Numlock News: December 7, 2023 • Telescope, Lucky Strike, Globetrotters
By Walt Hickey
British American Tobacco, which makes Lucky Strike, announced that it will take an impairment on the value of its American tobacco brands acquired through its purchase of Reynolds American. As of the end of last financial year, the Pall Mall, Newport, American Spirit and Camel brands were worth £67 billion. The company announced a £25 billion ($31.5 billion) noncash impairment, slashing the value of those cigarette brands by around a third. The number of cigarettes sold in the United States has been declining about 4 percent to 5 percent each year amid lower uptake, more quits, switches to vaping, and involuntary exits from the tobacco consumer base. The rate of the switch to vapes seems to have caught the tobacco titan by surprise, and these days the number of cigarettes consumed annually is declining at a rate of around 8 percent per year.
Evidence has emerged that the trucking corridor between China and North Korea that was severed by the pandemic has seen traffic again, as six large vehicles — four trucks and two trailers — were spotted crossing the Yalu River over the Dandong-Sinuiju crossing that is the main artery of trade between the People’s Republics. About 70 percent of bilateral trade goes over that crossing, and it’s been dead since North Korea shut it down along with all train and ship traffic in January 2020. Since then, freight train service resumed in September 2022, but the vehicular crossing that had once seen 100 trucks per day was still suspended until apparently mid-November.
There are 48 million Americans who experience hearing loss to some extent, and only a fifth of them actually do anything to address it, a problem long exacerbated by hearing aids being prescription only, and averaging $4,672 per pair. That’s beside any concerns of aesthetics or pride that may have also made people who would really benefit from an ear aid skip them. However, a recent change in the U.S. opened up the market to over-the-counter hearing aids, and the market potential for equipment that is sleek and cheap is already getting many interested in a $7.71 billion hearing aid market that is expected to double within a decade. It’s early times: As of the first quarter, only 1 percent of hearing aids sold by members of the Hearing Industries Association was over-the-counter, but the newer offerings are succeeding at attracting younger and first-time customers.
About 23 percent of Americans have not travelled internationally, and 50 percent of Americans have travelled to other countries, but have visited four or fewer. This makes the U.S. something of an outlier among rich countries: While 26 percent of Americans have visited five or more countries, that lags the 43 percent of Canadians who have, and lags well behind Europe, where 42 percent of Spaniards, 47 percent of Italians, 54 percent of the French, 69 percent of the British, 70 percent of Germans and 83 percent of the Dutch have visited at least five or more countries. That said, many of those guys can do that by walking like a couple of miles — hell, the Brits and the Italians can get most of the way to five countries without really even needing to leave the U.K., or Italy — so it’s mostly the Canadians I’m impressed by. Australia has a disproportionately high number of globetrotters, too, with 54 percent of Australians having visited five or more countries. My only doubt about the 26 percent of Americans who claim to have visited more than five countries is that I checked the wording on the question and it didn’t specifically say, “Also, EPCOT doesn’t count.”
A must-win talent contract that threatened the entire entertainment of South Korea has been settled, and all four members of Blackpink will renew their deals with K-pop agency YG Entertainment. The immediate impact of this really can’t be overstated: YG, the smallest of the four largest Korean music labels, saw its stock rise 26 percent on the news to a valuation of $857 million, which led to a similar rally across the rest of the K-pop music industry. Hybe Co., the largest of the K-pop labels, saw their stock rise 7.3 percent as the most popular act in the country — now that BTS is on hiatus amid its members serving in the military — will continue to produce new work and juice interest in the genre the world over.
Given the carbon impacts of concrete — producing a pound of concrete emits about a pound of CO2 — for more basic construction needs like retaining walls, the appeal of older methods like rocks is looking appealing. A concrete retaining wall will last 50 to 100 years before it must be replaced or repaired, but the more traditional dry stone walling — where stones are arranged without mortar connecting them — is actually a more durable thing, potentially lasting hundreds of years. One advantage is a stone wall’s resilience to the annual cycle of freezing and thawing, which can damage solid concrete, as well as their ability to withstand earthquakes.
The development of a space instrument can take decades, and a group of scientists led by NASA is currently in the early development stages of a promising telescope that’s targeted for launch in the ballpark of 2040. It’s called the Habitable Worlds Observatory, and it has a very simple goal of being able to detect signs of life on about 25 Earth-like worlds. That’s a hard problem, but strikes directly at the heart of the question of whether life on Earth is a unique phenomenon or if the conditions to facilitate life are available in many places. The instrument would be able to study the chemistry of the hypothetically habitable planets, seeking signs of oxygen or methane, and could be built at a cost of $11 billion in 2020 dollars. The HWO would have a mirror at least as large as the James Webb Space Telescope’s 6.5-meter mirror, but could get up to 9 meters, and it would — like the JWST — be in deep space, rather than an orbit around Earth. Based on the demands of recording such a small bit of a planet’s light around a distant star, the big technical leap needed will have to obtain a level of stillness perhaps 1,000 times better than the JWST, a stability of tens of picometers, drifting less than the radius of a hydrogen atom.
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