Numlock News: July 24, 2023 • Earthquakes, Movies, Satellite Calibration
By Walt Hickey
It was the best weekend for American cinemas since Avengers: Endgame, with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie bringing in the best opening of the year with $155 million domestically and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer making $80.5 million, each utterly shattering expectations. Barbie also grossed an additional $182 million internationally, a stellar opening for the $145 million budgeted film, as Oppenheimer also had a huge international release with $93.7 million abroad. Imax was responsible for $35 million of that Oppenheimer number, while Barbie broke a ton of records, not the least of which is best opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. Hopefully this means that studios quit chickening out of putting good movies against one another in cinemas, that audiences like a little choice, and that if the movie looks so good you need to wear sunscreen to the screening you’ve got a hit on your hands.
When an oil and gas company wants to drill on public land, they have to put up some financial assurance that would go toward closing that well in the event the company goes bankrupt or can’t plug the well. That fee — $10,000 — has been unchanged for 60 years, and is utterly small compared to the vast sums that plugging a well actually costs. For instance, Colorado estimates that it costs $92,000 to plug a well through its orphan well program, and according to the feds 99 percent of federal oil and gas leases have a bond that can’t pay for the cost of cleanup. Thanks to new rules related to the infrastructure bill, those bonds will rise from $10,000 to a minimum of $150,000.
NASA asked the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw 23,000 acres of a dry Nevada lakebed that had been slated for a lithium mining company’s uses to explore the salt deposits underneath the lakebed. This is a seriously important stretch of barren land for NASA: Since 1993, the stark white stretch of landscape has been used by NASA to calibrate satellites, with over 50 percent of the space agency’s satellites using the lakebed to calibrate optical sensors over time. There are a few other areas that are useful to calibrate those sensors — areas of the Sahara Desert and Gobi Desert — but Railroad Valley is the sole area within the U.S. that NASA can bank on.
The concept of “presenteeism” describes the incentives to work outside of explicit business hours in order to advance one’s career, whether by working during vacations or working late even when doing so doesn’t necessarily advance the work. Looking at data from the United Kingdom, a survey of Human Resources workers found that 65 percent observe this within their companies, and it’s become particularly acute among work-from-home employees who try to overdo it in order to impress bosses they no longer see day to day, with 81 percent of those HR workers surveyed saying they saw it among those who worked remote.
Canada and Germany have each rolled out new visas that make their countries more viable for skilled, talented workers who would want to immigrate there but don’t yet have a job opportunity in the bag. Germany will issue “opportunity cards” to skilled applicants who would then have a year to land an actual job, while Canada will make it easier for people in six specific fields to immigrate. That’s causing concern in Africa’s tech scene, which stands to lose talented workers to these kinds of visa incentive systems. Emigration is up: According to the British Home Office, the number of Nigerians who received a work visa was up 303 percent between December 2019 and June 2022.
A new study published in Science that looked at 90 magnitude 7 or higher earthquakes found that up to two hours before those earthquakes hit, instruments picked up on small, otherwise imperceptible shifts in fault zones, likely faults slipping before the big shift. It’s a compelling finding, as right now the state of the art when it comes to earthquake forecasting is measured in minutes, but one that may take a long time to fully tease out and understand given the diversity of earthquake behavior and the difficulty of finding this kind of precision data.
The U.S. Department of Energy has rolled out a set of proposals for energy efficiency standards for water heaters, which accounts for 13 percent of residential energy use. The proposed rules would — depending on whether it uses electricity or gas — require water heaters to use heat pump technology or condensing technology in order to get more efficient starting in 2029. Doing so would save consumers $11.4 billion in energy costs a year, and reduce 500 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide over 30 years.
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