Numlock News: March 5, 2020 • Assassins, Supercomputers, Daylight Savings Time
By Walt Hickey
This Sunday, most Americans will spring forward and move their clocks an hour ahead to daylight saving time, but I won’t because I’m an idiot and will 100 percent forget this fact by Friday at the latest. Most Americans and states want to end this bargain bin time travel that might have made sense for an agrarian society of yore, but conflicts with an inter-connected, computerized global economy means the problem is we can’t really decide how. A survey found 28 percent of people are happy with the time shift, 31 percent want to be on daylight saving time all year, and 40 percent want to stick to standard time. While nine states passed legislation to remain on daylight saving time in the past three years alone, they can’t do that until congress lets them. Health experts say it’s better to move to standard time, as adverse health effects have been linked to the shifts. Anyway this is all to say there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get Numlock an hour later or earlier next week because despite holding a B.S. in applied mathematics, I’m still awful at time zones.
Work from Home
There are 144 million U.S. workers, and only 42 million of them can do their jobs from home, just 29 percent of the workforce as of the 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What’s worse, the U.S. is one of just a few large industrialized countries with no guaranteed paid sick leave, which financially pushes workers to come in despite not potentially feeling 100 percent. As coronavirus begins to spread, these two facts are causing newfound consternation for companies, many of which are now trying to make their workforce a little more flexible. Last week, 60 percent of 158 companies said they have or plan to make remote work easier for employees, but at the end of the day there are simply some jobs that require the physical presence of workers, and the absence of protections to ensure they’re paid during times of illness can be an accelerant of infection.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it signed a deal to buy two new supercomputers to beef up the computing capacity of its weather forecasting system. By 2022, the agency will have 40 petaflops of computing capacity at its disposal, which will help it run its dozens of computer weather models. The contract has a total value of $505 million over eight years, and will bring the United States up to scale with the European weather models. The accuracy of the Global Forecast System, the flagship American weather model, has slipped behind that of the European model, which will have 37 petaflops of computing power as of its latest contract compared to the 16 petaflops NOAA has in existing capacity.
Deep Space Line
NASA’s Deep Space Network is a system of three stations — one in California, one in Madrid and one in Canberra — that have been operational for 57 years, serving as the solar system’s information relay to any number of spacecraft from many countries scattered throughout the neighborhood. Each station has three 34-meter antennas and one 70-meter antenna. For the first time, the Canberra station will be shut down for upgrades ahead of several upcoming missions to Mars that will require a little more bandwidth than originally built into the comms relays. This puts one mission in particular in for a bit of a nail-biter: for the Voyager 2 spacecraft, now 13 billion miles away and outside the bounds of the solar system, the Canberra 70-meter antenna is the only one with enough juice to send commands, and it’ll be down for 11 months. Over that period, NASA will essentially be ghosting the spacecraft, listening to its frantic texts but not sending anything back, only to say in 11 months “new phone who dis.”
Every politician seems to want to install some sort of signature transit system, like a hyperloop or a big dig or a Second Avenue Subway or the Ed Koch Memorial Astoria Island Trebuchet, but they are ridiculously expensive. It turns out you can get some serious quality of life improvements out of some pretty inexpensive transit adjustments. Adding space for pedestrians and cyclists at intersections can make them safer. Adding inexpensive bus shelters — $15,000 a pop is, in infrastructure terms, a steal — can materially make straphangers happier, as a study found a five-minute wait at an exposed pole-in-the-ground bus stop feels like a 13-minute wait, while one with a bench and some kind of roof falls to 7.5 minutes.
Hollywood Is Back
California narrowly won out over New York when it came to producing narrative feature films in 2018, according to a new study. The researchers looked at 291 live-action movies released theatrically and another 56 films pushed out on streaming services, finding that California made 62 of the movies and New York made 57. Both states — each of which has a long relationship with cinema — have had to compete against states that rolled out juicy film incentive programs over the past several decades, such as third-place production hub Georgia, which produced 36 movies in the set, well above the runner-up states like Massachusetts (10), Louisiana and Illinois (eight each), and Nevada and New Mexico (seven each). For perspective, 37 were made in the United Kingdom and 22 films were shot in Canada.
A new study sought to determine if it is, in fact, truly possible to hire a hitman on the dark web in order to carry out a contract killing, and the answer is basically “probably not, but we found some sketchy stuff that kind of checks out.” The academic paper out of Michigan State University looked at 24 hitman for hire sites on the dark web and found that lots of them were basically elaborate frauds designed to extract a couple grand in bitcoin from various internet morons who got a little too ticked off for their own good. Somewhat distressing, though, is that the price structure listed actually fell pretty consistently with what previous research determined to be going rates of genuine hitmen, $11,000 in Australia and $18,000 in England.
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