Numlock News: December 22, 2020 • Cheese Balls, SETI, Gundam

By Walt Hickey

Abandoned Boats

Boats that have been abandoned by their owners are a serious problem on the West Coast of the United States, presenting navigation hazards as well as threatening the environment when chemicals onboard spill out. To handle the backlog, each state on the Pacific would need over $20 million, and $5 million a year to keep pace with the problem. No state is quite as exposed as Alaska, which is lousy with breathtaking coastline and just riddled with natural splendor that can be ruined by old boats. By 2025, Alaska’s fleet will have over 3,000 vessels that are 8.5 to 18 meters long and over 45 years old, the danger zone for boats.

Victoria Petersen, High Country News

Cheese Balls

A tractor trailer hauling 20,000 pounds of cheese balls was involved in a crash on I-495 in Maryland, leading to no injuries but thousands of pounds of cheese balls spilling from the truck, according to the Maryland Department of Transportation. A sand truck was brought on the scene, presumably because it would take too long to personally escort me to the site of the feast to handle the environmental problem I was put on this earth to solve.

Bryna Zumer, Fox 5 News Baltimore


Researchers at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence have found a peculiar narrowband emission in a batch of data collected in late April 2019, when scientists were using the Parkes radio telescope in Australia to study the Proxima Centauri system for solar flares. The system is home to at least three worlds, and was observed for 26 hours, after which the data was logged and the readouts filed away for later analysis by the SETI people, who are looking for signs of extraterrestrial life. Back in October, SETI found a strange 982.002 megahertz emission, a signal termed “Breakthrough Listen Candidate 1,” or BLC1. The overwhelmingly likely thing is that it’s just some human-caused signal, but if there’s a lesson I took away from 2020 it’s to always keep an eye on the unlikely stuff, hey, you never know.

Jonathan O’Callaghan and Lee Billings, Scientific American


In 2019, Bandai Namco sold 31.26 million Gundam plastic models, four times as many as they moved in 2006. The Gundam figures — based on an iconic, enormous anime robot — have become recognizable worldwide, and on Saturday the good people at the Gundam Factory revealed the next logical phase of cultural soft power, an 18-meter tall kinetic Gundam statue southwest of Tokyo. Admission is $16, and as far as admission to see a sixty-foot robot fighting machine goes, that’s frankly a bargain. The statue’s unveiling was originally intended to be timed with the Tokyo Paralympic Games, but with their postponement the people of Yokohama port will simply have to live with having an enormous mecha on their waterfront for the foreseeable future.

Nana Shibata, Nikkei Asia


If you’re wondering why Instagrammable cookware is all the rage these days, the answer is pretty clear when you get down to it: Americans bought a ton of cookware this year, and they obviously bought the kind that looks very pretty on Instagram. According to the Cookware Manufacturers Association, cookware sales are up 36.2 percent in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the same quarter of 2019, and in the first three quarters of the year cookware sales were 20.7 percent higher than the level in the same period of 2019.

Nisha Chittal, Vox


Tens of thousands of prehistoric paintings have been discovered on an 8-mile stretch of a cliff in the Serrania de la Lindosa mountains in Colombia. The new find will help researchers determine what kind of plants and animals were alive and known at the time of their illustration in the area, and will take decades to catalog and document. Found in 2017, the paintings were revealed to the world as part of a documentary series, with the site otherwise inaccessible and unable to be disturbed. Particularly cool is the contemporaneous depiction of animals that have long been extinct, such as palaeolama, giant sloths, and Ice Age horses. Given the fauna depicted, it’s believed to be over 12,500 years old. Now I’m actually really worried about 12,500 years from now, when archaeologists discover Tumblr hard drives full of artistic depictions of furry animals, and what ecological conclusions they will draw from them.

Alexander Freund, DW

Fly, You Fools

About 1.07 million people passed through security checkpoints at U.S. airports last Saturday, down 57 percent from the same time last year. That is the smallest year-over-year decline in air travel since November 22, right before the Thanksgiving holiday when people went to airports in large numbers. The seven-day rolling average of new infections rose from 176,000 per day before Thanksgiving to 215,000 per day today. AAA projects 85 million people will travel between December 23 and January 3, a drop of a third from a year ago, most of them by car.

Michael Liedtke, The Associated Press

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