Numlock News: February 24, 2022 • Gran Turismo, Synthetics, Lumber
By Walt Hickey
A repair crew has successfully connected the island nation of Tonga back to the global internet, with a repair ship replacing 90 kilometers of cable that was damaged by the tsunami that resulted from an underwater volcanic eruption. The next step will be to restore internet connections to the other islands of Tonga now that the main island is once again connected to the online world. Welcome back to the internet, Tonga, we’re sorry you missed the past five weeks; man do I hope you weren’t fans of Novak Djokovic, MoviePass, Death on the Nile, any New York-based West Elm employees on Tinder, the independent game company Activision Blizzard, Russian figure skating, Prince Andrew or the independent game company Wordle.
Long movies aren’t exactly new — there’s a reason Gone With the Wind has an intermission, after all — but the length of some of the top popcorn movies has been getting pretty long, with some of the top-grossing films of 2021 — Spider-Man: No Way Home, Dune, No Time To Die, Eternals — all coming in at around two and a half hours or more. That extra footage comes with some real costs to producers: In a VFX-driven film, an extra 30 minutes to an hour can increase the budget by 25 percent, and for every week of post-production added to hack your multi-hour epic into a workable reel you’re looking at another $50,000 to $100,000 each week.
Sony’s AI division has managed to build an artificial intelligence program that was able to beat one of the best players in the world at Gran Turismo Sport, a racing game. According to a study published in Nature, the AI was trained on multiple simulations of a computer system attached to about 1,000 PlayStation 4 consoles. It takes around four hours of that kind of training to get as good as an average human driver and about one to two days to get as good as the top 1 percent of drivers on the game. After training for 10 days, it beat champion player Takuma Miyazono. I for one am not worried about the advance of racing AIs, until they are trained to conquer Mario Kart, as the thought of a hyper-intelligent machine in complete command of the blue shell is too frightful a future to contemplate.
In southern Oregon, a billionaire opened up a casino attached to a horse track called the Flying Lark. The project was overseen by the Oregon Racing Commission and involved 225 historic horse racing machines. A slot machine’s internal randomization means that it’s a gambling device, and thus illegal. But a “historic horse racing machine” claims it’s not a slot machine, even though it functions pretty similarly to one, because the outcome of the play is actually determined by the results of a horse race that happened at one point in history, hence, it’s “horse racing” and thus arguably legal. Well, the party’s over, as last month the Oregon Department of Justice ruled that historic horse racing machines are in fact games of chance and are illegal lotteries, making the Flying Lark technically an illegal casino. Last week, a meeting of the Oregon Racing Commission voted unanimously to deny the Lark’s application, but the case is bound for appeal.
Fashion accounts for 10 percent of global carbon dioxide output, and a fifth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced globally. The global market for polyester yarn in 2022 is currently $106 billion, but is projected to rise to $174.7 billion, and annual polyester production — which turns petroleum into clothes — is projected to increase 47 percent over the next 10 years to 92 million tons. The issue in particular is what comes at the end of the road for apparel: 87 percent of total fiber input for clothing is eventually incinerated or sent to a landfill. For Shein, the online retailer of fast fashion, 95.2 percent of their clothing contains new plastics, from polyester, nylon, acrylic or elastane. In 2015, polyester production was responsible for 282 billion tons of carbon dioxide, triple the carbon impact of cotton.
Lumber is an incredibly hot commodity right now, but the volatility means as a result it’s become hard to actually trade lumber. Right now if the price of lumber on the commodity exchange moves too much one way or another, it triggers a shutdown of the market, an event that has happened in 25 of this year’s 35 trading sessions. The shutdown is designed to prevent a disorderly market, but it’s actually created a pretty nonfunctional one. In order to keep the wood flowing, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange will increase the daily trading band by another 90 percent, meaning that starting on March 7 the maximum amount the price of a thousand board feet can move in either direction in a given day is capped at $57. For perspective, before the pandemic a thousand board feet went for $350.
Participation in New York City’s official program to rent an off-duty NYPD cop has been surging, prompting many to ask, “Wait, they can do what? Seriously?” Yes, for an hourly rate of $45 to $62 as of 2016, businesses can contract with the city as part of the New York Police Department Paid Detail Unit, which began in 1998 and puts the NYPD in the employ of private businesses. The city gets a 10 percent cut, and in 2021 that means that the $3.2 million the city got translated into $32 million to off-duty officers. That’s up 70 percent compared to four years before.
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