was able to reestablish communications with the Voyager 2 spacecraft on Friday after a communications error moved the antenna of the spacecraft out of communication to Earth. The fear was that this could take months to reset, but on Wednesday the Deep Space Network sent out a new command to try to shift the antenna two degrees, blasting out the message from the highest powered transmitter at an antenna in Australia. After 19 billion kilometers of travel and 18 hours, the command reached Voyager 2, which executed it, and then 18 hours after that word got back to Earth that everything was cool again.
The United States produces around 80 percent of the world’s pecans, and the nut has seen increased popularity since 2010, which is when demand for pecans in China kicked into gear, rewarding growers and exporters. The rise in production and processing has also made it easier to get pecans into foods in the United States — the number of new products featuring pecans is up 54 percent in the past decade — and the rise of pecans as a snack food led to domestic consumption increasing 36 percent from 2016 to 2021.
Petroleum engineering programs are seeing marked declines in undergraduates, with many avoiding the field amid doubts around the long-term necessity of petroleum engineering. The number of undergrads studying petroleum engineering is down 75 percent since 2014. Enrollments in the field of study are down 87.7 percent off peak at the Colorado School of Mines, down 89 percent at Louisiana State University, 90 percent at Oklahoma State University and 88.1 percent at Texas Tech University. One thing competing for those engineers? Geothermal companies, such as Fervo Energy, that are poaching petroleum engineers to design geothermal wells.
Anteaters, armadillos and sloths are all related, all members of the clade Xenarthra, which is a unique group of mammals in that they all have some weird stuff going on with their teeth compared to other mammals. Sloths have molars, but no front teeth, armadillos have small and tiny teeth, while anteaters, famous for their eponymous diet, straight up don’t have teeth at all. While scientists thought that they all likely had a common ancestor that lacked a full set of chompers, a new study argues that in fact over the course of millions of years they gradually lost genes important for the development of teeth. They studied genes of four species of anteater, 21 species of armadillo, six species of sloth, and 25 other mammals specifically on 11 genes around teeth. The common ancestor of sloths and anteaters lost the ability to make enamel, and then when anteaters split off some 60 million years ago they lost nine of the 11 tooth genes in at least two steps.
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