Numlock News: April 11, 2019 • Black hole, Heat Islands, Reclaimed wood

By Walt Hickey

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A Photogenic Black Hole

Yesterday saw the circulation of the first-ever image taken of a black hole, a product of the Event Horizon Telescope project. The M87 black hole — which will sadly never know how many likes, faves and comments the pic scored on social — has a mass of 6.5 billion times that of the sun. I’d phrase it another way but that mass is a figure so large we literally can’t find any different way to describe other than in relation to the sun, which is the biggest thing we apes deal with on a day-to-day basis. The researchers estimated the size of the shadow in the picture is actually 2.5 times larger than the black hole itself because gravitational forces are bending the light. They also estimated that the event horizon is 25 billion miles across, three times the size of Pluto’s orbit. The image was the work of eight radio telescopes, and is proof that if an all-consuming gravity well that feasts upon the universe like an insatiable maw can look good in a candid shot, one day even I can learn how to find my light. M87 is 54 million light-years away, and the photo was taken in 2017, so technically this is a photo of what a black hole looked like at least 54,000,002 years ago.

Will Dunham, Reuters


Congratulations, owners of death traps. Do you own a dilapidated barn, perhaps a shack, or a pre-war home, in which “war” refers to the Napoleonic one? Well, good news for you profligates — yuppies want to buy the wood for scrap and are willing to pay a premium for it. Fans of very old wood and reclaimed lumber will go to great lengths to secure a cord of the good stuff, claiming it’s got a character and personality that modern lumber can’t imitate. Prices vary, which is the case in almost every market inhabited exclusively by obsessed people who make too much money. But the gist is that while a new oak plank for flooring costs around $4.50 per square foot, a reclaimed plank goes for about $10.50 per square foot. Act soon, before a bear housing market eats these trend pieces alive.

Cecilie Rohwedder, The Wall Street Journal


There are a number of pieces of memorabilia related to the Concorde jet making their way on to auction sites, the most absurd of which is easily a Rolls-Royce Olympus Turbo-Jet 593-610 engine up for £748,000, or roughly $975,000. The listing says the engine is for static display only, but also the listing is not a cop. A single plane — which could hit Mach 2 — used four such engines, and would cost $159,000,000 in 2019 dollars, so this is a bargain.

Andrew P. Collins, Jalopnik

Rich Guys

A Wall Street Journal investigation has found that Augusta National, the ridiculously affluent golf course in Georgia, has spent the last 20 years on a single-minded quest to buy up over 100 properties in the vicinity of its course for something like $200 million. These properties amount to a 270-acre acquisition, orchestrated by corporate entities connected to the club that show the course is up to something with all those CBS millions. It’s used over 75 percent of its cash to pay for multiples over the actual assessed property values. Listen up, my fellow millennials: the new plan is to buy houses next to expanding companies we hate so that in 20 years they have to overpay us to make us leave. It’s the best plan for a retirement I’ve got.

Brian Costa, The Wall Street Journal


Pay-TV bundles as we once knew them are in decline, clearly, but where they will go from here is in doubt. Last year, the six largest cable operators lost 910,000 subscribers, 1.9 percent of total subs. The previous year, they had a loss of 680,000 subscribers. DirectTV and Dish lost 2.4 million subscribers, or 7.5 percent of them, in 2018 alone, even after losing 1.6 million in 2016. Content creators are fashioning over the top products like Disney+ that could serve as lifeboats if things get really bad. But the outcomes can vary. MoffettNathanson predicts a decline of 4 percent per year over the next five years, dropping paid cable subscribers from 89 million to 72 million in 2023. They do have a “doomsday scenario,” where rather than 4 percent, it’s 7 to 10 percent attrition per year: that would leave them with 56.2 million subscribers in 2023. As we all know, everyone is cutting the cord on cable television and switching to fun newsletters.

Cynthia Littleton, Variety

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We’re in that weird transition period between it being too dang cold and it being way, way, way too hot — I’m told ancestors used to call this “the season of Spring,” but we’re down to like three and a half pleasant weeks and falling thanks to post-industrial emissions — and so now cities are turning to ways to reduce their heat islands. One proposal that’s been touted is to coat streets in reflective material so that they don’t absorb and retain so much heat, one reason cities are hotter than the surrounding countryside by a few degrees. That idea actually works: a multi-year study in Athens found that simply by using lighter colored building materials they could reduce a heat island by 2 degrees Celsius. With that in mind, I hereby propose that we paint Midtown Manhattan bright, fluorescent fuchsia.

James MacDonald, JSTOR Daily


Despite the passage of a 2017 law that will decrease many people’s taxes, most Americans believe their taxes are not going down. A poll found only 17 percent think their taxes will go down, 28 percent think they’ll pay more, 27 percent expect to pay the same, and 28 percent do not know enough to say. This is, needless to say, a source of consternation for the architects of what for many of those doubters is, in fact, a tax cut. The reduction of tax refunds by spreading those gains on to paychecks isn’t helping the perception. Anyway, the moral of this story is to never bet against the American people’s willingness to avoid doing math or reading fine print, especially if your job depends on getting votes, I guess? That seems like a bad moral.

John Harwood, CNBC

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