Numlock News: September 2, 2022 • Pheromones, Butter, Pantolambda
By Walt Hickey
Have a great weekend! We’re off on Monday in observation of Labor Day. Also, the huge annual Numlock Back-To-School sale kicks off soon!
Pests eat a fifth of the world’s crops, and to attempt to stymie them growers douse food in 400,000 tons of pesticide a year. One more boutique albeit more expensive option is to use pheromones, which are chemicals that are applied to a field or orchard and prevent the insects’ reproduction. If bugs are too confused to find each other to mate, no hungry, hungry caterpillars. The drawback is that pheromones can cost $1,000 to $3,500 per kilogram to produce and then you’re looking at a $40 to $400 per hectare cost to apply, which is only really economical for crops that grow really densely like fruit and nuts. A new study modified plants to produce the chemical (Z)-11-hexadecenoic acid, which is the building block of mating pheromones in insects. As a result, they were able to get the cost to produce (Z)-11-hexadecenoic acid down to $70 to $125 per kilogram, which is half the price of the current method.
When a person wins the Princess Kay of the Milky Way prize at the Minnesota State Fair, a competition to represent and advocate for the 2,100 dairy farmers of the state, the winner gets their face and head carved into a 90-pound block of butter. But different than other fairs, they also get to keep the butter statue and all of the remaining trimmings. This presents a problem both logistical and thermodynamic: What the precise heck does someone do with 90 pounds of butter? Many of the princesses take a garlic bread-and-circuses approach, giving out the butter to the community that backed them in their quest for the throne. Others consider the dynastic implications, and freeze the sculptures for decades. If I got it, I would leave it in the attic, the portrait becoming a molten, buttery ghoulish visage that takes on the ugliness and wages of my life of sin while I remain an unchanged, youthful specimen.
In 2020, when trying to convince regulators to waive the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint through, the bosses argued that the new, combined company would create new jobs and employ at least 11,000 additional workers by 2024. That turns out to have been a load of crap, as T-Mobile’s engineering and operations teams are in a state of layoffs, layoffs that followed the general layoffs that immediately followed the merger of the two telecoms. In April of 2020 the companies had a combined 80,000 workers, but today they have only around 75,000 employees. Who could have possibly foreseen that industry consolidation would immediately result in negative results for workers despite assurances from company brass to the government?
Google Flights offers information about emissions, and also includes commentary about a given flight’s climate impact. For instance, in September flights from New York to London from Virgin Atlantic or Air France-Delta-KLM have 26 percent lower emissions than typical for that route, while a JetBlue flight might be 14 percent over, according to Google. Earlier this summer, though, Google stopped counting the climate impact of contrails. Before you freak out — in my experience it’s never a good sign when an independent newsletter that already talked about pheromones starts rambling about contrails, I get it — but contrails are an important variable in calculating the climate impact of flights, as the ice cloud trails trap heat to the extent that they may have a greater impact on global temperatures than CO2 emissions. That impact can change based on whether it’s a daytime or a nighttime flight, and otherwise varies wildly, requiring math that Google wasn’t actually doing when calculating the non-CO2 emissions, So, they just dropped it, and now the recommendations are less realistic.
Jackson, Mississippi, is still in the midst of a devastating water outage, with the 150,000 residents now without access to clean water. Most of the city has been without drinkable water for the past month, but floods last week knocked out the municipal water plant that has been neglected for decades. The city — which is 83 percent Black and has a poverty level of 25 percent — has seen its municipal infrastructure deprived of maintenance after school integration led to white flight that saw it shift from majority-white to majority-Black from 1980 to 2000.
Baykar, the Turkish defense contractor whose drones have become essential elements in combat the world over and especially in Ukraine, is planning to significantly increase production. The company has export deals with 24 countries, up from 22 in August, and they’ve served as the drone of choice for fighters on a budget who can’t afford the wares of the more established producers like the U.S. and Israel. The company has made about 400 TB2 UAVs to date as well as 20 of the newer Akinci models, but next year they project to make 500 TB2s and 40 Akincis, a major step up in production that will exceed their total output thus far.
When dinosaurs ruled the Earth, mammals were a little furry afterthought. Even though the first mammals appeared 210 million years ago, while dinosaurs were around they were rarely larger than today’s cats. But after the alleged asteroid wiped out the big feathery scaly folks, things very quickly started looking very good for mammals, and a new study details how things began to change for them. One animal, the Pantolambda, over the course of just 4 million years was already sheep-sized, lived for a brief 10 years, and had a gestation period of about seven months, which meant that when it was born it was pretty much good to go. This made a competitive animal that could survive and reproduce quickly.
This week in the Sunday edition I spoke to Saleah Blancaflor, who wrote “In the Battle of ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘The Rings of Power,’ the Real Winners Are Fantasy Fans” for Morning Consult. We spoke about the fiasco surrounding The Flash, the two massive blue chip fantasy series dropping head to head, and the slight uptick in superhero fatigue. Check it out!
Don’t pay to subscribe today, when we come back on Tuesday there will be the biggest sale of the year!
Thanks to the paid subscribers to Numlock News who make this possible. Subscribers guarantee this stays ad-free, and get a special Sunday edition. Consider becoming a full subscriber today.
The best way to reach new readers is word of mouth. If you click THIS LINK in your inbox, it’ll create an easy-to-send pre-written email you can just fire off to some friends.