Numlock News: February 26, 2019

By Walt Hickey

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Beer’s Last Stand

On the night of the Super Bowl, AB InBev took a potshot at rival MillerCoors by roasting them for including corn syrup in the production process. This primetime jab has had far-reaching consequences. First, it ticked off the corn lobby really bad, so much so that AB InBev did a slight walkback. But more substantially, it may have torpedoed a proposed combined effort from the U.S. beer industry to pool their resources in support of their product. Basically, beer is collapsing in the U.S., with beer’s share of the alcohol market falling to 45.5 percent last year from 56 percent in 1999. Wine consumed some of that, accounting for 17.2 percent of sales and up from 15.8 percent. But it’s liquor that is sucking up the market, up to 37.3 percent of sales from 28.2 percent. Bud Light and Miller Light volumes are down over 25 percent this decade and Coors is down 13 percent, only some of which is due to me switching to whiskey in 2012. The top four brewers are 75 percent of the U.S. market, and are now fighting over fermentation rather than trying to collaborate to avert their gradual demise.

Saabira Chaudhuri, The Wall Street Journal

China’s Rich

Wealthy people and entrepreneurs in China are increasingly skeptical of their nation’s economic prospects, according to a new survey. According to research from a Shanghai-based research firm, in 2017 two-thirds of respondents to a survey of wealthy Chinese citizens were “very confident” in their country’s economic prospects, a figure that has since slipped to a third. Those who have no confidence doubled in a year to 14 percent, and half said they were considering moving abroad. As China’s economic growth slows, some are worried that an economic and political liberalization is becoming less likely, particularly as Xi Jinping’s term helming the party has, if anything, led to an increased dominance of the government in the lives of its citizens.

Li Yuan, The New York Times

Nuclear Plants

Right now, almost all of the 454 nuclear power plants on earth use a water-cooled uranium reactor. However this is hardly the only way to use nuclear energy to create power, just the one that seemed the best in the 1960s. Since then, we’ve seen what can happen when such facilities go south, and as a result the untapped potential of nuclear energy has been stymied. Now, several companies are trying to resuscitate other types of reactors that don’t have the safety or security concerns of water-cooled reactors, namely the molten salt reactor, which can’t melt down. One issue with the current system is that originally, nuclear fuel was meant to be recycled. But it isn’t, because the reprocessing step poses a security challenge, whereby people who want to make weapons can get their hands on fuel. As a result there are nearly 300,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel piling up at reactors worldwide.

M. Mitchell Waldrop, Knowable Magazine

Dairy Crisis

In 2004, there were 15,904 dairy farms in Wisconsin. Today, that figure is down to 8,046. Faced with enormous pressures — a cheese glut, falling milk prices, a trade war that is screwing them uniquely, and more — family farmers in the state are having an enormous amount of difficulty right now. Gaining from their misfortune? The massive dairies. The number of cows in the state over that period of time has stayed flat, rising from 1.24 million to 1.27 million. But the average number of cows per farm has popped, from 78 to 155. The crisis could reshape Wisconsin forever.

Rick Barrett, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Bullets We’ll Dodge

The CNEOS Sentry system monitors the orbits of hazardous asteroids, and let’s just take a minute to thank them for doing that for us because I’m really thrilled we’ve got someone on the case. “Monitor for death from above” was always like fifth or sixth on my to-do list after “watch American Gods” and “pull a Marie Kondo on my desk,” so thanks for handling that one. There are 70 potential earth impact events in the next 100 years, but “potential” is doing a lot of work there. The one with the highest chance of hitting Earth still has a 99.84 percent chance of missing the Earth. The other 69 are even more likely to do so. Anyway, we’ve got bigger apocalypses to fret about now that space is handled.

Lisa A. Johnson and Eric Chudler, LitHub

Cloudy With A Chance Of DOOM

New findings published by CalTech researchers in Nature Geoscience argue that when concentrations of carbon dioxide reach 1,200 parts per million in the atmosphere, a tipping point will be breached and low-lying and cooling stratocumulus clouds can’t form. This would spark a chain reaction: without those clouds warming accelerates, and as the warming accelerates more clouds can’t form. It’d kick off a bonus dose of warming, a further 8 degree Celsius bump on top of the 4 degrees of warming caused directly by the carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million before we began burning fossil fuels, and now sits above 441 parts per million. We’re on track to hit 560 parts per million by 2050, but past that point we’re talking various degrees of “game over” screens.

Natalie Wolchover, Quanta Magazine

Trash Sorters

The average Facebook employee has a total compensation of $240,000, which is an order of magnitude higher than the $28,800 paid to the poor souls who work as contractors for Facebook moderating the terrible things that people do on that website. Whether it’s posting pornographic content, snuff films, threats, conspiracy theories, racial smears, abuse or what have, right now there’s people in Phoenix who have to sift through all that garbage to maintain the illusion of a Facebook with principles. The best case scenario is that AI can replace the work, thus saving some people from having to develop PSTD-for-hire.

Casey Newton, The Verge


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