Numlock News: November 14, 2023 • Lasers, Cat’s Eye, Cream of Mushroom
By Walt Hickey
The final event of the book tour is in Washington, D.C., at East City Books, tonight at 7 p.m. RSVP soon! It’ll also be streamed, if you want to watch. Thanks to everyone who has bought You Are What You Watch, and a huge thank you to everyone that has left a review for it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads; those are so helpful.
A researcher collected images of 279 irises from 52 different species and subspecies of cat, and found that 80 percent of the cat species have more than one eye color. Based on a study of their evolutionary history, the new study argues that the common ancestor of cats had brown and gray eyes, not just brown, and that the gray eyes facilitated new and exciting colorations of eyes across all the felines. Cats have striking eye colors, with yellow, blue, hazel and green eyes emerging independently in multiple different lineages from those gray-eyed cats, and hazel and green eyes in particular emerging a dozen times.
In March, the 30,000-person community of Mountain House in California will vote on whether or not it will incorporate as a city with its own local government. This is a big deal in California, which while it has just 482 municipalities that have formed since 1850, only two municipalities have incorporated over the past decade despite a population increase of 2 million people. The most recent new city — Jurupa Valley, with 107,000 people — formed in 2011. California has way fewer municipalities relative to its population, and 17 states have more incorporated places than the nation’s most populous state. The reason comes down to money: Because of some quirks to California’s law, a community leaving a county to form its own municipality would leave both in a dire fiscal position. If, for instance, the 66,000-resident community of Castro Valley in Alameda County became its own municipality, the subsequent city would operate at a deficit of $7.2 million while the county would face a $3.4 million shortfall, despite operating on a balanced budget under the current arrangement.
Ørsted, the largest offshore wind developer in the U.S., cancelled two projects off the coast of New Jersey, sending ripples of fear throughout the offshore wind world. Ørsted got into trouble on the project for fairly basic reasons; the projects bid at one amount, and then a bunch of inflation happened and rates went up, so when it came time to sign deals and raise the funds to execute on the projects, the project was no longer viable at the original bid price. Plenty of projects are still happening — Vineyard Wind off of Massachusetts, South Fork Wind off the coast of Rhode Island — and the ones that are state-supported by a regulated utility, like the 2.6-GW, 176-turbine Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind project, are proceeding because the investments are just paid for by ratepayers down the line. The Virginia project is straight up buying its own $650 million installation ship, which means that the utility won’t have to bother with fighting over a limited number of vessels, and can also lease out the ship when idle.
Cream of Mushroom
Campbell’s cream of mushroom concentrated soup is entering into the part of the year where it is utterly critical to the functioning of American holiday kitchens, as our nation’s twist on the béchamel will see service in the green bean casseroles of some 20,000 American families. Campbell’s says that 50 percent of annual sales of cream of mushroom soup take place between November and January, as the critical adhesive in the kinds of recipes that are said to stick to your ribs. Introduced in 1934, it was the first product from Campbell’s marketed as both a soup and a sauce, and now I will spend the rest of the day contemplating what even the difference is between a soup and a sauce anyway.
Pay To Play
A University of Chicago professor who is an economist at Google testified today that Google pays Apple 36 percent of all the revenue it makes from search advertising when Google is accessed through the Safari browser, a major reveal that reportedly made Google’s main litigator, and I quote, “visibly cringe.” This number has long been kept out of public record, as both Apple and Google argued that revealing it during the antitrust trial would undermine their ability to compete, but now it’s out there and we get to marvel that Google is paying easily billions of dollars to keep Google as the default search engine in Safari.
The spacecraft Psyche will be hurtling into the asteroid belt, toward a 144-mile-long asteroid called 16 Psyche, over the next six years. One thing it’s also going to do on the journey is, hopefully, advance the way we communicate with the stuff we send to space. Right now the way we talk to stuff in space is through the Deep Space Network, which is three massive antenna sites in Spain, Australia and California that are currently overwhelmed and very nearly at capacity when it comes to the volume of extraterrestrial radio traffic. As it stands, 20 percent of requests to use DSN are not serviceable, and by 2030 that’s going to be 40 percent. Psyche is going to attempt to send a message by laser, which, if effective, could add a lot more uplink and downlink bandwidth with stuff we send to space, especially when there are human lives in those cans. To test it, a 5-kilowatt transmitter in Southern California will send a test message using lasers to a transceiver on Psyche on its telescope, which will download the message using a camera that counts light particles and then relay it back to the 200-inch Hale telescope near San Diego. If it works, and the delicate signal makes it there and back, it could alleviate comms issues in future projects.
Estimates are hard to nail down, but anywhere from 18 percent to 45 percent of private sector workers are bound by noncompete contracts, which makes it impossible for them to enter the labor market without incurring serious ramifications for their career. Many want them banned, arguing that what was once a contract reserved for executives designed to maintain some degree of continuity in management and intellectual property protection has now just become an imposition forced on workers by employers who want to make it hard for them to leave. Earlier this year, the New York State legislature voted to outlaw them, but lobbyists on behalf of banks, media companies and large businesses have been attempting to get Gov. Kathy Hochul to not sign it. The centerpiece of this effort is a $1 million ad campaign that argues that banning noncompetes will hurt the economy of New York. Meanwhile, half of states have serious limits, California deems them unenforceable, and many more states are following suit.
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