Numlock News: September 20, 2023 • Smurf Turf, Scantron, Tomatoes
By Walt Hickey
In college football, one of the more iconic fields belongs to Boise State, which in 1986 decided to, rather than have fake turf that imitates the green color of grass, reject the premise that sheets of extruded polyethylene need to cosplay as something doing photosynthesis and instead chose a deep, gorgeous blue. It's weird, but pretty cool, and is called the "Smurf Turf." Since then, a couple of other schools — Coastal Carolina, Eastern Washington, Eastern Michigan and Central Arkansas — have also installed some weird-looking football fields, all getting the okay from Boise State before doing so. The reason is that the entire idea of having weird colored turf on your football field has in fact been granted a trademark to Boise State, and that trademark will be tested as SUNY Morrisville just installed a $1.28 million all-black football field, and didn't bother to get permission from Boise. Yes, any erstwhile emo will confirm it looks sick. But now Boise has a decision to make as to whether the Broncos are going to take the Mustangs to court.
He Did The Thing
An artist who took 532,000 krone (£61,500) from the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art in Aalborg to produce a work of art about income inequality has been ordered to repay the funds after instead turning in two empty frames, a piece the artist titled Take the Money and Run. The museum wanted Jens Haaning to reproduce two earlier works, An Average Danish Annual Income (2007) which represented income using krone notes, and a 2011 work that did the same with euros. Instead he did the funniest possible thing and then the museum got mad. The court ruled that the artist ought to keep his 40,000 krone artist's fee, but would need to pay back the 532,000 krone (£61,500) that had been offered as a loan.
With the rise of digital test-taking, some in education see the sun setting on the almighty scantron, which has facilitated speedy multiple-choice testing for decades. The first automatic scoring machine was invented by IBM in 1937, but it wasn't until the 1950s when optical mark recognition scanning devices really made machine grading popular, particularly after the founding of the eponymous Scantron company in 1972. Like many successful tech enterprises, Scantron made its money by selling the grading devices for really cheap and making their actual money on the answer sheets, which go for 15 cents to 20 cents per page. In 2019, Scantron printed 800 million sheets globally per year, and the scanners can handle 15,000 per hour.
Burmese pythons are not native to Florida, but like many Floridian transplants they are truly thriving there. That's an issue, as the snakes don't have any predators, and if left to their own devices would devour the vibrant wildlife of the Everglades. In an attempt to at least slow their spread, a decade ago Florida started paying people to hunt the pythons, even setting up competitions as to who could catch the most. The first hunt captured 68 pythons, and the one that just wrapped in August saw a thousand hunters capture and kill 209 pythons. That all said, the question remains if this is doing anything to actually roll back the python's expansion; 20,000 snakes have been removed since 2006, 11,000 of which from paid contractors, but they're thriving and the U.S. Geological Survey thinks that they're here to stay, and eradication is impossible.
U.S. News and World Report, an institution that apparently used to be some kind of an actual magazine but which today essentially exists so a bunch of random people can arbitrarily rank colleges, is out with the newest edition of that ranking. This year, the notorious SEO play is shaking things up, namely by completely retooling their formula for evaluating higher education in America like it's a cookie recipe. The listicle company has since entirely discarded five factors in evaluating colleges — undergraduate class sizes, school class standing, alumni giving rates — that previously composed 18 percent of a school's score, and also gave less weight to how many people actually graduate from those colleges and how much the schools spend educating students. Having released their annual college rankings, presumably U.S. News and World Report went on to continue their bold tradition of filling chumboxes and not producing a single scrap of interesting writing until next year.
It's The Money
A new survey found Americans have serious misgivings about American politics, with 65 percent saying they feel exhausted when thinking about politics and just 16 percent trusting the government some or most of the time. That said, they have the solution: 85 percent said that the cost of political campaigns make it hard for good people to run for office, 84 percent said that special interest groups and lobbyists have too much say in politics, 72 percent backed laws that would limit campaign spending and 58 percent backed laws that would reduce the role of money in politics.
Researchers have found the exact gene that makes canned Roma tomatoes hold a durable shape, and the hope is that they can breed that gene into other varieties of tomatoes so that other types of tomatoes can be harvested by machine and transported without bruising, which could cut down on costs and food weight. The study, published in Nature Plants, resulted from planting 14,000 seeds to produce the kind of ideal offspring that allowed the researchers to pinpoint the gene Solyc08g061910, which can mutate to make tomatoes more egg-shaped and thus durable. By removing Solyc08g061910 and replicating the mutation in an otherwise round tomato, they could produce elongated tomatoes. They then went on to do the science that we all want to see, which is that they used a lab press to squish 150 tomatoes to test when the tomatoes exploded, and found that even thought the gene didn't touch taste, it made much more durable tomatoes.
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