Numlock News: January 19, 2022 • Cable, Caravaggio, Mackerel
By Walt Hickey
After a cataclysmic eruption of a nearby underwater volcano, the nation of Tonga has been severed from the internet, likely in a physical sense. Traffic from the country crashed to pretty much zero at 5:30 p.m. local time, and the connection has not been restored. The reason isn’t yet known, but Tonga is connected to the rest of the internet through a single subsea cable that runs 514 miles between Tonga and Fiji, and while satellite connections had been used as a backup in the past, it’s possible that the structural damage caused by the explosion or ensuing tidal wave could have damaged the equipment to link up to satellites. According to a New Zealand internet company that tried to bounce some light off a potential severance in the cable, there’s a possible break around 23 miles offshore and that a domestic undersea cable may be broken 30 miles from the capital. That would be really bad, meaning it’s take possibly weeks to fix, as one of the closest vessels that could manage the task is 3,000 miles away.
A six-story villa in Rome was put up at auction on Tuesday at a price of €471 million, the property home to the only surviving Caravaggio mural in the alchemy room. Yes, there is an alchemy room, the mural is of several Greek gods and it’s speculated that Caravaggio modeled them after himself in one of the earliest examples of self-insert lewd fan art, the house kind of rules. The sale was forced as a result of a legal battle between the current occupant, a Texas-born princess, and her stepsons. Unfortunately, there were no bids on the property, and in April, they’ll attempt to sell it again with a 20 percent price cut. Art lovers want the Italian government to step in and buy the villa, but unfortunately they’re only able to do so after an auction takes place, purchasing it from the eventual buyer.
Down Home Cooking
A Tennessee jury ordered Cracker Barrel to pay $9.4 million to a man after serving him a glass of Eco-San instead of water, a corrosive chemical that caused serious internal injury. The just took 30 minutes to award the victim $4.3 million, and then added $5 million in punitive damages against the restaurant after further deliberation, in advance of what the plaintiff requested.
While on-premises alcohol sales in the United States — bars and restaurants — have recovered to pre-pandemic levels after a serious crash at the onset of the pandemic, off-premises sales — curbside, in-store and delivery — have seen the gains they notched in the early days of the pandemic hold long-term. In January of 2020, off-premises sales were $140.3 billion and on-premises sales were $104.0 billion. In March of that year, off-premises sales had spiked to $165 billion and by April on-premises sales had crashed to $46.6 billion. Over the ensuing months, on-premises sales had rebounded, up to $109.8 billion as of the most recent data in November, while the curbside, in-store and delivery is doing far better, at $168.5 billion as of November and holding steady.
In 2020, people noticed that Betelgeuse was dimming, which was odd because it’s usually one of the brightest stars in the sky. Typically, the star dims and brightens on an extremely predictable 420-day cycle, but the dimming observed in early 2020 was faster than normal, and got dimmer than normal, and that got a whole lot of attention from astronomers so much that it’s called The Great Dimming. New data announced at the American Astronomical Society argues that it was the result of a mass ejection, when a star blasts out a chunk of itself into space, which in this case cooled down the stellar surface and made the atmosphere less dense, causing the dim. Our sun also does this, it’s a coronal mass ejection, but Betelgeuse is so big it doesn’t actually have a corona, so this came from way deeper in the star. What’s wild is that the predictable 420-day cycle has not actually resumed, and the new question scientists have is if it actually will.
Flint, Michigan became the American poster child for lead contamination, with 4.9 percent of children under the age of five testing for high lead levels in 2015. High lead is considered 5 micrograms per deciliter, or µg/dL, but that’s actually been lowered to 3.5 µg/dL, and there is no safe level of lead exposure. What’s especially bracing is a new scientific review that analyzed lead screenings from around the world in 34 countries — countries that accounted for two-thirds of the global population — and estimated that 48.5 percent of children in those countries had blood lead levels above 5 µg/dL. That global poisoning won’t abate anytime soon: globally, charities are spending only $6 million to $10 million to fight lead contamination.
Return of the Mack
Mackerel is a really important part of the marine ecosystem, a notoriously abundant species whose precipitous population decline has fishery managers worried. In 2021, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) found spawning age stock was at the lowest ever recorded, and then rolled out a 50 percent reduction in the quota for commercial harvesters and and an unprecedented catch limit for recreational fishers. It’s been a tug of war between scientists, who are worried about the overall state of the mackerel stock, and managers, who have lots of stakeholders to appease: in 2014, DFO scientists recommended the quota be capped at 800 tonnes, but the agency set it at 8,000. The 2021 assessment found that the mackerel stock was at just 8 percent of what it was in 1980, which prompted the cut to 4,000 tonnes from 8,000 tonnes, itself down from a 200,000 tonne quota in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
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