Numlock News: February 11, 2021 • Ozone, Urdu, Impostors
By Walt Hickey
This week the U.S. International Trade Commission threw a wrench into the electrification goals of several U.S. car companies when it weighed in on a dispute between two South Korean battery manufacturers. LG Chem alleges SK Innovation hired away talent and stole trade secrets, and then attempted to cover it up. The ITC agreed with them, so SK Innovation is now forbidden from importing materials for facilities it’s trying to build in Georgia that would produce batteries for electric vehicles for the next 10 years. The $2.6 billion investment would have produced batteries for Volkswagen and Ford, which was planning to use the facility to produce batteries for their forthcoming electric F-150. That in particular is a problem, because the Biden administration wants to acquire electric American cars for federal use, and an electric F-150 would cover a whole lot of bases. Biden has 60 days to veto the decision, but it’s a rarely used veto.
In 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection scanned the faces of 23 million people at various ports of entry, which is 4 million more people than in 2019. Interestingly, all that effort and privacy concessions amounted to practically nothing: the system caught exactly zero people in airports who were pretending to be someone they were not. Since the annual release of tracking statistics began in 2018, the agency has conceded it has only caught seven imposters attempting to enter the United States through an airport using facial recognition tech, which is like “a couple rookie hours of Among Us” numbers, not “global panopticon security omni-state” numbers.
There are an estimated 19,000 large dams — that is, dams higher than 49 feet, the kind that can do some serious damage in the event of a break — that are over 50 years old, which is the typical lifespan of a dam before it needs to be removed or substantially repaired. Not every country has the same dam problems: U.S. dams are on average 65 years old, which is older than China’s 46 years old and India’s 42 years old, but damn near sprightly compared to Britain, where the average dam is 106 years old, and Japan, where the average dam is 111 years old. It’s estimated that by 2050, most people on earth will live downstream from a dam built before 2000.
A drug from Novo Nordisk that’s marketed as a Type 2 diabetes treatment has significant promise as an anti-obesity medication, according to the results of a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Over 2,000 participants injected either a placebo or semaglutide for 68 weeks, and while the placebo group lost on average 2.4 percent of their body weight over the period, those on semaglutide lost 14.9 percent, which is fairly wild. Over a third of those receiving semaglutide lost over 20 percent of their weight, and symptoms of diabetes or pre-diabetes improved. For comparison, five available anti-obesity drugs have side effects that cause issues, and the best of them — phentermine — is linked to 7.5 percent weight loss on average, though can only be taken for a short time.
Lots of people are unhappy at the lack of a new injection of monetary stimulus into the economy, but absolutely nobody is more frustrated than jewelers, who would have made a killing if the stimmy dropped pre-Valentine’s day, which it will not. The National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend $21.8 billion for Valentine’s Day, down 20 percent from last year, with the average shopper spending $165 on gifts and celebrations. In particular the jewelry category will be in free fall compared to last year, with sales projected to fall 30 percent year-over-year, behind only restaurants.
Urdu is a language spoken by 170 million people in South Asia and around the world, written in an alphabet that stems from Arabic. When written it’s incredibly complex, and technology companies have left it behind because it’s difficult to properly express through a keypad. People have tried for decades to get Urdu compatible with keyboards; in 1980, a printer in Karachi wrote every letter combination he could come up with, which amounted to 20,000. The nature of the written language makes it really hard to get into keys, but many are working at it. Urdu is really just one of the largest languages being left out of the digital record — of 7,000 languages around the world, only 5 percent were becoming fully functional online as of 2013.
Two new studies published in Nature found that global emissions of CFC-11, which is a key driver of ozone-layer depletion, fell to 52,000 metric tons in 2019, about the 2008-2012 average, which indicates that a worrisome spike in emissions of the chemical was brought under control. In 2018 and 2019, China cranked up its enforcement of CFC emissions, and that appears to have done the trick: about 60 percent of the decline in CFC-11 came from reduced emissions from eastern China after 2017. It’s almost like a prompt and direct response to emissions problems can have significant and immediate effects!
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