Numlock News: October 20, 2021 • Roborealtors, Turkmenistan, College Towns
By Walt Hickey
Lucy In The Sky With Problems
Saturday saw the successful launch of Lucy, a NASA spacecraft that’s headed for the Trojan asteroids near Jupiter. It’s got two 7-meter-wide circular solar panels that have to unfold, and while both of them have done so and are charging the battery, one of them reportedly hasn’t secured itself properly. The mission is still stable and the spacecraft is still safe, and Lucy’s already set to spend some time in Earth orbit for two flybys to build up some speed. It’s projected to do its first of eight asteroid flybys in 2025, finishing by 2033.
College and university towns in the United States may have had a significant undercount of their students during last year’s census, which took place during a pandemic. A review of 75 metro areas with large shares of 20- to 24-year-olds found that college town populations shifted erratically in 2020 compared to projections, and it could lead some municipalities to challenge the results. The State College in Pennsylvania thinks the census missed 4,000 to 5,000 Penn State residents; Indiana University’s home of Bloomington, Indiana, expected 85,000 to 90,000 residents, not the 79,168 the census counted; and East Carolina University’s home of Greenville, North Carolina, saw census figures 6 percent lower than estimates. In the University of Alabama’s home of Tuscaloosa, the 99,600 resident count is just shy of the 100,000 at which some extra funding is available. Oh, I get it, now the college town governments like the students, but when they’re drunk in public in Colonial Williamsburg and not directly contributing to federal funding, all of a sudden I’m the bad guy.
New York City has outstanding tap water thanks in part to the longest tunnel in the world, the 85-mile 20-foot diameter Delaware Aqueduct that brings water to the city down from Rondout Reservoir upstate, accounting for about half the city’s supply. Next year, the city will shut down the Delaware Aqueduct for five to eight months for repairs and capital improvements, and to shore up the remaining water capacity, they’ve shut down the Catskill Aqueduct, which brings water from the Ashokan Reservoir, for tune-ups for 15 weeks. Since the Ashokan is smaller, and it’s autumn, the levels of two safe and ultra-low concentration earthy compounds — MIB and geosmin — are slightly elevated as plants die off ahead of winter. And while most people won’t notice a thing, some people are sensitive to the compounds and may detect elevated levels at 10 parts per trillion. The city received 29 complaints about water quality in the first two weeks of October, but don’t fear if you notice it’s starting to taste more like Philly water; it’s safe and expected.
Researchers that monitor emissions through orbital monitoring systems are increasingly concerned about Turkmenistan, an ex-Soviet republic home to 6 million citizens and a repressive dictatorship. Of the 50 most severe methane releases logged since 2019 by Kayrros SAS, Turkmenistan was home to 31 of them, and the International Energy Agency estimates that it’s behind only Russia and the United States in terms of overall methane emissions. Its state-owned energy sector relies on aging equipment and doesn’t work with outside companies often, and its gas exports almost entirely to China.
About 37.5 million American adults have difficulty hearing, as do something like one in five teens. A new rule proposed by the FDA would allow for the purchase of hearing aids without a medical exam or fitting, with the goal of making hearing assistance more available to people with mild or moderate hearing loss who are reluctant to go through the considerable expense of a top-to-bottom fitting. It’s a move hailed by consumer advocacy groups, who see the absence of over-the-counter hearing devices as an impediment to getting necessary treatments to people who need it and the overall lack of competition as pushing up prices across the board. Finally, some benefits to being exclusively ruled by septuagenarians.
Netflix announced earnings yesterday, reporting a net global gain of 4.4 million new subscribers and beating out expectations of 3.84 million. Interestingly, the company revealed that Facebook’s loss is Netflix’s gain, as when the company saw its flagship site as well as Instagram and Whatsapp go offline as part of a DNS-related bug, Netflix engagement was up 14 percent over the period of the outage.
Zillow, the real estate data company that launched an internal algorithm to purchase and flip houses automatically, yanked the plug on the operation through the end of the year as it deals with backlogs in the houses it’s got on hand. That line of business produced $772 million in revenue in Q2 of this year, up 70 percent over 2020. The 3,142 homes it had on hand at the end of the second quarter had a value of $1.17 billion. It bought 3,805 homes in the second quarter, though that’s still lower than the 8,494 homes chief rival Opendoor bought in the same period. None of the other robobuyers are stopping as yet, so it could just be a Zillow-specific issue.
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