Numlock News: November 15, 2023 • Ramen, ICBMs, Weather
By Walt Hickey
Thank you everyone who came out last night for the D.C. event; it was a packed house and I was so thrilled to see all the Numlock readers there. This tour has been a real treat because I got to meet so many of y’all. Thanks for supporting the book!
Also, in extremely good news, I learned that You Are What You Watch is going to be part of the big holiday promotional push from the publisher. What that means for you is that if you want to buy it as a gift, it’s 25 percent off right now and shipping is free with the code CYBER23 on the Hachette website. That’s a really great deal and probably one of the best we’re going to see to score the book.
Even though the U.S. is preparing to reduce the overall number of nuclear weapons it has, the country is embarking on a massive, $1.5 trillion program to update and upgrade its land-based intercontinental ballistic missile system as well as the sea and air parts of the triad. The Minuteman III missiles currently scattered across the West will be replaced by the Sentinel missiles, with a $100 billion contract with Northrop Grumman serving as the first of many installments in a process that will increase production of the plutonium pits that constitute the business-end of a nuke. Whether or not more plutonium pits are actually needed is a somewhat open question: The country made 1,000 pits a year at the peak of the Cold War, there are an estimated 20,000 pits just in storage mostly at Pantex in Texas, and for some reason a number of facilities at Los Alamos and in South Carolina are gearing up to in the near future produce 30 pits a year and 50 pits a year, respectively.
A rotation of the 260-meter offshore Haliade-X 13 MW wind turbine can power a whole house for two days, and wind energy is attractive for a lot of reasons. One issue is that it can impact wildlife like bats and birds. Though wind power is a very small contributor to bird mortality — it’s estimated to have killed 234,000 birds in 2017, compared to 214.5 million birds killed in vehicle collisions, 599 million killed in building collisions, and 2.4 billion killed by cats — as it ramps up many are trying to figure out ways to make it safer for wildlife. A Norwegian study found that painting one blade black cut down on mortality by 70 percent, and a study of 13 wind farms in Spain found that stopping the turbines when birds get too close can halve mortality rates while only leading to a loss of 0.07 percent of total production per year. Most interestingly, only running the turbines when winds are too high for the bugs that bats eat to fly is an incredibly simple approach: By increasing the wind speed at which turbines start to spin from 3 meters per second to 6 meters per second, energy losses are just 1 percent and you can avert a whole lot of bat strikes.
A new paper published in Science reveals that Google DeepMind’s GraphCast model was producing highly competitive weather forecasts compared to existing traditional forecasts. Weather models work by consuming vast quantities of current weather data from satellites, stations and buoys, then simulating the fluid dynamics across a grid of the atmosphere on supercomputers. Google’s model was trained on 40 years of reanalysis data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, an agency which itself has begun embracing the potential that deep learning has on producing experimental forecasts. The paper details that GraphCast — trained on 32 computers in four weeks — was able to outperform the standard ECMWF forecast out to 10 days on 90 percent of targets, and does so much quicker and with a lower compute load.
After years of positive relations, once again society is gradually reverting to the "Doc, in English, please??” paradigm of the scientists/non-scientists rapport. As of March 2016, 67 percent of Americans reported that science has had a mostly positive effect on society, compared to just 4 percent who said science had a mostly negative effect. In the most recent poll conducted in October 2023, that’s since slipped to just 57 percent who said science has had a mostly positive effect, and 8 percent who think the impact has been mostly negative. As it stands, 27 percent of Americans said they have not too much or no confidence in scientists to act in the public interest, up from 12 percent in April 2020.
Americans who have worked for tips at some point in their life are much more likely to know the right amount to tip and tip better in general, and tend to be more likely to tip for a broad number of services. For instance, 76 percent of people who have worked for tips always or often leave a tip when they get a drink at a bar, compared to 66 percent who haven’t worked for tips. Overall, 28 percent of adults who have worked for tips before tip at a percentage of 20 percent or higher in a sit-down restaurant, compared to 22 percent of people who have not.
Cars, which used to be large objects that were sold to consumers so they could get around, from an economic perspective have morphed into essentially the pricey bait dangled in front of consumers so they can be sold the real product, which is typically a very expensive loan that they will have to service for the better part of a decade, if not longer, at somewhat ridiculous prices. Santander, which is one of the largest subprime auto lenders in the U.S. and which can charge interest rates of over 20 percent, has projected that customers will eventually fail to pay 42 percent of the money they borrow, ultimately defaulting and allowing the bank to seize the vehicle and flip it. Car dealerships managed to score an exemption to supervision under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and as it stands, 30 percent of subprime auto loans default, which is getting near the default rate mortgages were hitting 17 years ago.
Nissin Foods, which has a 40 percent marketshare in the instant ramen segment in the U.S., will spend $228 million to expand in the United States, buying up a 640,000-square-foot facility in South Carolina to add on to its production centers in California and Pennsylvania. Ramen continues to grow in the U.S., and Nissin has logged double-digit growth for all of the past four quarters, reaching a 27 percent increase in sales year over year in the first quarter of 2023.
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