Numlock News: January 4, 2024 • Emoji, Indio, Roku
By Walt Hickey
In December, I was thrilled that three comics I edited got released! The first was The Odyssey of the Adriana, which tells the story of a survivor of the devastating shipwreck of a ship transporting hundreds of migrants. The second was Sons of Chechnya, about a human rights lawyer’s life in Chechnya and how the Kadyrov regime took hold of the country. The last was What Remains of Tomorrow, about an all-women platoon in Afghanistan’s army and their experience as the country collapsed. Check them out, they’re all free to read, I’m so proud of all of them.
The antiquarian and rare book market is heating up, but not literally, as that could damage the books. The auction market for unique or well-preserved books has been growing robustly, and book and paper sales hit $1.06 billion in 2022. That is slightly down from 2021’s sales, but that year had a few particularly high-selling items that skewed the numbers on the year, and the general status quo has risen to be considerably higher than the $725 million in sales in 2020. The shift to digital books is, if anything, making the hobby more potentially lucrative down the line, as inherently print books would be rarer.
Roku is a company that started by making devices that could turn any television set into a smart television set, but then pretty much all new television sets became smart television sets, so they started hawking an operating system for those smart televisions. Finally, they developed the operating systems of smart televisions into a rather lucrative advertising market, and as of now makes over 80 percent of its annual revenue from its streaming platform. This line of business made the television set producers try to compete with them, so now Roku is just straight up making television sets. The current setup launched in 2023 — Select and Plus models which largely sell for south of $999 — will soon give way to 55-, 65- and 75-inch Pro Series Roku televisions, designed to compete with the very brands that were their customers. The company’s device revenue was $125.2 million in the most recent quarter, but still posted a $9.4 million loss, which isn’t bad because at this point when you get down to it they’re really only bothering with the television business just to juice their extremely lucrative television streaming platform business.
On April 8, North America will have a total solar eclipse, one that will traverse some of the most densely populated areas of the country. It’s the last total solar eclipse in North America for another 20 years, in 2044, and during those four or so minutes of darkness lots of North American scientists are going to try to get in the last shot at domestic eclipse science. One group of researchers will send hundreds of balloons carrying instruments into the atmosphere up to 35 kilometers up over the course of the eclipse to measure the impact of sudden darkness on weather and the atmosphere, where temperatures can drop 5 C instantly. Others will be recording the sounds of animals over the course of the eclipse. Looking up, the eclipse will also be a great opportunity to snap some photos of the sun’s corona, which is ordinarily too hard to get detailed imagery of given that it’s on the surface of a massive, bright star.
The American Kennel Club has recognized the Lancashire heeler, a rare breed of herding dogs, a move which will allow the heelers to compete in U.S. dog shows. They’re a centuries-old breed in the United Kingdom, where they are considered to be at risk of dying out, with Britain’s Kennel Club adding an average of 121 Lancashire heelers to its registry annually. The AKC says that there are only about 5,000 of the dogs in existence. A breed must have at least 300 pedigreed animals throughout at least 20 states in order to get recognition. While clearly slated for the herding group, I think there’s seriously a chance for the Lancashire heeler to join the Australian kelpie, the Carolina dog, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, the Russian toy and the stumpy tail cattle dog in the “Breeds With Names That Sound Like Elaborate Insults” group.
Under The Sea
A new study published in Nature has mapped out human activity at sea in a remarkable level of detail, reporting that three-quarters of industrial fishing vessels and up to 30 percent of transport and energy vessels are simply not tracked through conventional reporting means. The study looked at 2,000 terabytes of images from the Sentinel-1 satellite constellations to spot offshore activity whether it was equipped with AIS tracking or not. Beyond raising questions about the efficacy of tracking tech, it also identified a new boom in wind turbines: By the end of 2020, wind turbines outnumbered oil drilling structures, and as of the end of 2021, 48 percent of all oceanic infrastructure was a wind turbine while 38 percent were oil structures.
The Panama Canal is in a state of crisis amid a drought, and the long-term question remains what will have to be done in order to keep the canal open. Every year, the canal handles $270 billion in global trade, and for Panama it’s a crucial part of the economy, responsible for $4.3 billion in revenue, the single largest source of revenue for the government. Each traversal of the canal requires water from Lake Gatún, and that’s a finite resource, and also the main source of freshwater for Panama as a whole. There is a stop-gap solution, specifically releasing water from the secondary reservoir of the Panama Canal, Lake Alajuela, but still that would only allow for 24 vessels a day during the dry season. The long-term fix under consideration is a new plan that would dam the nearby Indio River, producing a new reservoir, and then building a tunnel through a mountain to pipe that fresh water into Lake Gatún. That’ll take six years, cost $2 billion, increase vessel traffic by 11 to 15 per day, and will tick off a whole lot of farmers whose land will be flooded.
A new study published in iScience analyzed the current roster of emoji that represent life to see what was and was not being adequately represented. Of the 112 distinct organisms with their own emoji, 92 of them are animals. Of them, vertebrates are overrepresented, constituting 76.1 percent of emoji even if they’re only 5.5 percent of known species of animals. By comparison, bugs are underrepresented: 83.8 percent of species are arthropods, but they get just 16.3 percent of emoji. Indeed, were each phyla correctly scaled, and got a commensurate amount of emoji representation given the 70 chordata vertebrate emoji, that would mean we need an additional 1,068 arthropods, 70 mollusks, 24 flatworms, 21 roundworms and another 14 segmented worms on top of the one earthworm we’ve got. To be clear: I categorically support this; I think we need a thousand beetles added to this stupid keyboard.
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