Numlock News: March 24, 2022 • Narluga, Potatoes, Rover
By Walt Hickey
Rovers, driving in the Jezero, oh man, look at those sound waves go
The Perseverance rover on Mars has a microphone, which made it the first robot to send back the sounds of another world. This naturally got scientists interested in how fast that sound was going, and researchers have now clocked the speed of sound on Mars. The speed of sound is determined by a lot of things, like atmospheric composition and temperature and the like, so it’s going to be different there than it is here. They did it by finding how long it took a sound to hit the microphone, specifically the sounds of a laser blast used by Perseverance to vaporize a rock. The speed of sound on Mars was determined to be 240 meters per second, less than the 344 meters per second you’d get under normal conditions on Earth. Nevertheless, it will remain metal as hell that we sent a robot to Mars where it vaporize rocks until we learned how fast something would need to go to break Mach 1 on Mars. Great job, all involved.
During this past session of state legislatures, at least 10 states introduced or passed bills that in some way are designed to help the restaurant business. About 90,000 restaurants in the U.S. closed from March 2020 to May 2021, and those that endured are working against inflationary pressures as well as decreased foot traffic in many downtowns. The National Restaurant Association’s projections put 2022 restaurant sales at $898 billion, which would be up from the $864 billion in sales logged back in 2019. However, that’ll happen when they’re short-staffed: Employment will rise by 400,000 this year to 14.9 million jobs, which is still down half a million since 2019.
In 2016, marine biologists studying the denizens of the St. Lawrence River noticed that a pod of beluga whales had attracted a follower, specifically a male narwhal. According to the researchers, there’s evidence that the 12-year-old narwhal is showing interest in mating with one of the beluga whales. The offspring of a narwhal and a beluga — a narluga — has only been recorded once in history, but hybridization is possible between the close relative species of the Monodontidae family, and one 2016 study recorded 20 whale and dolphin hybrids. As ever, the biggest obstacle to the narwhal successfully mating with a beluga will invariably be social acceptance. Marine biologists excited at the possibility of this event and the possible birth of a one-of-a-kind narluga are standing by eagerly, as is Tumblr, Pixar, the Pokemon company, Scholastic, a local theater company eager to do a topical reinterpretation of Romeo and Juliet, fanfiction writers, David Attenborough and furries.
Farmers who used biosolids as fertilizer may have been sowing PFAS, a type of toxic chemical that can cause serious health impacts, into their fields. One farm in Maine where the previous owner used biosolids as fertilizer decades earlier was found to have PFAS levels of 8,000 parts per trillion in their water, hundreds of times higher than the 20 parts per trillion that serve as the state limit. That farm has recalled their produce and suspended operations, and the state is now investigating another 700 properties for contamination. “Biosolids” is actually just lightly treated sludge from wastewater treatment plants, a mix of excrement and other commercial and industrial discharges that is marketed as cheap fertilizer. Maine became the first government in the world to come close to banning PFAS, and bills to address it further are working their way through the legislature.
Potatoes are the most valuable vegetable crop in the United States, accounting for $4 billion in production annually. This year, the Pacific Northwest was hit with extreme heat, and the potato yields in Idaho and Washington are down 9 percent. This would be devastating for food companies that rely on the starch, but taking their transcontinental shot at potato glory is none other than Maine, typically the eighth- or ninth-highest producer of potatoes, which is sitting on a bumper crop of spuds. Ideal conditions in northern New England drove up yields by 30 percent in Maine, and now is the day that the Moxie-drinking farmer triumphs. They’ve now been shipping millions of pounds of their potatoes west to the french fry processors in Washington state. One Maine producer, LaJoie Growers, cut a deal to also send 2.4 million pounds of particularly weather-resilient potato seed to McCain Foods of Idaho and Washington to help bolster the business there.
The Oscars are this weekend to award the best films of 2021, a year that was altogether a particularly rough one for moviegoing. Only 27 percent of Americans surveyed managed to get to a cinema last year, which is bad news for several of the films up at the Oscars. Even the most popular film last year — Spider-Man: No Way Home, which is not up at the Oscars outside of Best Visual Effects — was only seen by 31 percent of respondents. The most-watched films up for Best Picture per the survey were Netflix’s Don’t Look Up (22 percent), Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (19 percent) and Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story (16 percent).
Wage theft is a massive issue, with $3.2 billion recovered for workers by state and federal agencies and private agencies from corporations that short shrifted them between 2017 and 2020. That’s likely only a fragment of the actual amount that employers failed to pay to workers. However, some of the companies that are caught ripping off their employees are the very companies receiving gobs of state and federal aid: For instance, the pork processor Seaboard Triumph Foods was ordered to pay $331,000 in back pay to workers for labor they were made to do before and after their official shift. Seaboard also got $6 million from the Iowa Economic Development agency for the plant that they did that in, and has hauled in a total of $20 million to $30 million from state and local governments. That’s one motivation for, when governments do arrange tax incentives, at least writing in clauses allowing to claw back the money if the companies that benefit from them end up screwing over the very workers those incentives are ostensibly designed to subsidize.
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