Numlock News: September 6, 2023 • Goo, Acela, A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?
By Walt Hickey
As The Father Of Daughters?
An ancient Roman statue worth $5 million was seized by New York officials from the Worcester Museum of Art in Massachusetts after the Manhattan District Attorney found evidence that the statue, which dates to 200 A.D., was smuggled out of what is now Turkey. The statue is thought to depict a daughter of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and I know, I get it, why are we simply defining this woman in relation to a powerful man she’s associated with, it’s so rude, but literally the working title of the sculpture is Portrait of a Lady (A Daughter of Marcus Aurelius?) so I’m working with the best I’ve got here. This follows the August seizure of a statue of what is generally thought to be Marcus Aurelius from the Cleveland Museum of Art but, again, no promises, it could just be some guy.
A new study published in Nature Communications analyzed the goo of Cornu aspersum, a species of snail. Before you get grossed out by the latest compelling findings in the world of mollusk mucus, understand that not only is this fascinating biological research, but snail goo is also a critical element of the supply chain for all sorts of cosmetics, creams and antimicrobials. The study identifies 71 proteins found in the snail mucus, a third of which had absolutely no similarity with proteins in the existing global database and were heretofore unknown to science. They also found exciting distinctions between three different types of secretions: one which is an adhesive, one that lubricates to allow movement, and one that hydrates and protects skin. These are being studied for applications in surgical glue, drug delivery, lubricants and more.
Bridge for Sale
The Department of Transportation is working to replace a lot of bridges, and many of those bridges could be considered historic. When that happens, and a bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places or eligible for listing, they do try to find a home for the bridge they’re dismantling as long as you can pay them to get it to where you’d like it to go. Right now, you can get a 128-foot Warren pony truss from 1912 in Iowa, or an 183-foot Pratt through-truss from 1892, or any number of structures that would really tie the yard together. For a discerning bridge owner, the Calcasieu River Bridge in Lake Charles, Louisiana, is due to be replaced thanks to a $150 million grant, and the Louisiana Department of Transportation is entertaining offers for the 68.5-by-6,607-foot bridge.
There are 94 federal district courts in the United States, and 25 of them have never had a single non-white judge in their entire history. This includes the district courts of a number of whole states, including Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, both districts of Iowa, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska and Alaska. There are a number of particularly diverse district courts that have never once had a non-white judge on the federal bench. It’s most acute in the Southern District of Georgia, which is 41 percent non-white, as well as the Western District of Louisiana (37 percent non-white) and Alaska (34 percent non-white).
The global market for mushrooms is projected to grow to $4.12 billion by 2030, growing 5.5 percent annually, as the fungi keep making their way into new and exciting foods and beverages where, truth be told, I never really expected to entertain the thought of putting a mushroom. Mushroom powder added to coffee, ready-to-drink beverages, “functional mushrooms” that in some manner impact “wellness”; people buy it and I’m sure it just all tastes sublime. One issue plaguing the business is, naturally, mushroom identification, a dicey business for professionals who aren’t spending their afternoons coming up with jargon like “adaptogenic” to throw on a big pail of powder. Indeed, one study found that 74 percent of Reishi mushroom supplements sold in the United States did not, in fact, actually contain any Reishi mushrooms upon testing.
A new study published in Science analyzed the genomes of 3,145 individuals and reported evidence that approximately 930,000 years ago, the human breeding population of our ancestors collapsed from over 100,000 reproducing couples to just 1,280 couples, a crash that persisted through 813,000 years ago at which point the human population began to rebound. The event — a disastrous population collapse, 120,000 years of flirtation with extinction, followed by a cuffing season so epic it’s left a mark on the very genetic record of our species — is not entirely clear, but the researchers point to large periods of glaciation and droughts. Could be worse, as we could be talking, and I’m just spitballing, an apex predator with a 930,000-year migration cycle, one very nearly ready for hunting season. I’d prefer to fight a glacier any day.
The Amtrak Acela service is buying 28 high-speed trains with a $2.45 billion grant. This is fun, like from a collector’s perspective, because Amtrak’s Acela line on the Eastern Seaboard doesn’t actually have a lot of stretches in which to use them to their full 200-mile-per-hour potential. The 450-mile route from Boston to Washington contains a laughable 32 miles of track that can handle speeds up to 160 miles per hour. The plan is to add 100 miles of track capable of actually handling the bullet train over the next 12 years, which means that bullet trains can hit 160 miles per hour on just 30 percent of the rail by 2035. That would cut travel time by an hour, to 5 1/2 hours from Boston to D.C., even though a European or Asian high-speed train could pull that off in three hours tops. Besides your standard issues — Connecticut NIMBYs, old tracks, power lines — in Baltimore the trains must slow to 30 miles per hour to brave a 150-year-old tunnel, and the Susquehanna River Bridge limits trains to 90 miles per hour.
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