Numlock News: February 9, 2022 • Wasabi, Lidar, Idaho
By Walt Hickey
The U.S. Department of Justice has arrested two people and seized $3.6 billion worth of bitcoin they allege was stolen in a 2016 hack of the Bitfinex currency exchange, the single largest financial seizure ever. The feds say that a New York couple conspired to launder the 119,754 bitcoins, which at the time of theft was estimated to be worth $71 million, and whose total value rose to $4.5 billion. The two arrested aren’t accused of doing the hacking, just attempting to shuffle it around and launder it in a crypto ecosystem where every single transaction is directly posted to an immortal public ledger.
The City of Los Angeles will host the Super Bowl this weekend, a prospect that had local hoteliers salivating at a massive weekend where the fanbases of two cities would descend on the town and cause a huge windfall for the hospitality business. Unfortunately for them, one of the teams in the Super Bowl is the Los Angeles Rams, which has a fanbase that already mostly has a place to crash in Los Angeles. As a result, what would have been a record-shattering bonanza is merely an extremely good weekend: The average daily room rate in LA is around $445 for February 11 to 13, and total occupancy is projected to hit 89 percent. Average rates at four-star hotels are projected to hit $1,345, beating the $812 seen last year in Tampa but a far cry from the $2,294 a night in Miami of 2020.
The Oscar nominations came out, with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog leading the pack with 12 nominations, trailed by Denis Villeneuve’s Dune which snagged 10 nominations, and West Side Story and Belfast which each grabbed seven nominations. Japanese film Drive My Car got three nominations and became just the 14th non-English language film to get a Best Picture nomination, and the fourth in just the past four years, a sign of an Academy that has substantially expanded its membership internationally.
Shizuoka prefecture is one of the largest wasabi-growing regions in Japan, but a combination of climate shifts and demographic changes has meant that the long-running wasabi agriculture in the area is in serious peril. The plants once grew wild in mountains all around the country, and only within the past four centuries were they deliberately farmed in Shizuoka. When the post-war government seeded cedar and cypress trees in a push for more lumber, over time the spring water where wasabi sprouted began deteriorating in quality. Add in an aging populace, and the volume of wasabi production is down 55 percent in the past decade alone, and one 147-year-old wasabi processor, Tamaruya, has been sounding the alarm.
Linguists have been wrestling with dead languages for centuries, and modern computing power has been a help for some of them. For instance, the language Linear B is recognized as the earliest form of Greek, and an MIT machine-learning researcher was able to build an algorithm that correctly translated 67.3 percent of Linear B’s words into modern-day Greek equivalents over the course of two to three hours. Though not a silver bullet, that’s a potentially awesome asset for those making a run at one of the most puzzling archaic writings, the Indus script. That’s a collection of 4,000 inscriptions with 400 to 700 unique symbols, and more than 100 attempts to translate it have been published since 1920. It’s a tantalizing challenge, especially among some groups in South Asia for whom the inscriptions are a major cultural historical find.
Lidar, short for light detection and ranging, basically applies the principles of radar to lasers by using laser pulses to determine the distances of other objects to a given sensor. The price of the tech has been falling, and the tech itself getting better, with over 150 lidar producers globally. It’s seen by many manufacturers of vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems as the future, with the exception of Tesla, which is trying to keep its self-driving systems based on vision predominately. That’s an increasingly lonely position: 17 automakers have announced 21 lidar-equipped passenger cars that are coming soon or in production.
The Perfect Crime
An Idaho lawmaker has introduced a joint memorial that would formally ask Congress to close a niche and fascinating legal loophole related to Yellowstone National Park. The gist is that the federal court in the District of Wyoming was given jurisdiction over crimes committed in Yellowstone; however, around 3 percent of the park extends into Montana and about 1 percent extends into Idaho. The theory advanced by Michigan State Law professor Brian Kalt in 2005 argues that the Sixth Amendment requires someone must be tried by a jury of their peers from the state and region where the crime happened. In the case of the 50 square miles of Yellowstone that lie in Idaho, that’s zero people, and as a result a Wyoming court could not seat a constitutional jury of eligible Idahoans and one could commit murder and legally the courts couldn’t get a jury to convict them. The new law would claw back those 50 square miles from the Wyoming jurisdiction, and grant them to an Idaho court.
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