Numlock News: February 3, 2022 • Coffee, Salamanders, Fusion
By Walt Hickey
A drought in Brazil followed by a frost has sent prices of Arabica coffee beans spiking, with futures closing at $2.37 per pound on Tuesday. That’s up from $1.30 per pound the same time last year. Over the course of 2021 the price of Arabica beans rose 76 percent thanks to the funky weather of last year, and right now analysts are on the lookout for a La Niña weather pattern that could give an indication of how long the drought might persist. Depending on how long the high prices for the commodity last, it could start hitting consumers.
A new study tried to find out why the population of bonefish in Florida was in decline, and tested the fish for concentrations of pharmaceuticals that entered into the ecosystem through sewage. The lab results from the fish sampled resembled the parking lot of a Phish concert: Across the 93 fish sampled from South Florida they found high levels of 58 different pharmaceuticals, with every fish having at least one medication turn up in its blood and some fish having up to 17 different meds. The bonefish hunt prey that are themselves contaminated with the medications, and the drugs combine in the bonefish in ways that could be driving the bonefish demise.
The National Ignition Facility, which is working on development of nuclear fusion, reported that they had reached a burning plasma condition, which shows that there’s a realistic possibility of actually attaining a sustaining fusion process. The big goal is ignition, which would entail the energy being released from a fusion reaction exceeding the amount injected to produce it. Right now, it takes an input laser energy of 1.9 megajoules to produce 0.17 megajoules of fusion energy output, so a tenth of what they put into it. Still, that’s getting temptingly closer to breakeven.
There are 59 operational cable-laying vessels in the world that can repair a broken subsea cable like the one destroyed when a volcano erupted near Tonga. One such ship, the CS Reliance, is on the job, having left port in Papua New Guinea on January 20 to travel the 2,900 miles to the repair job. While the ideal situation would be to have multiple subsea cables, Tonga only has the one, a 512-mile cable connecting Tonga to Fiji that was laid in 2013 for $15 million, paid for with grants from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Restoring internet connectivity to Tonga is expected to take a month or more.
For 5G to live, 3G must die. In the United States, 3G networks run on the chunk of spectrum between 850 megahertz and 1900 to 2100 megahertz. The new 5G tech can carry more data at a faster rate, and the wireless networks want to take the large spreads of spectrum devoted to 3G and make them more efficient by making them 5G. The math is pretty simple: Less than 1 percent of Verizon and AT&T’s service runs on 3G networks, but over 90 million 5G devices sold last year, and by the end of 2022 3G will be gone. It’s the circle of life: 4G may be sitting pretty right now, but in a decade when 6G hits consumer devices suddenly its chunk of spectrum will look pretty appealing.
This week the EPA and the White House sent letters to the Postal Service calling on the mail delivery agency to reconsider its plans to buy gas-powered vehicles and run a new technical analysis. The new trucks, which will be produced by Oshkosh Defense, will be only 10 percent electric, and constitute merely a 0.4 mile per gallon fuel economy improvement compared to the current three-decade-old fleet. The Postal Services’ own analyses indicate that 95 percent of mail carrier routes could be electrified. The new gas-powered trucks would get just 8.6 miles per gallon with the air conditioner on, less than the industry standard 12 mpg to 14 mpg for gasoline fleets.
Most vertebrate genomes are between a half billion to 6 billion base pairs of DNA long. Salamanders, on the other hand, are incredibly weird. The Neuse River waterdog, or Necturus lewisi, has about 38 times as much DNA as a human cell, the largest genome of anything with four limbs on the planet. The only animal that competes is the lungfish. Salamander genomes can range from 10 billion base pairs to 120 base pairs, a result of a genome lousy with segments of parasitic DNA that has multiplied to extreme levels. This has some negatives — the salamanders are slow, have flimsy organs and simple brains — but the distinct perk of the ability to regenerate all kinds of body parts, from limbs to large portions of their brains.
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