Numlock News: September 30, 2022 • Hubble, Driftwood, Dolphins
By Walt Hickey
While the prices of food and particularly produce have gone consistently up with inflation, tomato prices in the United States are actually down since the start of the year. At the beginning of the year tomatoes were going for $1.93 per pound and as of August they’re down 2 percent to $1.89 per pound, over a period where food prices are up 7 percent. What gives? Has Tom Brady’s fear of nightshades reached a state of national dietary penetration? Nah, it’s mostly that consumers were already paying rather high prices for tomatoes, and trade deals with Mexico that force minimum prices have caused steady prices for the vegetable-slash-fruit-we’re-not-wading-into-that. Also, tomatoes are pretty easy: They’re grown year-round, and all you really need is water and fertilizer to make them grow.
In 2019, the average song in Spotify’s top 200 was there for 28 weeks. The music business has had trouble minting new hits at their historical pace, and in July and August the average song had been in the top 200 for 39 weeks, which by my calculation means that the average song on the Spotify 200 list actually got there in 2021 and has managed to hang on through almost an entire other year. It’s a bit of an issue for new music, as right now half of the 10 top-selling albums in the first half of 2022 are, in fact, from 2021, three of which are actually from the first half of 2021.
The Mirage Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat operated by MGM Resorts International seeks to bring intelligent marine life to a casino in the middle of the desert, and lately that has not been working particularly well for the animals. There have been three dolphin deaths at the Mirage in the past six months, and the facility has a lengthy history of dolphin death: In the 31-year history of the facility, 16 dolphins have died there. Life expectancy is 20 to 30 years, with a maximum life span of 65, and 446 bottlenose dolphins live in captivity in the U.S. Seven bottlenose dolphins remain at the exhibit as well as a number of other exotic animals. Many countries are beginning to ban cetacean captivity and entertainment.
After a $550 million renovation, David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center will reopen in early October, and the hope is that they worked out the small problem where the place sounded bad when you listened to music there. When Philharmonic Hall first opened, it was very big and long and the audience was far away from the stage and the orchestra actually managed to sound distant in a venue explicitly intended to field an orchestra. For the next half-century they attempted to repair those shoddy acoustics, particularly with a 1976 effort that did significantly improve the soundscape, but the verdict of musicians in the know was that it’s still not great. The latest renovation is now 500 seats smaller than the previous incarnation with 2,200 seats, which should be a big help, and this time around they brought in acousticians early.
A new analysis of 82,000 scientific papers with 629,000 authors published across seven journals from 2017 to 2021 looked into the practice of throwing bigwigs “honorary authorship” of papers by adding the name of a department chair or person who obtained the grant to the list of authors. This is discouraged, but is evidently common: 35 percent of the authors failed to meet a set of standards developed by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors as to who merits a byline, and they further concluded that 1 percent of authors were listed solely because they secured the funding or resources for the project.
Much of the wood used to build early settlements in Iceland were driftwood, because the island has sparse forests but a seemingly endless amount of driftwood. However, that’s begun to change since the 1980s, with the amount of driftwood showing up in significant decline. A new study tried to find out where all that driftwood was coming from, finding that it’s generally brought by sea ice from Russia. They collected 289 samples of Arctic driftwood in 1989 and in 2019, and found that 73 percent of the trees came from Siberia, with about 83 percent felled by logging and lost while the other 17 percent had roots intact and fell naturally. Wood gets waterlogged and sinks after about 10 months, so as sea ice diminishes it’s now projected that by 2060 driftwood won’t arrive at Iceland.
When the Hubble Telescope was launched in 1990, it was to an altitude of 600 kilometers. Since then, the Earth’s gravity has brought the Hubble to a current level of about 535 kilometers, and the fifth and final servicing mission to the telescope was in 2009. At the current rate, the rate at which it descends to Earth is going to accelerate and eventually NASA’s going to have to send a propulsion module in the late 2020s that can steer it into the Pacific Ocean gracefully. However, there’s an alternative, and NASA is now studying the possibility of a public-private mission sending a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle up to boost it back out to 600 kilometers and add another 15 to 20 years of orbital lifetime to Hubble.
Last week in the Sunday Edition, I spoke to Kate Bernot, who wrote Everybody Else — Outside of Mexican Beer, Imports Are a Jumble of Mixed Trends for Good Beer Hunting. She takes a prevailing story — imported beer is doing great! — and peers just beneath the surface to find out that actually, it’s really just Mexican beer, and even further, it’s pretty much just one single company. We spoke about what’s going on in the import market, how Japanese beer companies are looking to the U.S. to save their business, and the ongoing carbon dioxide crisis. Kate can be found on Twitter and at Good Beer Hunting.
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