Numlock News: December 14, 2021 • Rocket Science, Pickleball, Sargassum
By Walt Hickey
The fastest-growing sport in the United States is pickleball, the paddle sport that combines ping pong and badminton. Last year around 4.2 million people played the sport, which was up 21 percent over 2019, and as it happens that means the activity has hit the point where decent money is working its way in. One company, the Professional Pickleball Association, hosted 16 tournaments around the country, double the level of 2019, and is fighting with the Association of Pickleball Professionals over control of the sport at a professional level. PPA prize money will hit $2.5 million next year, a fivefold increase compared to 2019. The sport has a magazine, several podcasts, YouTube channels, and loads of books, and presumably will shortly have an official sponsorship from a plaques psoriasis treatment. Industry people are saying the sport’s 21 percent growth likely underestimates the full potential of the game, a sentiment also shared by the organizers of other definitely-still-popular-not-fad sports like Jai alai, roller skating, Jazzersize, tetherball, Zumba, hacky sack, competitive Rubik’s Cube, Jane Fonda's Workout and SlamBall™.
Not Exactly Brain Surgery
A new study published in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal — the annual fun one — sought to settle once and for all which phrase to describe a simple task is more deserved, “It’s not brain surgery” or “It’s not rocket science.” They did this by administering an intelligence test to 329 aerospace engineers and 72 neurosurgeons. Turns out it’s conditional: the rocket scientists and neurosurgeons are pretty much evenly matched, though the aerospace engineers were better at mental manipulations while the brain surgeons were better at semantic problem solving. That said, no significant difference was found between the aerospace engineers and the control population, while the same held among the neurosurgeons, although they did have a speedier problem solving time that was statistically significant. That said, the paper’s authors contend maybe pedestaling this kind of niche intellect is overall discouraging to people given the results, so I think the obvious compromise is that we all agree to just change to, “Well, it’s not exactly blogging about MoviePass,” to honor the real titans of our day.
A new executive order signed Monday directs 17 government agencies to modernize the way they offer services, highlighting at least 30 different ways that the feds can reduce friction when interacting with people. This includes things like allowing Americans to renew passports online, allowing victims of a disaster to submit photos by phone, making it easier to file taxes and apply for social security benefits, and making it easier to interact with Recreation.gov. The government also highlighted a plan to modernize the way they handle student aid, which I assume means all people will just automatically receive a letter in the mail the day they turn 17 that says either “go screw” or “Don’t Forget: You’re Here Forever.”
A new analysis of 9,000 financial disclosure forms submitted by members of Congress and their staff found 48 members and 182 senior-level staff who violated a federal conflict-of-interest law. It further found 75 members who owned stocks in vaccine makers — many of whom bought and sold them in the early days of the pandemic — as well as 15 members who directly oversee defense policy who also invest directly in military contractors.
Seen, Read, Heard
The annual seen/read/heard survey analysis from Morning Consult is out, which looked at which stories Americans actually paid attention to over the preceding 52 weeks. The biggest story of the year — heard by 64 percent of voters — was the $1.9 trillion bill signed in March that sent out $1,400 payments to many people, once and for all proving that you can’t even get two-thirds of people to pay attention to something in exchange for $1,400. Other salient events include the blackouts that stemmed from winter storms in Texas, the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, and the collapse of a condominium in Florida. Besides the cascades of bummers that define a year of news, there were some bright spots, like that time a ship ran aground in the Suez Canal (38 percent heard about it at the time).
Large rafts of sargassum seaweed have been washing ashore beaches all along the tropical Atlantic Ocean, and that poses a problem for sea turtles. A team of researchers buried data loggers 15 centimeters deep in the sand under varying levels of seaweed cover to find out how the mire of sargassum affected subterranean temperatures in the depths where turtles lay eggs. In the summer, 15 centimeters of seaweed reduces the average temperature by 0.17 degrees Celsius, but in the fall the seaweed has a blanket effect, and makes the temperature 0.21 degrees Celsius higher than typical. That in turn impacts the development of turtle embryos, which could be an issue if the sargassum onslaught persists.
Ireland’s Health Service Exchange was hit with a ransomware attack in May that put the entire country’s public heath system at risk. While the hackers initially wanted $20 million, in reaction to the public outcry they caved and gave the decryption key without needing payment. That’s all well and good, but what’s really neat is the HSE and PWC just released a detailed report revealing exactly how the attack happened. An Excel document in a phishing email that had malware infected the first workstation on March 18, and on the 31 the HSE antivirus had found it. However, it was set to monitor mode, so it didn’t block the bad commands. By May 7 the attackers had compromised the servers, over the next five days they’d get six hospitals, and on May 10 the HSE had found it but it was too late. One culprit? The hospital network had over 30,000 Windows 7 workstations deemed end-of-life.
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