Numlock News: November 1, 2023 • A Fish, A Scheme, A Canal: Panama
By Walt Hickey
Two very cool conversations about my book out this week! One was with Philip Bump at the Washington Post’s How To Read This Chart newsletter, and the other was an extremely fun hit on Vox’s The Gray Area podcast with Alissa Wilkinson which you should absolutely check out, a portion of which is also transcribed here at Vox. Really, really thrilled to have appeared in those.
Two new Russian nationals have been charged in the massive scheme to rig the cab line at JFK International Airport in New York, joining two individuals charged last year. One of the men charged last year will plead guilty later this month, and the other pleaded guilty on Monday. The scheme was simple: Taxis at the biggest airport in New York have to queue in a nearby parking lot, and an electronic system ensures that the first cab in is the first out. The conspirators are charged with getting unauthorized access and then charging $10 for drivers to cut the line. At times, 1,000 taxis per day were hopping the line, and gobs of money were being sent to Russia. The pair already pleading guilty were the frontmen of the operation, while the two charged Monday were said to have orchestrated the swindle behind the scenes in Russia, according to the government.
Maryland officials in five counties are considering the potential for a passenger ferry network that could span the Chesapeake Bay and avoid hours of driving between the 12,700 miles of Maryland shoreline. This comes as officials weigh the long-term fate of the 4.3-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge that connects the chunk of Maryland on the Delmarva Peninsula with the chunk of Maryland that is near Annapolis on the western shore of the Chesapeake. Fast, electric shuttles between the shores are being considered, with the main thing standing in the way of the Chesapeake getting its own sophisticated Swedish-inspired hydrofoil ferry system being the Jones Act that forbids boats made overseas from connecting domestic ports. Those shuttles sell for $1.9 million and consume 80 percent less energy than a conventional boat.
The water situation at the Panama Canal is deteriorating, and the number of ships that may traverse the canal in a given day will be dropped to 25 ships per day as of November 3, down from 31 ships per day right now. Things will get worse — October precipitation was the lowest on record since 1950, and 2023 in general has been the second-driest year since then — and over the next three months the number of ships that may traverse the canal will be slowly dropped to 18 slots by February 1. Essentially, every time a ship goes through the canal, freshwater from Gatun Lake flows out into one of the two oceans. Gatun Lake is, in addition to the reservoir where ships go through the lock system, also the freshwater source for Panama as a whole.
The JT-60SA fusion reactor in Japan is designed to hold plasma heated to 200 million degrees Celsius for 100 seconds, which would be considerably longer than previous experiments. The reactor fired up for the first time last week, and it’s going to be another two years before the machine produces the kind of plasma that is useful for experiments. JT-60SA is a bit of a consolation prize — France was decided as the host for the ITER, the big fusion reactor under construction, and Japan’s acquiescence to that hosting choice meant they got to upgrade their JT-60 reactor to test tech for the big guy — but nevertheless is built to contain 135 cubic meters of plasma.
A new study asked respondents to record every social interaction they had that lasted longer than 10 minutes, and then make a note if at any point in that social interaction they made a deception. The study overall found that on average, people tell 1.08 lies per day, but that only a few participants are responsible for a disproportionate number of those lies. The study went so far as to plot the rate at which a given medium of communications involved lying. According to the study, 7.8 percent of social interactions over email involved some deception, 8.2 percent of interactions over text, 9.6 percent of face-to-face conversations, 11.8 percent of phone calls and 12.3 percent of video chats. This confirms what Numlock has long been predicated upon: Email is the most direct and sincere form of mass communication that we as a society have got.
The implementation of solar energy and wind energy is outpacing the implementation of the transmission capacity necessary to use all of it. In Texas, for instance, wind energy capacity rose from 10 gigawatts in 2010 to 40 gigawatts in 2022, a massive onboarding of electrical generation that was only possible thanks to a significant state-mandated power line expansion in the 2000s. As of 2022, that expansion has reached its limits, and as it stands Texas wasted 5 percent of wind and 9 percent of solar energy that it might have otherwise created. Absent further investment in that grid, by 2035 Texas could waste 13 percent of wind and 19 percent of solar.
A Century-Old Stone Monument to the Hubris of Man
The buffalofish is native to Minnesota and other parts of central North America, but when the United States began damming the Southwest and making all sorts of new reservoirs, the government decided to dump stocks of the fish in places like Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake in Arizona. Roosevelt Lake was eventually fished commercially, but Apache Lake still had all sorts of fish for local anglers, who by and large sucked at catching buffalofish for decades, and when they did learn, did so by catch and release. A new study looked at the buffalofish of Apache Lake, specifically studying the otolith, which is a stone-like structure in the fish’s body that adds a new layer every year of life and thus can serve as a way to reckon age. Anyway, the study found that three different species of buffalofish in Apache Lake were living to over 100 years, which means that some of the residents of the lake may in fact be some of the original fish transported over in that 1918 Arizona stocking. This means that some of the longest-lived animals in the world are fish that live in the Sonoran Desert.
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