Numlock News: October 29, 2021 • Great Red Spot, Spiders, Supercomputers
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend!
New data from the Juno probe gives additional insight into the depth of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, the colossal spinning storm that’s lasted for hundreds of years and is wider than the Earth itself. Initial reads of microwave transmissions showed scientists that the spot was at least 240 kilometers deep, and a further analysis of distortions of Jupiter’s gravity field suggests that the storm vortex extends around 500 kilometers deep. This is a better-than-typical discovery, because usually when Juno pries into Jupiter she just finds the king of the gods canoodling with some rando while transformed into a swan or something.
In 2020, growers in the United States produced $2.2 billion worth of strawberries, but an estimated 35 percent of those ended up in the trash because of spoilage. An Idaho company that previously did a genetic punch up on potatoes plans to launch gene-edited strawberries that make them hardier and more durable. Their previous gene-modifying work — on Simplot potatoes — are responsible for 1.1 billion pounds of potatoes annually, served in 4,000 supermarkets and 9,000 restaurants. It costs growers around $35,000 per acre to plant and $35,000 per acre to harvest strawberries now, and more durable berries might reduce the rate of crop failure.
Some species of jumping spider show evidence of cognitive behavior, with the ability to make and execute plans, solve problems and experience surprise. Jumping spiders have the best vision of animals their size — between 1 millimeter and 2.3 centimeters — and the spiders in the genus Portia are devious as heck. Portia spiders hunt other spiders, and do so cleverly, by messing with their webs as if they’re a caught fly, or imitating their mates, or shaking webs like it’s windy to mask their movement. There’s even evidence they can count — at least to the extent of “0, 1, 2, many” — as one study found they are able to see a number of prey from a viewing tower, and then if the count is increased en route, they’re less inclined to attack. This puts them, mathematically, on the same level as human 1-year-olds. I would be down to read an alternate-universe Spider-Man comic where he’s a ruthless hunter of other spider-men but also kind of sucks at math.
A new study of 28 rivers that originate from High Mountain Asia found that, over the past 60 years, flows had increased by 5 percent each decade since the 1950s, which is evidence of warming. Further worrying them is that sediment flows — the dirt that gets carried along with the rivers — increased 13 percent every decade as well. They estimated that 2 billion tons of sediment flows out of the mountains every year now, which is the weight of 20,000 U.S. aircraft carriers.
The National Weather Service’s computational capacity jumped substantially recently, from a level of 4.2 petaflops in 2018 to 12.1 petaflops in 2020. The two supercomputers — one in Virginia, one in Arizona — each have a 12.1 petaflop capacity, an upgrade that cost $300 million to $500 million. The thing is, that translates to significant gains in forecasting potential, as it facilitates more simulations and more sophisticated weather models that can better predict complicated storms like hurricanes, and add days of notice to potentially impacted communities. The last time the system was upgraded — from 2.8 petaflops to 4.2 petaflops in 2018 — the resolution increased from 34 kilometers to 25 kilometers, and the number of models jumped from 21 to 31. From 2005 to 2020, errors in intensity forecasts within 48 hours are down 20 percent to 30 percent.
An analysis of tissue from 900 condors — the incredibly endangered species that rebounded from just 22 condors in 1983 as a result of a decades-long breeding program — found that two of them (SB260 and SB517) were virgin births, with 100 percent of their DNA coming from mom. This phenomenon is called parthenogenesis, and it’s not uncommon in birds. The poultry industry has studied the phenomenon a lot, with 3 percent of commercial turkeys coming from the spontaneous self-fertilization. There are now over 500 condors, and the researchers plan to do a deeper dive on the genome of SB260 and SB517 to figure out what precisely their deal was.
NBCUniversal reported Thursday that they hauled in $1.76 billion in revenue over the course of the 17-day Summer Olympics, which is 9 percent higher than the revenue from the 2016 Games in Rio. In June, revenue estimates were “more than $1.25 billion,” and Comcast paid $1.42 billion for the rights, and obviously there are significant production costs on top of that in broadcasting the games. As a result, there is a slight question of if, indeed, they managed to break a profit on the games; they didn’t confirm that in their filings but earlier had indicated it was looking like the whole venture might have put them in the black.
Last Sunday, I spoke to my former colleague and longtime friend Sam Ro, one of the smartest people covering finance and the economy. Sam wrote a really great post recently called 4.3 million quitters and me 👋 to launch his new newsletter, TKer, which you should definitely check out. We talked all about quits, inflation, and why the problems the economy has right now aren’t exactly the worst problems, and the fundamental optimism at the heart of economics coverage, I dropped the paywall so go ahead and check it out if that seems up your alley.
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