Numlock News: August 19, 2021 • Pop Its, Theme Parks, Fusion Reactors

By Walt Hickey

Not For Sale But For Sale

Advanced reader copies are pre-prints of forthcoming books that are often distributed for promotional or review purposes. They're often still due for one last pass from the copy editors, but they’re free, and part of the deal is you're not supposed to sell them. In reality, though, there's a thriving underground scene for such books, as eBay will show, and naturally the auction and rare book market loves them. An uncorrected proof of Cannery Row by John Steinbeck is available for $35,000, an early copy of The Old Man and the Sea is up for $28,000, and in May an uncorrected proof of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone fetched $29,000.

Sophie Haigney, The Wall Street Journal

The Park Is Open

Theme park revenues are bouncing back based on second quarter results, but are still a little muted. Attendance has been a rollercoaster ride over the past two years, but the recovery is real: Disney theme parks made $4.3 billion, catching back to the pre-pandemic $6.6 billion made in the same quarter of 2019, Universal's parks made $1.1 billion, nearing the $1.5 billion in the same quarter of 2019, and Six Flags hauled in $460 million, just shy of the $477.2 million hauled in in Q2 of 2019. Roaring back harder than before is SeaWorld, which made $439.8 million in Q2 of 2021, north of the $406 million logged in the same quarter of 2019.

Heidi Chung, Variety

Fidgets

The era of the fidget spinner is dead; long live Pop Its. The colorful toys, which replicate the appeal of popping bubble wrap in reliable silicone, have been a breakout hit of the past year, fueled in no small part due to TikTok. The company behind Pop Its, Fox Mind, said sales rose from 700,000 units in 2019 to 7 million units across 2020 and 2021. There's little sign of the trend abating, aside for the whole "writeup in major financial newspaper,” as #fidgettoys drove 12.5 billion views as of mid-August, and retailers are trying to stock up ahead of the holiday toy season.

Hayley Velasco, The Wall Street Journal

Fusion

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reported that an experiment attempting to achieve ignition of a fusion reaction has come closer than ever to success. Using 192 lasers aimed at a pellet of hydrogen, the researchers were able to ignite a 10 quadrillion watt burst of fusion power, which is released when the hydrogen fuses into helium. That’s a solid fraction of the 170 quadrillion watts from the sun that hit Earth. The reaction lasted 100 trillionths of a second, and emitted 70 percent of the energy the laser beams spent hitting the target. The goal is to get that north of 100 percent, at which point you've hit breakeven and are producing more energy than you're spending and have a self-sustaining reaction.

Kenneth Chang, The New York Times

Ingenuity

NASA's Mars helicopter, Ingenuity, logged a twelfth flight on Monday. The flyer has now covered more distance than Perseverance, the lander that dropped it off. Monday's flight was a 169 second jaunt, 10 meters above the surface and traveling 450 meters in total, bringing the total distance travelled to an impressive 2.67 kilometers over 22 minutes of flight time. The helicopter is now scouting ahead of Perseverance, which involves a little more cavalier path over rocky terrain than the flat surface the flight navigation system was designed to handle.

Eric Berger, Ars Technica

Tractors

The concept of an electric tractor is getting more appealing on the smaller side of the tractor spectrum. At the large end, you've got combine harvesters that can handle 32 rows of corn at a pass and go for seven figures. These beasts are responsible for about one in 10 dollars of revenue for the tractor companies, but last year Americans bought only 6,605 of them. The larger market in terms of sales is made up of the smaller machinery, with 68 percent of the 305,000 tractors sold in North America running with less than 40 horsepower. Given the $292 billion global market for machinery equipment and the 5.3 billion gallons of fuel that goes to it in the United States, those smaller tractors are an appealing target for electrification.

Kyle Stock, Bloomberg

Whistle Language

Languages that incorporate some kind of whistling into a dialect have appeared the world over and throughout human history, in no small part due to the length that the sound of a whistle can carry compared to speech or yelling. A skilled whistler can hit 120 decibels, which is a car horn, and because the frequency is 1 to 4 kHz it's higher than the pitch of ambient noise. A comprehension study of whistled Turkish fond listeners identified isolated words about 70 percent of the time, and common whistled sentences 80 to 90 percent of the time. As such, while spoken speech on average has been found to be discernable from 40 meters and shouted speech from 200 meters, whistled speech can be understood from up to 550 meters.

Bob Holmes, Knowable Magazine

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