Numlock News: May 5, 2020 • Cruises, Nuclear, Fungi
By Walt Hickey
The leadership of the BBC had been preparing for a bruising fight with the U.K. government over the future of its funding, but the pandemic — and the BBC’s essential role in transmitting information about it, and subsequent swelling of affection for the public broadcaster — has completely redrawn the negotiation. Each year, all owners of a color television in the U.K. have to pay a £157.50 fee to support the public broadcaster, and the service’s adversaries in government wanted to change the law so that failure to pay would go from being a criminal act — like dodging taxes — to a civil debt. Doing so would cost the BBC an estimated £200 million. Overall, the license fee raises £3.7 billion a year. Rather than the existence of the fee, the conversation instead will likely center on who will subsidize the license fees of those over 75, and if they’ll adjust to a progressive fee where the wealthier pay more.
Carnival is offering discounts to come aboard its ships when they resume sailing on August 1, with discounts as low as $28 per day for a five-day cruise from Galveston, Texas to Cozumel, Mexico. You know there is a word for when a ship offers something tantalizing in order to get something that probably shouldn’t come aboard to come aboard, and that word is bait. That $139 package — plus taxes, fees and port expenses — includes food and and a room, which doing the math may very well be cheaper than many people’s living arrangements. On the other hand, and I’m just saying what we’re all thinking, the Carnival Dream cost approximately $741 million to build in 2008 and has a capacity of 3,646 passengers and 1,369 crew, which back of the napkin would necessitate an investment of about half a million dollars to buy her out bow to stern, maybe two or three times that after accounting for the larger staterooms. Now, the Gavalston to Cozumel route offers a brief window of approximately four hours when you’re not only in international waters, but also just outside both the U.S. and Mexican Exclusive Economic Zones. I know what you’re thinking, it’s too risky “to rob a casino, commandeer the vessel and become pirates,” but the Dream flies under a Panamanian flag-of-convenience so it’s not like Uncle Sam’s actually got skin in the game here, and after Costa Concordia there’s no way any insurer is going near a craft this size so you wouldn’t even have to worry about Lloyds sending a bunch of ex-Mossad bangers to take it back!
Or, you know, we could just not go on cruise ships for a minute.
Last June, cybersecurity researchers flagged 1,095 apps in the Play Store to Google that they found to be ripe for abuse. These apps included location trackers, wiretappers, remote recorders, key loggers, many of which were titled things like “Catch Cheating Spouse” or “Spoof Text Message” and others that ranged from creeptacular to merely nefarious. The researchers found that Google subsequently removed 813 of the apps from the Play Store, according to a new paper from those researchers, but it highlights a significant contrast between the more laissez-faire way Google runs its app store compared to the fairly draconian rules Apple throws up in its.
A new paper published in Nature Communications highlights a newly understood microbe called Microsporidia MB found in mosquitoes near Lake Victoria in Kenya. Residing in the mosquito gut and genitals, none of the bugs found with the fungus had the malaria parasite, and the new paper confirmed after lab experiments that a fungus-riddled mosquito was protected from carrying malaria. That’s potentially great news for humans and the mosquitoes: if the introduction of Microsporidia MB can eliminate the risk of malaria, we can possibly stop killing each other. At minimum, 40 percent of mosquitoes in a region need to be infected with Microsporidia MB to reduce malaria, and it’s passed from adults to their offspring.
Humans need about 700 milligrams of phosphorous a day, and plants need it to grow. Global reserves of phosphorous are shrinking: natural phosphate deposits are in China and many parts of Africa, but mining can be gnarly and those deposits will run out. As it stands, the phosphorous we extract goes into fertilizer, which goes into food, which goes into us, is urinated out, and eventually just ends up in sewage, where it’s burned or leaves the cycle altogether. The goal of a circular process — where the phosphorous can be extracted during the waste treatment and then used as fertilizer — is compelling. One mobile plant in South Africa is able to turn 1,000 liters of urine into 70 liters of fertilizer and 930 liters of water after two or three days, which is enough to either irrigate or fertilize 2,000 square meters or alternatively ruin a very large social gathering.
In 2019, sports programming in the United States was responsible for $18.55 per cable or satellite subscriber per month, when looking at the fees their cable companies were passing on to the networks and on to the leagues. Sports are a major chunk of your cable bill: that $18.55 per subscriber per month is 22.1 percent of the average revenue per user, a share that is decisively higher than the 14.1 percent of revenue per user sports demanded in 2009. Now broadcasters, leagues and viewers are in a pickle: the New York State Attorney General told the cable companies that they need to stop charging subscribers for sports they are not able to watch, but in reality that’s not up to the cable companies, especially because the games are technically just delayed rather than outright cancelled.
Power demand has slipped globally, and while that’s particularly taken a bite out of demand for oil and coal, nuclear generation is down as well, with only renewables up compared to 2019. The International Energy Agency said nuclear use could dip 3 percent this year, which while only a slight decline is still considerable given that 2,821 terawatt-hours are generated with nuclear power annually, roughly enough energy to power Germany for five years. The nuclear business is doing fine, and up to 55 plants are under construction, but 2020 may be a year where operators shut down the facilities and bank maintenance ahead of time: EDF has 15 reactors in the U.K., but halted five of them for long-term repairs.
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