Numlock News: May 14, 2020 • Ace, Mercury, Batman

By Walt Hickey

Faux Meat

The companies who produce plant-based meat alternatives — though they might have endured a gentle ribbing when their wares were some of the only things left on shelves after a global run on the meat and poultry aisle — are seeing sustained sales growth, as new consumers who have been introduced to them recently seem to like what they taste. Grocery store sales of alternative meat products were up 264 percent in the nine weeks ending May 2, which was a $25.7 million increase. By comparison, fresh meat sales were up 45 percent over that same period. Still, when talking about volume, proper meat still vastly outpaces the alt stuff, as that 45 percent growth was $3.8 billion. Especially with meat prices on the rise, people may look to alternatives as they roll out discounts to woo new consumers.

Jacob Bunge and Heather Haddon, The Wall Street Journal

DART

In 2021, NASA intends to launch DART, a 1,100-pound spacecraft, with the mission of seeing if it can meaningfully alter the orbit of an asteroid. The target is Didymos, a pair of near-earth asteroids, and DART will aim to hit the smaller of the two, a 535-foot moon of the larger asteroid. It takes 11.92 hours for the Didymoon to orbit the asteroid, and NASA wants to slam it hard enough to change that by four minutes. The goal is a proof-of-concept that an impactor can change the course of an asteroid, but the result, according to a new study, may be the first-ever human-made meteor shower: the impact will produce anywhere from 22,000 to 220,000 pounds of centimeter-sized debris, a few grams of which will be visible as less than a dozen meteors.

Jonathan O’Callaghan, The New York Times

One?

Golf is one of the few activities still permissible amid social distancing guidelines, with a few caveats. Namely, you’re not allowed to remove the pin, and many courses are making it impossible to actually get a ball in the hole, thus averting the necessity of touching something someone else touched. They’re accomplishing this with various technologies, such as pool noodles. The problem: If you get a hole-in-one on a noodle, is it truly a hole-in-one? This question is plaguing golfers who manage an ace, many of whom are curious whether that accomplishment comes with an asterisk. On the PGA Tour last season, out of over 70,000 par-three holes played, golfers got a hole-in-one just 38 times. I, for one, cannot stand this sort of deviance on the course and insist on playing golf in the traditional fashion its creators intended: As Waluigi, on a GameCube, in Mario Golf: Toadstool Tour, none of this “physical exertion” balderdash.

Andrew Beaton, The Wall Street Journal

Comics

According to the digital service DC Universe, readership of their comics was up 35 percent between February and April, as fans turned to decades of back issues to stem their fix from the shuttered comic book market. The service — which contains some 23,000 comic books from the company — updates with new releases a year after they hit shops, so if you want to catch up on the stuff that was burning down the message boards a year ago, now’s your shot. The two most-read issues over the period were Batman titles. No, I don’t have any idea why people are turning to a story about a guy who went through a really isolating period of loss and channeled those feelings of helpless fury to a secret workout program so that he could eventually put on a mask and help others in his community who had otherwise been unprotected by their city’s traditional leadership. No clue why that might resonate at all.

Graeme McMillan, The Hollywood Reporter

Mobile Games

Tencent, the Chinese company behind WeChat and a host of games, beat expectations with revenue up 26 percent in the quarter ending in March. That was propelled by a rise in online gaming sales of 31 percent, with its smartphone game revenue — which includes Clash of Clans — jumping 64 percent during the first quarter. Tencent outpaced rivals like Alibaba and Baidu, but is still contending with new upstarts like TikTok maker ByteDance.

Zheping Huang, Bloomberg

Metabolism

Researchers monitored what happens to a snake’s metabolism when it eats a mouse, one of the major binge-eating routines of the animal kingdom. They were able to track how much air snakes breathed to burn fuel over the period to get the metabolic rate, which was pretty much off the charts. When a mammal feeds, the metabolic rate goes up 25 percent to 50 percent. When a rattlesnake ate a mouse, it went up 700 percent. When a python ate a quarter of its body weight, it rose 1,000 percent, and when a python ate its entire body weight, that metabolic rate soared 4,400 percent, which is a record in the measured animal kingdom, higher even than a horse in full gallop, which can raise its metabolic rate 3,500 percent. The difference is the python maintains that for two weeks, predominantly burning the energy to digest the meal, and then immediately converting that digested food into more snake by embarking on a growth spurt. After swallowing prey, something like 2,000 to 3,000 genes become active, two orders of magnitude above expectation.

Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

Quicksilver

If you want to move a satellite, you’ll want to use a Hall thruster, which ionizes a propellant like krypton or xenon as fuel. For the 2,200 active satellites, that’s the best way to get around. But many, many more satellites are bound for orbit: SpaceX has permission for 12,000 and wants to get approval for 30,000 more, and Amazon wants to send 3,000 broadband satellites up. Space is cool, and people want to get in on the action. The issue is xenon and krypton are pricier than the proven alternative of mercury, which some private companies could be considering to fuel their satellites. This is a terrible idea. According to a new study, a constellation of 2,000 satellites each carrying 100 kilograms of propellant would emit 20 tonnes of fuel annually over the course of 10 years, and if that propellant were mercury it would fall back down to earth eventually. That alone would be equivalent to half of North America’s mercury emissions, and 75 percent would land in the oceans. Anyway, don’t do that, it’s been a minute since I saw Moonraker but that’s some Bond-villain type business.

Michael Allen, Hakai Magazine

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