Numlock News: March 18, 2021 • Ocean Water, Martian Water, Poisoned Water

By Walt Hickey

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Vouchers

If you cancelled travel with one of the major airlines or hotels, there’s a pretty good chance they gave you a voucher as a refund, and there’s an equally good chance that voucher is poised to expire soon. American, Delta, United and Southwest had $10 billion in unused travel credits out to customers at the end of 2020, with United alone holding $3.1 billion from COVID-19 cancellations and Southwest holding $2 billion. According to TripActions, 28 percent of unused ticket credits in its system have already or will expire by the end of March, and about half of them will expire before the end of the year. This is a serious chunk of change, on average $482.

Scott McCartney, The Wall Street Journal

Squishmallow

Every few years someone realizes that people will collect plush toys and reinvents the Beanie Babies, and the latest contenders are Squishmallows, which have made their biggest splash on TikTok and other social media. Created in 2017, as of early March the company that makes them, Jazwares, said they have sold 73 million of the plushes, up from 50 million as of last February. It’s the classic situation, where the top 1 percent are holding on to most of the wealth, except in this case the wealth is dozens of plushes from the 800 existing Squishmallow characters, which naturally have different rarities, a vibrant trading scene and can resell for hundreds of dollars.

Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times

Water

A scare earlier this year when a cyberattack allowed hackers the ability to dump dangerous volumes of lye into a municipal water supply in Florida has shone a new light on the security of the water supply. The light’s not finding great news: it’s pretty easy to poison the water supply it turns out! The most recent legislation about American water in 2018 had a provision about cybersecurity. It required systems serving 3,300 customers or more to do a self-assessment of their risks, and the smallest water utilities don’t even need to finish the self-assessment until this coming June. That said, there are tens of thousands of water systems with 3,299 or fewer customers who are completely exempt from that assessment.

Peter Elkind and Jack Gillum, ProPublica

Procedurals

A new study that analyzed 33 police, medical and legal dramas from 2000 to 2018 found that across the 1,476 hours of programming, the use of firearms has grown significantly over the period even though the annual percentage of television violence over the same period of the same shows actually peaked back in 2011. Gun violence appeared in 4.5 percent of analyzed TV drama segments in 2000, but doubled to 9 percent of segments by 2018. Violence was more likely to involve guns over the period too, from 21.1 percent of violent segments to 33.3 percent in 2018.

Patrick E. Jamieson and Daniel Romer, PLOS One

CFCs

Warming oceans are less able to store chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, the refrigerants and industrial chemicals that were in large part responsible for the degradation of the ozone layer and whose banning led to a swift repair of that damage. Even without climate change, a new study projects that by 2075 the oceans will emit more CFCs than they will absorb, and with climate change that inflection point may happen 10 years sooner. To cut CFCs in the atmosphere ahead of this reversal, the CFCs based on land have to be contained; the CFCs in the ocean are 10 percent of those on land, so more aggressive management can really go a long way. As a person with a fairly nuanced understanding of climate change, but who nevertheless had their personal environmental journey launched by the musical CFC episode of Rocco’s Modern Life, this is a real blast from the past and gigantic bummer.

Valerie Yurk, E&E News

Recovery

As more vaccines enter more arms, the prospects for the movie business are getting brighter every day. At the current pace of recovery, it’s projected that domestic ticket sales in 2021 might land somewhere between $4.5 billion and $6 billion, which would be triple of last year, but adjusting for inflation would be on par with 1982. In 2019, the domestic box office brought in $11.3 billion. I’m not sure if this estimate factors in that once it’s safe to breathe shared air, I fully intend to be haunting the theater nightly like the freaking Phantom of the Opera.

Kelly Gilblom, Bloomberg

Mars

Mars used to have lakes and rivers, but doesn’t anymore, and scientists want to find out why. Generally this has been blamed on Mars’ water leaving the planet’s atmosphere and dripping off into space, but new measurements from NASA’s MAVEN orbiter and a new set of simulations suggest that some of Mars’ water may just be hiding, with most of the planet’s water molecules lodged in the crystals of minerals in Mars’ crust. Somewhere between 30 and 99 percent of Mars’ water may be sequestered within its crust, according to the new study published in Nature, and not lost to space.

Maria Temming, Science News, Nature

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