Numlock News: October 27, 2020 • Urchins, Glitter, Hydrogen
By Walt Hickey
The American Bus Association, which represents the patchwork of independent bus operators that facilitate intercity transportation in the U.S., is attempting to underscore how thoroughly screwed the business is to the federal government: private busses provide 600 million passenger trips per year — behind only airlines — and had 100,000 direct employees bringing in $15 billion in revenue last year. This year, inter-state travel is a no-no for many due to travel restrictions, and the prospect of sharing air for a recreational ride is hardly appealing. The numbers bear out the collapse in demand: 80,000 employees have been furloughed, and in 2020, bus companies brought in just $4 billion. Much of the motorcoach industry is thousands of small, independent operators, unlike the half-dozen major conglomerates that control air travel, so they’ve been less successful in securing aid.
In 2005, when Call of Duty 2 made its console debut, it had the price tag of $59.99. That was a $10 price hike over the then-industry standard, and set the new standard price of sixty bucks for a console game that held for more than a decade thereafter. Now, with a new generation of consoles incoming, once again Call of Duty will be ushering in a new price for a new era of $69.99 for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. This is, all things considered, not an objectively bad deal: over the past 15 years, thanks to inflation, that $59.99 in November 2005 would have a buying power of $79.02 in September 2020, so all told not bad to pay $69.99.
A team of archaeologists has discovered 427 human footprints preserved in the silt of White Sands, New Mexico, according to a new paper published in Quaternary Science Reviews. They are believed to be the footprints of a young teenager or otherwise small person and were made between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. Other preserved prints in the vicinity include those of a mammoth and a giant ground sloth, which are just wild things to find in a modern desert outside a large missile base. Given the stride length, the archaeologists estimated the person was moving at 1.7 meters per second, carrying something the size of a toddler, nearly at a run.
Home Office for Children
Office supplies are doing really well, but office supplies for children are doing spectacularly. According to Wayfair, sales of student desks are up 129 percent. Other things that can help school-from-home flew off shelves between July and August compared to the same period of 2019: USB webcam sales were up 174 percent, monitors were up 78 percent, computer mice up 70 percent and keyboards up 40 percent. The most important centerpiece of any pandemic home — the router — saw sales up 60 percent. At least we’re permanently scarring this generation young and they’ll never want to look at a screen again and they’ll turn to enriching hobbies like “going outside” and “logging off.”
It would be incredibly convenient if humans worked up a robust appetite for urchins right about now. Kelp is important for both marine ecosystems and the broader climate, producing vast amounts of oxygen and sucking up CO2. In 2014, a marine heatwave killed 90 percent of Northern California’s kelp forests, and making it harder for them to rebound is the sea urchin. The creature is, fundamentally, a spiky shell with an insatiable mouth and genitalia, the latter of which is not only edible but quite tasty and sold as “uni” particularly in Japanese cuisine. Urchins are responsible for “urchin barrens,” regions of the seafloor that have been cleaned of animate life by acres of urchins, which have also replaced the kelp forests off of Japan, Norway, Canada and Australia. A number of startups are trying to get urchins on to more plates — sales were down 63 percent in the second quarter because of the pandemic, but the startup Urchinomics had been breaking into fancy restaurants beforehand — in the hopes that putting them on the menu takes them out of the barrens.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen fuel cell tech is pretty basic in chemical principle but pretty complex in practice: use green electricity to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then use the hydrogen as fuel in engines, which leads to the emissions of only water vapor. Right now, major automakers see the best utility for fuel cell vehicles in large heavy trucking because battery electric trucks are fine for smaller trucks, but the long-haul cargo trucks are less efficient lugging around 25,000 pounds of batteries. Last year, Toyota, Hyundai and Honda sold 2,000 fuel cell car models in the United States, which are not exactly blockbuster numbers; Ford sells more F-150 pickup trucks in an average day. But the trucking industry is interested, and Hyundai specifically is hoping to use the tech to break into the North American market where currently it doesn’t sell heavy-duty trucks. The company plans to deliver 50 fuel cell trucks this year and has a target of 12,000 hydrogen trucks this decade. Hydrogen availability is the biggest hurdle, as a network of fueling stations and the infrastructure to move it will cost $30 billion.
Humans release 1.5 million tons of microplastics into the ocean annually, but while lots of folks are targeting the more sparkly offenders like glitter and cosmetic microbeads, the two biggest causes of the problem are less obvious. Just 0.3 percent of microplastics in the ocean are attributed to plastic pellets and just 2 percent to personal care products. The major offenders are synthetic textiles that are run through the laundry, responsible for an estimated 35 percent of the microplastics, and then the abraded bits of car tires that wash off of roadways into waterways with 28 percent. City dust is another 24 percent. Not saying that glitter is awesome or anything — I swear I’m still finding glitter on some clothes from a party I went to in late 2014 — but it’s hardly the chief villain here.
Incidentally, we’re reading Adam’s book, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale over in the Numlock Book Club, a low-key nonfiction discussion newsletter you should check out.
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