Numlock News: January 21, 2021 • Olympics, Pokémon, El Camino Real
By Walt Hickey
Catch Em All
An unopened box of first edition Pokémon cards sold for $408,000 at auction, yet again proving that my investing acumen peaked at age 9, and nothing I have learned since would supplant the inherent wisdom of “I should own more Pokémon cards.” Pokémon paraphernalia has been setting records at auction houses, as “wealthy” and “nostalgic” form an incredibly expensive hobby for some after months of lockdown pressure. In October a Charizard card sold for $183,000, and just last weekend an incredibly rare Blastoise sold for $360,000.
Saturday NASA attempted a test of the core stage of the new Space Launch System, an enormous rocket that is poised to serve as the launch vehicle for NASA’s new crew vehicle, Orion. The hotfire test in Mississippi put the four RS-25 engines at the base of the core stage through its paces, planning to fire the rocket for eight minutes, but just over one minute in the engines shut off. The result, according to the program manager, was that the hydraulic system that pivots the engines during steering had an issue, which would not provoke an interruption in an actual flight. The issue now for NASA is to determine whether they need to do another test of the rocket — this was the eighth and final test before it was going to be sent to Florida to prepare for launch — and one issue is that the core propellant tanks can only be filled nine times, and so far they have been filled three times.
The Tokyo Olympics are slated to begin on July 23, and while organizers are full speed ahead on the event there are obvious headwinds for enormous collections of people converging to one place during a global pandemic. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants pretty much everyone in the country vaccinated by the 23rd, and the government has secured enough vaccines to do so, though it has not received regulatory approval, and they haven’t started vaccinations. Still, a poll from Tokyo Broadcast System conducted this month found that only 13 percent of the public thinks the games should take place as planned, which is down from 28 percent in November.
As it stands, 70 percent of the American Southwest is in a state of extreme drought or worse. Las Vegas has seen rain on just two occasions in the past 273 days, while Phoenix, Arizona had just 15 rainy days in 2020. Later this week, forecasters are projecting a respite, with three to four separate storms coming to California, Nevada and Arizona in the last two weeks of January. This is the most favorable rainfall window in 10 months, though too much all at once may be an issue: Imperial, California averages less than 2.5 inches per year, but could get two to three inches over the next several days. In the long term, this will also likely increase the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose melt is responsible for 30 percent of California’s fresh water.
An UrbanFootprint study of El Camino Real, a 600-mile historic road running from San Francisco to San Diego, found that much of the commercial real estate there could theoretically host 300,000 new housing units. The main thing standing in the way is zoning preventing parking lots and big box stores from becoming low-rise apartment complexes. Housing could not be more of a critical issue in California: according to the California Housing Partnership, the state needs 1.3 million more affordable rental units, and the housing shortage in the state is 2.5 million to 3 million units. Despite that, 40 percent of commercial zones in the 50 largest metros in the state forbid residential development, but as large sprawling commercial zones become less necessary or sustainable with e-commerce, that’s a problem.
Today there are three COVID-19 vaccines that have been given emergency authorization by either the United States or the U.K., the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine, the Moderna mRNA vaccine, and the AstraZeneca and University of Oxford vaccine, which is more conventionally designed. China, India and Russia have all come out with vaccines, but they haven’t been authorized widely. While these will help in acute, early responses to the pandemic, more help is on the way. Right now there are 240 novel vaccine candidates in development — many taking completely different angles to attack the virus — and they may very well become cheaper to make, more versatile in combating possible variants or easier to distribute as the reaction to the pandemic goes on.
Germany’s cabinet has signed on to legislation that will make the country the first in the world to ban the common agricultural process of slaughtering day-old male chicks, mandating the use of technology to prevent male chicks from being born in the first place. In Germany alone, 45 million male chicks are killed every year because they can’t lay eggs and are considered unsuitable for meat production. This shift will likely increase the price of eggs, but will make Germany the first country to end a practice that animal rights advocates have long argued is cruel and ethically unacceptable.
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