Numlock News: September 6, 2019 • Sunlight, Facial Recognition, Deep Sea Mystery
By Walt Hickey
A seabed observatory full of equipment designed to monitor the state of the Baltic sea has up and disappeared. The environmental monitoring station, worth about €300,000 and safely situated 1.2 miles off the Danish coast and 72 feet down, went mysteriously offline in late August after several years of steady operation. The device was connected by landline to power and weighs about 1,700 pounds. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Walter, not again, you can’t blame every weird thing on the ocean floor on Godzilla, this newsletter is supposed to be informative” and I hear you, let’s not be ridiculous, given the surroundings a kobold is the obvious culprit, however I must cautaion a invasion of jötunn frost giants is a remote possibility.
Through the first half of the year, the RIAA reported that music revenues are up 18 percent compared to the same period last year to the amount of $5.4 billion. Fully 80 percent of revenue came from streaming. Revenue from streaming has risen precipitously, from $1.7 billion in the first half of 2016 to $4.6 billion this year. More and more people are shelling out for paid music subscription services: in the first half of 2016, 9.1 million paid for a music service. That rose to 20.5 million subscribers in the first half of 2017, 46.5 million in the 2018 stretch and 61.1 million in 2019.
A new study shows that solar panels can be paired with crops that thrive in partial sunlight to make even more efficient production of some vegetables. The study set up three plots over the course of a summer, one with panels, one with a plot of cherry tomatoes, jalapeños, and chiltepin peppers, and one with both. First off, air under the panels was 1°C cooler during the day but 0.5 °C warmer at night, while the panels with the plants underneath were 9 °C cooler over the day thanks to the plants. That temperature mitigation would increase electrical generation by an estimated 3 percent over the summer. Shade-loving chiltepins saw 33 percent higher CO2 uptake and their mass tripled; sun loving jalapeños had 11 percent less CO2 uptake and stayed roughly the same size, though water use fell 65 percent. The tomatoes made twice as much fruit and had a 65 percent uptake in CO2 and commensurate increase in water efficiency.
Different languages have lots of variations in complexity. English has 11 times as many distinct syllables as Japanese, 7,000 syllables versus a few hundred. This is one reason why some languages, such as Basque, Japanese and Italian, are spoken more quickly based on syllables per second than others like German and Vietnamese. However, a new study found that across 17 Eurasian languages, the rate of information conveyed is actually pretty constant. They collected recordings of native speakers reading 15 semantically similar texts to get a sense of how quickly each got the point across. “Information” is measured in a unit called “bits” — basically an amount of information that cuts uncertainty in half — and across the 17 languages each language was found, regardless of syllables per second, to convey about 39.15 bits per second.
A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that a program originally designed to forgive the student debt of college grads who pursue public service and jobs that benefit the public good has instead been a colossal catastrophe, with the vast majority of people who attempted to participate in the system instead getting screwed over by a Kafkaesque bureaucratic hellscape doing everything within its power to strip them of eligibility. Of 54,000 requests processed by the Department of Education from May 2018 to May 2019, only 661 were approved. Just $27 million of the $700 million allocated for the debt relief was spent. What’s new now is that the program subsequently designed to process those who had been denied for loan forgiveness also had issues: 38,068 requests to that stopgap program were denied, because the applicant had not yet applied to and been denied from the original program they weren’t apparently qualified for. It’s a bad mess.
It’s easy for aspiring reformers of the U.S. health care system to target big pharma and insurance companies, but that’s because rightly or not those groups don’t exactly have reservoirs of affection among their customers. But any attempt to seriously rein in health care costs has to look at hospitals, which is politically hard. Hospitals are popular because they seem like nice places where doctors and nurses heal the sick. In reality, they’re hardscrabble businesses with spiraling costs and exceptional PR, which account for 44 percent of spending for the personally insured. Inpatient hospital prices rose 42 percent from 2007 to 2017 and 25 percent for outpatient care. Among physicians those prices rose just 18 percent and 6 percent respectively. In 2015, the average cost of a hospital stay was $5,220 per day, compared to $765 in Australia.
A Pew survey found 56 percent of U.S. adults said they “somewhat” or “a great deal” trusted law enforcement agencies to use facial recognition technology responsibly. That is absurd, because I don’t even trust my smartphone lock screen to use facial recognition technology responsibly. Only 36 percent said they trusted technology companies with facial recognition tech, and a paltry 18 percent trusted advertisers with it. Older adults were more accepting than younger adults when it came to the use of the supremely flawed tech in law enforcement, with just 42 percent of 18 to 29-year-old demographic being cool with it and 76 percent of those aged 65 and up.
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